The Advancement of Peace in Somalia.

Mr. Obasanjo

Halkaan ka akhri



by Olusegun Obasanjo


Keynote Address At the Meeting on Somalia’s Finance and Economic Issues




Let me start by thanking my brother Ahmedou Ould Abdalla and all who are assisting and have assisted in organizing this conference. While I must also thank him for asking me to give the keynote address at this conference, let me also add that it is a task that I accepted with mixed feelings. I am saddened by what I refer to as the Somalia debacle, while at the same time I am happy that this initiative is being undertaken. I am equally happy that maybe the international community will seize this opportunity to yet, correct a major failing on its part and for us Africans to for once accept that we have collectively failed the Somali child, the Somali woman and the Somali people. Indeed, as Africans, we have failed ourselves. 


Although this meeting is on Somalia’s Finance and Economic issues but since these issues can only be anchored on political stability, you will understand why my keynote address is heavily on conflict resolution, peace, ending violence and establishing new political order. You will then appreciate my confessed need for us to first accept our collective failures and then pray that we will have the courage and presence of mind to say all that needs to be said on and about the future of Somalia. I am also hopeful that our discussions here will be based on the bald truth and anchored on straight talk as Africans and as members of the human race.


Let me also express at the onset my disgust and displeasure at the way a meaningless cliché and prejudicial labeling as it were to describe the tragedy in Somalia. I have often listened to some intellectuals describing the Somalia situation as a failed state, with the implicit message that, there is not much, if at all anything, that could be done in Somalia. I find that rather unconscionable. How can we talk of a failed state where human life and living are involved? In my mind as an analytical tool the concept of a failed state is at best obscurantist and in the worst of situations a gratuitous insult.


There is really nothing academic about the concept. It is just another cliché which is often parroted and mouthed with uncritical acceptance. It is this uncritical acceptance and bandying of concepts that have led some of our people into dry as dust political theories and explanatory frameworks that cannot explain our realities. I have read and heard some of our academics describe some of our states in Africa variously as rogue states, the vampire state, and the garrison state and so on. Most times the sheer lack of originality and the eagerness to regurgitate plainly derogatory political concepts by intellectuals from other continents in labeling our lived reality is at once the bane of our development thinking.


We recall with pain the foisting of a patently absurd economic framework called Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) on us and the effort it took on the part of some progressively inclined leaders to reject and repudiate this concept before the World Bank and IMF agreed it was a totally misleading and hastily conceived framework as unrealistic and certainly irrelevant to our situation doing more harm than good. It is the same regurgitative penchant that gave currency to the sophistry of the failed states concept.


Indeed and in truth, what has failed in Somalia is a myriad of highly ineffective, largely selective and predetermined initiatives and efforts at conflict resolution at the local, regional and global level. What has actually failed is global governance, what has happened which is a failure on our part is our collective willingness to live with such a blight on our conscience and consciousness.


A famous sociologist, Ralph Linton had observed as way back as 1924 that if all humanity had been left unaided by others, it is doubtful if any human society would have advanced beyond the level of the Stone Age.  In 1987 while addressing the International Centre For Strategic Studies, in Washington, USA I had observed that

….In an inter-dependent world, we cannot develop in isolation, and throughout history, development has come to any region or any nation principally through their own sweat and with the  collaborative efforts of others in form of labour, capital, technology or market[2].


It is this lack of demonstration of the principle of solidarity and collaborative effort that has failed in the Somali case, solidarity that we underline as the basis of our unity and development as a people, a principle that underscores our relationships as neighbors and as Africans. Solidarity that we underline and capitalize in our charters and constitutive acts will remain mere appellations until we are ready to use it again as guiding, goading and inspirational term. But it is not too late to correct the inadequate human collective efforts on Somalia.


Out of the 48 years of post independence, seventeen years have been spent in Somali in turbulent circumstance doing nothing other than the creation of great humanitarian disaster, monumental suffering, destruction of most means of livelihood, giving witness to countless number of women and children dying with no end in sight. To these must be added the threats to regional stability and global peace and security.


