The Need to "De-Nairobify" Somali Affairs

For a number of years, Nairobi, Kenya, has been the de facto capital of Somalia. Since the state disintegrated into anarchy, Nairobi has been where Somalis sought refuge, restarted their lives and networked with the rest of the world. By the same token, it has been where almost all of the 18 or so failed "reconciliation" conferences were concocted, and where Somalis found the funding and nourishment for the political demons that kept them divided and at war with one another for over two decades.

To this day—at least from the international community's point of view—all initiatives related to peace, security, humanitarian aid and development must be conceived, crafted and executed via Nairobi, through a network of international institutions and organizations with a reputation of money squandering, money laundering and rewarding corruption with more contracts. So long as this continues, so will the status quo.

Like Vienna during the Cold War, Nairobi has become a magnet that attracts both the positive and the negative. It is a place where a few good apples are found—those Somali patriots who are committed to work to bring an end to the misery of their people. It is also where many rotten ones are found—those who callously sell out everything about their country and people. Nairobi is where the buyers meet the sellers. The city is one of the major hubs for security experts. It is also the center where around $1 billion donated annually on behalf of Somalia is managed and mismanaged. It is where corrupt technocrats and various strategists compete for geopolitical advantages or crude economic exploitation.

In dealing with countries like Somalia, a new breed of diplomats known as "gorilla diplomats" are granted the flexibility and authority to make decisions without direct involvement of their foreign ministries. This, needless to say, has its positives and negatives. One of the positives might be their less bureaucratic decision-making capacity. One of the negatives might be the inadvertent creation of diplomatic despots who haphazardly assert authority far exceeding their professional titles.

Against this backdrop, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Somalia, and head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, Dr. Augustine Mahiga had the liberty to dive into the intra-Somali politics of contention in a recent interview with Somalia Report.

As someone who occasionally freewheels beyond his diplomatic boundaries and tips the scale in favor of one group over another, Mahiga pushed the limits with that interview. Without offering any substantiation to his claims, Mahiga offered this assertion when asked about the Somali politicians:

"There is a palace coup that has taken place in Villa Somalia. The Ala-Sheikh group is back in power, which should not be downplayed. The Ala-Sheikh group by definition never wanted any power sharing; they are against the Roadmap because of its inclusiveness to bring in the regions, to bring in Ahlu Sunnah, to bring in civil society."

Why this crude accusation, especially when there are only five months left in the transitional period? Considering the timing of the message and the clout of the messenger, this was nothing but a desperate act to give traction to a baseless narrative that has been cooked since the Djibouti Agreement: that there is a clandestine Islamist cabal with sinister motives that is bent on high-jacking the political power. Consumed by that paranoiad narrative and other erroneous assumptions that all organized Islamist groups, including those who are nonviolent and willing to legally partake in the political process, should not be trusted, Mahiga unleashed the following rant:

"[Ala-Sheikh] are not very different than the Shabaab, except that they don't take up arms. But for them, the fundamentals are the ideological purity, and they've reached a point where they have successfully staged a comeback, and they have just created a forum, which they have formed under [former Prime Minister] Farmajo: an Islamic organization that they are going to transform into a political party."

The Al-Sheikh group that he referenced is made up of some of the students of the late Islamic scholar Sheikh Mohamed Moallim. Contrary to the urban legend surrounding his influence, the Sheikh was in fact a progressive religious scholar who was ahead of his time. He graduated from Al-Azhar University, and his teachings were focused on bringing social and religious reform through nonviolent means. He taught that the individual is part of the whole, that his/her actions either contribute positively or negatively to society, and that the individual should never resort to bloodshed or wreak havoc, even when living under an authoritarian government that publicly executed 10 Islamic scholars and imprisoned a few others—including the Sheikh—for disagreeing with it. As an active agent of positive change, the individual must educate oneself and others (religiously and secularly), but never impose views on others.

A few individuals from that school of thought (and other Islamic thoughts) have joined the post-Djibouti Agreement Transitional Federal Government. And though they were systematically cleansed out of the political structure through one "re-shuffle" or "accord," their contribution and legacy stand out.

So, what threat does Mahiga fear? And even if it were true that that group and their allies in the Daljir Forum (a coalition of several political parties with diverse interests) have "successfully staged a comeback," what is wrong with that? More importantly, are we to deduce from Mahiga's statements that there is a gatekeeper outside the will of the Somali people who should keep this wrongly implicated group in the periphery? 

Considering the broad-based negative reaction his statements have generated and official grievances filed through the U.N. Secretary General's office, Mahiga's statements are not considered the result of judgment deficit. Rather, they are considered statements that were deliberately crafted to sow the seeds of suspicion and conflict between certain political parties and groups.

And since the groups under this attack are the very same groups that openly advocated for the transfer of all international community offices that deal with the Somalia issue to either Mogadishu or other parts of Somalia, this raises yet another question: Was this a payback for pressuring the United Nations and other international organizations to leave their cozy environment in Nairobi and transfer their operations to Mogadishu—something that Mahiga had to do a few months earlier?

Be that as it may, the process of "de-Nairobification" must continue. In addition to bringing an end to the costly routine of multiple outsourcing of projects and services to Somalia, such decision will bring an end to a detrimental subculture that has developed since the breakup of the state—a subculture that lures governmental officials and members of the Parliament to attend private meetings with various foreign characters of multiple agendas. Though this subculture has been under scrutiny for the past 18 months, enforcement has been all but effective, mainly because these meetings take place away from the government's radar.

Abukar Arman is Somalia's special envoy to the United States and a widely published political analyst.