On 23rd of February, Britain is holding a much-awaited international Conference on Somalia. It would be the first time that a Western country hosts such effort in its soil.
Resettling Somalia’s protracted conflict is probably the most vexing task on the planet. But it is not impossible. More than 14 international attempts have been held over the past 20 years. All of them failed, due in large part to the international community short-termism approach, and to the absence of a comprehensive, long-term settlement strategy.
William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary visited Mogadishu last week to stump for the conference. He brought along with him the first British ambassador to Somalia in 20 years. The renewed international attention on Somalia, after twenty years of abject neglect, was sparked by Turkey, whose prime minister Recep Erdogan surprises many when he visited Mogadishu in August with a modest security detail.
The UK engagement and the London Conference seem to have been a sequel to the aggressive Turkish involvement in Somalia. Still, the Conference is symbolic, in that more than 50 countries and organizations, with vested interest in Somalia, are invited.
First of all, the UK, together with its international partners, appear to be recycling another quick-fix. They must recognize that Somalia is an extraordinary case of 20 years of short-sighted politics led by nefarious interests. Such parochial short-gain tactic approaches must be ended.
In order to repair past mistakes, and to reset a new and fresh tone on Somalia, there are several – and immediate – agendas to be addressed:
· Political settlement: the foundation for a durable stability in Somalia is, first and foremost, a broad-based, genuine, locally owned political settlement, augmented with security guarantees. All other developments will follow. In fact, all attempts in the past have abjectly failed because they didn’t address the root causes of Somalia’s conflict, that is statelessness. Hence, every international effort at reconciliation and rebuilding had resulted in more divisions. Indeed, London’s renewed and energetic effort in dipping its feet on Somalia is part of a cyclical reconfiguration that comes at the very last stages of the Transitional Federal Governments. At this point, Somalis, both inside and outside, are very dubious, if not cynical, about Britain’s overarching strategy on Somalia and whether its new alignment can be fought for. To cope with this uncertainties, the UK must – publicly – articulate its aim towards the country so that the conspiracy theories that are in wide circulation can be thwarted.
· Transitional governments: Somalia has gone through multiple – and all unsuccessful – transitional federal governments that have strained and impeded Somalia to stand its feet, and govern itself. Over the past ten years, Somalia has had three transitional governments and hundreds of ministries, most of whom lacked vision and strategy. Shamefully, all of these governments were international projects and every government had left a culture of corruption and cronyism, political stalemate, internal bickering and zero vision, to the incoming government. Any efforts of post-TFG (Transitional Federal Government) reconstruction, however, must be based on ending transitional impositions. That starts with building a professional, capable national Somalia forces that can, in medium term, allow to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to transfer its control of power to Somali army. Parliament reform and constitution making process are also critical for post/TFG reconstruction and as such they must be address.
· Al-Shabaab has openly merged with al-Qaeda and still remains a potent force that controls large swathes of territory. While the group has been pushed back in recent months, and some of its leaders killed, it still poses a grave threat to the government and it continues its brutish suicide attacks on the civilian population. Needless to say, Somalis have no regard for al-Shabaab’s savage acts. That said, al-Shabaab, and all other insurgents, must be invited to join the political process but with specific and realistic parameters and shared vision. The government has dismally failed in reaching out its adversary and never articulated its policy on dialogue. Disengagement and silence with regard to them is a grave mistake towards comprehensive reconciliation and dialogue. There is enough voices and consideration among the Somali academics spheres that the best way to encounter with Islamists is negotiation. Al-Shabaab is not a monolithic organization, after all. Make no mistake, such arrangements wouldn’t be easy; they would be replete with twists and turns, and immediate outcomes could be unattainable for sometimes. But without it, any international efforts will be futile.
· The international community must be display a unity of purpose. At the moment, it is paradoxically at odds with itself; there are different views on policies, strategies and approaches on Somalia. But all international actors are, ironically, convergent on how Somalia displays an existential threat to their foreign and domestic interest – a subtle objective for UK’s tripled interest on Somalia. More appallingly, the country now finds itself under a sway of competing, yet all counterproductive, policies and interventions: America’s dual-track policy, Ethiopia and Eritrea’s notorious proxy wars, Kenya’s pre-emptive military incursion, and Uganda’s backyard shenanigans. The list goes on. To this end, London, as it spearheads this momentum, should use all its leverage to ensure that its international allies are in tandem with its project, and reconcile their dissimilarities.
If the London Conference fails to understand these immediate challenges, then the international community will keep underwriting Somalia’s problems for another decade. The ultimate goal for the Conference should be a self-governed and self-sufficient Somalia.
With complexity and urgency of Somalis’ plight in mind, such efforts should not be the sole responsibility of London and its allies, Somalis should also own the process.