Was Somalia given the same attention and resources as Afghanistan, Iraq and even Kosovo by the international community? Could it be that we have all concluded that Somalia is not of any strategic relevance to the international community and Africa? Could it be that lack of “strategic’ mineral resource(s) within the borders of Somalia has made its case somewhat unimportant and irrelevant? Or could it be that lack of a demonstrable high nuisance value is the Achilles’ heel of Somalia? How else can we explain that a world that could afford to expend well over US$5billion in 78 days in Kosovo and an additional US$55billion in reconstruction costs; and US$500 billion dollars, 168,000 American troops deployed with the death of almost 4,000 American soldiers in the quest for “peace’’ in Iraq could not afford to find the required resources for peace in Somalia[3]. 


These are some of the issues and considerations that should prick our conscience as leaders and stakeholders of our respective nations and organizations. The truth of the matter is that Africa needs Somalia as much as we need South Africa or Nigeria or Egypt. We cannot continue and we should stop the implicit and latent ranking of conflicts which has relegated the Somali issue to the background?  Conflict and violence in any country in Africa is inimical to development, and progress and must be given due and proper attention.


Somalia would not have descended to this level if the intellectuals, researchers, theorists and international conflict experts were to have properly nuanced their findings on and about the situation and if we were more accurate on the roots and systemic trends and the dynamics of violence in Somalia.  Could it be that we are missing certain elements or mixing up our findings on conflict management mechanisms while claiming that Somalia has defied all conflict resolution theories? 


The peculiarity of conflicts as found in virtually all post-independent states of Africa is that they all have ethnic or religious colorations and tinctures.  The continent has been known for its vulnerability to conflict escalation and volatility particularly if inspired and manipulated by external forces. Against this backdrop, we need to refocus our African and global agenda on strategizing and evolving a sustainable peaceful co-existence, stability, integration, human development, political and socio-economic development of the entire continent within a collective and collaborative framework.  The international community, Africa and the sub regional organizations must work commitedly and closely together and not give up until success is achieved.


Restoration of Peace in Somalia:


Effective resolution of any conflict must be based on some clearly definable and identifiable principles. As we seek to restore hope in Somalia it may be necessary to revisit some of these basic principles and sub principles. R. J. Rummel’s Conflict Helix provides in part some of these basic principles and sub principles.[4] To make peace, keep that peace and build on that peace require among other considerations the need to clarify the conflict situation. This will require a clear identification of the core issue(s), this must be accompanied by identification of issue(s) around which basic acceptance can be built. There is the need to then guard the balance of power, reduce the gap between expectations and power, and reduce the probability of successful violence. The peace maker must also be ready to invest time, energy and must have the patience of Job, the perseverance of Ruth and the Wisdom of Solomon. In essence, he or she must be unprovokable. The Yorubas of South Western Nigeria have a saying that the peace maker takes some of the punches that are often thrown by vexed combatants. More importantly the peace maker must also be and must be seen to be even handed and transparently objective and fair thereby inspiring reasonable confidence and trust from all concerned.


To make peace is only the beginning of a long often time arduous journey. Keeping the peace made is even more challenging and tricky. Peace keeping is majorly a matter of relation and proportion. In essence, the organisations that can ensure the peace that has been achieved must ensure that required resources are mobilised and made available for post- conflict development, reconstruction and reintegration until the obvious wounds are reasonably healed and trust and confidence start to be rebuilt and with basic political structure in place.


In post conflict situations economic activities and social order must take precedence over political activities once a foundation of law and order has been reasonably achieved. Failure in the area of economic and social order may provoke a relapse of violence and a degeration to chaos and conflict.  In essence as Rummel advises, it is important to subject recurring issues to fair decision rules, institutionalize the adjustment process, as defined to include institutionalization of consensus building, confrontation of perceptions, expectations and interests.  There are some basic confidence-building mechanisms that are home grown and represents best practices that should and could be applicable as we seek to build and maintain peace in Somalia. 


