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Aid could be doing more harm than good    

South African Sunday Independent, 2 November 2003, of editorial page 9

The contrast between chaotic Somalia and the stable Somaliland, suggests to Greg Mills that donor countries frequently help sustain conflict and political strife by providing assistance.

The spluttering Somalia peace process and the corresponding success of the political transition in the autonomous region of Somali-land in the north provide a useful comparison to illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of external intervention in tough conflicts.

Since the collapse of Somali leader Siad Barre's government in 1991 and the withdrawal of UN troops from Mogadishu involved in Operation Restore Hope in 1993, there have been 14 peace conferences involving various Somali factions.

The number of warlord factions has increased from three in 1993 to about 50 a decade later. Based at a communications training facility outside Nairobi, the latest peace conference at Mbaghati had, by the end of 2003, drifted on for more than a year, at an estimated cost of $8 million (about R56 million), funded principally by the European Union.

Clan leaders were comfortably ensconced in luxurious residences while facilitators puzzled over how to advance. Progress at Mbaghati has also been hindered by personal ambitions, notably between the man in the ascendancy, Abdulayhi Yusuf, president of the Puntland territory within Somalia, and Abdilqasim Salad Hassan. The outgoing president of the transitional national government in Mogadishu.

As Raqiah Omar, an analyst for Africa Rights, based in Somaliland, observed: "Nairobi is a waste of time, reinforcing and giving legitimacy to the warlords by giving them a platform and visibility, and allowing them to manipulate the situation."

Somaliland, by comparison, was left to its own devices and yet has successfully managed to emerge from decades of devastation on its own.

The country is today an Islamic democracy in which traditionalist clan elements coexist with democrats through the clan, elder-dominated upper house and the more democratic 82-member lower house. This hybrid, homegrown political system was the product of several years of hard bargaining between the clans before peace was established throughout the territory in the mid-1990s. A 2001 referendum on a new constitution and local elections in December 2002 were followed by the staging of presidential elections on April 14, won by Dahir Rayale Kahin, the incumbent, with a majority of just 80 votes of the 500 000 cast. Legislative elections are scheduled for 2005.

This is tremendous progress by any developing country's measure; the more so when compared to the failure of Somalia to the south.

Lacking international recognition, Somaliland has been left to its own devices in negotiating a political solution and in finding its development feet. This has been immensely difficult for a country where tremendous economic challenges exist.

Foreign aid from international organisations and donors is constrained by Somaliland's lack of international recognition, and totals about $40 million a year, half of this from the UN. This offers little succour for a government that faces a myriad demands for health, education, water and other infrastructure needs. Nearly half of the budget is consumed by salaries for the 15 000-strong police and military force. But this force is necessarily oversized to maintain peace by keeping potential militiamen "inside the tent", as it were - in sharp contrast to Somalia, where they remain "outside the tent", running amok. The biggest source of income is remittances from Somalilanders living abroad, about $300 million annually.

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