WASHINGTON — Washington.--One of the most difficult features of the international humanitarian intervention in Somalia is that it has been launched without approval of a government in Somalia. Such consultation was not possible because there was no government to consult. As a consequence, this has been the first U.N. intervention undertaken without an invitation from the country where troops under U.N. auspices are being sent. It was also very difficult to consult with a broad cross-section of the Somali population.
Recognizing the importance of hearing what Somalis think about international humanitarian intervention, the United States Institute of Peace convened a series of meetings for a group of prominent Somalis resident in the U.S. during October and November. The group was selected to reflect a range of political and regional perspectives, and included several former Somali ambassadors, a retired general of the Somali army, several professors, a physician, leaders of Somali non-government organizations and other professionals. Given their divergent perspectives, the group of 15 Somali professionals was able to achieve an impressive degree of consensus on key points.
This Somali study group emphasized the need for the international community to clarify its longer-term motives for intervening. It must be made clear that the international community has no intention of recolonizing Somalia or transforming it into a U.N. trusteeship, as some have advocated. The agenda of the international community is a limited one and should not include the control or manipulation of Somalia's political future.
The delivery of food and other relief supplies addresses only the most immediate problem. If no progress is achieved toward the reconstitution of civil authority before the international community withdraws, few long-term benefits may accrue from the intervention.
The institute's study participants recommended that the U.S. and the U.N. actively facilitate dialogue and promote political reconciliation, both within and among the various political parties and factions in Somalia. While the mandate given to U.S. special envoy Robert Oakley regarding his role in political negotiations seems somewhat ambiguous, he has taken some promising initiatives in Mogadishu and Baidoa. It may not be coincidental that Mr. Oakley, formerly a staff member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, participated in the institute's study group and listened carefully to its recommendations.
An additional perplexing issue is the appropriate division of labor among the U.S., the U.N. and the rest of the international community. It is generally understood that the U.S.-led military intervention will be followed by a second phase, involving a more international force of peacekeepers under U.N. control. It seems particularly important that African states be consulted closely and that Africans be involved in the political dialogues. Every effort must be made to give reassurance that this is not a Western plot to control an African country.
The institute's study group was critical of the U.N.'s previous efforts in Somalia, and stated that the U.N. was not sufficiently energetic in promoting dialogue among opposing groups and factions. Although a meeting for national reconciliation is currently under consideration, this might be premature.
With guns being the only source of authority in many parts of Somalia, it has been difficult for an alternative set of leaders to emerge. The study group contended that one of the purposes of promoting dialogue would be to identify and encourage new leadership potential. These new leaders could include clan leaders, religious leaders, professional and business people, women and others.
As part of the critically important process of local empowerment, the international aid givers, including international non-governmental organizations, should work with and support local Somali organizations. These, although impoverished and weakened by the prevailing state of conflict and poverty, nevertheless can assist in delivering relief supplies and in rebuilding Somalia. Strengthening these organizations in itself can be an important part of the rebuilding process.
Those portions of the country, particularly in the north and
northeast, that are relatively stable and are not in a state of destitution, should be given assistance beyond emergency relief. The study group recommended that health facilities and schools should be aided. The provision of this additional assistance to relatively peaceful areas will provide incentives to those in regions of turmoil to settle their conflicts and to rebuild the social and physical infrastructure with international assistance.