Saving Somalia? - Reflections On the Last 20 Years, and the Upcoming 'London Conference' [analysis] / African Arguments 08.02.12 by Richard Dowden
If I were a Somali I would thank Allah for the pirates. For more than 20years the world has stood by while successive civil wars destroyed thecountry, killing hundreds of thousands of people by bullets, disease andstarvation and reducing what was once a prosperous land to a war zone.
Butthe seizure of more than 200 ships by kids with guns in small craft haschanged all that.Britain, for whom shipping and trade around the Red Sea and the Gulf arevital national interests, has decided to take action. Pirates, thegovernment has realised, cannot be stopped as long as their land bases arenot ruled by a government. But on land the government is under attack fromIslamic fundamentalists who are recruiting and training terrorists. So a political solution must now be found for Somalia. So declared WilliamHague, the Foreign Secretary, clad in flack jacket and helmet, in Mogadishulast Thursday.
The search will begin at a conference in London on February23rd. At last.And what a conference it will be. Some 40 heads of government have been invited to Lancaster House. This was where traditionally former Britishterritories negotiated their independence, but in a curious irony ofhistory, this conference will instead discuss the take-over of Somalia. At least that is what the Italians, the former rulers of southern Somalia,want.
Somalia has been at war since the late 1980s when rebel movements foughtthe government of Siad Barre. He fled, but then they fell out with eachother and the country broke up. The North West, the old British-ruledSomaliland, re-established that state and declared independence. The rest of the north, Puntland, is also relatively peaceful and rules itself butawaits the re-establishment of a Somali state. So does some of the centre. But in the south and the capital, Mogadishu, there have been only twoperiods of peace. One followed the American invasion in 1992 after thefirst famine. But after losing 18 members of special forces - the BlackhawkDown incident - President Bill Clinton pulled out the US force and stopped supporting UN peacekeeping there. Somalia was left to stew.
The second peace period was a few months in 2006 when a united massuprising threw out the warlords and their rapacious armies. Governance wastaken over by local Islamic courts which gradually formed themselves intothe Islamic Courts Union. For a few months people were able to walk thestreets safely. Peace reigned and trade and investment began to flow. But with US support, the Ethiopians, who have no interest in a strong united Somalia, invaded, broke up the courts and installed a warlord as president.The wars resumed.
The cost of neglect has been immense. According to a recent report from theCenter for American Progress, a Washington think tank, the death toll fromthe wars is between 450,000 and 1.5 million and some 2 million displaced.The accumulative cost of Somalia's collapse has been more than $55 billion,including $22 billion from piracy. $13 billion has been spent onhumanitarian aid which is almost matched by the estimated amount Somalisoutside the country send back in remittances.
After the Ethiopians were forced to withdraw, the world handed Somalia overto Africa. Never has the phrase "African solutions to African problems"been used so cynically. Ugandan and Burundian troops under an African Unionflag, died protecting a few square kilometres of Mogadishu in the pretencethere was a government there to protect. There wasn't.
The so-called government lives in luxury hotels and apartments in Nairobi. According to a recent audit of the Somali government in 2009 - 10, 96% - yes Ninety Sixper cent! - of direct bilateral assistance disappeared, presumably stolen by corrupt politicians and officials. An official report by the UN Monitoring Group said: "The endemic corruptionof the leadership of the Transitional Federal institutions... is the greatest impediment to the emergence of a cohesive transitional authority and effective state institutions."
But it is these people who will becoming to Lancaster House on February 23rd. At the same time we know thatin much of Somalia there are very strong civil society organisations led byhighly respected men and women. They however will not be invited.
So perhaps the first thing this great conference should do is apologise tothe people of Somalia for ignoring their plight for so long. The second isto usher Somalia's professional politicians into the garden or off to smarthotels and bring in some Somalis who really represent the interests of thecountry and its long-suffering people.Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society.