Somalia Conference opens: UK should aim at 3rd confab possibly jointly with Turkey

7 May

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

Truly speaking, it is very difficult to expect anything out of the May 7 one-day Somalia Conference 2013, which took place in London. Voices of skepticism were abundant even at the preparatory phases, as are now after the conference ended and its intentions summed up in a final communiqué released already made available as public document.

In particular, when one isolates from the speeches the points of emphases regarding the challenges and prospects before Somalia and the international community, the indications are that of hyperventilation of usual one size fits all solutions visible in the 2012 communiqué.

To my mind, this problem comes from solitary focus on the security aspect, while commitments to other areas are simply virtual and lukewarm enthusiasm. The choice action is throw at the problem a few left-over dollars from security in the form of aid with strict benchmark for the new Somalia government “to assume its responsibilities.”

However, if one begins from the 2013 communiqué‘s conclusion, which states, “Somalia had made significant progress” and compare it with the February 2012 communiqué, the distinction between the two is in respect of hope a year ago “for a new era of Somali politics” and now the claim “Somalia has made significant progress.” They have not said anything that would support showing what led to that conclusion.

At the same time, admittedly there is a tricky progress that Prime Minister David Cameron described it in terms of what Somalia actually is today. He said, according to BBC news Somalia was “one of the most broken countries in the world” and the “writ of the government, as it stands today, doesn’t run a long way outside Mogadishu, but at least it has a government, it’s making a start and I think we’re seeing some real progress”.

It is distinctly clear for many that last year’s communiqué “acknowledged the good work underway in supporting the Somali security and justice sectors” [Para 13]. In that same document in para 19, the conference also “welcomed the success in some areas of Somalia in establishing local areas of stability, and agreed to increase support to build legitimate and peaceful authorities, and improve services to people living in these areas.”

In the lastest communiqué. there is nothing like this, not anything tonal as para 19 in last year’s communiqué. In spite of that, the conference in the Security section states:

    “We welcomed the Federal Government’s determination to take responsibility for providing Somalia’s security. We welcomed the Government’s plans for national security architecture and for developing its armed forces, including the integration of militias, and police. We welcomed the commitment to ensure that these security structures are accountable, inclusive, proportionate and sustainable; and respect a civilian chain of command, the rule of law, and human rights. We recognised the need for support to help the Government manage disengaged fighters.”

The only sensible point here is that the conference’s participants agreed “to support implementation of the Federal Government’s security plans including through existing structures. We also agreed to provide assistance which should be coordinated by the Federal Government.”

In the circumstances, difficult as the situation is, to the average daily Joe there are too many fogs that have made it difficult to fully sense what the politicians this time around considered “significant progress.”

I tried my best to capture something that would give sense along that line to no avail. The conference participants still have chosen to tell the world:

    “We met at a pivotal moment for Somalia. Last year Somalia’s eight-year transition ended and Somalia chose a new, more legitimate Parliament, President and Government. Security is improving, as Somali and AMISOM forces, and their Ethiopian allies, recover towns and routes from Al Shabaab. The number of pirate attacks committed off the coast of Somalia has drastically reduced. The famine has receded. The diaspora have begun to return. The economy is starting to revive.

As to the tasks ahead, the communiqué acknowledged:

    “But many challenges remain. Al Shabaab is still a threat to peace and security. The constitution is not complete. Piracy and terrorism remain threats. Millions still live in Internally Displaced Persons and refugee camps. The country lacks developed government structures, schools, hospitals, sanitation and other basic services.”


There strong emphasis on security

Britain puts all the emphasis on security measures, extremely important as it is and perhaps as shared by many. On the other hand, preceding the opening of the conference we saw how the grave reservations of the Somalia community in the UK itself, especially stressing differences in approach to the solution.

They sought emphasis to be placed on investment, jobs, gender, and the humanitarian crisis. Of course, Somalia is no country where money could easily go and bring about the desired change. On such matters, there are transferable lessons in every sense in the neighboring countries themselves, especially Ethiopia.

