Somalia: Are "building blocks" the solution?

NAIROBI, 17 July (IRIN) - One of the latest attempts to resolve the conflict in Somalia revolves around the concept of "building blocks", using a decentralised approach to Somali unity, rather than the now discredited efforts to produce a unified administration in one go.
The Somali Aid Co-ordination Body (SACB)'s latest donor alert for Somalia (July 6), worth US $17 million, for the current drought and food emergency, with an estimated 1 million people at risk, underlines the lack of progress in finding solutions for Somalia.

Possible conferences

The latest current speculation that President Mohamed Egal of the self-declared republic of Somaliland might host a new Somali-wide reconciliation conference in Hargeisa seems premature. Although the suggestion, of holding a reconciliation conference of traditional leaders, appeals to several countries represented on the Standing Committee (of the Friends of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, IGAD), he would face significant criticism within Somaliland. There is still a considerable body of opinion which suspects Egal's adherence to Somaliland independence and would regard any Somali conference as evidence of his lack of enthusiasm for Somaliland and a continued desire to be president of all Somalia. Egal, indeed, would find it difficult to attend such a conference, let alone host it, unless it provided a significant improvement in Somaliland's international status.

More plausible is the possibility that Kenya, seriously concerned by the growing extent of Ethiopian and Eritrean activity inside Somalia and the spill-over into Kenya, working with Djibouti and through IGAD, will organise a new conference. President Daniel arap Moi has been talking to Somali leaders, including Hussein Aideed, and recently received Djibouti's former president Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who hosted two previous Somali conferences. At the end of June, the Somali desk in the Kenyan Foreign Ministry was instructed to report directly to the President's Office, underlining President Moi's interest in current Somali developments.

"Building block" theory

Kenya and Djibouti are, of course, both members of the Standing Committee whose current strategy for Somalia revolves around the "building block" approach, using the development of local administrative units as the basis for a decentralised approach to Somali unity. The Ethiopian and Egyptian-sponsored conferences at Sodere (January 1997) and Cairo (October 1997) only succeeded in highlighting the divisions among Somali faction leaders, and among interested regional powers. The idea of the "building blocks" arises from the SACB's evaluation of certain local administrative bodies as "responsible", and the UN's identification of zones of "recovery", "transition" and "crisis" in Somalia.

The concept has clear, if superficial, appeal, given the continued failure of Somali factions and parties to respond to efforts to recreate a unitary Somali administration. The possible units are frequently identified with the major clan families, which would allow for five or six territories. Two such units already exist, Somaliland and Puntland, based upon regions dominated by the Isaaq/Dir clan family, and by the Harti/Darod respectively. The Rahenweyne (Merifle and Digil) would cover the regions of Bay and Bakool and part of Lower Shebelli; a fourth region would be Jubaland, largely inhabited by Darod clans; and the territory of the Hawiye, in Central Somalia and including Benadir, would make up a fifth region, though Mogadishu, if it remained the national capital, might be administered separately.

The units

The most functional of these areas is Somaliland which declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in May 1991. This "restoration of the sovereignty" of the former colonial territory of British Somaliland has survived a number of vicissitudes including two brief bouts of civil conflict and the continued failure of recognition by the international community. Nevertheless, the Somaliland government has managed to establish a functional administration over most of the area, including police and defence forces, a judiciary and a parliament incorporating the elders (Guurti) as an upper house. A permanent constitution is supposed to have been drawn up but little progress has been made. Critics of the government claim that this is deliberate and that senior government figures, including the president, are ambivalent over Somaliland's independence. Despite this, the economy, although battered by last year's livestock ban by Saudi Arabia - now lifted - has been surprisingly buoyant. Somaliland still faces the serious difficulty of the international community's failure to offer more than acceptance and the government's failure to win full support from the non-Isaaq clans in the region, notably the Dhulbahante and the Warsengeli which border Puntland.

Puntland, in the northeast, is seen as the other moderately successful model for a "building block". An administration and government, with Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf as president, was set up in July last year, following a conference at Garowe. Unlike Somaliland, Puntland has never seen itself as secessionist. Originally, its draft constitution supported the idea of Puntland as an element in a future decentralised federal state, though in the final version this had been replaced by references to a more centralised state of Somalia. Indications are that Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf has his eyes more on Mogadishu and the leadership of Somalia as a whole than just Puntland.

Other areas still have along way to go before they can be considered as moving out of the zone of "crisis", and be considered as functional "building blocks". The Hawiye, in central regions of the country, have attempted to seek a local solution to their divisions, to provide a unified approach to national level politics. They have, however, failed to find any acceptable balance between clan-based factions, warlords and local administrative factions. An administration, essentially providing for a possible Hawiye region, was created for Benadir, including Mogadishu, in August 1998. Set up by the Egyptian and Libyan-backed coalition of faction leaders Hussein Aideed, Ali Mahdi and Mohamed Qanyare, it was from the outset opposed by an Ethiopian-backed grouping involving such figures as Hussein Bod and Mussa Sudde. Libyan funding worth US $800,000 allowed for the deployment of a 3,000 strong police force at the end of the year. However, it proved unable to open the airport or seaport, and in March, the police force, unpaid for two months, spontaneously dissolved, with members taking their weapons as they walked out. Nor did the supposed administration have either the resources or the will to dismantle the factional groups, a necessity if any administration is to be effective. Disagreements between the Mogadishu warlords have intensified more recently with the open support of Eritrea for Hussein Aideed.

