Earlier last week the much-awaited reconciliation conference finally began in Mogadishu. Thousands of Somali tribal elders, politicians and former warlords traveled to Mogadishu to attend the conference. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) hopes this conference will boost its legitimacy and encourage the international community to commit aid and peacekeeping troops to Somalia.
There were more than a dozen peace conferences in the past, all held outside of Somalia, but this is the first to take place inside Somalia, in the capital Mogadishu organized by a Somali government. One of the major obstacles to organizing this conference is the dire security situation in Mogadishu, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Al Shabab fighters, a violent, radical group, and Islamic Courts insurgents have vowed to target conference participants, the attacks started almost immediately. So far dozens of civilians have been killed or injured (so far no participant was harmed).
One of difficult issues facing the conference organizers was that Hawiye tribal elders, the major tribe in Mogadishu, were reluctant to participate in the conference arguing that Somali tribes aren't fighting and therefore tribal reconciliation is pointless. Instead, the say, the TFG should sit with its political opponents, namely the Islamic Courts. But the government refuses to deal with the Islamic Courts as a political entity and insists that Islamic Courts leaders can attend the conference as part of their tribal delegation.
The TFG has a point, the transitional constitution doesn't allow for political entities to be formed until the TFG's mandate ends in about two years. But would Islamic Courts leaders have attended the conference had they been invited? UIC leaders say they wouldn't.
The success of the conference hinges on how well the government can manage it, both in terms of the issues discussed and public relations. But looking back at the TFG's record so far, the signs are not encouraging. The TFG had failed at every turn; on disarmament, building a security service and even enabling aid agencies to deliver aid to refugees. For this conference for example, the agenda and objective of conference is still ambigous specially when the prime minister announces that there'll be a political conference dedicated to 'political issues'. If the participants won't be discussed the political issues, what else would they discuss then. What is suppose be discussed in this conference then.
One positive aspect of this conference is the international involvement and support it has received from the begining. The international community has been advising - and pressuring - the TFG to change the format of the conference and to accommodate its opponents, and the TFG has been listening, they had to.
If at the conclusion of this conference, the tribal elders agree to fully support the TFG and withdraw support, explicit or implicit, from the Islamic Courts and other clan militias, it'll be a great result. And if aid and peacekeeping troops are provided to Somalia, it might just be the best chance Somalia had for a lasting peace.