Organisers of Somalia’s national reconciliation conference hailed the meeting as a success even as analysts expressed doubts over the outcome, saying major parties in the current crisis had been left out of the peace-making process.
« The conference will come to a close today [30 August]. It has been a success, » said Abdulkadir Walayo, media adviser to the National Governance and Reconciliation Commission (NGRC), which organised the conference.
Walayo said the conference marked the first time in 16 years that Somali clans « formally sat down to reconcile and forgive one another ».
His observation was echoed by the government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon, who said the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) viewed this phase of the conference as « a total success ». He said the government would forge ahead with reconciliation and planned to send delegates to the regions and districts to explain the conference outcome to communities.
The conference was postponed three times amid threats of violence and even when it got under way on 15 July, it was marred by boycotts by some key parties.
According to analysts, however, the conference did not achieve much and failed in its main task of reconciliation. « Reconciliation is the most urgent priority for Somalia but the TFG defined it in deliberately narrow terms, related to clans only. The conference achieved very little since none of the key issues essential to restoring security, as well as a broader peace, was discussed, » said Salim Lone, a newspaper columnist and political commentator based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Timothy Othieno, Horn of Africa analyst at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg, described the conference as « a total failure » because of the way the participants were chosen and the arbitrary tactics of the TFG. « The TFG determined who was going to attend and who wasn’t. You cannot place conditions on participants if you are trying to reconcile a nation. »
The Hawiye clan, the dominant group in Mogadishu, and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) were left out of the process, he said. « This indeed signalled the end of the ‘conference’ even before it began, » Othieno said. The TFG forgot that it was an interim government created to « to facilitate a process that would legitimise whoever is chosen by the people – via credible elections », he added.
A civil society source in Mogadishu, who said they had not been invited to the conference, complained that it was « a missed opportunity ». The gathering should have been all-inclusive, and held at a neutral venue, he said.
« Unfortunately neither the armed nor the unarmed opposition was invited, » he said. Mogadishu was not a neutral venue for the meeting, he added.
Added Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of the UIC: « From beginning to end [the conference] was not about the interests of the Somali people but to legitimise the occupation. » Ethiopia sent its troops to Mogadishu in late 2006 to help the TFG defeat UIC forces and its soldiers, who are widely seen as occupiers, are still in the city.
Sheikh Ahmed said those who participated in the conference represented no one but themselves. « If anything, the conference has worsened the plight of the population in Mogadishu », pointing out that thousands of people continue to leave the city due to the insecurity.
All agree that the only hope for peace now is an all-inclusive conference. « The way forward must be to convene a conference under UN [United Nations] or AU [African Union] direction in a neutral venue where all parties and individuals feel safe, » said Lone.
Such a conference should not have thousands of people, according to Othieno. « All you need is the participation of the major players and stakeholders in Somalia who would sit down at one table and thrash out their differences by focusing on common interests and goals, » he said.
Indeed, François Fall, the UN Special Representative for Somalia, on behalf of the International Advisory Committee, said: « Whilst the conclusion of this Congress marks yet another milestone in the quest for peace and reconciliation in Somalia, it does not, however, signify the end of the reconciliation process. »
Fall urged the TFG to pursue efforts to reach out to all opposition groups both within and outside Somalia and to ensure an effective implementation of the Transitional Federal Charter. The best way to fight terrorism in Somalia, he said, « is to pursue open dialogue and genuine reconciliation among all the parties ».
According to Sheikh Ahmed, the international community should help the Somali people as a facilitator « but should respect the wishes of the people. We can talk about anything so long as there is no occupation and no interference. »
Analysts argue that both the TFG and international community needed to change tack if any solution is to be achieved.
« The TFG needs to adopt a less confrontational approach to dealing with the opposition and humble themselves genuinely if they have the interests of Somalis at heart. Personal agendas and interests need to be put aside for the greater good of Somalia, » said Othieno.
According to Lone, the international community, particularly « the US, UN, AU and IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] should recognise that they must reach out to and engage with all those who enjoy a level of popular support. Any concerns they might have about such groups should be candidly discussed and negotiated. »
The TFG for its part said the conference was not the end of the reconciliation process. « The government will continue to pursue national reconciliation with the opposition, » said Gobdon. He said that contacts had been established with the political opposition and « once they agree to a meeting, a suitable venue will be found ».