Somalia has been in a state of chaos and instability since 1991 when the then President, Mohamed Siyad Barre, was overthrown by a popular uprising. International efforts have led to the election of seven presidents and more than a dozen prime ministers.
Although the country has experienced tremendous developments for the last 30 years, the country today is battling a dangerous insurgency and other latent conflicts. It is puzzling to many how people having the same language and religion can be involved in such an intractable conflict for over three decades. It is due to this situation that folks outside Somalia ask whether the Somali people are a collection of violence-lovers not interested in peace and a functioning government.
Far from it. Like every other community, Somalis express their hopes and aspirations through art. Their omnipresent hope and aspirations have been well captured by Somalia’s legendary poet, Ahmed Tarash, when he postulated that “Dalkeeng ii dadkeeng, diinteen Furqaan ii, dunyadii nool, dowlii ing baahanaayii”, (our country and religion, and even the animals need a government).
I opine that if the current President can create the necessary atmosphere in which the Somali people can sleep in tranquillity by establishing a well-functioning government, the twenty or so million Somalis living within the country and without, will have their dreams achieved.
Achievement of this humongous task makes Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a suitable candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Are his plans and achievements so far pointing towards the attainment of those above stated goals?
The Nobel Peace Prize is the most coveted and most discussed among other Nobel Prizes. Alfred Nobel, the man behind the idea of the Prize, stated the prize be awarded, among others, to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
To examine whether Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is worth the Prize, each of the three conditions need to be analysed against the president’s achievements and plans.
Holding of Peace Congresses
In his inaugural address of June 2022, the President reiterated that his guiding principle during his term will be the clarion call ‘‘Soomaali heshiis ah, dunidana heshiis la’ah’’ (a harmonious Somali Society, and in harmony with the world).
He undertook to build the poles and trellises of a sustainable reconciliation process that can address clan and subclan grievances. The President states that to reduce greatly the difference between the Federal Government of Somalia and the federal member states, he will adopt a consultative and all-inclusive approach to the conduct of state affairs. Although he has been in office for barely eight months, the President has already conducted over four meetings between the two levels of government in Somalia.
It was the late great poet, Mohamed Ga’al Xaayow who told us that “yoolbaara la’aan aa, badweyn loo yumbanaa”, (it is without establishing the depth of the sea, that we sink). It is imperative therefore, for the President, to establish a competent entity to undertake the gigantic task of identifying the primordial causes of conflict in different regions in Somalia. Luckily, Article 111I of the Somali Constitution indicates the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ‘‘foster national healing, reconciliation, and unity, and to ensure that matters relating to impunity, revenge, and other triggers of violence are addressed through a legal and state directed process’’.
Above all, history has proven that a reconciliation process that is not anchored in justice is an exercise in futility and thus will be a waste of resources.
Fraternity among nations
In diverse fora, the President has stressed that he will endeavour to establish a Somali state in harmony with the world especially the countries within the East African region. This can be seen as a shift from what President Mohamud perceived to be his predecessor, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo’s wild warrior approach to diplomacy. President Farmaajo had strained relations with Kenya and Djibouti.
By having good relations with the countries in the East African region, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud could achieve better cooperation from these countries towards the fight against al-Shabaab. The cooperation could also hasten Somalia’s admission to the East African Community.
Although the President has not stated this categorically, some pundits within the region interpreted a ‘Somalia in harmony with the world’ to mean that the revanchist and the irredentist policy of Somalia may soon be coming to an end. Somalia has previously advocated for the restoration of territories that it strongly felt formerly belonged to her. Somalia has not yet withdrawn from this stance.
The abolition or reduction of standing armies
Somalia is a country recovering from violent conflict and is in the process of rebuilding its security machinery. Currently, there is an African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) contingent. If President Mohamud succeeds in ending the al-Shabaab insurgency, the peacekeeping forces, which have been in Somalia since 2007, will have to leave.
If the President’s efforts lead to ATMIS handing over operations to a capable local security apparatus, this will be a major milestone.
Apart from the difficulty in ending the insurgency, other challenges abound. For the local security apparatus to have the necessary skills and training, the Somali government must carry out comprehensive Security Sector Reform. Additionally, the government should avoid human rights abuses in its current military operation.
And for a bonus; the crown jewel
The al-Shabaab insurgency is the single biggest obstacle to a peaceful Somalia. The insurgency has killed hundreds of thousands of Somalis and destroyed the country’s economy. It has not spared the neighbouring countries either. It has attacked Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
Since June 2022, local militia and the Somali military have liberated many districts from the group’s control.
During his talk at the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies on September,16, 2022, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud acknowledged the limitations of the military approach and decapitation (targeted killings of insurgent leaders) as a strategy to end the insurgency. He stressed the need to compliment his current enemy-centric ways with de-legitimisation of the al-Shabaab message, financial control, and negotiations to end the conflict.
Empirical evidence supports the President’s assertions. In their 2008 lengthy study, – How terrorist groups end : lessons for countering Al Qaida, Seth G. Jones, and Martin C. Libicki, looked at 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 and examined how terrorist groups ended. They found that; ‘‘Terrorist groups end for two major reasons: Members decide to adopt nonviolent tactics and join the political process (43 percent), or local law-enforcement agencies arrest or kill key members of the group (40 percent). Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups (7 percent)’’.
By complementing the military approach with a raft of soft methods, the Somali government seems to be on the right track in tackling the al-Shabaab insurgency.
This piece ends with a glance at its beginning and the general observation therein. In conclusion, for President Hassan Sheikh to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, he must be able to achieve, to a great measure, what Somalis yearn for. But what is this elusive goal?
‘‘Soomaali heshiis ah, dunidana heshiis la’ah’’ (a harmonious Somali Society, and in harmony with the world). Obstacles abound but it is achievable.
Over to the Nobel Peace Committee.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication.