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Somalia stands at a new crossroad. The term of the current Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) ends in less than two months. Everyone is wondering what will come next. Elections are not possible, so Somali politicians and their UN-led international backers have agreed that traditional tribal elders will lead the next phase. But questions remain over who exactly represents Somali clans; any mistake in naming them has the potential to unravel the significant political and security progress that has been made so far.
The elders are tasked with selecting an 825-member Constituent Assembly, which in turn, will debate and adopt the new constitution and appoint incoming parliamentarians. Parliament, in turn, will elect Somalia’s next president. But there is a caveat; these leaders must be uncontested and recognized elders. The selection process could usher in a new dawn or send Somalia sliding back into chaos. The problem is if politicians with personal agendas corrupt the process and empower phony clan elders, these impostors could sell seats in parliament to the highest bidder.
The whole enterprise of ending Somalia’s dysfunctional transition and ushering in a more progressive political era would then be futile. Any resulting institution would lack legitimacy, and the strife-torn country could enter a new era of uncertainty, if not full scale disorder.
By Aug. 20 one or more of three likely scenarios will mark the ending of the transition:
• Scenario one: Tainted tribal elders that are not vetted will select parliamentarians, who in turn will pick the leaders of the next provisional government. In this plausible scenario, the current TFI leaders may return to power, or others not too dissimilar might be chosen. In either case, the next political dispensation will lack credibility and legitimacy. The question will be: If the next political dispensation is a replica of the current dysfunctional TFIs, why change it? Do we want a continuation of the same?
• Scenario two: The current political stalemate continues until Aug. 20, and the mandate of the TFIs ends without establishing successor institutions. Some members of the international community may decide to recognize blocs or remnants of the TFIs, while others may opt to bestow recognition on other factions or regional entities. As a consequence, Somalia might return to a situation similar to the pre-transitional era, in which warring factions competed over spoils, carved up territories, and fought to become the international community’s most-favored partner. The fact that many African Union troops from neighboring countries are spread across the country, fighting Al-Shabaab, adds another complicating factor to this problem.
• Scenario Three: The international community makes its call for transparency true and insists -- and puts in place a robust verification mechanism -- that genuine and recognized elders are selected to herald the next political dispensation. In the event that certain clans do not have agreed-upon elders, a fair selection process should be established. This is a prudent option which I think the Istanbul conferences should strive to accomplish.
Allowing Somalia to spiral into the political abyss, or alternatively, adopting a fair and legitimate dispensation depends on a whether politics hijacks principles. The distinguished Somali personalities gathered in Istanbul should remember that twenty years of bad politics has made Somalia what it is today.
A first step should be to do away with political expediency. Shortcuts do not work in Somalia; doing the right things will.
Somalia Analyst at the International Crisis Group.