| Somalia’s problems need economic solutions.|
Sat, 18 May 2013 08:20:42 -0400 am -04:00 -14400
By Liban A. Ahmad
“Since my appointment, I have done a little bit of reading about the situation in Somalia and come to the conclusion it needs a homegrown solution” Jerry Rawlings, Africa Union’s High Representative to Somalia.
Somalia’s political problems continue to confound those working to help Somalia become a country with an effective government. This paper discusses barriers to achieving that goal and puts forward an approach from micro-economic theory to solve political problems gradually. Since 1991, when the central government collapsed after military dictatorship was ousted, organising reconciliation conferences for Somalia’s political actors was the handy approach favoured by Somalia neighbouring countries and the international community. Why have all conferences failed to produce an effective government? The short answer to this questions is: the same approach has been used to expect a different result. Somali politicians’ failures have created reliance on Somalia’s partners collectively known as the international community in a bid to facilitate a political outcome favourable to all political actors. The presence in Somalia of religious extremists the international community considers a threat to regional and world security is what is partly driving the international community’s renewed commitment to helping Somalis form durable political institutions. That goal has not been achieved so far. Twenty years ago the political struggles in Somalia took the form of clan wars. Now non-extremist political actors are in less violent but no less divisive political struggles in Nairobi, the seat of many international organisations working in Somalia, in Addis Ababa, the seat African Union and in Cairo, the seat of the Arab League.
The United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) based in Nairobi and headed by the UN Special Representative Ambassador Augustine Mahiga was established on 15 April 1995, “to … advance the cause of peace and reconciliation through contacts with Somali leaders, civic organisations and the states and organisations concerned.”
The UNPOS adjusts its policies to the new realities in Somalia as the following three points from its mandate based on Security Council Resolution 1863 (2009) show:
a) UNPOS and the UNCT shall continue to promote a lasting peace and stability in Somalia through the implementation of the Djibouti Peace Agreement and to facilitate coordination of international support to the efforts
b) to assist, in conjunction with regional and international donors partners and other inter ested parties, in supporting the effective re-establishment, training and retention of inclusive Somali security forces, including military, police and judiciary, to hold donor conference to solicit contributions to establish a trust fund in support to these activities
c) to coordinate all activities of the United Nations System in Somalia, to provide good offices and political support for the efforts to establish lasting peace and stability in Somalia and to mobilise resources and support from the international community for both immediate reco- ery and long-term economic development.
The United Nations is better placed to coordinate humanitarian activities and facilitate communication among various political actors in Somalia because several United Nations organisations are operating in the country. It was only after 2009 when the UNPOS exerted more effort in helping Somalia implement the United Nations sponsored Djibouti peace process. In 2010 when a power struggle caused the Somali president Sharif Ahmed to sack his former prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke , Ambassador Mahiga’s predecessor, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, supported the president on his decision to sack the prime minister. President Sharif had to reinstate the prime minister who argued president Sharif “has” violated the transitional charter. The power struggle resurfaced and resulted in resignation of prime minister Sharmarke. The power struggle was not unique to the administration of president Sharif and prime minister Sharmarke; their predecessors had similar power struggles.
As the end of transitional period for Somalia’s transitional federal institutions draws near, the president and speaker of the parliament, Sharif Hassan, have disagreed on the extension of the transitional period and time-frame for holding a parliamentary session to select a president before the end of August 2011. In the Security Council meeting held in Nairobi in May, the president and the parliamentary speaker were urged to “ engage immediately and constructively with SRSG Mahiga who has the full support of the UN Secretary-General and the whole of the Security Council in the consultative process he is facilitating.”
Before the expansion of the transitional federal parliament in 2009 to include parliamentarians from the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia wing that signed the Djibouti agreement, ex-warlords, Puntland regional administration and clans representatives were the main players but now new political actors— Alliance for Reliberation of Somalia faction led by president Sharif Ahmed and the parliamentary speaker, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a and a small faction from now-defunct Hisbul Islam led by Sheikh Yusuf Mohamud Indha’adde— have joined the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI). The International community is trying to strike a balance among three goals—supporting nascent political institutions, nurturing existing regional administrations and countering the threat of Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen. Fully-functioning state in Somalia will be the bulwark against terrorism and piracy. Achieving this goal was made harder by Somali political actors’ lack of commitment to peace-making and national reconstruction.
An economic approach
Solutions to Somalia’s persistent political problems have been sought in such diverse disciplines as political science, political geography and social anthropology. The search for approaches from other social science disciplines such as economics will help not only clarify the nature of political problems but will help researchers and policy-makers see how Somali political actors’ responses affect international community’s Somalia policies.
The international community on which any post-1991 Somali government has depended for finance and capacity-building allocates resources for services and projects conducted by organisations such as United Nations and its local and international partners. In this context ideas expounded in The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism, a classic paper by George Akerlof an American economist and Nobel Laureate, is relevant to our discussion. Professor Akerlof’s paper is about a market situation in a which a buyer wants to buy a good quality second-hand car but finds two second-hand cars—one with defects and one without defects— on sale in the market. Each seller knows the quality of his/her car but the potential buyer doesn’t. In such a market situation a seller of poor quality second-hand car will drive the seller of good quality car out of the market. In Somalia moderate political actors ( representatives of clans, leaders of regional administrations, Transitional Federal Government and parliament members) are sellers. Somali people and the international community are buyers: Somalis are expected to buy any political outcome the international community endorses; the international community funds projects and gives credibility to political actors it seems to be genuinely pro-peace. The international community plays the role of a buyer but it is also a seller to the Somali people who are expected by put their weight behind any effort the international community considers to have transformative potential to reconstitute the Somali state.
The role the international community is mandated to play is to support politically inclusive initiatives; it shares the seller’s characteristics with Somalia’s political actors . Professor Akerlof argued that asymmetric information characterises many markets: “actors on one side of the market have much better information than those on the other.” More than 20 years ago Somalis expected a positive outcome from a regime change after 21 years of military dictatorship. The agents of change (armed opposition groups) shared “change goal” but had opposing political agendas.
They had one thing in common with the regime they toppled : each wanted to impose on Somalis non-inclusive political intuitions far more degrading than the military dictatorship’s reign of terror. This fact was not known to Somalis yearning for a regime change. Having a goal to reconstitute the Somali state is as important as toppling a dictatorship but in Somalia’s case neither goal has produced the desired effect to change the situation for better. The process of helping Somalis to rebuild their political institutions ought not to look like a market situation affected by asymmetric information in which buyers buy wrong political outcome(“ adverse selection”). There are different political and economic realities in Somalia. Using the tools of micro-economic theory to address Somalia’s problems may not lead to favouring a politician or a constituency in Somalia over another on the basis of concrete political achievements.
The international community will be more realistic about the abilities and integrity of its local partners and will look like an impartial body interested in helping Somalia recover from more than two decades of statelessness. Finding home-grown solution to Somalia’s problems begins with understating how Somalis make sense of political realities. Donor countries would be glad to see that their assistance is making difference politically and economically in Somalia. The main indicator for such a progress is Somalis putting their trust in political institutions headed by leaders with no credibility gap between what they are saying and what they are doing.
Akerlof, G (1970) “The Market for ‘Lemons’”: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 84: 353–374.