Memo to the Somali Government

Imagine a reconciliation process in Iraq that fails to include militias or Sunni and Shia hardliners? How about a reconciliation process in Afghanistan that sidelines violent Pashtos in the south? The chances of either process succeeding would be slim. In both cases, the excluded parties comprise a powerful majority and thus must be included for reconciliation to produce a lasting peace. Keep anyone out and they are bound to want in.

That type of exclusion is exactly what is being proposed in Somalia. The country remains in turmoil following the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in December that toppled the Islamic Courts Union. Ethiopian troops continue to fight resistance in the capital Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country. Yet, amid this violence, Somali leaders in the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) refuse to include the former Islamic leadership, along with other sectors of society, in forthcoming talks. This grave mistake is bound to instigate further violence, much like Mogadishu has witnessed in the last months as hundreds have died in clashes in the city. As long as the current Somali government continues to exclude parties that are more popular than the TFG, Ethiopia, and the United States combined, reconciliation will be a mere façade.

Thankfully, the TFG postponed the proposed reconciliation conference, originally scheduled for April 16. This buys time. How can the TFG wise up and prepare for a successful reconciliation? Here’s our memo to the current Somali leadership.

First, send Ethiopia packing. As long as Ethiopia—Mogadishu’s bitter, historical rival—occupies Somalia, the resistance movement will forever derive strength from the presence of outsiders. Lessons from Syria’s occupation of Lebanon should offer insight here. Neighboring rivals generally have a vested interest. Ethiopia is no different.

Second, embolden the African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces. As long as Ethiopia remains in control, Ugandan troops at the behest of the AU will only appear complicit in the occupation. Furthermore, during recent violence, Ugandan troops stood silently by. The credibility of the AU force, and peacekeeping generally, risk being undermined.

Third, respond to the European Union’s call concerning war crimes. Dismissing the war crimes accusation will only further rally the international community in opposition. Ethiopian and Somali forces killed hundreds of innocent people in Mogadishu in the worst violence in fifteen years. Be ready to account for that. Working with human rights organizations to investigate violations by all parties involved would be a good first step.

Fourth, encourage a softer American approach. During Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer’s surprise visit to Baidoa earlier this month, she pledged to provide U.S. security assistance to the Somali government. If help looks anything like the U.S. air raids earlier this year in southern Somalia, decline the offer because military strikes will only empower the resistance movement. Suggest that Frazer fund economic development instead. That is how one gains favor with an impoverished population.

Finally, allow a third party to organize Somalia’s reconciliation process. The TFG, struggling to free itself from accusations of warlordism and exacerbating the present conflict, is not a credible, impartial broker. Instead, let the United Nations do it. Experienced in negotiating divergent interests, the UN can engage all parties, including the Islamic leadership and other civil society actors. UN involvement saves TFG face, provides a more neutral platform, and ensures vitally needed international support for Somalia.

All of these tasks are critically important to ensure successful reconciliation. Once Ethiopia departs, once AU peacekeepers perform impartially, once war crimes are recognized, once America shifts from military to economic support, and once UN facilitation is guaranteed, then and only then can Somalia come together.

Michael Shank is a PhD student at George Mason University´┐Żs Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Khadija O. Ali, former member of the Somali Transitional National Parliament and a minister of state at the Transitional National Government from 2000 to 2002, is also a Ph.D. student at the Institute. Both are contributors to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org)