Is there hope for Somalia?
Interview with the UN special representative for Somalia
March 5, 2007
The first African Union peacekeepers have begun to arrive in Somalia, with the advance deployment of 30 Ugandan troops to Baidoa, home to the Somali transitional parliament, on March 1. These are the first of what will be two battalions of troops from Uganda and one battalion from Nigeria, expected to be deployed in the war-ravaged east African country in the weeks ahead.
Their role will be to replace the Ethiopian troops who helped Somalia's UN-backed transitional government oust the hardline Islamic Courts Union. The ICU brought peace to much of southern Somalia in the last half of 2006 by imposing strict Islamic Shariah law.
Since taking power in the capital, Mogadishu, in January, the transitional government and its Ethiopian allies have been the target of a growing number of mortar and bomb attacks, presumably by Islamist fighters or supporters of warlords who used to control the capital. The international community has encouraged the transitional government, led by President Abdullahi Yusuf, to reach out to moderate members of the Islamist movement, but so far there has been little indication that this advice is being heeded.
Instead, last month, the Speaker of the transitional parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, was forced out. He had attempted to broker talks between the Islamic Courts and the transitional government. The new Speaker is considered loyal to the president.
Nevertheless, the Somali transitional government is the first government in place in the capital since 1991 and African Union peacekeepers are on the way, so is there hope for the country?
That is the question that the CBC's Africa correspondent, David McGuffin, put to Francois Fall, the UN's special representative for Somalia. The interview took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in February (before African Union peacekeeping troops began to be deployed).
Francois Fall, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia. (CBC)
Francois Fall: The government is willing to organize a national reconciliation congress. This is the most important issue for us, because all the other steps of the transitional period depend on the success of this congress. We are expecting the government will call all the stakeholders for this discussion for reconciliation, including the transitional federal institutional members, the civil society, the businessmen, the women's groups, the youth and even the moderate elements of the Islamic Courts Union [ICU].
We are expecting that this will take place in the right place, with the involvement of the international community. And the Prime Minister has already indicated that we are going to establish an advisory committee to lay the groundwork for the success of this meeting and we are willing to work closely with the government to organize the meeting for the right time.
David McGuffin: Certainly one of the knocks against the government has been their unwillingness to bring in more players to the peace process. Several countries involved in the process, including the U.S., have indicated their desire that the government talk with moderate Islamists, but there seems to be a resistance.
Fall: I think everyone agrees today within the international community that the dialogue in Somalia should be inclusive dialogue. That means they have to take into consideration the ICU members, because the ICU was an institution that ruled some good part of Somalia and if we want some general reconciliation in Somalia, then the government needs to accept all the stakeholders, but even when the International Contact Group meets, we agree that we should call all the stakeholders, only excluding those responsible for terrorism and extremism. But all the members of the ICU who are willing to work for genuine reconciliation, I think the government has to invite them to take part in this meeting.
McGuffin: Talking to the prime minister and the president of Somalia, do you get the sense that they are willing to invite Islamist moderates for talks?
Fall: At this stage it's difficult to say that. I know there is some resistance but this working/advisory committee we are going to establish will encourage the government to open the door to all the stakeholders.
McGuffin: Have you been in touch with moderate elements in the Islamic Courts Union to see how willing they are to talk to the transitional government?
Fall: Yes, I have contact with them, by phone in Yemen. They are willing to take part in the National Reconciliation Congress, if they are invited. I hope the government will extend an invitation to them, because they are willing to participate. What they told me is that they are willing to work towards the stability of the country. And we remain in close contact with them — some of the moderates like Sheikh Sharif — and we are expecting the government will agree to invite them.
Peacekeeping and reconciliation
David McGuffin at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (CBC)
McGuffin: Looking now at the African Union and its plans for a peacekeeping force of 8,000 troops in Somalia — peacekeeping has a checkered history in Somalia, at best — how confident are you that this mission will succeed?
Fall: Yes, I can't say we have a good memory, good experience in the past in Somalia regarding peacekeeping. This time the situation is different from the 1990s. But we still have some concern in Somalia for the deployment of troops… The African Union is already prepared to send in three battalions, two from Uganda, and one from Nigeria. But at the same time, to prepare the ground for the success of this peacekeeping, we believe we have to prepare the ground for reconciliation.
Without the reconciliation, without the disarmament, it will be very, very difficult to have a conducive atmosphere for the success of the deployment of the peacekeepers in Somalia. That's why we are encouraging the government to speed up the reconciliation process.
