A Blink of an Eye Could Derail the Somali Peace Process

On their route to untangle one of the most complex political webs in modern history and negotiate a lasting peace, the visionaries among the Somali leadership have no choice but to remain steadfast and persevere despite the inevitable obstacles along the way.

The apparent failed bid to assassinate President Abdullahi Yusuf of the Transitional Federal Government ( TFG ) a few days ago was one such obstacle to peace. But, Somalia cannot afford to be shocked to blink.

The terrorist act that took place in Baidoa and killed 11 people, including the president’s brother, and injured 19 others was a deliberate effort to sabotage the delicate peace process between TFG and ICU (Islamic Courts Union).

People in Baidoa and all across Somalia are in state of shock, panic, and bewilderment: ‘Who would do such thing?’ and ‘Who could benefit from sustaining the status quo and perpetuating sporadic chaos?’

Answers to these questions are critical to the peace process and indeed the security of the nation. However, finding fact-based answers would require not only a thorough investigation (in a country that lacks both national law enforcement and intelligence) but a total independence of the prevalent zero-sum political culture. However, competing assessments are already blurring any objective pursuit of facts.

Before the flames of the burning vehicles was putout and parliament members hiding for their lives in the assembly were told it was safe to come out, Ismail Mohamed Hurreh (Bubaa), the TFG Foreign Minister, was asserting with a reassured conviction that “Al-Qaida” was the group that executed that deadly terrorist act. Needless to say, in post 9/11 Somali politics, “Al-Qaida” is euphemistically used in certain circles to mean ICU.

Concurrently, in recent years, though many recognize as an effort to justify its flagrant infringement on Somali political affairs, Ethiopia has routinely charged that certain influential components of the current ICU have “direct link to international terrorism”. The majority opinion of the international experts and researchers is that the Ethiopian claim is an unsubstantiated hypothesis propagated for self-serving interest. However, should the alleged presence of Al-Qaida is ever established, the Somali conundrum will find itself on the most horrid spot in world politics, and will
take an ill-omened precedence in the “global war on terrorism”.

On their part, the ICU denied any involvement. Sheikh Sharrif Ahmed, the ICU Chief Executive, said adamantly “We reject any form of violence as we look forward to achieving peace”. The Sheikh is widely known as “a moderate Islamist responsible for steering the courts in a convincing political direction and establishing a sense of law and order in Mogadishu and the southern parts of the country”.

Abdurahim Ali Muddey, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of Somalia, the legislative body of ICU, was even more direct: "Those who carried out this attack are the enemies of Somalia, they wanted to undermine our ability to resolve differences by ourselves", he said. "We condemn such acts because they are un-Islamic," added. Mr. Mudey blamed the attack on "those who want to create fear and insecurity to justify the deployment of foreign forces in our country". The implicated foreign element is understood to be Ethiopia.

President Abdullahi Yusuf, on the other hand, complimented Ethiopia for its response following the failed assassination attempt. He also said ” Ethiopia is a friendly neighbor” who had nothing to do with what happened in Baidoa. Ethiopia , in the meantime, has reiterated its controversial offer to send troops to Somalia to protect President Yusuf’s government–”an act that the ICU repeatedly protested for its illegality, and stated that it will consider it as a military invasion.

Unlike TFG, ICU has a broad-based support from Somalis of all walks of life but that hardly translates into a good international image. In the recent days, some media groups carried negative stories implicating the courts as the Neo-Taliban of the Horn (of Africa) and as a group that is persistently scrambling to pave the way in establishing a “terrorist haven”….

For ICU to shake off that negative image, it will require a steady demonstration of unwavering commitment to the peace process, and implementation of measured steps leading to moderate reform. This, especially the latter piece, might not be an easy objective to achieve. That is to say, not so long as certain extremist elements within the group continue to self-destructively freelance on Fatwas that give them freehand to enforce controversial social reform.

In conclusion, the Baidoa terrorist act carries the potential to heighten suspicion between TFG and ICU and thus cause a detrimental setback to the peace process, but not if the handful of visionaries on both sides decides to deny the peace saboteurs gaining an easy victory. Therefore the peace process must continue without any unnecessary delays.

Leadership on both sides must focus on the big picture.

This is a moment of test; and it is this kind of a moment, when anger is most consuming and the will to pursue peace is wholly weakened, that genuine leadership rises up to the challenge, negotiates, and compromises for the broader good.

Until then, the saga of the Somali political struggle continues with its natural frailty, and the elements that earned Somalia its reputation as “the poster-child of failed states’ are, by and large, present.