‘The Customer is always right, right?’ Part II

Last week we talked to our Marco Hekkens about the need for a comprehensive approach towards the maritime security capacity building efforts in Somalia (the article can be read here). This week we look at some of the lessons learned and how these lessons can be implemented in the future.

Colonel (Retired) Marco Hekkens  completed his first Common Security  and Defence Policy (CSDP) Mission  ‘EUSEC RD Congo’ in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012. Following his retirement from the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps in May 2012 he was commissioned to write a study for Jumbo Maritime & Offshore, a heavy lift shipping and offshore transportation & installation contractor, for future operations in the Gulf of Guinea. On completion he was approached by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join the EUCAP Nestor Mission. From early 2014 till January 2018 he served with EUCAP Nestor Mission, which was renamed ‘EUCAP Somalia’ on 1st March 2016 to reflect an actual physical presence in Somalia. Initially operating from Nairobi he soon found himself in Somaliland tasked to establish the first Mission Field Office in Hargeisa. In July 2016 he redeployed to Mogadishu to prepare for the establishment of a new Mission Field Office in Garowe, the capital of the autonomous Puntland State of Somalia. His principal responsibilities are directed at self-sustainable maritime capacity building activities of civilian (maritime) law enforcement agencies by providing advice, mentoring and the planning and implementation of projects aimed at achieving Maritime Governance.

Before we go into the next set of your questions, let’s take a look at some of the significant events that dominated the recent news in Somalia; and are yet another illustration of the complexities and prevailing realities in the country.

Firstly, the Somali Provisional Constitution Review Process. At present Somalia is governed by a Provisional Constitution which was agreed in 2012. Early April the preparatory consultations towards a new and permanent constitution commenced in earnest, and at times created the typical ‘Somali dynamics’ one can expect with such a critical review process. The new constitution, to be finalised by the end of 2019 (i.e. before the planned general elections in 2020) is expected to address a number of unresolved constitutional issues including the ‘one-person one-vote’, the future status of Mogadishu and the sharing of powers and resources between the federal government and the federal member states. During the constitution review convention convened in Mogadishu (13-16 May) which was attended by more than 350 delegates, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire emphasised the need to finalize the constitutional process to “unify the country, promote economic growth and above all deliver a new document for posterity.” He further stated that the government has pledged $3million for the constitution process to be finalized and that work should produce a “Somalia-owned document, Somali thinking, Somali economy, Somali advice and new Somali unity that rebuilds the Somali nation we lost.”

The review process coincided with the second Council of Interstate Cooperation of the Somali Federal Member States conference in Baidoa (the interim capital of Southwest state) which was attended by the Somalia’s regional states’ leadership. It urged Mogadishu’ to resolve its diplomatic row with the United Arab Emirates. A communique released after the three day conference accused President Farmaajo’s administration of taking sides in the Gulf crisis at the expense on Somalia’s security and economy. The communique further asked Mogadishu to end political interference in the regional states. The conference was subsequently followed by the National Security Council meeting, is chaired by Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.

Secondly, the continued confrontations between Somaliland and Puntland in the disputed Sool region. The inter-regional confrontation between Puntland and Somaliland intensified from 15 May onwards, a day before the start of Ramadan. It would appear remarkable that the Somaliland opposition leader slammed the UN SRSG Michael Keating for his mediation effort [1]. The violent confrontations (especially on 24 May) around Tukaraq District, which included the use of artillery and the amount of dead and wounded, have been unprecedented compared to earlier skirmished during my four year stay in Somalia [2]. These ‘spoiler’ confrontations, with no sight on even a temporary solution will significantly impact the intermittent dialogue between the Federal Government, Puntland and Somaliland.

Both examples are to illustrate how events, and the associated statements made by leading Somali figures are not conducive creating much needed normalcy in inter-state and federal relationships. Time will tell whether the confrontation in Tukaraq will have impact on the constitutional review process and/or will trigger dormant or new grievances.

