A perpetual landmine for interventionists, Somalia has witnessed its share of inept approaches. Early in the conflict, the United States precluded any possible mediator role by denigrating the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) with Al-Qaeda and Taliban rhetoric-a U.S. response familiar to Islamic regimes. The United Nations foiled attempts at negotiating the peace process by backing the corrupt Transitional Federal Government (TFG)-a secular government once replete with warlords and led by an incompetent Prime Minister now blamed for the complete dissolution of the cabinet. The African Union (AU) stymied their participation by recommending a lifting of an arms embargo so Somalis could defend themselves against invading Ethiopian troops-a surefire way to erupt a civil war throughout the Horn. More recently, the toothless Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-whose membership includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda-preemptively spoiled a mediation to address the unfolding crisis in Somalia by situating the meeting in Ethiopia s Addis Ababa. With the possible exception of the Arab League, few organizations are left to credibly intervene and broker a peace agreement between the TFG in Baidoa and the UIC in Mogadishu.
What is needed is a non-aligned entity to intervene in Somalia.
What about the Arab League? It was originally designed to “Serve the common good of all Arab countries, ensure better conditions for all Arab countries, guarantee the future of all Arab countries and fulfill the hopes and expectations of all Arab countries . With Somalia an active member, should the League help “ensure better conditions and “fulfill the hopes and expectations of her people?
Ideally yes. Will it happen? Unlikely, throughout the Middle East, people know full well that the Arab League has failed to fulfill its mandate and has been a puppet for the West. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations are rightly accused of being culpable for pandering to Western dollars. Furthermore, in the League’s attempt to redefine itself-suffering major setbacks in credibility-the recent condemnation of Hezbollah only bolsters this impression throughout the Arab world.
So what is Somalia left with?
Not the U.S. Congressional hearings in Washington indicate serious, reservations about engagement on Somalia, whether that be commissioning a senior level envoy, interfacing with the UIC, or strategic thinking with regional allies. If the U.S. government cared remotely whether or not residents of Mogadishu were victim of an Al-Qaeda-backed leadership or a Taliban-norm-setting regime, then it would revisit its hit-and-run policy and offer a substantive U.S. presence both in terms of aid and diplomacy.
Not the UN. It is doubtful as to whether the UN can dissociate itself from the TFG in order to gain confidence among the UIC leadership. Meetings convened recently by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Somalia, François Lonsény Fall, in coordination with IGAD hardly constitute substantive action that will win the hearts and the minds in Mogadishu. Additionally, that IGAD meetings were scheduled for Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa is deeply disconcerting since the UIC refuses to negotiate until Ethiopian troops leave Somalia. IGAD meetings will only be perceived as cavorting with the Ethiopians.
Not the AU. The AU is still bent on bolstering the armaments of Somalis, a dangerous. proposition in a highly charged and volatile climate. Plus, the AU’s Peace and Security Council continues to roundly and publicly affirm its support for the TFG, further undermining its capacity to sit down with UIC leaders to negotiate a peace agreement.
Therefore, a new intervener is needed, one that has not allied itself with the TFG. The Arab League, while not ideal in many respects because of its association to the West, may be the only hope. Lest Somalia’s future face even greater setbacks, the League must engage now before peace talks further deteriorate. Talks in Khartoum on July 15 were cancelled at the last minute because the UIC’s real decision-makers felt uncomfortable leaving Mogadishu. Khartoum-based negotiations will continue to be ineffective as long as the TFG fears losing ministerial posts during their absence from Baidoa and the UIC fears losing its hold over Mogadishu.
What the Arab League can offer in light of ineffectual Khartoum talks or Addis Ababa meetings, is to shuttle back and forth between the TFG in Baidoa and the UIC in Mogadishu, providing more effective geographical liaising than the U.S., UN or AU is able to offer. By coaxing the UIC out of its cornered hole to begin talks with the West and the TFG, keeping Ethiopia’s troops behind borders, and liaising between forces in Baidoa and Mogadishu, the Arab League can move Somalia towards a brighter future. While all this may be wishful thinking, there are frankly few other viable options for intervening forces. The Arab League must begin to take care of its own-which implies a necessary shedding of the Western yoke-because no one else is going to do so. And by taking care of its own, it may also begin to take care of its reputation.
*Michael Shank is a PhD student at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Khadija Ali, former member of the Somali Transitional National Parliament and a Minister of State at the Transitional National Government from 2000 to 2002, is also a PhD student at the Institute of Conflict Analysis & Resolution and is presently in Mogadishu, Somalia.