On May 26-30 a truly historic conference on Somalia’s reconciliation process took place in İstanbul. Before shedding light on what transpired there, I would like to thank the Turkish government for its pivotal role in both hosting this event as well as the many humanitarian stances it has taken for the Somali people.
It is only through works of deliberate partnership that nations can emerge out the destructive dire straits that they may find themselves in, in the course of their existence, and Turkey has been a critical partner to Somalia in that regard.
Although the Turkish government played a part in realizing the conference, the assembling, daily organization, debates and consensus building procedures were all led by Somalis. Needless to say, the conference was unique in that respect. And the outcome was indeed a Somali-owned outcome.
There were 350 attendees total, including religious leaders, former politicians, former and active diplomats, members of the Somali diaspora, women representatives and 135 Somali traditional leaders.
So legitimate and authentically representative of the will of the Somali people was the conference that certain members of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) leadership, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) as well as other “signatories” of the Road Map voiced concern and anxiety at the uniquely universal approach of the conference.
The regional authority IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), the SRSG, the TFG and the speaker of parliament all made no secret their adamant desire to sabotage the conference. Their main concern was to prevent the conference from approving any alternative that could legitimately challenge their dead-end plans and empower the public to challenge the blind conformity that they have been coercing people to abide by.
Each had dispatched surrogates, or more appropriately, agent saboteurs that included at least two ministers who came to harass people in the hallways and disrupt the conference. Each has made one public statement or another.
When their labeling that described the conference, among other things, as a “gathering of terrorists and extremists” didn’t stick, each of these entities decided to join what they saw as the bandwagon that could save their political ambitions. So, each made a personal appeal to the organizers and conference task force to be allowed a few minutes to address the delegates. In the interest of the big picture and the spirit of reconciliation, they were granted their respective request.
The delegates of the conference were puzzled as to why these forces were working so hard and spending Somalia’s meager resources to sabotage a conference meant to holistically address the ills of our nation and recommend solutions. It was very obvious that these forces were afraid that their own lack of control over the outcome of the conference would yield decisions that were not favorable to their stances. The delegates of the conference were not selected by the SRSG, the TFG or the speaker; therefore, these forces did not have any control over the decisions made at the conference.
For four straight days (and nights) the delegates continued their discussions and deliberations of the important issues that are the prerequisite for ending the transition period. The discussion was based on what to do with the secret draft constitution, the selection of the constituent assembly, the selection of the members of the next parliament, the re-building of security and justice sectors and finally good governance or the institution and capacity-building for the core Somali ministries.
In my view, the organizers did an admirable job of organizing a conference that exceeded the expectations of the delegates, the host country, the international community and, most of all, the Somali people. The conference produced a consensus-based communiqué that addressed all critical issues related to the end of the transition. More importantly, the conference also created an understanding between different sectors of the Somali society and inspired hope.
The majority of Somalis are in agreement that the period of transition should be brought to an end by Aug. 20, 2012, in order to make room for a permanent structure of a decentralized unitary government.
However, the process through which this new permanent structure is put into place must be transparent. The new government can only be ushered in through fair, open and democratic means. Perhaps the most pressing issue in terms of starting the process of ending the transition is selecting an independent electoral committee. This committee should be composed of highly respected members of the Somali community and observers of the international community to administer the selection of the new parliament and the elections of the speaker and the president.
*Abukar Osman (Baale) is the former chief of staff of the current and former prime ministers of Somalia.