(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

New parliament amidst enormous challenges

[Somalia] Mogadishu: Destroyed Parliament building.
Somalia Conflict. Civil War.

The swearing-in of Somalia's transitional parliament on 22 August in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and the first meeting of the MPs days later may have gone smoothly, but the real challenges facing the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country have just begun, analysts say.

"History is littered with dishonoured Somali peace accords. In fact, no major international peace initiative for Somalia has ever failed to produce one," Matt Bryden, an analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) said. "Only time will tell whether, this time, Somalia's leaders are prepared to show genuine leadership in placing their country on the path to recovery."

Indeed, hardly had the ink dried on last month's agreement than one faction leader threatened to derail the peace process, which is being facilitated by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a subregional organisation.

Gen Muhammad Sa'id Hersi "Morgan", who is opposed to the talks, reportedly moved his troops into a position to attack the southern port of Kismayo.

The IGAD Facilitation Committee, which is mediating the talks, on Monday condemned Morgan's plans. But another faction leader, Col Barre Adan Shire Hirale, whose militia controls Kismayo, 500 km south of the capital, Mogadishu, claimed Morgan was receiving support from the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia. A spokesman for the Puntland administration dismissed the claim as "baseless".

Another group, the Madhibaan Supreme Council, had also complained on 23 August that some clans like the Madhibaan and Midgan had been excluded from the peace conference.

"This is conspiracy...implemented and tolerated to hinder our legitimate struggle and to stop the truth from becoming public knowledge [and] to oppress our people with the full consent of the representatives of the official bodies," Yassin Hersi Jama, member of the Madhibaan Supreme Council, said in a statement.

IGAD insists however that the process is going well. It expects a new president to be elected on 22 September, and thereafter the business of reestablishing the collapsed state to get into top gear.

According to Bryden, the new authority will have an enormous task to consolidate and monitor a comprehensive ceasefire, control heavy weapons, demobilise militia groups and form a new police and military force. It also needs to sort out the sharing of internal revenues, among other issues.

"One of the most sensitive challenges confronting the transitional leadership will be the question of [the self-declared republic] Somaliland, whose administration has been unrepresented at the peace talks and whose demands for independent statehood are yet to be addressed," Bryden said.

Other analysts are more optimistic. "The power [of the swearing-in] is more in the symbolism. It is an important symbol of the possibilities - a sign that all is not lost. It has the potential to be a catalyst, to rally Somalis to an opportunity that could heal their country," a Nairobi-based political analyst told IRIN

"One of the biggest developments over the last few years is the cleavage that has arisen between the leaders who came to Nairobi [to attend the reconciliation talks] and those who remained behind," the analyst added. "If we can get a meeting of the minds between the Nairobi, the Arta group and those who remained behind, it can be done."

In 2000, a conference in the Djibouti city of Arta led to the establishment of the Transitional National Government (TNG) and other institutions - an interim arrangement that was expected to last three years. But the TNG never consolidated power much beyond certain areas of Mogadishu and the south. Eventually the interim period passed, but the TNG stayed in power.

However an African diplomat who has been following the talks said there was still reluctance" among the delegates to return to Mogadishu. "The talks could have lasted a shorter time, but some of the delegates clearly prefer to stay longer in Nairobi," he told IRIN.

"The will to tackle Somalia's problems head-on is still lacking. This could create problems for the [peace]process in future. Compounded with a complete lack of resources to resuscitate the failed Somali state, this road ahead remains bumpy," the diplomat added.

Femi Badejo, senior political affairs officer at the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, feels the peace process now stands a better chance of succeeding. "The chances of it working this time are higher than before," he told IRIN. “A significant first is that Somalia's neighbours are closely working on this. If this continues, they will be on the ground to nurture any fledgling administration."

"It is expected that there will be individuals or groups who will be unhappy, [but] people are trying to work out whatever problems are outstanding," he added.

The Kenyan regional cooperation minister, John Koech, who is the new chairman of the IGAD mediating committee, told IRIN he expected the entire process of setting up the Somali interim government to be completed smoothly.

