A power-sharing deal might offer Somalia’s feuding leaders a way to save face and reach agreement on political reform, said the UN’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa nation.
The mandate for Somalia’s latest transitional government expires in August but the president and speaker of parliament, who covets the top job, are at loggerheads over what should happen then.
“The bottom line is that they all want to cling to power. So, around that fundamental issue, could there be a possibility of power-sharing? I don’t know,” said Augustine Mahiga, the special representative of the UN Secretary-general, Reuters report.
“Let them believe there is something for all of them, that there is a win-win situation,” he said in an interview.
International patience is running out with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel leader, and speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, once an ally of the leader before they fell out in part over the adoption of a new constitution.
But the Western powers who largely fund the UN-backed government and the African peacekeepers propping it up yield few sticks with which to encourage badly needed reforms to an administration riddled by corruption and infighting.
Rebels seen as al Qaeda’s proxy in the region control large parts of the country and pockets of the capital, and diplomats acknowledge that foreign donors and Somalia’s neighbours cannot afford to turn their backs on the lawless nation.
Mahiga said incentives should be brought to the negotiating table, referring to planned talks in Mogadishu later this month.
Those could include more funds to finance government projects, or handing the government more say in defining the reforms and rewarding good performance, Mahiga said.
The envoy hoped the talks would include regional leaders, local elders and women and move the debate beyond the row between president and speaker.
“This (inclusiveness) will create an atmosphere where the two protagonists can save face,” he said.
MASTERS OF DECEPTION
Somalia has had a series of transitional governments for seven years.
They have all struggled to establish legitimacy throughout the country, opening the door to Islamist insurgents fighting to impose their own version of sharia, Islamic law, and allowing piracy to flourish off Somalia’s shores.
Mahiga said the payment of multi-million dollar ransoms for the release of hijacked vessels encouraged piracy and attracted the involvement of international criminal gangs.
“(Piracy) is getting linked up to the operators of other activities such as drugs, human trafficking and arms trafficking.”
“This is an area where there are specialised criminal actors on the international scene, (and) which is probably becoming more lucrative with fewer risks than even say drug-running.”
While foreign powers have deployed warships to the strategic waterways linking Europe and Asia, not enough attention was being paid to the coastline of central Somalia and the Puntland region where the pirates are based, Mahiga said.
The al Shabaab rebels, who are on Washington’s terrorist list, have demanded a cut of ransoms from pirates operating out of at least one coastal lair, though it is unclear whether any money is changing hands.
“You cannot openly say there is a link between piracy and international terrorism, but the potential is very great,” Mahiga said.
Confident he would not join the diplomats assigned to the Somalia desk who end their mission with their head in their hands, Mahiga, in the job for a year, said he had yet to exhaust his energies but admitted the job was fraught with frustration.
“These are people who have perfected the art of deception and discouragement and making you feel that you are ready to give up.”