Somali leaders set to establish first government in decade

By CHRIS TOMLINSON=
Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Somali clan leaders debated the virtues of 28
presidential candidates Saturday, the day before an election intended to
bring stability to a country that has had no government for more than a
decade, has no money in its treasury and is run by warlords.

Somali leaders can't even predict when a new government would be
able to return safely to Somalia because of violence there and the
undisciplined militias that rule the divided capital, Mogadishu.

So while participants hail this weekend's vote, capping a two-year
peace process, as a major step toward bringing a semblance of normalcy
to the anarchic nation, many observers fear a catastrophic failure.

Meeting on a college campus outside the Kenyan capital of Nairobi,
each aspiring leader lobbied the 275 new members of parliament who will
select the president on Sunday. The president will then appoint a prime
minister and a Cabinet.

The problems facing the new government are immense. Somalia has had
no government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad
Barre and then turned their guns on one another, dividing the country
into fiefdoms.

The sponsors of the peace process _ the Inter-Governmental Authority
on Development, the United Nations and the European Union _ have
declared the talks an unequaled success because almost every warlord
participated and the leaders of neighboring countries have been part of
the peace process.

Candidates from every clan, most of the armed factions and some
civic leaders are among the 27 men and one woman running for president.
Among the favorites are men with the largest private militias, while
some civic leaders have been proposed as possible compromise candidates.

The Somali lawmakers _ each chosen by their clan leaders _ will meet
at a Nairobi sports stadium on Sunday and vote in a multi-round process
designed to winnow the number of candidates to two and then select a
winner.

Despite the broad participation in the peace process, many diplomats
and activists point out that there has been little reconciliation among
the enemies who now sit together in parliament or who are now running
for the president.

Many of the faction leaders have been coerced into participating in
the peace talks, and some see the new government only as a chance to
consolidate power, not share it, said Jabril Abdulle, co-director of the
independent Center for Reconciliation and Dialogue in Somalia. "Those
warlords who fail to get something out of this new
government, absolutely will go back to their guns," Abdulle said. He
said the only question is how many of them will quit the peace process
and what will be done to prop up the new government.

The new government will take over a country with no civil service,
no public property and no money.

European officials working behind the scenes have started drafting a
Rapid Assistance Program, a vague working paper that proposes giving the
new government $17.5 million to get started. But privately, European
officials acknowledge that the aid package
is not enough for an administration where more than 90 percent of the
officials have no experience governing and their immediate needs range
from office buildings to stationery. The United Nations has estimated at
least $5 billion will be needed to rebuild Somalia in the long term.

Somali leaders and European diplomats close to the talks have also
complained that the United States has not been involved enough in the
peace process and have not pledged enough support for the new
government.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Constance
Newman, on a recent visit to Nairobi, said while the U.S. government
welcomed the effort, she didn't feel the United States should
necessarily get involved in every peace process.

The United States will, however, consider aid in the future, she
said. U.S. policy on Somalia remains tainted by the Battle of Mogadishu
in 1993, where 19 U.S. soldiers were killed by militiamen and U.S.
troops were unceremoniously withdrawn from the U.N. peacekeeping
operation at the time.

"If the U.S. government is waiting for this government to be
functional, it might collapse before that," Abdulle warned. "In the
light of international terrorism, and the chances that Somalia might
become a training area, I think its a small investment to lend moral
support and some financial support."

Associated Press