Meredith Preston McGhie describes the tactics employed by the UN as mediators in the 2008 peace talks in Djibouti between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). She concludes that the most significant lessons from Djibouti are the importance of flexibility, responsiveness and the ability to react to both the needs of the parties and the political situation.
It is especially important in this longer political process to support mechanisms for continued political dialogue in order to cement the steps that were made in Djibouti.
Meredith Preston McGhie
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The Djibouti mediation process
The conclusion of the Mbagathi peace process in 2004 ushered in a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia and a renewed hope that through a political arrangement in the country would be on the path toward stability. This hope was short lived.
Beginning the Djibouti process
While the ongoing insecurity and lack of political progress in Somalia in early 2008 made it clear that dialogue was required, bringing the two parties together proved challenging.
The June 2008 Djibouti Agreement (formally signed on 18 August) put in place basic principles between the parties, including the structures that would then facilitate advancing the process. These included agreement on a cessation of hostilities (although this had limited immediate impact on the ground) and the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia. The agreement also established a High Level Political Committee and a Joint Security Committee that would to take the talks forward.
The fundamental approach of Djibouti may not have appeared structured from the outside. In fact, as is often the case, much of the process was dictated by events and responses to them, with structure being sacrificed as a result. Flexibility was therefore central, yet with clear objectives and direction. While this flexibility was deliberate, the process was forced to become even more responsive to events in its final stages. Arguably the overall sustainability of the agreements has been more of a challenge as a result.
Previous mediation processes in Somalia before the Djibouti talks had been drawn out affairs, with months spent in session. In contrast Djibouti moved quickly – often surprisingly so.
A critical element in Djibouti was the need to maintain the pace and momentum of the talks. It was necessary to demonstrate regular progress in order to convince detractors of the process of the benefits of ‘coming on board’. This required both successes in the monthly rounds of talks as well as sustained external pressure to highlight the negative consequences of hindering them.
The influence of regional actors – negative or positive – cannot be overestimated in the Somali context. In October and November 2008, as discussions in Djibouti became more focused on a ceasefire and an agreement on political cooperation, coordinated pressure from the international and regional community proved vital.
Taking the Djibouti process forward
The first phase of the Djibouti talks has resulted in agreement on the formation of a newly formed Transitional Federal Government, established in early 2009. This has included the expansion of the Parliament from 275 to 550 members, to bring in ARS MPs and an expanded Cabinet.
Looking back on Djibouti, one year on
Mediation processes are the ‘art of the possible’. Many of the decisions taken in a given political setting take on a different hue with the benefit of hindsight. Looking back on Djibouti almost one year later, some insights emerge.