Earlier this year I was present at a series of U.N.-sponsored national reconciliation conferences addressing the Somali conflict. At a conference last spring a close Somali friend, participating as a delegate representing Somali non-governmental organizations, met in the corridor his cousin, the chair of one of the key political parties in Mogadishu.
"Mr. Chairman," my friend cajoled his cousin with typical Somali humor. "How is it that you warlords think that one of you has the right to be president?" He was referring to the political haggling and resulting impasse that seemed to set in at every Somali peace conference over what clan and ultimately what person would rise to the presidency. "Don't you know," my friend continued, "that without a frame the roof of a house collapses."
"You know as well as I," the chairman replied, "that the key to a healthy body is a good head. I have never seen legs walk or arms move without a head."
"Dear cousin," my friend replied with a deep note of sadness, "the legs have been crushed, the arms are bled clean. There is no body to be head of."
The metaphoric discourse both captures the dilemma of Somali peacemaking and reflects the outcome of the national conference, where the accords process formed a national transition committee and a means of re-establishing local and regional councils. Since March, the high-level national transition has (predictably) collapsed, but the local and regional councils have slowly solidified.
The eyes of the world, however, have been riveted on the fighting and intrigue of Mogadishu and the personalization of the Somali tragedy. Lost to the cameras was a broader perspective and clarity on a strategy for sustainable reconciliation.
The Clinton administration has recently moved to reorient its policy on Somalia. The new rhetoric shifted away from personalizing the conflict, an approach that had seemed