“More than ever, foreign policy is economic policy. The world is competing for resources and global markets.” John Kerry. Considering the positive trend of the past eighteen months, Somalia is en route to recovery, and, in due course, to re-engineer a better state from the ground up. The caveat being: in the long term, this could be another squandered opportunity as long as ‘doormat politics’ shapes Somalia’s political landscape.
By doormat politics I mean the combination of systematic self/foreign-inflicted aggressions and exploitations suffered by the nation and the subsequent desperation, hopelessness, chronic dependency, and indignation.
From the cold war proxy geopolitical mortal games, to the iron fist of the military government, to the ruthless militias/warlordism of the civil war, to the moral menace of religious extremism, to the hostile intervention of neighboring countries and the paranoia-driven global war on terror, Somalia has been under the exploitative schemes and the brutal authority of various external and internal actors. By and large, throughout these periods, the nation was used either as a camouflage to advance clan-based exclusive rights or a gambit for zero-sum expedience.
Mutual Interest and Mutual Respect
Today, Somalia is at the threshold of a new era; an era of bilateral relationships of mutual interest and respect. However counterintuitive it may seem, a new image of Somalia is gradually coming into formation.
Aside from its coveted long and strategic coast, Somalia is a country with untapped energy and other natural resources and massive rebuilding needs. Many recognize its potential lucrative emerging market.
And, as US, China, Europe, and India continue their scramble in Africa for resources and food security, cultivating bilateral relationship with Somalia as a strategic gateway to sub-Saharan Africa becomes a geopolitical necessity. This, needless to say, provides Somalia an opportunity to expand its horizon and cultivate diverse friendships.
Recently, a number of old friends were compelled to emerge out of their diplomatic ambivalence since the Republic of Turkey has raised the bar and reassumed its full diplomatic relationship with Somalia and opened its embassy in Mogadishu at a time when it was still being considered the most dangerous city in the world. Like China, Turkey has successfully been establishing good footing in Africa based on its method of engagement- soft power.
“What Africa needs is not pity, but fairness and opportunity. Developing partnerships based on respect, equality and mutual interest will go a long way in overcoming the vicious circle of exploitation, poverty and underdevelopment in Africa” writes Turkish Columnist Ibrahim Kalin in Today’s Zaman.
On January 17th President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reactivate the bilateral relationship between Somalia and United States. Though the State Department welcomed “the great strides toward stability Somalia has made over the past year”—an effort in which the US played a key role—it made no commitment to change its Dual-Track Policy and globally dreaded “Drone Diplomacy”. These are the two sides of a single counter-terrorism based policy toward Somalia that has been undermining the legitimacy of the very central government that US has officially recognized and established bilateral relationship with.
Sustainable bilateral relations between Somalia and the US would remain a political mirage as long as the US policy toward Somalia continues to be driven by counter-terrorism expediency and its diplomatic gestures are delivered by drone strikes! Pressure would soon be mounting against both nations as this policy is getting under intense scrutiny and is the subject of a new documentary called Dirty Wars that recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is expected to hit the theatres in March.
“We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us,” said John Kerry, the new Secretary of State. Whether or not these words would prove prophetic per the foreign policy of President Obama’s second term would remain to be seen.
Challenges and Opportunities of Economic Growth
Statehood is not sustainable without steady revenue and economic growth and this should not be a shock to a nation emerging out of the ruins of its bloody history and hampered by chronic poverty with roughly seventy percent of its youth being unemployed and nearly two million of its population being internally and externally displaced.
Somalia needs a fresh start. However, as this just resuscitated state is struggling to find its political, social, religious, and economic balance, bill collectors are lining up. Granted, there is nothing illegal about that. However, a few issues must be illuminated:
Even though it is still considered a “Pre-Decision-Point country”, Somalia is qualified for debt cancelation under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative.
It might even qualify to legitimately invoke “The Odious Debt Doctrine” (a precedent set by the US) if and where it is necessary. The rationale driving this legal doctrine is that loans not made in good faith to non-democratic governments with questionable legitimacy that then use these monies against their public interests, or to oppress their citizens, or for embezzlements and other corrupt overtly corrupt motives, cannot be transferred to democratically elected governments that may succeed them. Regardless, there is a good chance that these international financial institutions would do what’s right.
That said, a more profoundly complex issue than dealing with these institutions is dealing with Hedge Funds profiteers who purchased some of Somalia’s old debts while the state was on its death bed, hence the name Vulture Funds. This would have to be won legally in the courts. Think Congo.
Processes and Sacrifices of Transformation
It behooves the current government to appoint a Debt Audit and Asset Recovery Commission that includes economists, international lawyers, members of the Parliament and civil societies.
Moreover, it should deliberately avoid any decision that would put this recovering state in a position to be held as ransom for generations to come. This includes aid monies that the state is chronically dependent on. After all, as the old adage goes: “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. Somalia now has too many pipers playing too many tunes, all at once; a classic political cacophony of a sort.
The good news is that the current government already has alternative ways of generating state revenues such taxation, postal services, licensing the telephone gateway, licensing banking, licensing commercial fishing, leasing agricultural lands, etc. in its priority.
The Somali people have resiliently rejected the permanency of failure. They have been responding with an overwhelming stream of repatriation and investments. By and large there is a popular march toward the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the process is not yet complete and hazardous pitfalls along the way still present detrimental challenges. So, the current momentum must be guided with vision, maintained with prudence, and guarded with vigilance. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the magically disappearing $ billions in South Sudan and Haiti. This indeed underscores, among other things, the importance of having in place effective policies of checks and balances, also the apparatus and the capacity to invest these funds into viable projects of critical nature.
So, the prospect of ending doormat politics in Somalia is reasonably high as the world continues to change and the political awareness of the average citizens continues to rise. However, as it is a two-engine phenomenon, it is utterly naïve to count on it before the Somali people come to the realization that in the dark pages of history this lamentation is scripted in blood – if only we were united!
Abukar Arman is a Somali diplomat whose political analysis is widely published. On Twitter: @AbukarArman
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