ICG issues warning on Puntland

(Photo of Puntland’s Bosaaso Airport by Sand Paper)

Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland has become the new flashpoint for the failed Horn of African state. Al Jazeera noted today five visiting Muslim leaders from Pakistan were shot dead execution-style yesterday as they prayed in a mosque in Somalia’s north-eastern most province. According to police, masked men dragged the Pakistanis from the mosque after dawn prayers and opened fire. Puntland’s new president Abdurahman Mohamed Farole condemned the attack as a “terrible incident”. The suspect and motive for the killing is unclear but Al Jazeera quoted an International Crisis Group report that said Puntland could face a violent break-up if it does not deal with semi-autonomous clans in the region.

Puntland declared its semi-autonomous status in 1998 but does not desire full independence from Somalia. The state arose out of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front which was an opposition group fighting the central state after its collapse in 1991. The SDDF warded off attacks from the war-scarred south and created Puntland with the support of community elders. Puntland acts as a wholly autonomous state, but its transitional constitution says it is a part of an anticipated Federal State of Somalia. It is one of Somalia’s most prosperous areas and initially seen as a successful model of the “building blocks” federalist approach to re-establishing national stability.

However a new report by the ICG the called The Trouble with Puntland says the province is experiencing a three-year rise in insecurity and political tension. Problems date back to faction fighting after Puntland’s first president was deposed in 2001. The state is also the centre of most Somali pirate activity. The report blames poor governance and a collapse of the intra-clan cohesion and pan-Darood (northern Somali clan) solidarity responsible for the state’s creation. Criminal gangs and also involved in arms trafficking, kidnapping, and the smuggling of people and contraband. The ICG says there is evidence of state complicity and doubts if Farole’s government has the political will to move against the gangs.

The ICG says the Puntland government must take advantage of international attention about piracy to attract funds and expertise. These are needed to carry out comprehensive political, economic and institutional reforms to address fundamental problems of poor governance, corruption, unemployment and grinding poverty, especially in coastal villages. It also called on the international community to support Puntland by equipping and training a small coast guard and improve the general welfare and help poverty-stricken fishing communities.

Ethiopia and Egypt have diametrically opposed positions on Puntland (and neighbouring Somaliland which wants full independence from Somalia). Ethiopia sees Puntland as a strategic ally, but Egypt fears it would lead to Ethiopian domination with diminished access to Nile waters. Local warlords became adept at playing the two foreign powers off each other and switched sides with ease. The ICG says floating alliances added unpredictability and fluidity to already complex and dangerous politics, and made the search for peace much harder.

The government stacked the judiciary, the civil service and the security apparatus and by 2005 corruption was endemic. This had devastating impact on business as traders paid large bribes to import food, fuel and consumer goods. Similar problems plagued the livestock and fishing industries. Transport and food items became more expensive which increased poverty and malnutrition. Hyperinflation aggravated by severe drought, pushed Puntland into a lengthy humanitarian emergency. Puntland also has problems with a secret new constitution that puts the province on a plot to secession, territorial disputes with Somaliland, relations with Mogadishu, threat from Islamist dissidents, and piracy that has attracted global interest.

The ICG has suggested key reforms particularly in governance, security and border demarcation. In the area of governance it suggests a more transparent constitution, an independent electoral commission, a committee to demark boundaries, and an electoral court to adjudicate on disputes. In security reform, the government needs to balance its budget to pay soldiers and police fairly and introduce professionalism, transparency, and civilian oversight into security agencies. The ICG warns the international community needs to move quickly to defuse a growing crisis in the disputed regions of Sool/Sanaag.

Failure, say the ICG, may result in the violent break-up of Puntland, as rival clans seek autonomy. It says this process is already underway in areas such as Sool and Sanaag. “Unless the government enacts meaningful reforms and again reaches out to all clans, it may become unstoppable”, warn the ICG.

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