US, UN concerned over corrupt Somali transition

August 14, 2012 - 12:38 PM
Somalia Military Training

Somali military trainees march during a graduation ceremony at the Jazeera military camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. Tuesday, Aug, 14, 2012. These soldiers are part of 602 trainees who are graduating following an eight-month training program. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — World leaders from Africa to the U.S. and Europe said they are growing increasingly concerned that intimidation and corruption are marring the selection of a new Somali parliament, a task still unfinished less than a week before the government's U.N. mandate expires.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement Tuesday that it shares the concerns of the African Union and U.N. over "multiple credible reports of intimidation and corruption" in the selection of the country's new 275-member parliament.

James Swan, the U.S. representative for Somalia, continued with his list of concerns: "Inadequate representation of women and in some cases reports of former warlords who are being nominated by their communities."

Since 2004, Somalia has been represented by a U.N.-approved leadership structure called the Transitional Federal Government that mostly controlled only small parts of Mogadishu. The government has accomplished little, but because African Union and Somali troops pushed al-Shabab militants out of the capital last year positive momentum is building.

But the U.N. mandate for the government expires Aug. 20, and Somali leaders still must nominate a parliament that will in turn vote in a president.

That looming deadline — and the messy process of naming a parliament — appears to be making world leaders nervous about Somali power brokers' ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of the country. A report commissioned by the U.N. finalized in July said that systematic misappropriation, embezzlement and outright theft of taxpayer funds have become a system of governance in Somalia.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Monday that he is seriously concerned about delays in the selection of the new parliament. Ban, through his spokesperson, said recent reports of intimidation and violence should not be allowed to threaten the conclusion of the Somali government's transition.

An EU representative, Alex Rondos, echoed the concerns. "In the run-up to the end of the transition, the responsibility remains with the selected Somali leadership to rise to the challenge of delivering this process fairly and transparently and must understand that, ultimately, they are personally accountable for their actions."

Somalia has been the world's most lawless country since 1991, when the president was ousted and warlords began in-fighting. U.S. troops invaded in the early 1990s to try to help ease the pain of famine, but retreated after losing the battle known as Black Hawk Down.

Ugandan troops — later to be backed by Burundian forces — moved in in 2007 as part of an African Union force and have lost hundreds of lives to secure Mogadishu from the hands of the al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab.

The transitional government was supposed to end last August, but the U.N. extended its mandate by a year when it became clear not enough political process had been made to move to a new government structure.

As part of the transition, more than 600 Somali elders earlier this month approved a new provisional constitution that contains new individual rights and sets the country on a course for a more powerful and representative government.

The constitution makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia's legal foundation. But it also protects the right to an abortion to save the life of the mother and bans the circumcision of girls, a common practice in Somalia that opponents call female genital mutilation. Those rights were opposed by conservative Somalis.

The U.N. hopes one day that the constitution can be voted on by all of Somalia, but the day that security is good enough to hold a nationwide vote remains years away. Though al-Shabab no longer controls Mogadishu, it still holds sway in much of south-central Somalia.