I refer in particular to what we call the federal character principle in Nigeria. In practice government positions must reflect the various ethnic groups within the country. It is a constitutional matter that should not be violated. This is also accompanied by a range of initiatives and policies that obligate central government presence nation-wide. These are practices that were induced by our lived experience after the Nigerian civil war. I believe these and other practices must be considered and if found applicable, adopted.


The great question posed before us today is, ‘what makes the Somali conflict so unique, protracted and intractable?’ The answer to this question could be rooted in the relations between social identity groups. In this case, the Somali conflict is not basically ethnic, linguistic or religious, because virtually all Somalis are ethnically and linguistically homogeneous, and mostly Muslim. Indeed it is argued that the basis of the Somali society and the roots of the current conflict lie in the family, sub-clan and clan system and the power and perquisites of control of state apparatuses.

Since the death of Siad Bare, the centre has not held.


Some observers have pointed out that the formation of political parties and liberation movement(s) during the years 1991 and 1994 demonstrate a clear clan-party connection. Thus, to understand the conflict and how to advance peace, it is imperative to identify these social roots and the strength of family and clan loyalty. The source of Somali conflict is entrenched in the social foundation of inter-communal rivalry, and the all embracing power vested in modern states which drive these clans cum parties to struggle desperately for control of sovereignty for self, kith and kin.


The not so easy question to resolve and answer based on the peace attempts in Somalia so far is therefore, why has the outcome of every peace effort degenerated into new and dynamic conflicts and what are the issues that were not being tackled?


I believe that the Somali peace processes failed partly because many of the peace initiatives did not specifically address the root causes of the Somali conflict. The proliferation of clan and sub-clan conflicts, divisive smaller clan-militias, and their breaking down into complex units created a state of anarchy in the sense that a clannish political leader is unlikely to be endowed with a national loyalty above his group.


The obvious challenge here therefore remains the way we address the issue of acquisition, appropriation and exercise of political power and authority in the Somalia of the future. What is obvious today is that all of the conflict in Somalia regardless of the clannish or religious or any other consideration or sophisticated explanation that we adduce and proffer has to do with the acquisition, control and exercise of political power and authority. This becomes more animated when we throw the deep seated mistrust and distrust that makes a resort to primordial ties attractive and safe.


In essence as we tinker with possible solutions, we must begin to consider how the concerns of the different groups will be accommodated and responded to. Political power, limited autonomy and authority over local issues of basic education, basic health, agriculture and local trade, must of necessity be decentralized and devolved to the district levels. The districts must therefore be assured of control over these affairs, and other such issues that impinge directly on the daily existence, life and living of each family, clan and group.


In addressing the complex clan conflict therefore, efforts must begin at the grassroots level of a defined geographical territory.  Somali families, clans and lineage with common concerns and interests should be brought together repeatedly and over time to have meaningful deliberations and dialogues over what type of future they desire and how to approach it.


The unification between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland will be greatly improved through speedy effort of the international community and its external economic support, buttressed by political collaboration on both sides. Political flexibility rather than primordial approach to unity issues are important for various stakeholders to have long term commitment and for the international community to sustain their support for any effort at implementing reconciliation processes at the national   level. 


The current AU/ UN Peacekeeping forces stationed in Somalia are outnumbered by the cases of skirmishes in different locations. The international agencies, particularly, the UN and African Union will do well to deploy peacekeepers to the country with a clear mandate to make peace. This approach will help the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the international partners to help create the enabling environment for local people to participate in the reconciliation process. The Peacekeepers will also serve as deterrent to militia and other non-conformists.  


Peace process and its advancement are incomplete without disarmament. While inter-communal conflict thrived, the country was awash with weapons. In the absence of any central authority, fighting prevailed in many areas, and localized war economy became endemic. More than 100,000 weapons, left-over from the Cold War, fell into the hands of Somali teenagers who formed factions and counter-factions killing, looting, slaughtering livestock, and plundering crops as fighting raged across the clans.