McGuffin: Because certainly the peacekeepers run the risk of looking like they are backing one side if there isn't the reconciliation undergoing?
Fall: Yes, the nature of reconciliation in Somalia is at a different level. We have it at a district level and at a national level. And what we expect is that the government can conduct the reconciliation at the district level. But we are seeing that inside Somalia, particularly in Mogadishu — there is a need for reconciliation in Mogadishu. Mogadishu is the heart of the problem. I think that is very important.
On the ground in Mogadishu
McGuffin: Now, you were in Mogadishu fairly recently, you met with President Abdullahi Yusuf. Can you give us a picture of what you saw, how things are, the various leaders you met?
Francois Fall at the United Nations. (CBC)
Fall: Yes. It was not my first visit; I have been to Mogadishu three times. The first time I was there was in 2005, when the warlords controlled the city. The second time was when the ICU controlled the city. I went twice. I visited in July and early December. My last visit was to see the president, the first time in Villa Somalia, the state house of Somalia. I think it was, for me, a good opportunity to meet the president and mainly encourage reconciliation.
What I have seen in Mogadishu is that some parts of the city are secure, but we still have a lot concern about Mogadishu, because there is no proper disarmament and we know there is a group who are fighting, with mortar attacks, which are very frequent. And the security situation in Mogadishu is very alarming.
McGuffin: There has been talk about the rise of an Iraq-style insurgency. Do you get the sense that that is now happening, or is a risk?
Fall: I can't say Somalia is now becoming a second Iraq, but we have some concern about the mortar attacks in Mogadishu. It's not too late to have a second Iraq in Somalia, it's not too late. Now is the time we have to work for the Somalis, because there is a good opportunity now.
If the government is willing to pacify Mogadishu, if the government is willing to secure Mogadishu, the best opportunity is to open the door for reconciliation, because as long as they will not go for genuine dialogue about the future of Mogadishu, I think the different armed groups will continue to get their arms and there will be a constant threat in Mogadishu. And that's why many people think that Mogadishu will become a new Baghdad, and we have to avoid that.
The humanitarian challenge
McGuffin: Somalia has been a trouble spot for 16-plus years now. The humanitarian problems, beyond warfare, are massive. But there is not really a lot of focus on the ground to alleviating the humanitarian suffering. Why do you think it has been so easy for the international community to ignore Somalia?
Fall: The humanitarian problem in Somalia comes from different sources. It comes from the war, 16 years of war, from the drought last year, a very drastic drought, and also the floods of this year, plus the security problem inside Somalia.
The problem is access; we have to work with the Somali people to create access for the humanitarian organizations. All the UN agencies are ready to give the maximum to the Somali people who have suffered too much for sixteen or more years of war, but we are working on this issue. Wherever the security situation improves, the humanitarian help will be there.
McGuffin: There is a child mortality rate of 25 per cent in Somalia, which anywhere else in the world would be the cause of a massive effort to alleviate the problem.
Fall: Knowing the particular situation of Somalia — if we succeed today to secure Somalia — if we go into genuine reconciliation, we will see massive support from the international community, because all the world knows that Somalia is suffering. Everybody is willing now to restore security in this country.
McGuffin: What will the new UN Security Council resolution on Somalia provide? [The resolution, adopted Feb. 20, gives approval for the African Union to establish a peacekeeping mission in Somalia — AMISOM, the African Mission for Somalia — for six months.]
Fall: The [African Union troops'] mandate will be to protect the transitional federal institutions and also the formation of the national forces of Somalia. We have worked closely with the African Union. The UN is ready to give them any help they need for the success of the deployment.
McGuffin: This will be financial support? Logistical?
Fall: The best way to get funding will be to get a good indication from the transitional government that it is willing to create a conducive atmosphere in Somalia. That is the message we have for the government. On the one hand, we have the need for the deployment, on the other is the need to create the conducive atmosphere for success. To get the funding, and for the success of the mission, the government has to open the door for genuine dialogue and reconciliation. That will encourage the partners to put more money on the table.
McGuffin: So what's next?
Fall: Now I think there is window, a good window opening now in Somalia. We have to seize this opportunity. This is the best opportunity we have had in the past sixteen years and we shouldn't lose it. We need to enlarge this window and then go to genuine reconciliation in Somalia. Since we have [government] institutions inside the country for the first time in sixteen years, it's very, very important that we don't lose this momentum, and to move to establish a functioning state in Somalia. I think there are still some big concerns, particularly security, but there is a good opportunity and the momentum right now is very good.