In a recent contribution to WardheerNews.com, Muktar M. Omer attacks a draft UN conflict analysis on Somalia that I am currently authoring. Specifically, he lifts one quote from the draft – a quote in which the UN is warned not to encourage the government in Mogadishu to lay exclusive claim over municipalities and sub-national polities where strong autonomous armed groups are present, lest it create conflict. He then accuses me of calling for policies which weaken and fragment the Somali state.
Mr. Muktar’s argument is entirely wrong, because the quote he cites does not exist in the October 2012 draft conflict assessment. This was not his fault – someone in the UN shared the draft to someone who posted onto a Somali email list, where Muktar and many others acquired it. That version of the draft only included initial revisions to the first 14 pages of the 2011 report; all of the rest of what he read was the old 2011 report that had yet to be revised. But the result is an inaccurate claim about an important thesis of the new conflict analysis.
Some background: in mid-September I was asked to help the UN to quickly revise and update its 2011 conflict analysis on Somalia. A rapid revision of the 2011 study was clearly in order due to the dramatic changes that have occurred in Somalia since mid-2011.
In order to give UN agency staff a chance to respond to the main themes I was developing, I submitted a partially updated revision, in which the first 14 introductory pages were an entirely new assessment of what has changed and what has remained constant in conflict drivers, triggers, and trends in Somalia. The UN was specifically alerted to the fact that the body of the draft was still unedited and unchanged from 2011, so they should focus only on the first section of the paper.
Unfortunately, Muktar got his hands on that version of the draft and apparently was not told that the body of the paper had not yet been revised and updated. Hence the quote he lifts and criticizes is from the old 2011 analysis. In 2011, the Transitional Federal Government was insisting on appointing a governor in Beled Weyn, despite the fact that two armed local groups were demanding the right to name their own government. The TFG’s insistence on monopolizing appointments of local municipalities and districts over which it had no control was unnecessarily provoking conflict with local communities and hence was a legitimate source of concern in a 2011 conflict analysis.
It was irresponsible for someone in the UN to forward to people outside the circle of reviewers a draft study that was only partially revised and updated. Muktar was set up by whoever did that. But since he was aware that the paper was a draft he should have exercised more caution about publicly citing it and drawing conclusions from it. I would also argue that WardheerNews.com fell short of its due diligence obligations as a publisher of news and opinion – it should have exercised its editorial responsibility to ask questions about the appropriateness and accuracy of the piece. At a minimum, they could have contacted me to clarify why I would write something that was so clearly in opposition to a position I’d openly published only one week earlier. Fact-checking is an important part of responsible journalism and political commentary.
As a regular reader of WardheerNews, I hope that this kind of misrepresentation does not occur in the future.
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