Effective implementation mechanism for long-standing embargo on sale of arms to Somalia must be supported. Consistent and proactive initiatives are needed to disarm the Somali youth and initiate empowerment programs aimed at enlightenment and economic reliance. Massive youth employment programmes should be embraced, to reduce in a large scale youth participation in conflicts. This was achieved to a great extent in Sierra Leone.


The International Development Community based in Kenya also needs to do more to cultivate a sense of confidence and security in Somalia and the international community. I endorse the belief that the efforts of the international community  combined with other peace-building efforts within genuine framework of nation building, open and unbiased reconciliation processes, economic reconstruction and strengthening domestic market-place, political stability and inter-clan dialogue, a New Somalia will definitely emerge. This will not happen in a short-run but with a sense of commitment enduring perseverance and legitimate will-power a new Somalia will emerge and will be integrated fully into the community of nations.   


More importantly, there have been several intense conflicts that have been successfully resolved in Africa. They carry within them certain elements that could be instructive in our collective search for solutions. I refer in particular to the effective resolution of the Nigerian, Angolan and the Mozambique civil wars, the Rwanda and Burundi crises. At another level there are lessons to be learnt from the several initiatives and efforts that were deployed to ending the recent political crisis in Togo, the two Guineas and Kenya. There are aspects of the Sierra Leonean and Liberian crises that could provide a pointer. If these countries at the time of their crises have been labeled failed states and given no sufficient and consistent attention, they would have remained where they were then.  


As we seek to redouble our efforts at advancing the Somali peace process, as a prelude to economic and social programmes and progress, the international community should consider funding conferences on peace and reconciliation in Somalia bringing together Somali intellectuals, elders, women, professionals, youth and other bodies, with the aim to enable Somalis develop their own vision of a way forward in collaboration with genuine long staying international supporting efforts.


Peace in the world must not be segregated, ranked nor based purely on consideration of affinity and contiguity. While speaking in Kingston Jamaica in 1991, I had reasons to point out that

One of the best pictures of the planet Earth in all its beauty that has ever been produced was that taken from outer space. It shows earth as a tiny colourful ball surrounded by the darkness and emptiness of space. It is a beautiful picture, indivisible into racial segments. It is one world, our place of abode, from where we must remove the contradictions between love and hatred, poverty and plenty, war and peace, rich and poor, black and white, wasteful consumption and hunger. We have the means to form what that picture depicts into a beautiful, harmonious and near perfect world, we only need the will.[5]


Liberia and Sierra Leonean conflicts may have had a different outcome if Nigeria did not commit itself in the way and manner it did. Peacekeeping forces may be an intervention force that must have the mandate to make peace which connotes intervening between combatants and warring armed forces, disarmament of militias and peace enforcement.

If we are intervening and we are giving assurances and guarantees of safe conduct to combatants, we must be able to live up to our promises and guarantees. As we know nothing makes conduct of conflict resolution possible and enduring more than confidence in the agreements, assurances and guarantees given during the process particularly those given by the international community be it at the sub-regional continental or global level.    


My final point is that even if by whatever ill advised calculations we believe that Somalia does not add any significant resource to international trade, its strategic location to the world cannot by any mean be under rated..Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa, linking the world’s oil trade between the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Somalia serves as one of the strategic gateways to Africa. Hence, attention to the Somali resuscitation, reconstruction and development is paramount. Somalia in fact provides Africa a good example of how the power elites can forge a consensus on the remaking and reconstruction of a state. This is an opportunity we cannot and must not miss. Let me also add that one of the most easily accessible currencies at the height of any crisis or conflict is pessimism and loss of hope. If there is a gift I would like to leave the Somalis and the African people and share with the international community today as regards the Somali situation, it is the currency of hope and optimism. I take my inspiration from an old Somali proverb which goes thus:


Rabbit, Rabbit where are you going?

I am going to kill the elephant

Rabbit, rabbit are you sure?

I will try I will try I will try


Ladies and gentlemen let us find the will and the way to try and make up for lost time.


I thank you for your attention.

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