New mediator promises more transparency at peace talks

New Kenyan mediator Bethwel Kiplagat on Thursday promised more transparency and consultation to give fresh impetus to the Somali peace talks.

“The way I would work is through consensus, persuasion, humour, we want to have fun but at the same time keep in mind that there are people dying and we must not lose sight of that,” Kiplagat told IRIN in an exclusive interview.

The peace talks started in Eldoret, Kenya, on 15 October under the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The conference is piloted by the tehcnical committee of IGAD, comprising Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. As Kenya’s new Special Envoy for Somalia, Kiplagat now chairs the technical committee.

Asked about problems within the technical committee, Kiplagat said he would seek to have the members work as a team, stressing everyone was committed to bringing peace to Somalia.

But, he added, “we will not allow Kenya, or Djibouti or Ethiopia or even IGAD to take this process hostage”. He said that if serious disputes arose, he would refer them to the IGAD Secretary General and the new Kenyan foreign minister Kalonzo Musyoka.

Kiplagat said the biggest problem facing the conference was the unresolved issue of delegate seats to the plenary.

“We are looking at it and we will consult very widely with the Somalis,” he said. “And we will tell them we want this process to go forward, but we have to work together to find a manageable team that can work through this.”

Kiplagat said that the current financial situation of the conference meant the problem would nevertheless have to be solved quickly. “We cannot continue incurring expenses when we don’t know where the money is going to come from,” he said. “I believe we ought to be coming out with some solution in the very near future.”

Some 350 Somali delegates were originally invited to the conference, but more than 800 turned up. The current dispute is not only about the number of seats to the conference but also about how they should be allocated.

“There is a general agreement that the 4.5 formula [equal representation for Somalia’s four biggest clans and among the minority clans] is the best formula that we can use, with
flexibility,” Kiplagat stated.

He also said there was general agreement that civil society should be represented. “But the issue that will come up is how many should they be and how should they be distributed,” he said.

Despite problems that have surrounded the conference, Phase Two of the talks has been proceeding, with six technical committees working on core issues of the Somali conflict. These issues include federalism, demobilisation and property rights. Most of the committees are near to completing their recommendations, which will be submitted to the conference.

Kiplagat is expected to pilot the talks through Phase Two and Phase Three, which will involve agreeing on a new transitional government for Somalia.

He said it would take some time before the process was completed. "But I’m hoping that we can advance as fast as possible, not to rush the process but to make sure that we carry everybody with us," he asserted.

"I think the success will be the way we manage to carry the Somalis, the region, the international community with us, and that we all focus and work in harmony together to find a solution to the problem of Somalia,” he said.