A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
September/October 1993, Page 36
The Horn of Africa
U.N. Can Encourage Somali Federation To Create a Lasting Government
By Ali Ahmed Fatah
Two-and-a-half years after unbridled inter-clan warfare and famine incapacitated Somalia, the Horn of Africa country is back from the brink with a new lease on life. This hopeful development is due in large measure to the efforts of the U.S. led multinational Unified Task Force (UNITAF). The United States' decision in December 1992 to intervene in the Somali civil war was the turning point in arresting a large-scale human tragedy.
As the 30,000 troops deployed in the aptly named "Operation Restore Hope" put an end to open warfare between the clan factions, relief workers were freed to help the victims of the conflict. In January 1993, the U.N. invited the factions to attend a series of conferences on national reconciliation. By March, 11 of 15 factions agreed to pursue a negotiated political settlement preceded by a countrywide cease-fire. Only a four-faction coalition loyal to warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid balked, although in the end they too agreed to participate.
Having stabilized the "famine zone" regions, UNITAF turned command and control of those areas over to U.N. peacekeeping forces, known as UNOSOM II, in May. For its part, UNOSOM II has come to the painful realization that without the cooperation of the armed factions, there will be no peace to be kept by the "blue helmets."
To ensure peace, the U.N. declared its intention to disarm all of the factions in the country—a decidedly risky task to undertake. A case in point is the June 5 ambush of U.N. peacekeepers in Mogadishu in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by Aidid's militia. Still, UNOSOM II can achieve operational success if it shows resolve. The overwhelming majority of Somalis support its basic mission: to help restore civil society in the country.
If, on the other hand, the U.N. vacillates in pursuit of this goal it will not only fail disastrously, but will also set back the cause of peace in Somalia for a long time to come. In addition to the losing warlords in the south, secessionist elements in the north may be emboldened to challenge UNOSOM II's mandate to restore peace.
With the total collapse of civil society after three decades of experimentation with self-government, Somalia's nationalistic euphoria has all but faded. Many Somalis blame the shaky basis on which the country was founded. Since the 1960s, politicians have paid lip-service to democracy while practicing an insidious form of clanism in managing the affairs of the nation.
If the U.N. vacillates, it will fail disastrously.
Consequently, few Somalis have taken seriously the concept of nationality itself, leading some to ask, "Is the modern concept of nationhood universally applicable to different peoples and communities across the globe?" They argue that a common language, culture, etc. may be desirable in forging a nationality, but that in Somalia these attributes have not, in themselves, been sufficient to mold a sense of nationhood. Perhaps the Somali-speaking clans have not gained the depth and breadth of experiences necessary for developing a common, overriding national ideology. That is why the history of the Somali people remains what it has been for hundreds of years, the story of the egalitarian clans.
The bases of Somali national consciousness date back to the 15th century, when Imam Ahmad Gurey organized Somalis across clan lines to check the Abyssinian Empire's encroachments into Somali settlements. Two similar movements were organized in this century, the first being Sayyid Muhammad Abdallah Hassan's 20-year anticolonial struggle beginning in 1900, and the second the Somali Youth League's independence campaign following the Second World War. None of these movements, however, sought to supplant the institution of the clan or to loosen its grip on the allegiance of Somalis as individuals and as communities. The aftermath of independence in 1960 saw the worsening of inter-clan relations as state institutions became fiefdoms for sets of clans, with dizzying shifts of alliances.
The current U.N.-brokered "Transitional National Council" mechanism is a necessary stopgap measure. What the country needs, though, are far-reaching political reforms in order for democracy to take root. This requires bold steps. Of all the difficult options Somalis must consider, there are basically two alternatives from which they can select to reconstitute an effective central government:
1) A non-sectarian, non-partisan group of Somali intellectuals should investigate the past experiences which nearly doomed Somalia as a nation-state. Their analyses should be dispassionate and thorough, using a national perspective rather than the viewpoint of any single clan. The group should outline a democratic system of national government with checks and balances that affirms Islamic values. In short, a nation of laws that expresses Somali cultural values should be constructed on the ashes of the old, failed body politic.
2) Representatives of the major clan families should assemble to reorganize the country into a federal system of government. The current 18 regions should be reduced to fewer than half that number. The borders of the new semi-autonomous provinces should be redrawn along clanfamily boundaries. Each province must be organized according to recognized democratic principles in accordance with Islamic values. The provinces should then jointly draft the articles of federation delineating the rights and responsibilities to be shared at the national level.
Widespread Support for Federation
The first option is currently attracting more international attention. Considering the cultural milieu in Somalia, though, the second option has a much better chance of success, since the federalist idea enjoys widespread support among Somalis irrespective of clan. This consensus has evolved over three decades of shared experience in which governmental prerogatives were abused at every level. Somalis have learned to distrust those who would use nationalism as a ploy to gain advantage in clan power-politics. At the provincial and local levels such tactics are usually constrained by the time-tested traditions of the respective clans.
In trying to solve Somalia's political problems, the U.N. should resist the temptation to anoint unelected "Somali leaders." Instead, it should consult with and support the representatives chosen from the provinces. It is from this group that leaders at the national level should emerge. By recognizing the authentic leaders, the U.S. and the U.N. will help empower them as they chart a future that is still grounded in traditional Somali values.