Following the London Conference on Somalia, Lord Waverley examines the intricacies of Somalia’s troubled situation, explaining that treating the symptoms of the country’s problems is simply not enough.
In the past 25 years there have been six fully fledged international peace conferences, 14 other major peace initiatives and four foreign interventions on Somalia. Some would argue that until now Somalia is no better off. For over 20 years Western political leaders have dismissed the problems as just too difficult to deal with.
Limited progress, however, has been made. The Transitional Federal Charter of 2004 should be lauded for its accordance of greater power to civilians. The Djibouti Agreement of 2008, which brought about peace between the Somali government and major opposition groups, was also significant. The Garowe Principles signed in 2011 planned to advance the country’s political and constitutional development over the coming years.
So why did the UK government decide to organise this latest London conference? It believed that there was an unprecedented opportunity to address Somalia’s chronically bad situation. The conference was called to breathe new life into international efforts to tackle the country’s long-standing troubles.
The conference in London was attended by 54 delegates from Somalia and the international community, including the UN, African Union (AU), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other international organisations. It was the highest level international conference on Somalia since the overthrow of President Barre in 1991.
The conference took place to highlight the continuing, terrible suffering of the Somali people. It also sought to draw attention to three key problematic areas: the humanitarian crisis in Somalia caused by the drought in the Horn of Africa; the direct threat to the UK and to its economic interests; and, more widely, the threat posed by piracy, kidnappings, terrorism and organised crime emanating from within the country.
Foreign Secretary, William Hague, summed it up thus: ‘Somalia presents the most acute symptoms of state failure anywhere on the globe; it has had no functioning central government for 20 years; and it is the scene of some of the worst humanitarian suffering the world has ever known.’ He continued, ‘We do not have the option of disengaging from the problems of Somalia. We cannot afford simply to continue to treat the symptoms of the problems in Somalia, without addressing the underlying cause, which is the fundamental lack of governance and security across most of the country. ’
On the ground, progress has now been made in pulling Somalia back from its humanitarian famine disaster and alongside this, the AU and Somali troops (AMISOM) have had recent success in driving out the terrorist organisation Al Shabaab from the capital, Mogadishu.
The conference succeeded in raising awareness and increased international focus at the highest political levels, generating renewed public knowledge of Somalia’s internal problems and attracting media coverage both in the UK and internationally. A wider alliance of countries focusing on Somalia, encompassing the US, UK, France and Italy, as well as key players from the region (Ethiopia, Uganda and the AU) and Islamic states (UAE, Qatar and Turkey) was also established.
On the political front, the conference focused principally on forging momentum to put in place the building blocks of a more stable country, with the Somalis leading the way. The proposed Constituent Assembly would have to represent the views of Somalis in all constituencies and regions of the country. Women’s representation and human rights were highlighted as central to the peace process.
The importance of Somalia funding its own public services, using its assets for the benefit of the people, and tackling the corruption that is widespread in the country is equally essential.
Yet, security concerns still remain. All parties were united in agreeing that, in time, Somalis should take over responsibility for their own security and for developing their own justice systems. The adoption of a new UN Security Resolution (2036) expanding the capacity and mandate of AMISOM and increasing its troop numbers and presence beyond Mogadishu has been openly welcomed.
Piracy cannot be tackled by military means alone, as this entails avoidance of the underlying causes. International determination to eradicate piracy, including the prosecution of lead pirate coordinators, was therefore recognised. In addition, numerous counter-terrorism initiatives – respecting the rules of international humanitarian law and human rights – were agreed on, in order to build up the capacity to disrupt terrorism in the region. This would involve disrupting terrorist travel both to and from Somalia, a particular problem with the continuing influx of foreign fighters from the UK, the Gulf and Pakistan, as well as terrorist finances.
International coordination is a key component of future stability. This underpins progress with humanitarian aid and development and aims for a strong commitment to managing Somalia’s famine crisis and post-famine recovery. Such international coordination must be done in parallel with implementing progress in the political, security and humanitarian aid sectors.
The conference agreed that post-conference work would be carried forward through an enhanced International Contact Group on Somalia, which will consider establishing working groups on the political process, security and justice – including stability and development – of the country. Terrorist issues will be coordinated by the Global Counter Terrorist Forum Working Group on the Horn of Africa, among others.
Ultimately, the conference welcomed the work of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General, as well as the roles and support of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the AU, the League of Arab States, the OIC and the EU.
Somalia’s neighbours, especially Ethiopia and Kenya, also played an important part in the conference. The key will be to keep them fully involved in the follow up, and to neutralise any vested interests in those countries in maintaining the current Somalian status quo.
The wider international community, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Gulf States, are destined to play a critical role going forward. This will require sustained long-term coordination and provision of substantial security and development-related resources over many years. The risks of this include long-term fatigue leading to a breakdown of coordination, a loss of leadership and reduced resources.
Although the UK is now seen as a lead nation on Somalia, the reality is that if substantive and timely progress is to be made, other countries will have to share the burden of carrying forward follow up action; and to do so quickly. It is essential that when the Transitional Federal Government’s time in office ends in August there is no power vacuum.
On a wider scale, though, the political security situation is of course complicated by piracy, warlords and organised crime, which have operated with relative impunity for years. Further international action has been agreed, but the challenges should not be underestimated.
Twenty-one years as a failed state has created one of the most complicated and intractable political security challenges anywhere in the world. The conference’s intentions were laudable, and the agreed follow-up actions do appear to address all the key areas. But the risks to progress are many.
The challenges for Somali leaders and the international community are immense. Somalis, with the support of the international community, must now be responsible for ensuring that the political process, including the formation of an inclusive and broad-based constitution, is carried forward.
So whilst overall progress has been made, care must be taken to act against spoilers to the peace, stabilisation and the wider political process. The next international conference, to be hosted by Turkey in June, will provide a key opportunity to review progress on Somalia since the London conference, and to keep actions on track.