The London Somalia Conference: Expectations and Reality
The London plan which was concluded on 23rd February had met with great expectations: it created euphoria for its participants, despair for its opponents and skepticism for the Somali masses. Prime Minister of Somalia Abdiwali Mohamed Ali optimistically termed the Conference as highly successful and its outcome beyond his expectation. However, for Somalians the event did not pave the way for the resolution of their problems.
For me as a Somali, this was the 15th luxurious assembly for the cause of Somalia, a poor country where lawlessness is rampant, and ended in vain. People wonder how calculations made miles away from the place of havoc could match the hard realities we Somalians are faced with. This view is fully supported by a report, made by the Guardian journalist Jamal Osman, which revealed the wide difference of opinion existing between the people of Somalia and the policymakers with a certain mindset. For example, they failed to figure out why al-Shabaab, militarily much stronger than the Somali governments or the attendees at the consultation, was excluded from the scope of the discussion.
Despite facing some setbacks recently, al-Shabaab are still powerful enough to pose a challenge to the national, and regional, security and would not support any initiative that does not address their concerns. Although President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said that “we are scared of tomorrow”, the US Secretary of State Mrs Hillary Clinton vowed to keep al-Shabab “on the run”.
After all the talk show in London tried to lead Somalia with a weak central government, keep it fragmented and present it as a failed state – I think that this is a major flaw in moving forward. But quite deliberately, this would provide a chance to the western countries to implement their imperialist policies and exploit raw material in the region. Britain’s foreign policy approach to Somalia was the same as ever; Prime Minister David Cameron, the organizer of the meeting, had invited all the existing clan fiefdoms – the Somali government – in Somalia at Lancaster House. But this is no surprise because in the first instance, it was UK which advanced the cause of clan politics in Somalia. Unsurprisingly, the UK intends to continue its colonial policy of divide and rule in Somalia to gain economic advantages. As a young Somali student of international relations in Karachi, Pakistan, for me it is an established and observable fact that politics do not change but administrations do.
Al-Shabaab, with its aggressive behavior, is the main reason of insecurity in the country and is a big obstacle for the economic development of the country and makes it difficult for foreign powers to exploit the resources of the country. This was the main concern that forced the foreign powers to hold this conference. Although the UK’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell denied this, the Guardian/Observer revealed that Britain’s involvement in Somalia might be purely economically driven since British officials were secretly conducting a high-stakes negotiations to take the lead in the exploration of oil in Somalia in return for humanitarian and security assistance to the respective autonomies in the country.
Oddly, British Petroleum and Shell, have expressed an interest in creating jobs in the coastal regions of Somalia yet Shell, which acquired exclusive rights for oil exploration in Puntland prior to Somalia’s descent into chaos in the early 1990s, has said that it does not plan on beginning work there.
However, an Africa Programme paper published by Chatham House in May 2011 mentioned that the current coalition government’s top priority in Africa is to secure access to natural resources and energy security.
For the tribal empowerment, the Foreign Minister of Somaliland – the self-declared independent autonomy in the Northwest region, Mohamed Abdullahi, said that he met with his UK counterpart William Hague on the sidelines of the meeting and they agreed on two important factors: (1) to increase Britain’s humanitarian assistance to Somaliland and (2) that UK government would soon open its office in Hargaisa. But he didn’t further elaborate what form the office would take, a diplomatic or a liaison?
However, these policies of the UK and other western countries could be justified on the ground that the internal clan rivalries, corruption and insincerity of the politicians and government are responsible for this situation. People are helpless to counter this predicament and waiting for true leadership that could get the Somalia out of this mess.
On the other hand, the majority participants of the conference did not show any enthusiasm at all. Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zanawi, the giant of the region, had politely protested that he was not consulted about the agenda of the conference in advance and therefore hinted that its implementation might face severe challenges. Yet an agenda for Somalia was agreed and now it remains to be seen if the seven principles agreed upon are going to be effectively implemented.
The Joint Financial Management Board (JFMB) has arrived with the right time, and would effectively manage the flow of cash in and out of Somalia. It would further prevent the corrupt officials to misuse the income of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its use for private gains. But despite the good intentions of the London Conference, the revelation by the former head of the Public Finance Management Unit of the TFG Abdirizag Fartag that the TFG received an income of 58 million dollars in 2011 at a time when millions of Somalians starved to death. According to Fartag, only 1 million was spent to social services and the rest went nowhere. It is shameful that such a scandal could be controlled through JFMB mechanisms. The massive contradiction in the final communiqué is that it places Somalia’s future with the country’s people but paradoxically allows non-Somalis to control the government’s purse through the JFMB. This too at a time of extreme famine and drought in the country which might result in as many as 750,000 deaths.
The other positive sign was the respect of Somalia’s political and territorial sovereignty. The London communiqué had encouraged the TFG and Somaliland leaderships to initiate national talks – accordingly we had hoped that they should resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations. Yet the lack of political will and leadership has been disappointing and the national interest of the Somali people to safeguard their country’s integrity should have been followed with more vigour at the conference.
To overcome the problems of Somalia it is important step that Somali National Forces are strengthened. One of the hurdles in this regard is the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council (UNSC). Without the much needed training and supplies of weapons, national forces cannot control the fighting groups and maintain peace in the country. If and when national forces ever take the control of security of the country, then we will have a better chance at the resumption of effective national politics which fostered positive changes and processes based upon the participation of the common people. If peoples’ grievances are not addressed, the process of national reconciliation can never be achieved.
The increase of African Mission (AMISOM) forces in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731 troops was viewed by the UNSC as insufficient because in the past such steps have simply not worked. Protesting at the situation President of Djibouti Ismail Omer Gele reminded the UNSC at the Conference that the revival of such steps is completely ineffective. African Mission troops cannot be deployed in the rural areas, only a strong national force would be able that – Professor Afyare Elmi emphasized.
Abdulkadir Suleiman is an Intern at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. He has studied at the Karachi University and is from Somalia – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Top map credit: BBC News