Saving SomaliaPosted: 23/02/2012
By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst
On the eve of today’s London conference on Somalia, the country’s prime minister, Dr Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, laid out at IISS his vision for a secure, stable and prosperous Somalia. Without a functioning national government since 1991, the country has become a haven for pirates and al-Shabaab Islamist insurgents. However, the Western-backed transitional government in Mogadishu hopes to take advantage of several recent changes on the ground to consolidate a working federal state.
The prime minister admitted it was an ‘unspeakably ambitious’ goal, but took heart in the old proverb that ‘if Somali people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky’. He hoped today’s conference would be a ‘game-changer’ for his country, and welcomed international assistance – even ‘targeted’ air-strikes against al-Shabaab, provided these did not harm innocent civilians.
However, he stressed that the only long-term solution was a Somali one, with a robust national army, police force and coastguard.
The prime minister described Mogadishu, the capital, as coming back to life since al-Shabaab – which has since rebranded itself al-Qaeda in Somalia – was ousted from the city in August. And he reiterated the four priorities of the UN-backed political roadmap signed in September: improving the security situation; drafting a constitution; promoting national reconciliation; and ensuring future good governance.
Around the same time as Mohamed Ali’s speech, the UN Security Council was voting to increase the AMISOM peacekeeping force in Somalia to 18,000 troops, and during the meeting, Mohamed Ali received word that Somali and Ethiopian troops had freed the al-Shabaab stronghold of Baidoa.
Mohamed Ali was optimistic about the political process, especially after constitutional reforms agreed over the weekend in the Somali town of Garowe. This second constitutional conference concluded that a federal state of Somalia should have a smaller parliament consisting of 225 MPs, and an upper house of elders. Women would make up 30% of parliament. A draft constitution was expected by May and elections should be held no later than August 2012.
There were, however, sticking points. The transitional government’s policies are based on the territorial integrity of Somalia, but the Somaliland region wished to retain its independence. Audience members questioned how Mogadishu would be able to convince the relatively stable region – and even the people of Puntland, where drilling for oil recently began – to unite with a war-ravaged federal Somalia.
Mohamed Ali said that some of Somaliland’s grievances were historic and thus a new federal Somalia, with power devolved from the centre to the periphery, would render its concerns redundant. Somaliland’s presence at the London conference illustrated the already improved relations between Hargeisa and Mogadishu, he said.
International governments attending today’s conference are concerned both by the global threat that al-Qaeda in Somalia might present – particularly with reports of its recruitment of Western militants – and the piracy off Somalia’s coast. According to the International Maritime Bureau, Somali pirates accounted for more than half of all global maritime attacks in 2011. Mohamed Ali said EU NAVFOR‘s maritime Operation Atalanta was crucial, but the long-term solution to piracy lay inland, in improving the lawlessness and poverty that allowed it to flourish.
Although Somalia could clearly do with much international assistance to repair the damage of 20 years of war, Mohamed Ali said Somalia would not benefit from a dependence on foreign aid. His approach was to encourage foreign investment, once investment laws had been developed, and there was clear legislation on how resources, like oil, be shared between the central government and regional states.
Declaring himself a believer in minimal government interference, he insisted that once the country was again stable the economy would flourish naturally because of the Somali entrepreneurial spirit.