The international community’s unproductive game in Somalia
By Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad and Fuad Abdirahman
A UN official described the UN operation in Somalia in the early 90s as “the worst failure of the UN in our generation.” This claim was made 30 years ago, depicting the United Nations’ incompetence during the conflict that let the country descend into civil war. Three decades, and billions of dollars later, spent on ostensibly reversing the country’s dire situation, little has changed; there has been far greater destruction, death, and starvation since the UN intervened.
When Somalia’s central government collapsed, and the UN was called in, at first, several factional leaders competing for control of Mogadishu praised its presence. This changed, however, when UN chartered planes began transferring cash and weapons to specific rebel groups, infuriating other clans and influential leaders in Mogadishu. This was revealed by Mohamed Sahnoun, an Algerian diplomat who served as the UN envoy to Somalia and was forced to resign in 1992 after publicly criticizing the UN’s failures in Somalia.
At around the same time, US Ambassador Robert B. Oakley was suspected of siding with one faction, enraging other powerful factions. Nothing has changed today, like the UN, the US, and other powerful nations and agencies, including the African Union – where Somalia is a member – continue to exert pressure and extend favour to specific factions. As a result, the country is constantly held to ransom by external interests. One just has to look at federal member states’ pioneers who must seek approval from the “international community” before making key decisions on Somalia’s internal affairs.
Like Oakley, the current EU Ambassador to Somalia, Nicolas Berlanga, is fond of issuing threats and making provocative remarks to sabotage Somalia’s delicate state-building process. Mr. Berlanga has recently been in the spotlight for his criticism of a peace agreement made between the Somali government and Abdirashid Janan, a Jubaland minister, as a short-term solution to more significant problems and at the expense of Janan’s victims. Janan is accused of murder and torture. Conveniently, Berlanga didn’t criticize Janan once while the minister was allied to him.
The EU, through Berlanga, has provided millions of dollars to Sahan Research. This spy agency works under the cover of a think tank and is famous for also conducting disinformation campaigns in Somalia. The government has twice banned Sahan from Somalia for threatening the national security, stability, and unity of the Somalia state.
According to observers, acts by the international community are responsible for the abandonment of important reforms in Somalia’s election law that would have seen the country adopt the popular one-man-one-vote, which had been agreed between the Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states. Specifically, during the review process, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) recommendations on how to achieve universal suffrage were roundly disregarded by a political elite under the influence of the EU.
Under the auspices of the EU, France, and Norway, through their point men, neighboring Djibouti’s strongman Ismail Omar Gelle and former Somalia premier Hassan Ali Kheyre, closely collaborated with Berlanga to push for an indirect election under the 4.5 clan system — where major government positions are split between the four main clans, and the remaining 0.5 share given to a grouping of smaller clans, sometimes called the Fifth Clan — which has always been associated with widespread manipulation and voter fraud. Kheyre, a former oil executive associated with numerous European nations interested in oil exploitation in Somalia, reportedly favours this system because it is easy to manipulate to ascend to power.
There is little doubt that many foreign envoys in Mogadishu are posted to pursue specific political agendas, not to pursue cordial diplomatic relations, and often work with lobby groups, particularly Sahan, a Nairobi-based think tank, to promote these parallel agenda. Instructively, many envoys like the former US Ambassador to Somalia Stephen Schwartz have started pushing narratives similar to that of Sahan immediately after leaving their diplomatic positions in Somalia.
In 2016, Sahan managing director Matt Bryden had a public spat with Taiwo Babatunde, a former employee of Sahan who is the current AMISOM (Africa Mission in Somalia) political office chairperson, whom he continues to attack while manipulating other members of AMISOM to obtain privileged information to undermine the Somalia Government. The source of their quarrel when Bryden fired Babatunde from his position. Babatunde subsequently successfully sued Bryden for wrongful dismissal, in the process, exposing Bryden’s history of mistreating and abusing Somali nationals he works with at Sahan since its formation in 2013. In retaliation, Bryden wrote a letter through the Presidential Candidates’ Union — where he is an advisor — attacking Taiwo’s reputation to get him removed from the mediation process to resolve the political crisis in Somalia.
Echoing events from 30 years ago, tangible, real intervention is lacking in Somalia because certain actors benefit if Somalia is in chaos and experiences regular turmoil, including foreign financial institutions. To be fair, the country has been the recipient of substantial credit from donor partners, invested in infrastructure improvements in the country.
But, today, the international community appears to have halted development aid inflows using instability as an excuse when much of the country’s chaos is attributable to their direct efforts. The country’s Finance minister recently revealed that international partners had halted budgetary support as leverage to influence the country’s electoral process.
Somalia cannot attain complete political stability, social and economic recovery, and rebuild if the international community continues to engage in doublespeak and covert destabilization.