A confidential UN report exposed the clandestine relationship between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and pirates plying the regional waters threatening the free flow of international trade.
The report, drawn up by the UN Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea, confirms what the world has always known about, or suspected, the interim authorities of Somalia in terms of major shortcomings in governance, corruption, piracy, gross abuse of public office and little respect for the country’s own laws, let alone international law.
The report is dated June 27 and is addressed to the chairman of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea.
According to the American One Earth Future Foundation, Somalia-based piracy netted $160 million, and cost the world economy about $7 billion in 20111.
The UN monitoring group said it had secured proof that Somalia President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed provided a special “diplomatic passport” to one of the top Somali pirates so that he would not be arrested while travelling to visit his family members who live abroad.
According to the report, the pirate, identified as Mohammad Abdil Hassan Afweyne, one of the most notorious and influential leaders of the Hobyo-Harardheere piracy network, visited Malaysia in April using the passport. When questioned by the Malaysian authorities about his diplomatic status and the purpose of his trip, Afweyne produced an apparently official document issued by the director of the TFG presidency. He also bragged that it was given to him upon direct orders of the president in order to encourage him to engage in “counterpiracy”.
While the Somali president sent a letter to the UN condemning the report as “one-sided”, he does not appear to contest any of the actual charges in the document. Somali officials are declining comment on the issue to the media.
The report quotes Ahmed as telling the monitoring group that the passport was “one of several inducements” for Afweyne aimed at obtaining the dismantling of his pirate network.
However, reports as of early July indicated that there was no proof that the network was dismantled.
The relationship with pirate leaders is only one aspect of the many negative points that the UN Monitoring Group raised in its report, which noted that the TFG’s term of office is due to expire in August 2012.
However, the transfer of power to “a more effective, legitimate and broad-based national authority is threatened by the efforts of diverse Somali political leaders and their supporters to hijack or derail the transitional process — outcomes that would fuel continued instability and conflict, potentially reviving the fortunes of an embattled Al Shabaab”, the main insurgent group battling the TFG, says the report.
“While such ‘spoiler’ behaviour is partly an expression of legitimate political competition, it is also symptomatic of pervasive corruption within the TFIs [Transitional Federal Institutions],” said the report.
“Since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, successive generations of Somali leaders have engaged in corrosive political and economic practices that have aggravated the conflict and helped thwart the restoration of peace and security in the country. Under the Transitional Federal Institutions, the systematic misappropriation, embezzlement and outright theft of public resources have essentially become a system of governance, embodied in the popular Somali phrase ‘Maxaa igu jiraa’ [what’s in it for me?],” added the report.
The monitoring group notes that a May 2012 report commissioned by the World Bank found $131 million in TFG revenues unaccounted for in 2009-10, which is 68 per cent of the total recorded income for that period.
The monitoring group said its investigations suggest that the real scale of corruption is probably even higher, since millions or dollars of revenue go unrecorded.
“In other words, out of every $10 received by the TFG in 2009-10, $7 never made it into state coffers. In 2011, almost one quarter of total TFG expenditure [over $12 million] was absorbed by the offices of the three top leaders — the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament,” said the group.
The UN group said it had learned that production and issuance of national passports has been “quietly awarded to TFG cronies, resulting in extensive corruption and fraud since 2007. In 2010-11 alone, almost $1.5 million in passport revenues went missing, it said.
On the insurgency in the Horn of Africa country, the report said that Al Shabaab group continues to represent a “serious threat to peace, security and stability, not only in Somalia but also on the broader international scene”.
Al Shabaab, which announced a merger with Al Qaeda in February this year, is “actively strengthening its ties with other foreign extremist groups, including the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) in Kenya, the Ansaar Muslim Youth Centre (AMYC) in Tanzania and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [Yemen],” said the report.
None of these findings should be surprising since Somalia has been sliding deeper into the abyss following the coup that overthrew a dictatorial regime in 1990. The international community did try to help, but the very nature of the Somali society thwarted all such efforts. It was as if the Somalis did not want help and were bent upon having things their way.
Things have started to improve with military interventions by African countries. Al Shabaab fighters have been dislodged from most of their strongholds, and a final battle could be expected for their key port of Kismayo any time.
Parallel to that, the problem of piracy should be addressed.
The UN monitoring group recommends that the UN should take “targeted” measures to designate known pirates and their associates.
“The Security Council should consider the possibility of establishing a specialised investigative group of experts with a mandate to collect information, gather evidence and record testimonies relating to acts of Somali piracy, especially the identification of pirate leaders, financiers, negotiators, facilitators, support networks and beneficiaries,” said the committee.
What is equally important is stepped-up cooperation among governments, international organisations and national law-enforcement agencies to exchange evidence and information with a view to arresting and prosecuting senior pirate leaders and their associates.
The UN should also have a closer look at the TFG and determine whether supporting the interim authority is the best way to go about in the effort to stabilise Somalia. It seems that the TFG is not part of the solution. It has become a problem itself.
The writer, who worked as a senior editor and writer for The Jordan Times for 20 years, now works for the UAE-based Gulf Today newspaper.