Cablegate: Somalia - Members of Parliament Discuss Progress,

Published: Mon 24 Aug 2009 02:39 PM
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1. (SBU) Summary: From August 18 - 20, the National
Democratic Institute (NDI) hosted a three day parliamentary
training seminar in Nairobi, Kenya for over 30 Somali Members
of Parliament (MPs). On the margins of this seminar, we were
able to conduct a number of insightful conversations with a
cross-cutting segment of Somali MPs, many of them based in
Mogadishu, on issues related to security, political trends,
economic challenges, minority concerns, and MP perceptions of
international involvement in Somalia. The MPs came from a
variety of clans and regions within Somalia, and were
involved in parliamentary committees including security,
finance, religion and reconciliation. Their most pressing
concerns were security and funding for basic infrastructure.
End summary.
The Evolving Security Situation
2. (SBU) MPs consistently highlighted security as one of
their top personal and political concerns, advocating the
creation of Parliament offices within a protected buffer area
or green zone, in Mogadishu, and citing the lack of a safe
venue for meetings. The MP,s fears were compounded by
intimidation; they described phone calls threatening both MPs
and their families, and they risk attacks by al-Shabaab when
they travel. Sheikh Jama Hagi Hussein (Bantu), the Chairman
of the Justice Committee, noted that he had been attacked by
al-Shabaab in 2008, specifically targeted because he was an
outspoken Sufi MP and had made a statement welcoming U.S.
educational support. MP Omar Mohamud Mohammed (Hawiye, Abgal)
noted that the TFG lacked the intelligence capabilities
needed to protect officials, even within the limited area of
government control in Mogadishu. One MP also mentioned that
bounties were at times offered for killing government
3. (SBU) Describing the current violence in Mogadishu,
numerous MPs noted a growing public hatred for al-Shabaab,
which is seen as brainwashing local youth into violence.
These sentiments are contributing to the formation of local
TFG-aligned militias in Mogadishu neighborhoods such as
Medina, and in regions outside the capital. We met with
Security Committee Chairman Mohammed Husain Afarale (Dir,
Isak), and Security Committee Secretary Ahmed Ali Yakhle
(Darod, Harti), to discuss recent fighting. They emphasized
the importance of ongoing regional efforts against al-Shabaab
and Hisbul Islam, such as operations by ASWJ and the fighting
in Gedo, Galgadud, and Hiran in mid-August. These operations
were seen as essential in relieving pressure from the TFG in
Mogadishu, and prompting the withdrawal of numerous
al-Shabaab fighters, many of which were relocating out of
Mogadishu back to their traditional strongholds in southern
Somalia. Some MPs praised improved cooperation between the
TFG and ASWJ, while others argued that the TFG still does not
fully support or trust ASWJ, and that this imperfect
relationship hinders security progress.
4. (SBU) Mohamed Omar Dalha, First Deputy Speaker of the
Parliament, added that government and aligned forces had
recently made gains in Hiran, Gedo, Bay, and Galgadud regions
and claimed the TFG had plans to push into the rest of Bay
and Middle Shabblle as their next steps. He emphasized the
need to rehabilitate some of the more moderate rank-and-file
anti-Government insurgents, particularly following desertions
by Hisbul Islam fighters, and to use influential clan and
religious leaders to sensitize at-risk Somali youth and avoid
future recruitment and indoctrination by al-Shabaab. Dalha
noted that in the past few weeks, the failure of al-Shabaab
to defeat the TFG, which he attributed to the involvement of
AMISOM, had shifted the momentum in Mogadishu. He
corroborated information from the Security Committee
representatives that many al-Shabaab forces, including
foreign fighters, fear being surrounded in Mogadishu and have
consequently left the capital to relocate to more secure
regions farther south, leaving primarily local al-Shabaab
fighters in the capital. Dalha noted that the
al-Shabaab/Hisbul Islam alliance, which was a key factor in
the fighting in Mogadishu since May, was an alliance of
convenience base solely on anti-TFG sentiment. The two groups
disagree on most other issues, with Hisbul Islam locally
focused, but dependent on al-Shabaab for power and political
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5. (SBU) Of concern, Ibrahim Ali Jeebo (Hawiye, Abgal)
Chairman of the Parliament's Reconciliation Committee,
criticized cronyism within Sharif's government, remained
unconvinced that TFG will ensure Abgal interests, and favored
developing an Abgal strategy to take Hiran, Middle Shabelle,
and a southern portion of Galgadud region. Jeebo plans, in
the next several weeks, to organize a meeting of Abgal Imams,
clan, and religious leaders to advocate this agenda, and he
hopes to raise financial support from donors in the diaspora.
