A Lens on Somalia: Security and Development Going Forward

November 19, 2013 // 9:30am11:30am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Africa Program
It has been just over one year since the Somalia Federal Government took over from the Transitional Federal Government, marking the end of ‘transition’ in Somalia. However, there are still a number of challenges and potential opportunities for Somalia in the near and longer-term future that will require attention if the state is to see stability, and economic and development progress.
This panel discussion brought together a distinguished group of experts who provided an in-depth analysis of the current security and development situation in Somalia. Daniel Kebede, Southern Voices African Research Scholar with the Wilson Center’s Africa Program and PhD candidate at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Ethiopia, focused his remarks on the securitization of peacebuilding in Somalia, including the role of Al-Shaba’ab. Terrence Lyons provided a regional perspective and looked at how the issues in Somalia are affected by and affect its neighboring states, and what that means for the United States when developing regional and state policies and programs. Melanie Greenberg, President of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, discussed development objectives, goals, and potential impediments to success of the newly implemented pilot program for Somalia under the New Deal framework. Steve McDonald, Senior Advisor to the Africa Program and Leadership Project at The Wilson Center, moderated the discussion. Continue reading for a summary of the key points made during the event.

The continued existence and transforming role of Al-Shaba’ab

Daniel Kebede kicked off the discussion with an update on the changing structure and role of Al-Shaba’ab in Somalia’s security. He explained that Al-Shaba’ab is a nationalist organization that works within an international system, with some labeling the Somali-based group as a transnational terrorist organization.  While there are certain divisions within its leadership, Al-Shaba’ab is still highly centralized, fostering a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to the changing international political climate.  Its strategy is largely militarily and politically grounded, which is apparent through its deep infiltration in the Somali government and propensity for offensive action.  It maintains authority in southern and central parts of Somalia and exports propaganda to neighboring countries, forging legitimacy and reverence among large sums of people in the Horn of Africa. 
Due to this widespread influence and integration into society, largely through government infiltration and recruitment among strategic clans, coupled with its unchanging ideology, it is currently not feasible to easily undermine the capabilities and authority of Al-Shaba’ab, according to Kebede. 

The complexities of regional involvement

Terrence Lyons put Daniel’s discussion on Somalia security and threats from Al-Shaba’ab into a regional context. He wisely indicated that “it is impossible to think of any country in the Horn of Africa without recognizing the interdependence of the securities of each nation.”  The war-torn country’s neighbors have also been greatly affected by the conflicts engulfing the region and, through political and economic alliance frameworks, have become inevitably involved.  The northern region of Kenya has become somewhat unstable due to the massive influx of Somali refugees, who are in the process of being repatriated.  Ethiopia’s involvement through AMISOM has also been very controversial.  Lyons also suggested that Ethiopia needs to exercise a certain level of influence on the ground in regards to security, whether it is unilateral or through a regional structure.  However, the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia have their own agendas that oftentimes conflict with the interests of the Somali government.  These problems stemming from failure to integrate as a regional entity must be resolved, states Lyons, because Somalia’s best chance for progress will come through embedment into regional security and economic agreements rather than within larger international institutions such as the UN or the World Bank.  Of course, AMISOM has attempted to transform international thinking and, after being strengthened and expanded by the UN resolution 2124, has attracted a great deal of optimism for its future.

Development through a ‘New Deal’

Melanie Greenberg rounded out the discussion with an analysis of the opportunities and challenges for future development in Somalia, specifically with regard to the pilot program for Somalia under the ‘New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States.’  She explained that the ‘New Deal’ provides a distinct framework for the development of conflict-ridden countries.  It encompasses five main peace-building and state-building objectives, including the creation and maintenance of inclusive governance, security, justice, economic foundation, and revenue/services.  Once a state is identified as ‘fragile,’ it undergoes a three-part process.  First a fragility assessment is conducted by civil society and the government jointly mapping the fragility of the country and identifying the drivers of conflict.  Next, metrics and indicators are developed to track progress toward resilience.  Finally, a compact is signed between the government of the state and the donor nations.  However, in Somalia, this ‘New Deal’ framework has not been entirely successful.  The compact fails to address clan and sub-clan divisions, the objectives are vague, and there is very little access to communication between civil society and the donors.  According to Greenberg, this results in a gross underrepresentation of the interests and concerns of the civil society, effectively thwarting any gains in local empowerment.  She also fears that securitization is going to swamp the other goals of the compact, placing other human development concerns in a position of low priority.  Until proper incentives are employed for the government to represent and respond to its electorate, Somalia will remain unstable.



5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Event Speakers List: 
  • Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
  • Steve McDonald // Public Policy Scholar
    Former Director, Africa Program, Woodrow Wilson Center.
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