Severe weather in the Gulf of Aden. The countries bordering along the Gulf of Aden were hit by two tropical storms in quick succession causing considerable damage, loss of life and displacement of people. Whilst such events have happened in the past, the severity and scale appear larger than before. Unbiased analysis is yet to reveal to what extent timely emergency planning did occur and mitigating measures were instigated [3]. An assessment of the total cost of material damages and the short to mid-term effects would inform to what extend public funds are able to repair or compensate.

Source: dated 25 May 2018.

1. What are the biggest lessons that you have learned from your time in Somalia and Somaliland?

Firstly, judiciously apply what I call the ‘EU Templates’ or perhaps initially try avoiding these where possible. Whilst the EU templates, models and our way of doing things offer a valuable (and perhaps proven) starting point to address the many and divergent Somali Needs – especially in situations where there is still insufficient local knowledge and expertise of the subject matter involved – but how do you prevent that local views and sentiments are not being ignored (or perceived as being ignored)?

Too often, whilst understandable, experts remain too short in the mission area to step away from their own comfort zone. Does this inadvertently prevent more local input into the design of the potential options available to redress the current situation and existing lacunas? And if so, how do we mitigate to the best extend possible for the foreseeable future? Is there an oversight mechanism (such as the aforementioned CGPCS, NMCC and MSCC [see Part I]) that can effectively monitor this, but not in a purely mechanistic ‘black and white’ manner? Should the selection process of experts and local employed staff be more rigorous and should staff remain longer in the engagement area to ensure more persistent interaction and institutional memory? What about more resources to teach, train and mentor/coach indigenous experts (and promising and younger experts)? Should procedures be adjusted to be more ‘malleable’ and supportive of visiting experts, i.e. experts that can only support Mission activities for a limited period of time, often limited to six months? Perhaps more questions than answers at first glance!

Secondly understand the ‘Metrics’ of Somalia. With Metrics I mean all those environmental factors, Mission constraints and restraints, and the local realities that have an – often degrading or slowing down – impact on effective and persistent engagement and swift project implementation. Policy advice and ‘mission objectives’ that don’t fully recognise these metrics will inevitably become superfluous and undermine the credibility of those policies; and their implementers. I suggest that the ‘functioning of institutions’ is another metric that could greatly benefit from a process called group dynamics; and where the Mission could play a facilitating role.

Thirdly, review the procurement and associated funding mechanisms. The ability to implement activities and projects, ideally with both a strategic and operational value, is influenced by having appropriate funding, skills, infrastructure, networks and knowledge working together in concert and not unnecessarily being hampered by too rigid procedural obstacles. Current procurement rules have the tendency to limit effective and relatively rapid implementation. Being allowed using the local market as an accepted supply base for local purchases such as computers and office equipment isn’t as straightforward as one might expect. Delegation of financial authority to Field Offices could potentially overcome delays, but would add additional responsibility and liabilities to those responsible for managing Mission funds. A further operationalisation of the CGPCS Trust Fund may augment available EU instruments for project funding. This would be of particular benefit for the fledgling ‘Joint Maritime Information and Coordination Centre’ organisation in Garowe. The recent OBP report [4] shows the following illustration.

The illustration carries an endnote, mentioning that costs calculated only include those which could be ascertained by OBP. Consequently, some organisations have been included without their budgets, however not suggesting that they have ceased operations or have not allocated capital towards counter-piracy initiatives. The point I wish to highlight is how much of the actual total amount has been directly spent on implementing concrete projects with visible results? Or phrasing the question differently, what would be judged as an acceptable percentage for those costs that are not directly supporting concrete implementation? Looking at the other costs overviews in the report [4], such as the costs of International Navies, Vessel Protection Detachments, Ships Protection Measures and the costs of embarked Contracted Maritime Security, these amounts are truly staggering! Even ‘one percent’ of these amounts in a conditional ‘direct funding’ account would do miracles.

2. This would seem obvious, but I gather from your remarks that the reality would appear rather different. Are there other lessons, and could you give your views why these lessons are difficult to apply?

Of course there are many more lessons and suggestions, but let me focus on the most pertinent ones.

