I call the meeting to order.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the 120th meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Today we're going to complete the testimony on our study on the situations in Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With us here today by video conference we have, first of all, Professor Ken Menkhaus. He is a professor of political science at Davidson College, and he is joining us from North Carolina.
Thank you, Professor Menkhaus, for being here.
We also have, from the United Nations Security Council Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, Jay Bahadur, who is joining us from Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you.
Gentlemen, beginning with Professor Menkhaus, can we have eight to 10 minutes of testimony? We will then open it up to questions from the members.
Please begin when you're ready.
Honourable members of the standing committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak on the question of improving our ability to address the issues of conflict, peace, gender-based violence, security, justice, respect for human rights and economic development in Somalia.
Somalia has seen improvements in some of these issue areas in recent years, at least in some pockets of the country. Many of those improvements can be attributed to the impressive efforts of local Somali civic and political leadership. Those Somalis work in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous environments and put their lives on the line; quite a few have been killed for their efforts. Any discussion of the state of peace-building, human rights and justice in Somalia should begin with an acknowledgement of the heroism of these individuals.
At the same time, we must be frank about the continued multi-dimensional nature of the Somalia crisis today. While large-scale armed conflict and civil war do not exist in Somalia today, the country continues to be plagued by chronic political violence in the form of assassinations, terrorism attacks, communal clashes and criminal violence, much of which is animated by unresolved political rivalries. Dangerous fault lines over issues such as federal state borders, control of security sector forces and elections have placed the country at heightened risk of backsliding. Somalia remains one of the most insecure places in the world.
Gender-based violence is especially acute among marginalized groups, such as internally displaced persons, returning refugees and minority groups. Lack of rule of law leaves them exceptionally vulnerable to predatory behaviour, sometimes by the very security sector that is supposed to be protecting them.
The formal justice system is dysfunctional and lacks legitimacy across most of the country. Somalis rely instead on either customary or sharia law. Some even turn to al Shabaab, which runs a parallel justice system in much of the country. Human rights are poorly protected, especially the rights of women, weak social groups and youth.
As for economic development, Somalia has generated a lot of publicity over its dynamic private sector and has seen hopeful increases in overall growth in the national economy, but it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with exceptionally high urban unemployment and a distressed rural economy that is so vulnerable that the country nearly suffered a second famine in this decade in 2017. The high cost of security and collapsed infrastructure add to the challenges facing smallholders, pastoralists and business people. Were it not for the $1.5 billion in remittances sent back to the country by the large Somali diaspora every year, the country would be in even deeper economic trouble.
What can external actors do to help? The fact is that donor states have been pouring billions of dollars into Somalia since the 1970s, with very weak results. International relief and development, security sector reform and state-building efforts have seen a high failure rate, and in some cases, unintentionally make things worse. When we introduce resources into an environment of extreme scarcity, violence, corruption and lack of accountability, we can fuel the very dynamics causing the crisis in the first place.
The Somali crisis is, at root, a crisis of politics and governance, and can only be solved by changes in political structures, norms and culture that must come from the Somali people themselves. External actors can help support positive developments there but cannot engineer them. I look forward to talking about some of those positive developments we can support.
A few interesting opportunities to support Somalia include the following.
First, innovative learning donor initiatives offer the promise of smart aid. The multi-donor consortium known as the Somalia Stability Fund, for instance, is deeply committed to being an adaptive, effective learning organization. This is exactly the kind of approach to aid that is more likely to work in Somalia.
Second, donor flexibility is critical in working pragmatically with whatever local or national authorities are reliable partners in advancing policies and development programs. Sometimes working with municipal or federal authorities yields better results than working with the national level.
Third, brokering and helping to consolidate peace wherever possible is essential. The wider region of the Horn of Africa is witnessing an extraordinary set of political changes that could improve interstate co-operation and create a much better environment for regional economic integration. Whatever we can do to consolidate those gains will be of great help to Somalia.
Finally, insisting on accountability, especially from our large Somali diaspora, is essential. The diaspora dominates Somali politics and economics today. They generally play a very positive role, but a few are deeply complicit in both systemic corruption and in political violence in Somalia. They must be held accountable to the laws of their adopted countries, including Canada.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members of Parliament, for allowing me to address you here today.
I will start with saying a few words about what I do and what our group does.
The Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea is a collection of eight experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General but mandated by the Security Council to report on sanctions violations in Somalia.
