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Brussels, September 16, 2013, the government of Somalia and European Union (EU) co-hosted the Somalia New Deal Conference during which the international community endorsed the Somali Compact and pledged support to its implementation. This New Deal for Somalia has been the most comprehensive and participative state-building undertaking supported by the international community in Somalia to date. Designed based on the principles of aid effectiveness as learned by the international aid community throughout the years, the Somali Compact has the ambitious goal to lay in three years (2014-2016) the basis of “a sovereign, secure, democratic, united and federal Somalia at peace with itself and the world, and for the benefit of its people.”

Some analysts have been quick to highlight some of the shortcomings of the Compact, especially the lack of capacity of the Federal Somali Government (FSG) to implement this state building milestone. In addition, the lack of clarity as to the role of the Federal Government, who is at time put at the same level as many of the disparate factions in Somalia, the short timeframe (three years) and the low level of trust enjoyed by FSG among key stakeholders within the country. These set of challenges are real and constitute major obstacles on the way of the Somali Compact. In this post however, I would like to focus on “two elephants” in the room but who are ignored or were not sufficiently paid attention by members of this conference: Somalia’s insecurity state and nationhood.

One of the key assumptions of the Compact was that the security gains achieved by the peacekeepers of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali forces will be sustained. The current resurgence of Al-Shabaab and the degradation of the security situation highlight the depth and gravity of instability in Somali. The recent letter dated in October 14, 2013, by the UN Secretary General to the Security Council served as a dire warning to the international community of the worsening security states of the country. From the words of Ban Ki-Moon: “Yet, it is my responsibility to stress to the Council that, without the additional support recommended in this letter, our joint investment is at risk of being derailed by the indefensible actions of the Al-Shabaab insurgency. I appeal to the Council to support the foregoing recommendations, which should ultimately pave the way for the exit of all international forces.”

The Somali Compact framework recognizes the need for reconciliation and political inclusiveness, a hint to the necessity of going beyond the divisive and violent past and moving towards a shared vision where all Somalis can live in peace in a secure country. While the Compact constitutes a credible pathway (if implemented) to a viable state, there is no clear pathway to nationhood in Somalia. The Somali Compact does not discuss the root causes of the disintegration of the social fabric nor does it address them. There is a focus on the rule of law and respects of human rights as a way to prevent and address the symptoms of injustice, abuse and violence; however, this does not erase nor mitigate deep seated distrust, hatred and feelings of deprivation resulting from decades of dictatorship and civil war. Let’s remember that, the fall of Siad Barre’s regime opened the Pandora box of tribal conflicts, clans’ rivalry and violence that resulted in chaos and anarchy and served as a magnet to current terrorist groups and pirates in the Horn of Africa.

Clans constitute a crucial socio-political units in Somalia and one is really surprised to realize that the reality of clan politics, inter clan interaction has not been clearly recognized in this important reconstruction framework. Not recognizing or learning sufficiently from the grievances, suspicions, and blood claims that contributed to the collapse of the country and are contributing to the instability today, means missing a crucial step in the nation-building project. Not seriously addressing this issue will make even state-building an elusive goal as it has been in the recent history of international aid from donor countries to Somalia.

The Compact provides a framework for a well-coordinated bilateral and multilateral assistance and support to Somalia. The Somali Development and Reconstruction Facility (SDRF) and the Special Financing Facility will provide more needed efficiency and resources to the reconstruction project. If implemented as intended, these institutions will provide momentum and some credibility to the government. However, these institutions are only elements of the vision of an efficient government of Somalia and what it is expected from it than the reality upon which it is based. In order words, every planner has to deal with the creative tension between an expected vision or outcome, and the reality. In this case, it seems the New Deal tilted more on where the Somali state should be without paying more attention on the origin of the country’s instability. It seems as though in the case of the Compact, the eagerness to achieve the vision, which is understandable, has obstructed the reality. While expected, this process of state building should in no way ignore the reality that a state without a nation is doomed to fail. The risk in the case of Somalia is that the Compact may raise expectations that will not be met leading to a vicious circle of frustration, relative deprivation, violence and further instability.

It is a fact that the Compact is a necessary step to the stability of Somalia; it will generate donors support (financing and expertise), will provide more efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of public services and the physical reconstruction but it should not obscure the crucial and painstaking work of nation-building. That is, the forging of the Somali identity, a national consensus on the foundational values and principles of the society Somalis wish to live in. For that, equal attention if not priority should be given to an endogenous process of nation-building; through the use of traditional processes of reconciliation, local ownership by clans, traditional leaders, community and religious influencers of the reconstruction process. I will paraphrase Hal Saunders by arguing here that, institutions sign treaties and frameworks but only people make peace. The Somali Compact and the fragile success of African Union Mission in Somalia can create short term security spaces both physical and economical, but only the people of Somalia can build a functional state and a cohesive nation that owns and holds this state together.

Ironically, the experience of the irredentist Somaliland as witnessed prior, during and after the Burao, Borana and Sanaag (all located in Somaliland) conferences respectively in 1991 and 1993 could provide a sketch of a template of a nation and state building process for a federal or unified Somalia. In that experience, ‘localization’ and local ownership were crucial, Somalis drove the process away from external actors (who were very discrete in their support); the peace building and state-building processes were indigenous; also one important incentive was the situation of corruption and instability in the Southern part of the country, people in Somaliland witnessed the outcomes of a failed state and did not like it. Maybe it is time for Somalis in the South to look up North at Somaliland and learn from its history.
In any case, it will take a miracle for a Somali state to survive without a nation.