Somalia’s New Deal, or not

Decades of instability and war have transformed Somalia into a hotbed for extremist activity. Despite international and regional efforts to foster progress on security and development, the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab plays a significant role in the country. On Tuesday, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a panel discussion on the future of security and development in the impoverished nation.

Daniel Kebede, a former police commander in Ethiopia and a Wilson Center Southern Voices African Research Scholar, discussed the role of al-Shabaab in the region and the structure of the extremist organization. Al-Shabaab gained international renown after its four-day-long siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. But the Jihadist group began its rise to prominence in the Horn of Africa during the war in Somalia that began in 2006. Kebede said that al-Shabaab was radicalized and achieved its current status as a result of the increased presence of Ethiopian and African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) forces.

The Islamist militant group’s core ideology is based on Wahhabism, which is an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam that strives to return to the earliest fundamental sources of the religion. The leadership of al-Shabaab is highly centralized, and there is some clan representation among the organization’s leaders. Al-Shabaab’s membership includes several hundred foreign fighters from all over the world. These foreigners serve in many capacities, with some holding senior leadership positions. Looking to the future, al-Shabaab has a strong influence in the southern Jubahland region and will continue to attempt to extend its influence into the northern Puntland.

Terrence Lyons, Associate Professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, talked about the effect that the instability in Somalia has on its neighbors. Kenya and Ethiopia both share long borders with Somalia.  Progress in the region is crippled by serious problems in the Somali government, in which corruption is widespread. This was evident from the recent scandal in the central bank and the alleged money laundering of remittances from the international community. Furthermore, tensions in Jubahland continue to undermine security throughout the Horn of Africa.

Melanie Greenberg, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, discussed development goals in Somalia and implementation of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. Greenberg described the New Deal as a three-legged stool—one leg represents the G7+ group of countries (a group of 18 nations that have recent experience with conflict), the second leg represents the wealthy donor nations (OECD Countries), and the third leg represents civil society. These three components work together to achieve the five main goals of the deal, which are inclusive governance, security, justice, revenue and services. Recently, Somalia became the eighth pilot country to enter the New Deal peace and state building process. With 1.8 billion dollars pledged to development, there is hope for building trust between civil society and the federal government. Greenberg hopes the New Deal will revitalize the Somali economy and create enough nationwide stability for a new constitution to be drafted by the end of 2014.

Somalia still faces a long journey on the road to stability. Clan divisions play a major role in Somalia’s politics. There is a chance that the New Deal could fuel resentment and conflict in the region, while violence could cripple civil society.

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