In 1992 this began with an arms embargo and has since expanded to a whole range of other measures, including humanitarian violations, a ban on illicit charcoal coming from Somalia, as well as general threats to peace and security, which al Shabaab and now the ISIL faction in Somalia certainly fall under.
My personal role in the group is that of armed groups expert, so with your permission I'll speak briefly about the work I've done. It has been published in our most recent report, which came out in early November.
We also cover Eritrea, as suggested by the title, but as I'm sure most of you are aware, incredibly fast regional developments have led to the lifting of Security Council sanctions on Eritrea as of approximately a month ago. In about 10 days we will henceforth be referred to as the panel of experts on Somalia, and there will be six of us instead of eight.
Briefly speaking about my area of work, which is mostly covering al Shabaab and ISIL as well as arms smuggling in northern Somalia, for the most part, I'll begin with a recap of our most recent reporting on al Shabaab.
In our most recent report, as we've said, for the last several years al Shabaab remains the most immediate threat to peace and security in Somalia. Despite continued air strikes by the United States and other neighbouring member states, al Shabaab remains in a position to carry out routine asymmetric attacks that over the past year have claimed the lives of well over 700 Somalis, including the deadly bombing on October 14, 2017, which killed almost 600 people.
Al Shabaab also remains capable of carrying out occasional conventional attacks on AMISOM forces, as well as the Somali National Army.
Since the cessation of AMISOM offensive operations in 2015, al Shabaab broadly remains in direct control of three separate swaths of territory in Somalia. The first and most important is along the Jubba River corridor, mainly the towns of Jilib, Jamaame and Bu’aale. Then there is a swath of central Somalia, incorporating Harardhere and El Dhere, and then finally a small mountainous area in northern Somalia in the Puntland region, where they maintain an insurgency.
However, despite the fact that most urban centres remain under the control of AMISOM and SNA forces, our investigations indicate that al Shabaab is still, in essence, in control of the hinterland, and it's in control of the main supply routes, which it uses to generate its significant revenues.
In this last report, we did an extensive amount of work on al Shabaab financing, specifically looking at checkpoint taxation as well as, as we do every year, the export of charcoal, which they also tax. We found essentially that most commercial drivers within Somalia prefer al Shabaab routes over federal government or regional forces' routes because of the predictability, the standardized taxation system and the fact that they'll be given receipts and will not be extorted at further checkpoints.
The fact that al Shabaab actually serves as a shadow government in most territory in Somalia and is able to collect taxes more efficiently than the federal government or regional forces is an area of serious concern.
There is also the ongoing issue of the AMISOM drawdown, which essentially has been forestalled because of the widespread acknowledgement among the international community that the Somali National Army, the SNA, is nowhere near ready to fill the void that will be left by AMISOM when they withdraw.
This, in our view, essentially has resulted in a stalemate, wherein al Shabaab is not able to supplant AMISOM through conventional tax, yet the will for AMISOM to push further, completely eliminating al Shabaab in terms of territorial control, is not there.
The will of member states, as well as funders such as the European Union, to maintain funding for AMISOM remains in doubt, and in that sense al Shabaab is winning the stalemate. Time is on their side.
I will say a few brief words about the ISIL faction in northern Somalia.
Our group did a lot of the initial work detailing the leadership, the financing and the organization of the faction that essentially exists in the northeast corner of Somalia, and again in the Puntland region.
While this group remains relatively few in number—not more than 200 fighters—in this last year, since November 2017, when the United States launched several air strikes against bases in the mountainous areas of Puntland where their fighters are concentrated, the group seems to have begun a phase of reorganization and retrenchment whereby they have sought to imitate al Shabaab's tactics in imposing taxation through extortion and intimidation. In the last few months we've seen a concerted effort to raise taxes in Puntland by targeting, through assassinations and IED attacks, members of major banks, telecommunications companies and other businesses operating in the Puntland area.
Perhaps more worryingly, in the last year they have expanded their operational scope as far south as Mogadishu and Afgooye, which lies directly to the west of Mogadishu, to the point where the ISIL group in Somalia has claimed 50 assassinations during our reported period from September to this past August.
In essence, we are worried that if they do successfully build a revenue base as al Shabaab has, ultimately they will be as hard to uproot from the society in which they serve as a major taxation agent, and as Dr. Menkhaus pointed out, a provider of alternative justice, in essence serving as a shadow government that can provide services and functions that are normally the province of a legitimate government.
I'm happy to discuss politics or issues regarding the federal government, regional governments, relations between them and the effect of the ongoing Gulf diplomatic crisis on Somalia. These are all issues on which I'm happy to take questions, but I will end my talk there and thank you very much.