IGAD ministers, he said, expected to meet in Nairobi shortly to inaugurate the Transitional Federal Government of the Somali Republic. "Some cases are still in dispute and we asking them to expedite the process of selecting their representatives," Koech told IRIN.

Among the Somali leaders in Nairobi, the creation of a new parliament was generally welcomed. "It was a significant, positive step toward establishing peace and stability in Somalia. Those clans that have not named their representatives should do so to successfully end these long and tortuous talks," Asha Haji Ilmi, a women rights activist and the only woman co-chair in the final phase of the talks, as well as a newly sworn MP, told IRIN.

Asha however expressed disappointment that some clans did not name their quota of women representatives, who, according to the interim charter, should be 12 percent of the total number of MPs.

"The 12 percent figure must be met. It is not discretionary. It is constitutional and the clans must respect it," Asha, who represents the Hawiye subclan of Habar Gedir, said. "We must not start flouting the charter now, we have to stick to the letter and spirit of it."

Hassan Abdi "Jabahad", a new MP from the Darod subclan of Absame, told IRIN it was a "very positive step, which reignites a new sense of hope in the Somali" people. He said he was optimistic that those clans who had not named their representatives would "do so within the next few days", adding that "there are some minor differences among the subclans that did not submit their MPs, and I am confident they will sort them out."

Isak Muhammad "Daqare", who represents the Digil and Mirifle clans, told IRIN that the swearing-in ceremony was "a victory for the Somali people and those who wish the Somalis well." He said that it took almost two years to get here, but "now we should move very quickly to name the remaining MPs and start the process of electing a speaker to preside over the election of a president".

Ahmed Awad Ashara, the spokesman of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, whose Harti subclan of the Darod delayed to name its MPs, however, threatened to pull out of the process, accusing the IGAD Facilitation Committee of bias. But a source close to the talks told IRIN the list was delayed because "other Harti leaders had contested it". The MPs were later sworn in.

Other sources told IRIN that any clans threatening to withdraw were likely to come under immense pressure "to stay the course". As a sign of international interest in the peace process, the United States and France said they had been encouraged by the swearing-in, but urged the Somalis to swear in the rest of the MPs.

"After 13 years, the possibility of re-establishing a government in Somalia may finally be on the horizon. We call on all Somali participants to approach this process with sustained commitment, honesty and goodwill," the US said in a statement after the swearing-in.

In Somalia, media reports said the president of the TNG, Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, had deliberately refused to attend the swearing-in. But a source close to the president told IRIN that he supported the talks.

"The President is still on board and he is fully committed to the successful conclusion of the talks, rumors notwithstanding," the source said.

Badejo said the president was not required to attend the ceremony. "He is not an elected MP,” he told IRIN. “He is the president, therefore he can attend later ceremonies."

Each of Somalia's four major clans has been allocated 61 seats in the proposed parliament, while an alliance of minority clans was awarded 31. A speaker and two deputy-speakers to be elected from among the MPs on 15 September, who will preside over the election of the president on 22 September. The new president will in turn appoint a prime minister to form a government.

The Somali National Reconciliation Conference was initiated by IGAD in October 2002 in Eldoret, Kenya. The subregional body, which includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda as well as Somalia, moved the talks to Nairobi in February 2003. The inauguration of the transitional parliament marked a high point in the process.

After a new government has been installed, IGAD wants to return the process to Mogadishu. It also intends to seek international help to kick-start the new Somali state, including sending foreign ministers of neighbouring states to address the UN Security Council in coming weeks to request international assistance for reconstruction.

But analysts repeat the challenges ahead are great. "The real challenge for Somalia's interim leaders will be to persuade, not the international community, but their own people, of their determination to complete the transitional period and hand over power to a duly elected, representative and legitimate Somali government," Bryden said.

"That is a better place to fix "the finish line" than the end of the current round of talks; but if and when the transitional period draws to a close a new set of challenges emerges, the finish line will once again move just over the horizon, out of sight," he added.

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