The current election/selection impasse in Somalia between the Federal Member States and the Federal government is the symptom of a country that is deeply polarised with divergent clan interests, political ideologies, foreign interests, and pseudo-nationalistic slogans. There is no hope on the horizon for Somali leaders, specifically the current administration, to have the courage and bravery to make a compromise and reach a consensus for the benefit of the citizens and country. Many people including Somalis themselves might be wondering why their country is living with such a painful memory where thousands are starving to death from famine, others are dying of insecurity, and their leaders are causing this tragedy to perpetuate. In order to avoid the recurrent of the same scenario every four years. The need for a truth and reconciliation commission is imminent and should have been formed in the early years of the civil war. .
Many countries experienced civil wars at the end of the Cold War in 1991 partly because of the balance of power that shifted towards the United States of America and the termination of the Soviet Union’s support of those countries militarily and financially. The majority of those nations were in Africa such as Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, and Eastern Europe. The common denominator of almost all those nations is that they were ruled by despotic regimes. Most of those states have transitioned or are transitioning towards democratization and political stability. Somalia became the epitome of a failed state. The problem of Somalia in my opinion stems from the dichotomy of state loyalty vs. clan loyalty. The only way to solve this problem is through the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission.
The majority of Somalis from all walks of life are loyal to their clans more than they do to their country and the public good. This has been true and is manifested in the nomadic Somali culture which transitioned to modern state-building. The famous Somali saying can be translated as “ A religious scholar will not go to paradise alone.” This proverb literally means, the religious scholars are revered for their high morality, propriety, and righteousness. However, if the interest of their clan contradicts that of another including their country, they will side with their clan even if their clan is on the wrong side. Clan leaders always seek to prevail in the political arena and become the hegemony in the country. They act as if they are different states competing for hegemony like the one the realism theory of international relations explains on how the system (the world) functions.
Realists believe that States are rational and act like an individual where they always take into consideration costs and benefits. The top of their agenda is state survival. In order for the states to survive, they need to build economic and military might to suppress other neighboring states and become the hegemony in the region. If states cannot survive on their own they seek alliance where they band with another nation to show strength. In the event, they could not find an alliance, the states bandwagon to a powerful state for survival. For instance, the United States became the hegemony in North America after they defeated Canada, Mexico, and Native Americans. If we apply the realism theory to the situation in Somalia, every clan or tribe is fighting for survival, and they want to dominate and become the hegemony in the country. Somalis have been fighting since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime and there was no outright winner. There have been alliances and counter alliances and there was no force that emerged as the superpower. The competition for hegemony led to forming alliances even with foreign countries to defeat other clans in the country. The foreign meddling in the internal politics of Somalia from both neighboring and distant nations is perspicuous. Therefore, the only way out of this predicament is a political agreement and consensus among Somali citizens through reconciliation. It is incumbent upon the Somali parliament as the highest institution in the land the arrangement of a truth and reconciliation commission.
Countries that suffered civil wars had truth and reconciliation commissions to investigate the root causes of the war, compensate victims, and punish the perpetrators of crimes, and educate the public on human rights. For instance, the 1993 Arusha Accord between the Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda included a provision of a national Unity and Reconciliation Commission. This commission became permanent in 2002. The commission’s mandate is to promote national unity, foster tolerance, and peace among Rwandans, and condemn any ideas that divide Rwandans. Similarly, the Democratic Republic of Congo had a truth and reconciliation commission from July 2003 to February 2007. The mandate of the commission was to promote peace, reconciliation, compensation, and investigate divergent versions of history. These are just two examples out of many others around the globe. The majority of peace agreements in any country that fell into civil wars included a truth and reconciliation commission provision to foster unity and acknowledge the painful events that occurred.
Somalis have a culture that is conducive to those types of reconciliation that survived for generations. Reconciliation is not exotic to Somali culture but it needs to be officialized and mandated in the constitution. The commission can utilize the cultural institutions that are led by clan chiefs and elders. Those clan chiefs are already doing their part but they are lacking government and international support. They are the ones who are charged with the selection of the electors of the members of parliament. The truth and reconciliation commissions mandate will be among other things, to educate the public about the public good, bring peace between clans, fight corruption, and bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against humanity and most importantly the facilitators of dialogue between politicians. Their mandate must also include organizing presidential and parliament elections until Somalis have a one-person-one-vote system in place. They will be tasked to visit every location, city, and regional state to bring peace and harmony among its residents. By doing so, Somalis can avoid an election impasse like the one we have today. The truth and reconciliation commission must be independent of the government and should not hold political positions.
Abdirizak M. Diis
The author is an academic and International Relations expert and East Africa political Analyst based in Minneapolis, MN