Good afternoon, and thank you for being before the committee here today.
I'm very impressed with the statements from both of you. They're very straightforward, and I think a response to many of the questions and the wondering we have over how far we can go to be effective in that specific region, as well as in others with a unique situation and a unique social environment, but particularly in Somalia.
We call it a nurturing social environment for the al Shabaab movement, with the same social environment ISIS had in the rest of the Middle East and even beyond the Middle East borders, to be able to effective and be able to terrorize and do the damage that has been done in the last years.
The million-dollar question is always going to be how far we can go and what the secret method is, if there is one, for the western world to make sure that the time and the money we spend in trying to solve these problems are not going to waste, but are going to be effective.
I go back to the unfortunate success of the al Shabaab movement; it's due to their nurturing social environment.
I'll leave it to both of you to answer. I'll start with Ken, and then we can go to Jay.
You have indeed asked the million-dollar question, and I wish I had a million-dollar answer in response.
One thing is for sure: our conventional approaches over the past couple of decades have not worked. We are chronically frustrated with our local partners, especially at the national level, but sometimes at the subnational level. In Somalia, as well, they are sometimes creating conditions that actually make it quite easy for al Shabaab to thrive.
There are a couple of aspects of the relationship between the government and al Shabaab and the people of Somalia that are worth reinforcing.
One is that while it might appear from the outside that this is a battle of a beleaguered government against a jihadi organization, the reality is a lot more complex. The reality is that the two coexist side by side. They are parallel governments. They collude as well as fight. It's a very complex relationship.
Al Shabaab is both a government and a terrorist organization, but it's also running what amounts to a very effective extortion mafia known as the Amniyat. That group, even if we're successful in diminishing the capacity of the rest of al Shabaab, is likely to live on and plague Somalia in some very troubling ways.
Our options are not particularly good, especially with the drawdown of the African Union forces, which is going to create opportunities for al Shabaab to just walk into areas that the African Union forces used to patrol. As I think Jay put very clearly, they believe that time is on their side.
What can we do? We can certainly try to change that equation. If time is not perceived to be on their side, if time is ultimately on the side of local and national governments that are supporting and advancing rule of law, I can assure you that the vast majority of Somalis will support them.
Al Shabaab is strong, often because it's the only team on the playing field. The government has been so corrupt and so weak and unreliable that it just doesn't inspire confidence among the Somali people. However, at the local level, at the municipal level, at the district level and, in some cases, at the federal level in some of the federal member states, we are seeing some really good governance, and Somalis are responding to that very positively.
To the extent that we can choose our dance partners wisely in Somalia and work with groups and authorities that are doing the right thing by providing basic rule of law, by providing an environment that is safe for people and for investment, we can shrink the space that al Shabaab currently exploits. However, that's going to be a very long process, and unfortunately we're on a fairly short clock right now with the AMISOM departure.
I'd say we're in a fortunate position in the Somalia and Eritrea monitoring group in that we often have to provide criticism and point out where things are going wrong, and often aren't asked for solutions.
I have a few personal thoughts. I think that in general, the change of tack over the last four or five years by the international community towards Somalia in terms of supporting regional administrations, or what used to be called the “building-block solution”, instead of solely going through the federal government, has been a very positive step. I think the last few years have proved that regional forces, which have much more of a local buy-in—so that is either clan militias or the regional forces of now federal member states—are much more effective at fighting al Shabaab, and not just fighting al Shabaab necessarily, but also encouraging their own clan members and subclan members within al Shabaab to leave the group. It is a much more effective way of fighting al Shabaab than from the top down, from the federal level. I think the support for regional forces, regional governance, and to some degree local and regional fighting forces has been a positive step.
I think what remains a serious problem is that the federal government remains the only entity that consistently legally imports arms through the partial lifting of the arms embargo, which occurred in 2013. The problem is there's such fundamental mistrust between the federal government and the federal member states that the federal government has not been willing to arm or equip regional forces. In essence, regional forces continue to be equipped by regional member states, including Ethiopia and to some degree Kenya.
The concern is that with that fundamental mistrust between the federal government and federal member states, the overall security sector architecture remains completely unclear. It remains completely unclear how regional forces are to be supported, armed and equipped in the face of the realization that the Somali National Army has been a complete failure through the years. Millions of dollars have been poured into it by the United States, by the United Arab Emirates, by Turkey, and by other partners. They have put considerable resources into training and paying salaries and stipends to the army. It is nowhere near being in a position to take over for AMISOM. I think that remains the fundamental problem faced by donors.