Therefore, side by side with the hot pursuit of Al Shabab, the UK could have set good example to others by the building of institutions and state capacity, without spoiling the present state leaders with self-serving political support, especially when they are in the wrong.

Particular care needs to be taken, especially as regards the future of democracy, rule of law, institutions and fundamental human rights – which in the case of Ethiopia has now become become an extremely complicated political problem – even beyond popular anger and frustrations and the half-hearted donor criticisms.

Somalia owned process of nation building

At the conference, Somalia President Hassan Sheik’s speech was not of the pretentious ilk. He tried to reassure Somalia citizens at home and abroad clearly pointing out, “Ultimately, however, it [the rebuilding and restructuring of the state and government] will be a Somali owned solution that will fix Somalia, but no country has ever recovered from such social and economic collapse without the help of the world” (emphasis added).

In essence, by his admission he was responding to the criticisms that this is donor driven exercise, whose focus is anti-terrorism. The president has recognized that there is need to make the processes of creating Somalia genuine, involving all stakeholders. He said, this has yet to take place.

Unlike the empty boasting we constantly hear from some of the neighboring states, I give him high credit for this sincerity, because this is only the certified path to consensus building, but also a nation that is at peace within itself and with its neighbors and the rest of the world.

Superficiality of the corruption problem

Donors and the media have heavily dwelt on corruption in Somalia. For any unbiased observer, this sounds unfortunate, even at a time when donor countries are under pressure on the economic front in their respective countries.

There is no doubt that Somalia was and still is a country, without the appropriate institutions and machineries of state. The last transitional government was corrupt, with donors aware but by political decision having closed their eyes. Why is this an issue to hammer Somalia’s government that is not even up from the ground? If corruption and capital flight were issues, those who are flagging it now must do so in Ethiopia, which by all accounts, including the United Nations, at its highest in that country. Of course, donors do know about it; by they do not want to upset the country with massive force and is lifting a huge load on the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

President Sheik knew this concern and addressed it at the conference. He indicated, “The Federal Government of Somalia has now laid down the foundations for a new public finance management mechanism, which we believe will give enable our donors to agree funding arrangements with the confidence that funds will reach their intended recipient.”

As stated above, the most sensible measure is to help the government’s efforts to build state institutions that, in accordance with the law, can fight corruption and abuse of the few resources the country has.

In that regard, to address Somalia’s problems and especially the support that would be provided, Prime Minister Cameron has listed three measures. The first is security related support. Points two and three of his proposals focus on the state and its institutions.

Somalia president says everyone has a role to play

President Hassan Sheik was realistic, as far as who can do what. He made it clear that donors cannot be outside and point inside, as they often do. In that connection, he stated:

    “There is a huge amount at stake right now … The future of our country, the security of the region, and the wider world, and the removal of the piracy stranglehold on the Gulf of Aden.”

If Somalia’s donor countries and organizations are to see a different kind of Somalia, which is at peace with everyone, there is need to give real expressions to the visions uttered by Somalia and hopeful words all donors expressed at the conference translated into action.

In this difficult time, Mr. Cameron would not be alone in this, since the EU has also pledged at the conference its support for the justice system and training of police force, with initial commitment of €44 million.

Similarly, the United States has pledged to provide $40 million, although it is not clear how the money would be used and when it would arrive.

That is not all. The BBC TV late in the evening announced millions of dollars have been pledged for Somalia to help it begin its journey to normalcy! I only hope the people would be allowed to seize the opportunities!

With a democratic and entrepreneurial Somalia emerging on our eastern and southeastern flanks, Ethiopians should see their recompense for our nation’s efforts at “stabilizing” Somalia in the emergence of that country as a normal state.

Who knows, Somalia may bring the antidote to dictatorship – lessons to TPLF/EPRDF that would deprive it of the ability to thrive on terrorism or indefinitely holding Ethiopians into submission at the point of a gun – with the West looking the other direction?

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