The fourth is what I would like to term ‘Assisted Ownership’, where Mission experts work closely hand in hand with their mentee by way of personalised On the Job Training, and perhaps even be authorised to be “in charge” on a case by case basis when the indigenous Knowledge Base isn’t ready for expeditious, time-sensitive decision making in security and crisis response related matters. That said, with EUCAP Somalia being a ‘non-executive’ Mission, I guess that ‘Assisted Ownership’ will not be a straightforward suggestion for judicious implementation, of course with full endorsement by the Somali authorities involved.     

Project ‘Joint Maritime Information and Coordination Centre (JMICC) in Garowe (Puntland) would benefit enormously by such assisted ownership in the short-term and through the aforementioned conditional ‘direct funding’: a local bank account is created to fund those typical expenditures that are difficult, or time consuming through routine procedures; and where local formal government funding streams do not (yet) exist. The account is – for instance – fed through sponsorship funds, donations (i.e. from nations, industry, the global shipping community; philanthropists; diaspora, etc.) and managed by a joint EU – Puntland approval committee, authorised and accountable for the release of funds.

With such an account in place, at least during the initial years, the funding of typical running costs of the JMICC such as rent, security, utilities, internet, payment of remuneration for interns and staff; and urgent operational requirements, et cetera, would be straightforward. Such a scheme cuts away the bureaucratic overhead and approval process in the current traditional set-up. The question is whether the risk [of financial mismanagement] will outweigh the benefits of faster implementation and enhance [Mission] credibility. To quote the President of Puntland once saying to me: “Put your money where your mouth is”.

And finally, how to design a workable framework for maritime and fishing resource sharing. Unless this will be achieved to mutual satisfaction across Somalia, if at all possible, I foresee this will remain a cause for political conflict for years to come. It will continue to challenge the role of the federal government, in particular its ability to be perceived as an impartial body that doesn’t favour ‘Mogadishu’ only. Should a workable framework be found, it may serve as a guide to structure the distribution of future port revenues as well. That is just another thorny issue lurking around the corner! I believe the reason why these suggestions are difficult to apply is foremost to be found in the EU institutional inertia; and insufficient delegated decision making authority – or let’s call it experimentation – within the Mission. I would strongly advocate for much more autonomy at Mission level to find and test the most suitable ways for project implementation. Speaking as a former Marine, this would much more reflect the principles of Mission Command and allowing commanders in the field to exercise their judgement to optimise effect. Subjectively speaking, I sense that the EU is too much occupied with so-called “home” issues to have any credible influence on complex processes in the Middle East and its immediate periphery, like Somalia. I hope to be proven wrong!

3. How can the EU become more effectively engaged with local actors in Somalia? 

First let me state upfront that I would argue in favour for a fresh engagement concept based on new thinking and lessons (re)learned, not a mild rehash of past and current practices (‘old wine in new bottles’). I would further make a plea to explore the feasibility of ‘direct support’ from Industry and Learning Institutes (perhaps with home tax incentives for private donors?).

But even with the best possible engagement concept, the solution – or rather persistent success – is to be found in playing towards ‘each other’s strengths’ as opposed to focussing on the prevailing difficulties and ‘optical’ cooperation. However that does require a preparedness to embark on a genuine shift in mindset. A mindset that looks towards much more enhanced cooperative, collaborative and balanced short and long-term planning. This could result in a ‘Mandate Matrix’ which quickly shows what an actor can do, and what not. By consequence this will produce a ‘Supporting – Supported Interrelationship Matrix’ that highlights which actor – in principle – is in the lead, and which actor(s) support the lead actor to the best of their ability. Furthermore, I believe that in this context and given the present situation in Somalia that ‘less is better’: foremost focus the support on existing and functioning law enforcement units, then gradually add additional entities. Above all try to avoid a piecemeal approach for the sake of ‘number of personnel trained’.

Throughout this process it is necessary (albeit time consuming) to ascertain Somali stakeholder satisfaction and all actors recognise that a consistent and longer-term approach with commensurate commitment and build-in resilience will yield more than short-term quick fixes.