Thank you, Ken and Jay, for being here this afternoon.
I'm going to start with you, Ken. I have two specific questions for you. One is a military question and one is a political question.
As you know, in 2013 the Obama administration issued a presidential policy guidance with three main criteria: one, that any drone strikes that happen would have to have inter-agency vetting; two, that the threat or the target would pose a threat to Americans; three, that there would be no civilian casualties.
Because President Trump in 2017 declared that Somalia had areas of active hostilities, they changed that to a new policy called “Principles, Standards, and Procedures”, which loosened some of that. Because of that loosening, the drone strikes have gone up.
Now that drone strikes have gone up, there is much more military engagement. Part of the reason was to buy some time and space to advance the governance that was happening in Somalia, but even with all this activity, the political stability or the institution-building has not occurred there, and you have publicly said that drone strikes may have a purpose, but they are no substitute for political strategy. What is the political strategy in Somalia?
As you pointed out, the arms embargo was partially lifted in 2013 to allow the federal government, and theoretically federal member states as well, to import arms up to a certain calibre—essentially, small arms up to 14.5 millimetres and mortars up to 82 millimetres, I think.
The problem, as you point out, is that this weaponry often quickly gets into the hands of al Shabaab. The logistics arm of the Somali National Army is notoriously corrupt, on both a large scale, in terms of the head of logistics diverting weapons directly, and on a smaller scale, whereby unpaid soldiers will simply go to the market to sell their weapons.
Since 2015, the federal government has been marking weapons, which has made it easier for us to determine diversion rates. In this past report, we noted that 60 weapons we found in markets in Mogadishu and in Baidoa had markings of the federal government. That's just a very small sample of what's going on.
Our view is that with al Shabaab, as Dr. Menkhaus pointed out, it's not really a military problem per se. Greater and higher-calibre weapons will not help them solve that problem, as the federal government insists. The problem is that even if the arms embargo were completely lifted and they were allowed to import whatever weaponry they wished, history suggests that the weaponry would quickly find its way into the hands of al Shabaab and there would be some sort of parity again. Our view as a group is very strongly that the federal government is not ready for a lifting of the arms embargo. In fact, as noted in this report, not one of the consignments they received legally over the course of our past mandate was properly notified to the Security Council as per the requirements set out in the Security Council resolution. That remains a significant concern for us.
All right. This is going to be a speculative answer. I wish we had better data. We do have some public opinion polls of youth, which give us some clues to this question, but I don't have a definitive answer.
I think the first thing to point out is that 75% of the Somali population is under the age of 30. That means that three-quarters of the population or more have no living memory of a functional state, and that's a really important point of departure. We are talking about people for whom good governance, rule of law—all the things we take for granted—is a pretty alien concept in their frame of reference.
They are also now much more accustomed to a degree of Islamism in their lives, in politics and in justice systems, which would have been relatively unknown for the older generation. I think that's going to mark them into the future. I think this is a generation that will look for Islamic solutions in some form to a much greater degree than their older counterparts did in Somalia.
As for whether they are more inclined to see a solution, I don't know. I suspect that over time, Somalis who grow up in this environment will learn how to manage it. Somalia is a gigantic, horrible experiment in risk management—10 million people who have figured out a way to live in a chronically insecure and poorly governed context—and risk aversion is one of the ways you stay alive. Risk aversion, in this context, usually means not taking chances on a proposed dramatic new system of political rule, but rather living with the devil you know.
That is discouraging in some ways to me. I think it's going to be harder to promote real political reform because its risks are just so high for Somalis.
The question of federalism in other countries and what Somalis can learn from that has been around since the late 1990s. There was a publication called “A Menu of Options”, which was produced by the European community, I think. It looked at countries like Switzerland and elsewhere not so much to provide solutions to Somalis, but to provide them with a lesson in comparative politics so they can understand that there are a lot of other ways that other countries have managed decentralization and have managed identity politics in a federal context.
I think what Canada could do—and as long as you're extending these lessons to Somalia, you could certainly help us out here in the United States as well—is find a way to help Somalis understand the notion of cosmopolitanism.
One of the problems in Somalia is that federalism has been devolved into a very crude form of ethnofederalism—that is to say, each of these member states is viewed as the domain of one dominant clan, which replicates minority groups in those same areas, which in turn creates grievances that al Shabaab exploits in every single member state.