The failure of Hawiye clan unity has been underlined by the Belet Weyne conference. This began last November as a Hawiye peace and reconciliation meeting, resolving most of the traditional differences between the Hawiye clans before moving into the political phase of the meeting in February. The conference, however, was not attended by many leading Hawiye political personalities, including Hussein Aideed, Ali Mahdi, and Mohamed Qanyare, nor indeed by their main opponents. Musse Sude, for example, though he declared support for the meeting's conclusions was not there; Hussein Bod attended for a time, but in mid-June returned to Mogadishu, announcing he had been elected chairman. In fact, the conference ended on 2 July with the election of Colonel Omar Hashi as chairman of the 11-man Somali Consultative Council chosen as the Hawiye political leadership, and including representatives from all the main Hawiye clans.

The conference has certainly strengthened the position of the traditional Hawiye leaders, the Ugases, which presided over the reconciliation conference, but it has not produced a unified Hawiye leadership. It is far from clear that the representatives of the Habr Gidir and Abgal clans on the Consultative Council will be able to undercut the support still enjoyed by Hussein Aideed, Ali Mahdi, or even by Hussein Bod. The most probable result will be the appearance of still more factions on the streets of Mogadishu. There is no indication any are preapred to moderate their own claims to position and power in Mogadishu, or in Benadir, or more widely. One longer term problem regarding Mogadishu, now largely inhabited by Hawiye clans, is the widespread assumption of non-Hawiye clans that any capital of Somalia should be outside the control of any specific clan. It is not a view shared by the Hawiye.

Similar uncertainty prevails in the Juba valley where last October the leaders of various Darod clans, including General Adan Abdullahi Nur "Gebiyou" (Absame/Ogaden), and General Mohamed Siyad Hersi "Morgan" (Majerteen/Harti) were planning to organise their own administration. Now General Morgan has been driven out of his base at Kismayo by supporters of Hussein Aideed, and General Adan's rival for support among the Ogaden, Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess, is again making a serious bid for Ogaden support and for control of Kismayo. The conflict for Kismayo has been complicated by the involvement of the Somali National Front, a Marehan/Darod front from Gedo region. The Marehan have always had interests in Kismayo, and the SNF faction of General Omar Haji Mohamed "Masaleh", which threw its lot in with Hussein Aideed two years ago, was substantially involved in the ousting of General "Morgan". However, General Omar is also facing problems in Gedo region from another SNF faction, and also from Ethiopia which has been supportive of both General "Morgan" and General "Gebiyou", and of General Omar's opponents.

The possibility of a Rahenweyne administration in Bay and Bakool regions appears more plausible at the moment, despite the political complexities of its two main branches, the Merifle and the Digil, both of which are political confederacies as well as genealogical constructs. The victories of the Ethiopian backed Rahenweyne Resistance Army (RRA) over Hussein Aideed's Habr Gidir and the recapture of Baidoa in June have encouraged the likelihood that the Rahenweyne will recreate its Supreme Governing Council, a self-administrative body set up in 1995. It rapidly fell apart, when the Rahenweyne political faction, the Somali Democratic Movement split into three, and Hussein Aideed's father, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, and the Habr Gidir clan took the opportunity to seize a large area of the Rahenweyne regions of Bay and Bakool including the towns of Hoddur and Baidoa. With the aid of Ethiopian troops, the RRA have now retaken these and largely driven the Habr Gidir and Hussein Aideed's forces out of Bay and Bakool. This time, the Rahenweyne believe they are far more united, and their recent victories will provide the popular support necessary for a successful constitutional conference. The Malak (Sultan) of the Rahenweyne, the head of the Rahenweyne Council of Chiefs, says the Rahenweyne will hold such a conference and set up their own administration "soon".

The Malak has also indicated that the Rahenweyne are intending to advance further, and drive out the Habr Gidir from the airport at Balidogle, take over the Lower Shebelli valley and incorporate the ports of Merca and Brava and the coast as far south as Jillib, within a Rahenweyne region; the RRA has made it clear it has similar ambitions. They may, however, run into more considerable opposition in these areas. Hussein Aideed's support within his clan has steadily dropped in recent months following his reverses at the hands of the RRA, nor have his alliance with Eritrea and his use of Oromo fighters been popular. A Rahenweyne attack on the Habr Gidir in Lower Shebelli runs the risk that the Habr Gidir will once more unite behind Hussein Aideed to try and safeguard their lands, and prevent any Digil advance to the sea. It also raises the issue of whether the clans along the coast will welcome a Rahenweyne advance.


The appeal of "building blocks" lies in the realisation that any unitary Somali state is improbable for the indefinite future. It allows for other alternatives, a loose federal structure, even a confederal alternative modelled on the United Arabic Emirates. It also allows for greater participation and accountability. As an approach it is, however, only plausible if it can operate without external interference, and can get a degree of sympathetic and careful international support, not yet apparent. New institutions with public support have so far only emerged in Somaliland, and there the international community has added a serious level of uncertainty to the future by the failure to provide the necessary assistance or recognition. Puntland, with serious financial and administrative concerns unresolved, remains extremely fragile. Other regions have yet to make any significant progress in providing structures which have popular support or realistic alternatives to the warlords. The concept of "building blocks" suggests that Somali factions are being replaced by responsible and responsive local administrations arising out of genuine consultative processes. But theory and practice remain far apart.


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