Julie W., a graduate student in Global Affairs at NYU, e-mailed me a set of four thought-provoking questions about Somalia's future. With Julie's consent, I'm posting her questions and my replies in four successive posts.
Here is Julie's second question:
A National Reconciliation Congress was held in Somalia this past August. The Congress produced some ambitious goals in their closing statement, including the drafting of a constitution and eventual free elections. However, a large opposition contingent did not participate in the Congress, and instead held a meeting in Eritrea under the banner of the Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia (ALS). Given the absence of much of the opposition, do you believe that anything concrete will actually result from the National Reconciliation Congress?
. . . and my response:
It is very difficult to achieve "reconciliation," national or otherwise, when one of the parties to the dispute is absent or deliberately excluded. This is what happened very recently at the US-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace conference in Baltimore, where some fifty nations and groups joined in congratulating each other for their high-mindedness, but Hamas, the one group whose cooperation is essential to the peace process, was excluded. Why bother convening such a useless and costly event, unless its real purpose is merely to impress the U.S. President's domestic audience?
The National Reconciliation Congress in Somalia last August was no different. The only groups and parties invited to attend were those known for their sympathies toward the TFG, transitional president Abdullahi Yusuf, and his Ethiopian patrons, and they naturally found much cause for hopeful celebration and fulsome pledges of cooperation. Systematically excluded, however, were those who were not prepared to give tacit welcome the Ethiopian invaders and condone their violent repression of opposition to the TFG. Yet without the active participation of the latter, I see no chance that anything meaningful will result, any more than the Baltimore spectacle will move Israel and Palestine any closer to peace. Again, why bother, unless the event's real purpose is to persuade foreigners that it's safe to return to Somalia?
No, I don't believe anything concrete will actually result from this "congress" any more than has resulted from the previous fourteen (if my counting is correct) Somalia gatherings that outsiders have sponsored since 1991. One of these days, though, perhaps many years from now, the Somalis will get it together and organize their own reconciliation conference without outside tutoring and management. That's when we can look for some significant "concrete results."