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Somalia: IRIN Interview with UN Representative David Stephen

 

There is hope that the clan-based talks, initiated by Djibouti President Omar Guelleh, will succeed in establishing a new government - with or without the armed faction leaders.

PART 1

Q: Who is represented at the Somalia talks in Djibouti?

A: At this stage, clan elders and chiefs. The major clan groups are represented. It is hard to put a figure on it, but some 70 to 80 percent - though in the case of the Isaaq from Somaliland it is not as complete a representation as we might wish.

The Rahanweyns are still to complete their delegation; 40 Rahanweyns travelled to Djibouti last Thursday and another group is due to go. The Marehans - Omar Haji and his group are there, but there is another group in Mandera waiting for transport. I think very soon we'll have the vast majority of Somalis represented by their clan chiefs or traditional leaders.

Q: How were representatives recruited?

A: There have been 12 "warlord" or faction-based conferences that have failed. They failed because those who signed agreements never carried them out. The last one was probably the worst failure - the Cairo conference that collapsed in December 1997.

That was a very big disappointment to all concerned. The region and the UN spent some time analysing the causes [of that failure]. One of the key problems was that the faction leaders by themselves ... could reach an agreement but couldn't implement it.

Therefore a broader process had to be contemplated. Many Somalis said clan was the institution that put the leaders there, they became the armed branch of the clans, and the new process should start with the clans, not the warlords.

What Djibouti has done is to make contact with the major clan groups in Somalia. When Omar Guelleh started this process, which he did in a speech to the UN General Assembly last September, there was tremendous grass-roots enthusiasm inside Somalia.

He was very harsh in his language against warlords and that produced an immediate response from the Somali people. Since then, the process has been carried on the BBC Somali service and some of the new radios that are opening up in Somalia, for example Horn Afrique radio.

There has been grassroots pressure from many parts of the country for the faction leaders to take part. Many leaders have gone to Djibouti or contacted Djibouti on their own accord. So this is not a western process of credentials, card-carrying party members or anything like that.

It is a very Somali process. The next stage will be to form official delegations. Although the conference opened on 2 May, it is in a consultative process at the moment, whereby the elders have come together to formulate the way forward in terms of delegations.

The Djiboutians have asked them to advise on that. There is the issue of the so-called minorities ... and ... who should actually be in the delegations.

The representation from Mogadishu, the Hawiyes and others, will have to decide which elders (take part).... that is where the question of faction leaders will come up. Some are in Djibouti - Ali Mahdi, Hussein Bod and Omar Haji.

It is at the moment a clan and regional-based process, and the formation of delegations will be a crucial step in the next few weeks.

Q: What is the agenda?

A: The facilitators have said the objective is to do two things: to form a provisional government, and to set up institutions, which will give Somalia a government and an administration.

It (will deal with) the long-term issues of constitution, representation, the role of Somaliland, the capital, is it a federal, confederate or centralised state. The idea is to have elections within two years. It is hoped that the parliament can be formed out of the conference. This is something I would like to clarify.

Some people, particularly in Somaliland have been very suspicious of Djibouti, for trying to impose a pattern on Somalia. That really misses the point.

Djibouti is really facilitating a process that at some time in the quite near future will become Somali. Djibouti ... is bringing Somalis together but a lot of the issues will be decided by Somalis alone.

At some stage this process will form a transitional parliament which may then meet in Somalia itself.

Q: What sort of support is being offered by the UN. Is it something substantial?

A: We support this Djibouti process and the Secretary-General made that clear. He asked me to spend as much time as possible in Djibouti which I have been doing since 1 February.

We have been able to assist and give some general advice. But Djibouti is doing this itself and that's a very important point to stress.

It is a small independent country and is not being used by any other interests or group at all. It is doing this as a brotherly nation to Somalia. At some stage the international community could be asked to do some specific things.

But because the enormous involvement of the international community in the past was and is associated with failure - rightly or wrongly - the Djiboutians have wanted to avoid that, and keep it a Somali process.

Because of that past there is always a suspicion that leaders are being bought off or some groups are being favoured by the international community. This process avoids some of those pitfalls.

Q: But regional politics played a part in previous failures?

A: Very much so. And we have had competition between regional peacemakers before, with accusations that one country or another was hijacking the peace process. Djibouti is doing this on its own.

It has the chair of IGAD and so the support of the countries of the Horn of Africa. This is an extremely important feature of this process - that is that there is no competition.

Q: But Ethiopia pursued talks in an IGAD role - and failed.

A: Ethiopia was doing it in an IGAD role. Unfortunately the Cairo conference which was to have been an attempt to bring in some of the leaders who were not in the Ethiopian process, became a conference in its own right. So relations between Ethiopia and Egypt were not good at that stage.

This is a conference and process supported by IGAD, but it has also got the strong support of the League of Arab states. A minister from Ethiopia and a senior official from Cairo attended the opening, there was also a minister from Sudan. The ambassadors of various countries including the United States, China and Russia also came.

Q: Do you think the absence of the armed faction leaders - warlords - will be significant in any way?

A: We will have to see when the delegations are formed whether the clans bring their armed elements into it.

There is a question whether some of them really are clan-armed factions, or whether they are separate groups. What is certainly clear is that in the last three or four years, since the last peace process, the power of those armed leaders has declined dramatically.

We are not dealing with the situation we were dealing with in 1991-92. The late General Aideed was supported by the banana industry, which has now largely collapsed.

There are very few foreign countries now involved in arming these people. It is too early to say what the warlords will do. If the clans bring them into the delegations they will have a role to play.

I don't know how exactly you define a warlord. What I have said is that in the next stage of the process those who show they are supported by their people as leaders will be very welcome. But this will be a political

Read Part Two Here

 

 


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