Somalia's 2012 Agenda

Somalia has until August to complete political reform, inaugurate a new constitution and hold national elections before the end of the transitional period. It must also capitalise on the Kenyan incursion to rout Al-Shabaab and establish security in this enduring weak state, making 2012 a make-or-break year for Somalia.

By Anna Rader for's 2012 Perspectives Series

For more expert perspectives of the year ahead, go to

Against the Eurozone crisis, the embers of the Libyan civil war, instability in Syria and fresh concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, the Horn of Africa might well be expected to slip back into obscurity in 2012. But Somalia is arguably one of this year's most important countries - its internal political transition, coupled with renewed military effort against Al-Shabaab, offers the prospect of consolidation and security for the first time in two decades of chronic state weakness.

Somalia is also at the apex of regional security issues: it was the epicentre of the drought that affected 12 million people across the Horn in 2011, creating over 1 million internally displaced people and refugees, many of whom are now encamped in Kenya and Ethiopia. Al-Shabaab's move to guerrilla-style attacks has also alarmed Somalia's neighbours who are concerned that suicide bombs and terrorist tactics will infiltrate beyond Somalia's porous borders. Somalia is firmly a regional priority. For the West, Somalia is also crucial in 2012: ongoing piracy in Somali waters and the existence of terrorist training cells on Somali soil, despite international security initiatives, demands a new approach.

Countdown to Political Reform: The Somalia Roadmap

Beset by corruption and institutionally weak, Somalia's transitional government now has only eight months in which to complete consultation on the permanent constitution (including a referendum), reform the parliament, and hold presidential, parliamentary and district-level elections. To frame the process, high-level meetings were held in September in Mogadishu and December in Garowe, attended by representatives of the TFG, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaca and the Puntland and Galmudug regional administrations. The Mogadishu conference agreed a roadmap charting a course to the end of the transitional period.[1] Though supported by the UN, and endorsed by the AU, EU, IGAD and Western governments including the US and the UK, the roadmap is over-ambitious in both its scope and timeline, and many observers fear that this will result in either rushed or incomplete reform.

In addition to the sheer quantity of work, serious obstacles exist. The pressing question of parliamentary reform - in which the number of MPs was to be cut from 550 - was deferred to the next parliamentary term by December 2011's 'Garowe Principles'. Instead the controversial 4.5 formula - by which seats are allocated to 'representatives' of the major clans - has been reinstated: a blow for those who wanted an end to the divisive and clientelistic system of appointment. Though this offers a way forward for national elections in spite of the enduring insecurity, it opens the door for more of the political infighting that has characterised Sheikh Sharif's presidency, which will drain political will when it is most needed.

Furthermore, though commended for their inclusivity, the high-level conferences did not involve representatives from the militant group, Al-Shabaab, which has been waging war against the TFG since 2007. There is little to no agreement as to how to begin negotiation and reconciliation with Shabaab - the TFG is instead determined to defeat it militarily. Other lacunae include the issues of justice and political pluralism: both crucial to delivering a sustainable political settlement. The roadmap also has no clear provision for resolving the impasse over Somaliland's status. After South Sudan's independence in July 2011, and the twentieth anniversary of secession, many in Hargeisa were hopeful that Somaliland would be granted recognition. Its own elections, postponed from 2010 to 2012, will be an important litmus test of the strength of feeling on the issue of independence. But opposition in Mogadishu to Somaliland's secession is strong, and there are no signs that this will change in 2012.

The TFG's 2012 deadlines include the adoption of the draft constitution by July and elections by August, to be prefaced by agreement on the federal structure of Somalia, and disarmament and demobilisation of militia fighters. These are huge milestones: getting this far has taken the whole of the TFG's four-year tenure, including five prime ministers. Some form of progress is possible this year - at least in Mogadishu, Garowe and possibly Galmudug where political consolidation will continue - but impenetrable parts of Somalia where the fighting with Shabaab has been the fiercest will likely remain disconnected from the capital. The TFG was created because its previous incarnation could not create a nationally inclusive government: this remains the ultimate benchmark, but the Djibouti Process will not be allowed to fail, and most of the prominent milestones will no doubt be accomplished by the deadline of August. Creating sustainable, accountable institutions that can go the distance requires long-term international investment and security.

Continuing Insecurity: Shabaab and the Kenyan Incursion

The security situation in Somalia is likely to remain unstable in 2012 with important ramifications for the region. Following a surge in AMISOM's efforts to dislodge it from Mogadishu, Shabaab was to make a series of ill-calculated decisions in the spring that severely weakened its tacit support in the southern regions it has held for so long. Foremost was its lack of a coherent narrative on the drought, which undercut its claim to be a pseudo-governance provider and opened itself to criticism from all quarters. Its unexpected withdrawal from the capital in August was widely believed to be a bid to regroup and retrench. As grimly anticipated by Somalia observers, Shabaab used the withdrawal to unleash a new campaign of guerrilla-style warfare, detonating a series of car bombs against government targets in the city. Shabaab's show of strength was designed to counter claims of a leadership split and to respond to the stepped-up drone campaign by American and French units in the region.