The question in Somalia of who has the right to live where—the Somalis talk about u dhashey and ku dhashey, or rights by birth, rights by blood, rights by citizenship—is entirely unresolved. In Somalia, no one is going to dispute that a particular clan has domain over a particular pasture; they know that. It's in the cities that they haven't figured this out. They haven't figured out which cities are cosmopolitan places where everyone has the right to live, to do business, to run for office or to be a policeman. If that discourse could be advanced....
You have wonderful cities, such as Montreal and Toronto. These are great lessons for many of the rest of us. I think Somalis would benefit from that. Of course, you have the advantage of having a very large Somali diaspora from those kinds of cities in Canada, who presumably can go back and help promote that idea in Somalia.
The solution in Somalia of federalism and identity tensions, ethnotensions, is going to be solved city by city, in my view.
I'm not a doctor yet, and probably not soon to be.
I don't think I have quite as comprehensive an answer on this, but I would say that in terms of federalism, one very significant issue is the provisional constitution, which is yet to be finalized after years and years of constitutional review. Within that, there's the issue of resource sharing and transfer payments with which I think Canada deals, given its lessons with richer and relatively less rich provinces. That sort of knowledge could be extremely helpful for the federal government to reach a final decision and a final framework for resource sharing that includes oil and gas and fisheries, which are things I think Canada has a great deal of experience with.
To expand on Dr. Menkhaus' point, given the number of Somalis in Toronto and the cosmopolitan knowledge of how different competing interests can live together, those young people can be encouraged to go back, even, and enter politics in Somalia or at least enter the political discourse, but it's a very difficult sell.
Coming back to the point earlier on the older and younger generations, one of the fears I have in Somalia is that the older generation, which knows the culture, which grew up before the civil war, which knows how to interact with the diaspora, with donors and with locals, is in their 60s and 70s and is dying out. You need to encourage young, educated Somalis to go back and have a stake in the system. Frankly, there are some, but you don't see that widespread interest in going back into that environment if you're an educated doctor or lawyer. As I said, it's obviously not an easy sell, because as a politician there, you face the extreme risk of assassination, of other bodily harm, and certainly a lower living standard.
However, if Canada could find some way to encourage its educated youth to take an interest and a stake in Somalia's future, I think that's one way you could have a very positive impact.
That's a great question, and a really challenging question.
Somali political culture is fascinating in that you can simultaneously have a really enduring, extreme level of parochialism around clan; a very powerful undercurrent of Somali nationalism, despite everything that has happened there in the past 30 years; and a pretty impressive level of cosmopolitanism.
Somalis travel extensively. The diaspora are vectors of all kinds of ideas from east and west and everywhere else. Somalis are, on average, extremely avid consumers of news and anything from the media, so they can simultaneously be all three. The key for them is finding a way to tap into the best of all three of those things and not to demonize clanism, for instance, because clan has had some really valuable functions as a social security net in a country with very little security. That has been one of the sources of resilience.
However, you're right that working with the subnational units does run the risk of reinforcing parochialism, inasmuch as many of them are dominated by a single clan, but there are towns and cities where multiple clans coexist. It's a place where they do business and where good schools are available, so people from every clan are making use of those services. Those, I think, are the hot spots of a solution in the country.
I'll stick with the last five years. That's what I've been looking most intensely at on the ground, to some degree.
To answer, again equally bluntly, I think that politically there have been improvements. I think the overall trend towards creating and supporting federal member states to give some sort of a political arena for grievances on that level is a good thing.
I think you've seen an increasing maturity of the federal government in terms of its ability to, for example, create a budget, act like a government, engage with donors and act a little more maturely on the international stage. There have been institutional improvements and improvements in terms of the quality of individuals in the governments you see around Somalia. Politically, I think there have been steps forward, and certainly in the last five years.
In fact, I think it was in 2009 that the national budget was scribbled on the back of a napkin. Now you have the World Bank and a financial management system implemented by the World Bank. I think those are improvements.
I think the security situation has not improved. The fundamental problem in Somalia is al Shabaab's integration into society and the inability to uproot its mafia—it's been compared by many others to the Mafia—and eliminate it from the fabric of society. That hasn't changed.
In terms of the military situation on the ground, in the last few years it has gotten worse in terms of AMISOM retrenching, cutting budgets, not actively patrolling, not actively engaging in the society and essentially sitting in barracks mode. In that sense, as I said before, I think al Shabaab is winning the stalemate. I think that time is not on the side of those who are trying to stabilize Somalia.
Now, with the Gulf crisis, you see basically a proxy war being fought at a political level that threatens to divide and subsume the progress that has been made between the federal and regional levels.