A new beginning for Somalia?

By the end of Monday, Somalia is expected to have a new administration, one that would replace the Transitional Federal Government, which for nearly eight years had enjoyed recognition from the international community as the official authority in the conflict-afflicted country. Photo by: Stuart Price / U.N.

For many, elections mark new beginnings and bring hope for a better future. For the first time in more than two decades, there is that sense of optimism in Somalia, but equally a sense of fear that the historic political milestone on Aug. 20 will slide the country back into chaos.

Aid agencies are without a doubt on the watch for what happens in Somalia after Monday. For long, insecurity has not only displaced more than 1.4 million Somalis and plunged the country into extreme poverty, but also gave it the tag of being one of the most dangerous places for aid workers. A more stable political environment could help resolve these crises.

“The dangers are very real,” Mark Bowden, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said in his message for this year’s World Humanitarian Day (Aug. 19), noting that since last year’s celebration, 19 aid workers have been killed and eight others seized, with four remaining in captivity, in Somalia.

Stability, first and foremost

By the end of Monday, Somalia is expected to have a new administration, one that would replace the Transitional Federal Government, which for nearly eight years had enjoyed recognition from the international community as the official authority in the conflict-afflicted country.

Unlike in most other countries, the vote taking place today does not involve the greater public. As per an agreement in February 2012, the president will be elected by a parliament of 275 members, who themselves will be chosen by a select group of 135 elders: 30 from each of the four main clans — Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Rahanweyn — and 15 from a coalition of minority groups. As of Sunday, 215 of these members had been chosen.

The arrangement raises questions on the political difference the election could usher in, as leading candidates for president bear familiar faces, including TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali as well as Speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden. Several reports over the past few months implied corruption within TFG, with the bulk of foreign aid and domestic revenue unaccounted for or allegedly used for personal and extragovernmental purposes.

“I don’t think there’ll be a difference because the same people are still here and the election may not be fair,” Abdinur Yusuf, a resident in Mogadishu, told The Associated Press. “We only care about stability, so we pray peace will prevail and corruption will come to an end.”

So much is at stake with Somalia gaining stability. The international community and leaders within East Africa see Somalia as the linchpin in addressing insecurity, underdevelopment and humanitarian crises in the region. Although efforts by the combined international and local peacekeeping missions have liberated the capital, Mogadishu, from al-Shabab — officially one year this month — the Islamist terrorist group continues to have control over the country’s south-central parts, and piracy has become a thriving industry.

Kenya is one country closely watching the events in Somalia. Ahead of the election, President Mwai Kibaki released a statement with a warning that his country will impose punitive sanctions against so-called “potential spoilers” of the process.

“As I stated while addressing Somalia leaders on February 9, 2004 at the Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi and I quote: ‘As a neighbouring country, we wish to see peace and stability restored in Somali and the entire Horn of Africa,’” Kibaki’s Aug. 17 statement read. “But above all, lasting and durable peace and a stable government in Somalia is a matter of great national interest to Kenya.”

These spoilers may be the candidates themselves. There is worrying concern over how Ahmed, the incumbent president and a former warlord, will react should he lose; the same with those not chosen to be members of parliament. But the African Union’s Mission for Somalia reportedly has a contingency plan to take care of any eventualities.

Dispelling concerns, Ahmed told Reuters Aug. 16: “We are ready to accept the outcome, whatever it is.”

The challenge of aid access

For aid workers in Somalia, the country’s stability would be a long wish coming.

Aid workers’ woes in Somalia are much-documented. In November 2011, at the height of what is deemed the world’s worst famine in 20 years, al-Shabab raided offices of and banned several aid organizations — six were U.N. agencies — in areas they control, for “illicit activities and misconducts.” More bans were issued in subsequent months.

Nonetheless, “humanitarian actors proved that they could adapt and deliver to people in need,” according to the U.N. midyear review of the 2012 consolidated appeal for Somalia. They were able to provide food aid and other services to 950,000 people per month. Those in humanitarian emergency and crisis in Somalia, however, numbered 2.5 million as of April 2012.

State building and rebuilding

The election of a new president is a first step for Somalia’s recovery. Sustaining that recovery means the country has to build credible institutions in the finance, security, judiciary and socio-economic sectors.

A functioning government could unlock foreign assistance and private investments that Somalia sorely needs to support its development and build resilience so it can prevent future droughts and other disasters. Convening in July in Rome, the International Somalia Contact Group, an informal coalition of U.N. ambassadors created in 2006 to support peace and reconciliation in Somalia, urged the prospective government to “set out its priorities and associated resource requirements with a view to securing international support.”

That meeting stressed the need for “a large-scale multi-year funding for infrastructure projects, state-building and uninterrupted delivery of basic services” and the establishment of a post-transitional multidonor trust fund, something that the incumbent prime minister also suggested in an international conference in late May. Traditionally, multilateral banks such as the World Bank and African Development Bank administer the funds.

For their parts, the banks can’t do much to help Somalia unless the country clears its arrears with them, totaling $316.3 million as of August 2010. The World Bank does not have an active country assistance strategy for Somalia but has provided a handful of grants for tsunami, drought and global food crisis recovery and private sector strengthening. AfDB discontinued its operations in Somalia in 1991, immediately after the outbreak of the civil war, and similarly has only extended grants to the country, particularly for humanitarian and emergency purposes and through its window for fragile states.

Other donors have already outlined their plans over the next couple of years for the African country.

For the first time, the U.N. Development Program adopted a multiyear strategy, rather than yearly planning, for Somalia, covering the period 2011 to 2015. It proposed to use $220 million for activities advancing peace building, democratic governance and rule of law, economic recovery and environmental protection, and women’s empowerment.

Under its own 2011-2015 strategy for Somalia, the U.K. Department for International Development, like UNDP, focuses on governance and peace building, but it also aims to address issues on job creation, health care — particularly for women and children — and humanitarian assistance. DfID looks to spend 267 million pounds ($419 million in current terms) over those five years.

In addition, DfID wants to expand how it channels its aid for Somalia. It collaborates mostly with “trusted” U.N. and nongovernmental organizations, but is looking to diversify by tapping private contractors and other partners.

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About the author

  • Eliza villarino 400x400

    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.

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