4. How can the mission deal with external pressure and possible new risks and threats?

Climatic shocks, conflict, insecurity, migration and political instability continue to drive humanitarian needs in the Horn of Africa, and several of these factors have a similar kind of effect on the needs for effective maritime governance. As alluded before, the conflict in Yemen, and perhaps the geopolitical and ideological confrontations between global powers in Syria – although yet to be felt in Somalia – all distract from a concerted and focussed capacity building effort in Somalia. Actors like Al Shabaab, and the IS will continue to exploit this situation to their advantage and may feed extremist ideas taking root. The convergence of strategic interests [5] by global actors should be a relative concern for the Mission. At best it may distract Somali attention away from the Maritime Agenda, the worst case scenario is that the Mission finds itself ‘squeezed out of the equation’ due to political reasons. My advice is straightforward (..!..): focus on your core business, seek strength in numbers (i.e. collaborative working practices); and through high quality, impartial and persistent advice and assistance. The so what is that policy advise for the Mission must recognise the increasing strategic relevance of the region to a variety of foreign actors and include the role of foreign influences, particularly of Gulf States, China and Turkey, into their [Somali] thinking on the economics, politics, and security [6][7].

5. What can be done to counter and prevent violent extremism?

Somalia is already taking concrete steps developing a more inclusive National Action Plan aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism. The new plan will factor in the views and needs of all stakeholders, including the Federal Member States, to enable the implementation of a comprehensive strategy that will tackle violent extremism in a more decisive manner. Religious leaders play a critical role in the national dialogue, opinion shaping and awareness raising programmes and activities aimed at the prevention and countering of violent extremism in Somalia. As mentioned earlier, the International Community can support this national plan with expertise, academic research, funding for events and remuneration for local focal points. But all these good initiatives require qualified personnel and institutions to oversee and implement such plans to the full potential. But when funding ceases, or is misappropriated, the plans are likely to falter.

It is highly speculative to draw predictions from recent youth activism in the region and the anti-government protests in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and making suggestions that this could also happen in Somalia; or conversely that this would not, or is unlikely to happen in Somalia. Youth is not an ‘undifferentiated mass’ and in combination with socio-economic marginalization a youth bulge does not inevitably herald instability and conflict. The ICSR report ‘Challenging Hate: Counter-speech Practices in Europe’ and its five key recommendations are a worthwhile read [8]. That said, with significant unemployment in Somalia and no short-term ‘quick fixes’ in sight, it will remain a concern that needs to be closely monitored.

6. Where is the mission now, how should it to go forward?

The Mission is in its 6th year and despite a slow start is now showing lasting results. Perhaps not on a large scale, and for now limited to only three geographical locations but there is no justification in finger pointing towards the Mission that only limited progress has been achieved to date. The enduring realities and fluidity of the Somali environment in combination with internal constraints prevent rapid interventions and implementation of scale. To put it in nautical terms, I believe the general course is right but we are still operating in confined waters, and at times uncharted. Once we can clear that, the full potential of the ‘ship’ will come to the fore. With the Mission mandate likely to be extended for another two years from December 2018 onwards, it should definitely allow for further progress in the Mission’s core areas of engagement.

7. Would you think it is a mission impossible, what prosperities do you foresee for the future?

I hope to think that all would agree that ‘Somalia’ presents a fairly unique multifaceted environment, not in the least that it has the longest coastline in Africa. Comparisons with other, long running UN or EU Missions – whilst perhaps interesting – aren’t ironclad predictions for failure or success, or draw lessons from. When we agree that failure isn’t an option, success and prosperity in the longer term can only be achieved by consistent engagement which is underpinned by pragmatic and responsive planning processes by all involved, supported by realistic procurement and funding mechanisms that lead to visible results. The concept of hybrid gaming support must be considered as a tool to augment the more traditional manner of Mission’ internal planning processes; it would draw heavily on structural input by Somali civil society and local NGO, academia and others. 

