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Saturday, January 14, 2012

A cosmopolitan strategy toward Kismayo

By Ken Menkhau

Instead of these options that are unlikely to work, a new approach is needed, one which is both realistic and aspirational. Kismayo is in some respects the ideal setting for such an experiment.

Kismayo needs to be a setting where Somalis agree explicitly to create a “cosmopolitan city”—one in which all Somalis have full rights to live, work, own property, and operate businesses. Indigenous clans may be accorded special quotas for public employment or other entitlements—details that should be worked out by Somalis—but an accord over the city should clearly state the rights of nonindigenous Somalis as well. This would reassure other Somali clans that fear being shut out of the city’s business opportunities and set a positive precedent for the rest of Somalia, where federalism has too often degenerated into exclusivity clan claims on rights and resources within a federal state. The extraordinary potential of the seaport as an entrepôt for trade into the rest of East Africa could serve as the basis for a “pax commercial” of business groups with a vested interest in peace, stability, and open roads.

How to handle the inevitable struggle to control over the lucrative seaport revenues? One answer is to take the revenues out of the equation. Serious consideration should be given to a temporary international custodial control over customs revenues, along the lines of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which exercises trusteeship authority over Somali airspace, collecting over-flight revenues on behalf of Somalia and investing the funds back into airport maintenance and air traffic control. A highly transparent and closely monitored international customs authority at Kismayo port could generate substantial revenue for urban public works projects and a modest civil service, serve as a conflict prevention tool in the short term, and introduce a badly needed model for good management over public funds in Somalia.

The biggest impediment to this vision of a “new Kismayo” is the claims of local clans. Why should they allow others to share in the opportunities of the city when the same privilege has not been extended to them in other regions of Somalia? A persuasive case has to be made by eminent Somalis and foreign diplomats that local clans will benefit enormously from the rapid growth in trade, jobs, and real estate investment that would
follow a commercial peace in Kismayo. They can point to other examples of cosmopolitan Somali cities—most notably Hargeisa, but to a lesser extent Jigjiga (eastern Ethiopia) and Garissa (northern Kenya), where local clans have enjoyed significant economic benefits from welcoming “outside” Somalis to live and do business there.

Who must be at the table for this dialogue over Kismayo? Rival Somali claimants to Kismayo must be convened along with eminent Somali civil society leaders, the TFG, business leaders, and others. Business figures could be critical in this regard. Somalis have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to forge broad partnerships in pursuit of profitable business opportunities, even in a context of war and state collapse. Kismayo is ideally situated to encourage that kind of new politics in Somalia.

The Kenyan government cannot facilitate this kind of Somali dialogue alone—this requires broader diplomatic engagement by key donor governments from the West, the Islamic world, the United Nations, the African Union, and regional external actors. The details of a governing arrangement need to be hammered out by Somalis, not foreigners, but the general principle of open access is something external actors can and should insist on.

The odds of things going badly in Kismayo are high, but a post-Shabaab political dispensation in the port city also offers a unique opportunity for Somalis to chart a new, more inclusive, and more promising approach to the governance of major cities and towns, one which embraces a vision of Somalia’s urban spaces as cosmopolitan zones where all citizens are welcome to pursue livelihoods, not sites of exclusive clan claims. Though there are good reasons to second-guess the Kenyan military intervention, it could produce an unexpected and rare window of opportunity in Kismayo. That opportunity will be missed unless diplomatic initiatives get underway immediately.

Source: The Enough Project • www.enoughproject.org

 After the Kenyan Intervention in Somalia

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