If it moves forward, such a plan could likely undercut the
TFG by creating a precedence for clan based sub-states, and
potentially derail efforts by TFG President Sharif to mend
fences with his Abgal co-clan members (Ref A).
MP Political Views
6. (SBU) The MPs had mixed views on recent TFG political
progress, citing good intentions by the TFG's top leadership,
and improved cooperation between the TFG's President, Prime
Minister, and Speaker. However, MPs noted the lack of
infrastructure and transparency, and criticized many
political appointments, including a number of unqualified
ministers appointed due to power alliances or clan interests
rather than based on individual merit. Several MPs noted that
militia leaders are able to blackmail, the President,
forcing him to compensate them financially or politically for
their military support. They widely described the recent TFG
cabinet reshuffle as zero change, or even a potential
mistake that could anger political leaders from other clans
(Ref B). Mohamed Omar Dalha, First Deputy Speaker of the
Parliament, noted signs of political progress under President
Sharif, which he attributed largely to international support
from the European Union and United States, particularly
emphasizing the importance of Secretary Clinton's meeting
with Sharif. However, Dalha argued that the TFG needed to
gradually shift current strategy, which he viewed as somewhat
short-sighted and overly focused on building alliances with
powerful militia leaders. According to Dalha, the TFG now
needs to systematically select government positions based on
merit, experience and popular support, rather than control of
arms and militia. He suggested that this would require
replacing militia leaders with influential political
representatives from their same clan/sub-clan.
Financial challenges
7. (SBU) MPs highlighted continued revenue problems and
sporadic pay for government officials. Several MPs complained
that they had not been paid in 2-5 months, and that they
typically have no staff, clerks, or office space for
meetings. Similar financial problems plague police and
security forces, consequently increasing road blocks and
criminal activities perpetrated by rogue security personnel.
Unpaid individuals within TFG security forces have at times
sold their weapons or ammunition in arms markets; some of
these arms are likely purchased by insurgents. MPs pointed
out that improved training for TFG security and police forces
would likely be ineffective unless the payroll problem was
resolved. Furthermore, an Abgal clan contact noted that
TFG-aligned Abgal militia are largely unpaid and underfed,
prompting Abgal leaders to pay their own clan militia, and
hindering efforts at integration with TFG forces.
Parliamentarians consistently cited the need for checks and
balances to avoid corruption and insure accountability at all
levels of government.
Minorities and Reconciliation
8. (SBU) Poloff also met with several MPs from minority or
woman's rights committees, including Sheikh Jama Hagi
Hussein, a Somali Bantu who is Chairman of the Justice
Committee. Jama expressed support for the TFG from both the
Bantu community and other minorities, who view a stable unity
government as key to representing their concerns. Jama was
pleased that several Bantus have already been given political
positions, bringing them up to 14 MP slots. Likewise, Lul
Abdi, a member of the Gender Committee and one of 36 women in
Parliament, noted that lobbying over the past year had raised
the profile and rights of women within the Government, and
emphasized that women could be a strong force for
reconciliation due to their ability to reach out to relatives
across clan divisions.
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Perceptions of the International Community
9. (SBU) The MPs had positive perceptions of the
international community, praising both U.S. support for the
TFG, and AMISOM's role in halting the joint al-Shabaab/Hisbul
Islam offensive against the TFG in Mogadishu from May - July.
Secretary of State Clinton's August 6 meeting in Nairobi with
TFG President Sharif was repeatedly raised as key to
reinvigorating TFG efforts and demoralizing members of the
anti-TFG opposition (Ref C). MPs urged international donors
to continue directing support for anti-al-Shabaab forces
through the TFG, which could then channel support to allied
forces such as ASWJ. The only consistent critique of the
international community's efforts was the need to support
institutions, rather than individuals. Several MPs felt that
the U.S. and the international community often provide
support directly to TFG individuals, leading to a lack of
transparency within the government, resulting in cases where
Parliament was unaware of what support had been provided, and
allowing recipients to use international aid without
oversight. The MPs felt this impeded progress by weakening
the role of government institutions. One specific example was
UNDP financial aid, of which the First Deputy Speaker claimed
the Parliament was able to account for only two months over
the past year. MPs urged the United States and international
community to increase mechanisms to insure transparency and
accountability when supporting the TFG.
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