Ambiguity over the identity of rogue gangs that kidnapped four European women - two tourists and two aid workers - from Kenyan territory sparked allegations that either Shabaab - perhaps its Kenyan affiliates - or Somali pirates were responsible. Taking advantage of Shabaab's apparent weakness, Kenya responded to the abductions by mounting an armed incursion into the southern Somali borderlands to deny territory to Shabaab and secure its border by supporting a buffer zone of pro-TFG administration.

The incursion has been controversial within Somalia. It is widely believed that the TFG was forced to endorse the military action after Kenyan troops had already crossed the border. Kenya now finds itself treading the path of both the US and Ethiopia, with a potentially strung-out embroilment. As 2011 drew to a close, the Kenyan military found itself ex post negotiating an exit strategy with the Somali transitional government who does not have the forces required to hold the territory that the Kenyan Defence Forces secure.

Though the ranks of the AU peacekeeping force have been swelled by Djiboutian troops and promised battalions from Sierra Leone and Guinea, AMISOM has yet to reach full-strength even to hold Mogadishu against renewed assault, let alone to spread out into the Shabaab heartland. With Ban Ki-moon's visit late last year, however, Somalia is firmly on the UN agenda - likely to translate into an increase in the peacekeeping troop ceiling of 12,000 to 20,000, which AMISOM and its supporters have long called for. This could have a multiplier effect on the military push against Shabaab, which is being squeezed by Kenyan and Ethiopian troops, which have also mobilised along the border, actively supporting Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaca which holds the central and Hiraan regions.

Shabaab could be routed. The test will be whether reports of its conglomerate nature have been accurate or not: with enhanced pressure, it is hoped that the movement will split along its nationalist fault line, leaving the foreign jihadist elements exposed. The drone campaign must hence be minimised in order to avoid strengthening Shabaab's resolve and cohesion - the comparison with Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen is instructive. There are also tensions along the border, which is the site of historical Kenya-Somalia conflict: after the so-called Shifta War of 1963, the area has remained chronically insecure and prone to inter-communal violence.[2] There are fears that the foreign intervention will enflame religious and nationalist sentiment as it did in 2005-06 against the Ethiopians: Shabaab capitalised upon that then and could do so again. There is more awareness now, however, about the sources of Shabaab's 'hearts and minds' campaign and renewed regional effort to counter the threat is likely to lead to a more consolidated approach to security in Somalia. Kenya now knows that it could be in for the long haul, but African and international support for the campaign gives it a better chance for success.

The UK Conference

With these two enormous milestones, Somalia's internal dynamics will be pushed to the limit in 2012. The stakes are also high for the regional and international nations for whom Somalia is a crucial security interest. Somalia is particularly important for the UK in 2012. The UK has the lead for Somalia on the UN Security Council and heads the international contact group on piracy; in some circles Somalia is regarded as the Foreign Office's top priority. On 23 February, Prime Minister David Cameron will convene a high-level conference in London attended by representatives from the Somali and UK governments and the relevant regional organisations and countries. This is a big test. The agenda will cover the humanitarian crisis: although the winter's rainfall has been described as the best in three years, it will not be enough to restore livelihoods in the immediate future; and aid agencies are expecting that livelihood assistance will be required into the summer of 2012 at least. It is also likely to cover development assistance, counter-piracy, security and peacekeeping.

In anticipation of the summit, the UK has ramped up its political rhetoric on Shabaab and the potential for the export of terrorism from Somali territory. In November 2011, David Cameron called Somalia 'a failed state that directly threatens British interests', a theme picked up by Andrew Mitchell in December when he called Somalia one of the 'most dysfunctional countries in the world', saying '[t]here are probably more British passport holders engaged in terrorist training in Somalia than in any other country in the world'.[3] The UK will need to match these strong words with clear proposals for action at the February summit. It also needs to establish its diplomatic credibility on Somalia: Turkish Prime Minister Ercep Tayyip Erdogan's visit in 2011 was widely popular amongst Somalis and proved a PR coup, stamping Turkey's interest on the country; the UK's most senior official to visit, meanwhile, was the international development secretary Andrew Mitchell. Following operations in Libya last year, Cameron's government will be pressed to prove that Libya was not a one-off but that it can deftly engage a variety of stakeholders on Somalia as well. Crucially, the UK will need to balance the interventionist impulse[4] with the interests of British Somalis who form an increasingly vocal constituency arguing for an approach that sees Somalia as more than a hotbed of terrorism, famine and piracy.

Anna Rader is an Associate Fellow of RUSI.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.



[1] The roadmap adopted at the Consultative Meeting on Ending the Transition in Somalia is available at <> .

[2] See Ken Menkhaus, Kenya-Somalia Border Conflict Analysis, USAID, August 2005.

[3] Press Association, 'Somalia "a threat to UK security"', 22 December 2011. []

[4] Kim Sengupta, 'Britain's new year resolution: intervene in Somalia', Independent, 22 December 2011 []


Anna Rader

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