Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Somalia –building a new democracy

Three Somalis in hospital after shooting in Mogadishu on the first of October 2005. Sad, but not particularly important news given that Somalia has been in the power of warlords for the past 15 years – until you learn that one was vice chairman and the other two were activists for the Centre for Peace and Democracy (CPD) – a tiny Non-Governmental Organisation that aims to foster peace and democracy in Somalia. The shooting is bad news for the individuals, but also implies that the CPD is beginning to get somewhere – and will succeed, if we give them the support they deserve.

Somalia means little to most of us except it is the setting for Black Hawk Down, where a US attempt at intervention into the chaotic situation was summarily defeated. Let us orient ourselves.

Somalia is an old-established nation, situated in the Horn of Africa, colonised by many nations, latterly Britain and then Italy, and gaining independence in 1959. After 10 years of democratic government, a military coup put Said Barre in power, a military dictator and pragmatic socialist who developed a cult of personality. After losing the Ogaden war, his popularity slumped, and he dealt with political opposition using jailings, torture, and summary executions of dissidents and collective punishment of clans thought to have engaged in organized resistance. He was overthrown by two warlords in 1990. The long civil war that followed comprehensively destroyed lives and infrastructure in Somalia. A famine in 1992 killed 300,000 people. There are now some 20 warlords in the country, based broadly on tribal groups, and the Somali people have spent the last 15 years suffering under a state of gun law, apart for two states in the north which have created a kind of peaceful independence.

As a result of the good offices of the EU and UN, a government has been appointed, but it is proving difficult to find a safe city within Somalia for them to meet. A fault line is in danger of opening up between the president and the MPs, who are appointed partly by warlords and partly by traditional leaders. The influence of the warlords on Parliament and President is strong.

The warlords are variously associated with the front-line states of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. They fund themselves by exacting charges at the sea and air-ports that they control. They have support also from business, which flourishes without regulation or taxation, so that the economy has, interestingly, been described as anarcho-capitalism. The country has achieved an effective low-cost telecommunications system. But without taxation and government, there are no legal, educational or health services and social security is at zero (or, arguably, at negative) level.

In order to allow democracy to develop, it is necessary to turn down the power of the warlords. There are several complementary and feasible options open, all of which have positive and negative aspects:
They could be indicted in the International Criminal Court.
They could be denied the freedom to travel - particularly to the front-line states. The UN and/or the EU, particularly the UK and Italy, should undertake to persuade the frontline states to refuse to allow the warlords entry.
The warlords must be denied access to weapons and more specifically ammunition, which can be identified by sniffer dogs at ports of entry.
The UN should help the Somali government to take over the administration and levies of the ports, with the money going to the good of the Somali people instead of the warlords. This is unavoidable if the warlords are to be removed, but it would be the most challenging goal.
The traditional leaders could be empowered to provide a locus of people based power.
Individual and business donors can support the detailed work programme of the Centre for Peace and Democracy, which offers the chance of developing democratic structures and thinking in Somali civil society.

Somalia represents a challenge to the United Nations, in terms of the new responsibility to protect citizens from crimes against humanity that it has taken on itself in the 2005 Summit. If the world is to take responsibility for “failing” states, it might as well start with places where the state has well and truly failed – in Somalia. If the UN can wrest authority from the warlords using non-military strategies, the experience so gathered will leave us in a better position to intervene against abusive governments.

Please pass this information on to your political group and democratic representative in order to bring pressure onto the gunmen who attacked the Somali CPD Centre for Peace and Democracy.

Richard Lawson
Convenor, Campaign for Index of Human Rights in the UN

No comments: