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In Somalia, Despite Mortars the Show Must Go On, For Funding

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN (see also the Reuters AlertNet version of this piece, here)

UNITED NATIONS, July 15 -- After having been two times postponed, the Somali National Reconciliation Congress was slated to begin on July 15. It was put off again, for now until July 19. "Even if a nuclear bomb explodes in Mogadishu, the conference will happen as scheduled," the president of the Transitional Federal Government, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, had been quoted.

   One man's hubris is another's strong leadership.

            This "the show must go on" attitude can be viewed in light of the TFG conference organizers' previous request at the United Nations for $32,680,000 for the reconciliation process, resulting in commitments to date of at least $8,200,000. At the last postponement, on June 13, the chairman of Somalia's national reconciliation committee, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, put the funds-on-hand at $4,500,000. If the conference were postponed for a fourth time, not only the TFG's credibility but also its funding might dry up.

            And so, defying bombs nuclear or otherwise, President Yusuf says the conference will proceed. Even some TFG ministers and parliamentarians have yet to visit Mogadishu, and will not be attending the conference. More generally, some question whether the congress organizers have been inclusive enough. Disproportionately excluded are the Hawiye clan which is demographically dominant in Mogadishu and Somali nationalists who previously sided with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), whose chairman Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed has not been invited. The ICU  controlled south and central Somalia until being chased out by Ethiopian troops in December. Enmity between the two countries began long before the ICU's rise, rivaling or exceeding, for example, anti-American sentiment in Iraq. TFG leaders' reliance on and praise of the Ethiopian military inevitably makes them a target.

            Following the recent visit to Mogadishu of a delegation from the International Contact Group, including the UN's Deputy Special Representative Per Lindgarde, Hariwe interlocutors report that the Contact Group representatives had already determined to support the starting of the National Reconciliation conference no matter what, and were only meeting with opponents in order to say that this had taken place.

             To bring about belated buy-in to the conference, a new amnesty was recently offered to those who will stop opposing the TFG. Skeptics point out that despite previously amnesty offers -- after the TFG and Ethiopian troops took Mogadishu, and in the previous run-ups to ultimately postponed reconciliation meetings -- people have continued to be detained, and sometimes ransom extracted from their extended families, even outside of Somalia.

    Since the influx of conference attendees will make Mogadishu what one source called a "rich target" for insurgents, many traditional elders from elsewhere in Somalia now say they will not attend.  As to those closer at hand, how the renewed amnesty offer will play next week is being watched not only by the African Union, headquartered with some irony in this instance is Ethiopia's Addis Ababa, but also in Washington, New York, Brussels and Nairobi, where the UN's Political Office on Somalia is still based, for security reasons.

            At the UN in New York on June 28, TFG Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi met with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the members of the Security Council, asking for troops and for money. Afterwards he confirmed the $32,000,000 requested budget for the reconciliation congress. Asked how much had been pledged, he said $8,000,000, from the European Commission and the United States.

   On July 13, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the UN specified to Inner City Press that "the U.S. has contributed $1.25 million to the NRC, all of which has been  disbursed.  The UK, EU, and Norway are the other major donors.

             On July 12, UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe added that the UN has contributed $200,000, and is providing technical support, including for security for the conference.  It was later explained that financial support is being provided in "tranches," to give an incentive to move through each phase and into the next. So, the show must go on.

PM Gedi and Mr. Ban Ki-moon in June: show me the money

             A copy of the requested budget provided to Inner City Press by sources who obtained it directly from the government in Mogadishu shows $500,000 devoted to security systems, including "gate scans, hand-held detectors and walkie-talkies." On the other hand, $4,500,000 is requested for accommodation and catering, $150,00 for "fuel and lubricants," presumably motor oil. An attendee of the confab in Nairobi at which the TFG was formed says that the phones were eventually removed from the meeting location, after a bill of over $1,000,000 was rung up. In this case, the organizers have requested, under a $2 million reconciliation and communications package, funds for "Organization of poetry and drama scripts and Organization of theater."  Whether the "drama script" is fully funded or not, the show must go on.

           Under-cutting the conference even from within is the TFG's heavy hand with its own ministers and parliamentarians, some of whom are not allowed to leave the country, leaving those who have managed to get out, even on official business, reticent to return, including for the conference.

     In the days before Gedi's visit to the UN, Somali media reported on members of the TFG parliament not being allowed to leave the country. When first asked about this by Inner City Press, Gedi called the question "truthless." When asked in a later press conference, with the names of parliamentarians Osman Ali Hassan Atto and Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, Gedi acknowledged they had not been allowed to leave. "You cannot just overnight go to the airport" and say you want to leave, Gedi said. "They didn't have permission from parliament." Asked if they would now be given permission, Gedi said "that is between the MPs and the Speaker."

            Since then, Somali sources indicate that Hidig was again prevented from traveling, despite the Speaker of the Parliament, who is a supporter of President Yusuf, having said that "no one can prevent members of parliament from traveling even if they are going to Asmara," the Eritrean capital, where some opposition leaders are based.

   The home base of choice of even TFG ministers remains Nairobi. The minister of Interior Mohamed Mohamud Guled went to Nairobi for "health" reasons. He was among the most outspoken members of the TFG regarding the lack of security and became a top target for the insurgency. There is some skepticism that his sojour in Nairobi is only for treatment of one of his eyes.

  Ismail Hurre "buubaa," as TFG foreign minister, was initially blocked from leaving Baidoa for Nairobi to attend an Arab League meeting which Prime Minister Gedi was covering. When Hurre finally arrived, late, he retaliated by firing the Gedi-aligned TFG ambassador to Kenya, Mohamed Ali. Less than a month later, Gedi responded by demoting Hurre from Foreign Minister to Minister of Education (for a government which, critics note, does not run a single school). Hurre was reported to be considering defecting to the "Asmara group," which he vehemently denied. Critics close to the TFG say that Hurre promised he was going to Somalia after he finish some small duties he had in Nairobi, and that he avoids visiting Mogadishu, either  for personal safety or because he might not be allowed to leave like the above-reference parliamentarian Osman Ato.

While only the most "trusted" members of the TFG parliament are allowed to travel outside of the country, the inclusiveness of the reconciliation congress is in doubt. But as they say on Broadway, the show must go on...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540