On 12 April 2013, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ended its 22-year break in relations with Somalia by recognising the new government there. The IMF spokesman said that “the decision is consistent with broad international support and recognition of the federal government.”(2) Two days later, al-Shabaab launched a terrorist strike against a court in Mogadishu. This was the worst violence to hit the Somali capital since African Union (AU) troops pushed al-Shabaab out of the city nearly two years ago.(3)
This paper explores the implications of both of these events for stability in Somalia and, in particular, the impact that the IMF’s recognition of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government will have on prospects for a more durable peace in the Juba valley.
GO YOUR OWN WAY
Since the collapse of the national government in 1991 and the subsequent years of conflict, Somalia has ceased to exist as a coherent political entity.(4) Rarely in modern history has a country failed so dramatically to fit in to any familiar paradigm of statehood. However, in spite of the apparent chaos and its cumbersome ‘failed state’ tag, there are aspects of the country that have continued to function effectively and occasionally even better than in other nations on the continent.(5)
Perhaps most startlingly the economy of Somalia has been one of the success stories of this period of ‘state failure.’ The economy has adapted and even in some cases taken advantage of the lack of a strong central government.(6) Notably trade and communications have thrived and Somalia has one of the best mobile phone networks in Africa.(7)
Studies based on statistics from the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank show that the economy has actually grown during the many years without an effective central authority.(8) According to the United States-based independent institute, this economic order is possible because of the existence of a common law dispute resolution system and a non-state monetary system.(9)
Arguably then, solutions to Somalia’s problems are homegrown and the help of the international community is both unnecessary and unwelcome. Such an argument has already been proved to some extent by the example of Somaliland. As Mary Harper has pointed out, it is somewhat ironic that the area of Somalia, which was largely left to its own devices by the West, is now the region with stable and democratic rule, remarkable even in the rest of Africa.(10)
This argument is all the more salient now that Mohamud’s government seems to be going from strength to strength. Just two years ago, Islamist militants and African peacekeepers fought almost daily in Mogadishu.(11) Now, the street battles are few and far between, and the new government has won major victories against al-Shabaab who were, before the attacks on 14 April 2013, increasingly on the back foot. The government has turned its attention to imposing rule of law, ousting corruption and improving security.(12)
It must be conceded that the strength the government has shown against the terrorist organisation would not have been possible without the help of the African Union troops and Ethiopian soldiers. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether this military support, which has been helping the Somali government, needs to be reinforced by further interference from the international community.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Somalia has been an IMF member since 1962 but relations broke after the civil war of the early 1990s left the country with “no government with which the fund could deal.”(13) What is worrying is that whilst at the moment Somalia remains ineligible for new IMF financing because of past debts, there is the chance that, in the future, it will be able to borrow more money from the international organisation.
This is likely to lead to conditional loans based on ‘good governance’ guarantees. Western states and others have focussed on humanitarian aid until now, but those efforts are shifting towards bilateral support for the new government and this is a cause for concern.(14)
At the moment Augustine Mahiga, the United Nations (UN) special representative for Somalia, maintains that while the “hallmark of this government is Somali ownership… they do admit that they will need assistance but assistance on their own terms.”(15) If the IMF provides assistance, it is unlikely that it will be on Somalia’s own terms. The local ownership of the political process in Somalia will be lost and it is conceivable that al-Shabaab will strike again as indeed they did two days after the IMF’s recognition of the Somali Government.
The Somali president’s statement after the latest terrorist attack made it plain that he would not be deterred from the “ultimate noble goal” of creating a “peaceful and stable Somalia” by “a few desperate terrorists.”(16) However, since another attack was attempted in the capital on 18 April 2013, it is not clear whether his rhetoric matches the situation on the ground where it is now apparent that al-Shabaab are still capable of carrying out large scale attacks at will.(17)
Politician Abdi Farah Shirdon said that there were several experienced foreign fighters involved in the attacks on the courts and that the fight against the militants was not just a Somali affair.(18) But while this recent spate of terrorism may well be linked to al-Qaeda and external influences, the domestic causes of the attacks should not be overlooked.
It is imperative that we explore the possibility that these attacks were part of a ‘spoiler’ attempt linked to the IMF recognition of the new Somali Government and do not simply pass it off as the behaviour of ‘desperate terrorists’. With over two years of relative quiet in Mogadishu, it is difficult to imagine that the event, occurring just two days before the attacks, had no bearing whatsoever on al-Shabaab actions.
It may be unrealistic to presume that Somalia can continue on the path to recovery without adequate funding from the international community. Somalia’s finance minister has even cited the recent attacks as proof that the government needs the support of ‘friendly countries’ to help improve the security forces’ capability. But, at the very least, it is vital that such funding is approached with caution and awareness that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
New influences in Somalia could well upset the fragile peace and lead the nation to transcend once more into bloodshed. Most obviously, international organisations and governments will be keen to move in Somalia to help curb piracy and soothe their concerns that Somali Islamists could expand the territories they control.(19) The World Bank has stated that “the long term solution to piracy off the horn of Africa cannot be dissociated from the construction of a Somali state that is viable at both central and local levels.”(20) The organisation may well be right, but external attempts to achieve this are unlikely to be received well. It should be remembered that the extremist nature of al-Shabaab is rooted in their disapproval of the West dating back to the 2006-2008 Ethiopian and American intervention in the country.
Recognising Mohamud’s government is likely to open the way for more Western aid and funds from the World Bank and the IMF that will be vital for improving services like health and education.(21) But international intervention in Somalia has never been carefree, and while Somalia has been doing well without the international community, it is important that as organisations return to the scene, they do so with caution.
As Abdi Aynte of the Heritage Institute for Strategic Studies has pointed out, Somalia is now on a trajectory where things are generally improving.(22) The country has a permanent government which is much more legitimate and credible than the previous one.(23) There was, until 14 April 2013, peace in Somalia.
Of course, it is an extremely precarious peace and the situation is not perfect. There is still a large amount of corruption in the cities and chronically weak institutions, which leave Somalia vulnerable to collapse and many Somali citizens are still unhappy with the situation. One shopkeeper from Baidoa lamented that the new government “promised to improve security but it has not yet happened.” Some worry that Somalia will never “become a real country.”(24)
But, if we intervene now and start dictating terms to the war-torn nation, we are quite likely to do more harm than good. As one member of Somali parliament said, “the government doesn’t have much capacity but like any other country that comes out of a conflict position… I think they are doing a very good job.”(25) The admirable progress that Mohamud has made could all be negated by the revival of a self-interested Western influence in the country