In summary

Despite the significant challenges facing the federal and regional authorities trying to shed the remnants of the past it must be recognised that Somalia has the collective ability to overcome the many hurdles. As such the International Community must refrain from stereotyping and highlighting the past – and present challenges – as insurmountable stumbling blocks. Of course, easier said than done and the sooner ‘clan squabbles’ don’t take total primacy, and an opposition is able to partake in constructive dialogue [9], the sooner we could witness a Somali-driven reform process that would start to mirror what we would believe to be the optimum model for a country like Somalia. I am convinced that they can rally the ‘capability’ and talent to do exactly that. But first deliver on the constitution and recognising the role of the federal government, irrespective of its President. And how the new constitution will view dual-citizenship will be telling for those that now hold positions in government, including the current President [10].

After note by the author
. The opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own. The article is spurred by a genuine desire to improve the security and humanitarian situation in Somalia and deliver prosperity for the population (poverty reduction); and fully unlock the many economic opportunities that exist and enhance intra-continental trade. Special recognition and gratitude must go to the many Somali friends – young and older – and those local and international interlocutors that enhanced the author’s understanding of the many intertwined complex issues that prevail and at times work counter to progression. It is too easy to read some sections of the interview in a negative sense and think that little has been achieved towards lasting, sustainable solutions. Somalia needs to rebuild the nation [11] in a most complex security, social, cultural and political environment; with the many other external challenges and dilemmas only adding to the burden. We must learn from the past, but not dwell in it for too long….there is much to be done! But patience is required, lots of patience to achieve the objectives in the best possible sequence – do we and the Somali youth have that patience?

Marco is due to return to EUCAP Somalia early July as Mission Strategic Adviser in Garowe, Puntland State of Somalia. 

[1] ‘Somaliland Opposition Leader Warabe Bashes UN’s Keating over Tukaraq Conflict’, Radio Dalsan,17 May 2018.
[2] A close friend (Dutch diaspora) informed (25 May) the author that many of the International Community have left Garowe; that the US Ambassador cautioned both leaders to refrain from further hostilities; and that clan leaders are starting to call for revenge.
[3] The author conveyed the imminent severe weather warning before mainstream media started reporting. One of his interlocutors mockingly responded “The concept of the divinely ordained is a fundamental aspect of culture” perhaps suggesting that a collective, concerted effort for immediate mitigation and protection measures would meet a less optimal response.
[4] Oceans Beyond Piracy Annual Report ‘The State of Maritime Piracy 2017, Assessing the Economic and Human Costs, Piracy and armed robbery against Ships in East Africa 2017, dated 24 May 2018.
[5] ECDPM, Great Insights Volume 7, Issue 2 (Spring 2018) – ‘Leveraging private investment for sustainable development’ provides thought provoking material where it concerns how to tap into (private) funding. It is clear from the articles that doing things differently and with more impact to achieve the SDGs requires to step up ambitions and risk levels. It is also not just a question of finance and the leverage ratio – moving from billions to trillions – but also of quality and the right type of investments and interventions that are both additional and non-distortive, anchored in local realities.
[6] ‘During the past decade, foreign countries have invested heavily into various ports in the Horn of Africa, often following their commercial deals with the opening of military bases next to those ports (for example China in Djibouti, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Berbera and Turkey in Mogadishu). The Horn’s coastline has been transformed into an important strategic area – not only for maritime trade routes, but also due to its proximity to regional conflicts – and consequently has attracted a range of foreign powers. The influx of foreign actors, mixing commercial incentives with military deals, has led to the securitisation of the Horn’s ports, the importing of foreign political cleavages, and has influenced intra-Horn politics’; Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, Ports & Power: the securitisation of port politics by Willem van den Berg and Jos Meester. This article has also been published in Life & Peace Institute, Horn of Africa Bulletin Volume 30, Issue 2 (March – April 2018).
[7] PSC Report, UAE port deal with Somaliland stirs up trouble in the Horn, 18 May 2018.
[8] ‘Challenging Hate: Counter-speech Practices in Europe’, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) in collaboration with the Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), 9 March 2018.
[10] ‘The New Scramble for Somalia: The Role of Diaspora Somalis with dual citizenship’ by Hassan A. Keynan, 14 May 2018;

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