David Cameron described Somalia as a failed state in a recent speech that “directly threatens British Interests.” He expressed his concerns for aid workers who were been kidnapped, hijacked ships by Somali pirates leading to higher premium payments for their owners and affecting world trade as well as young Somali British citizens returning to Somali to join extremist groups with the rest of the international Jihadists and creating a real terrorist state. All this is possible but far from reality. Yes, there is piracy and Al- Shabab is a dangerous organisation but what will this conference agree on that is not already happening?
The African Union troops made of Burundis, Ugandans and Ethiopians are already in the capital fighting Al-Shabab and now they have been joined by the Kenyan’s wanting to secure their borders. Apart from further financial and military assistance what can the British government offer to make the situation different? This conference comes at a time when there is greater intervention in Somalia than any other time before it. The other umpteen conferences on stabilising Somalia which were hosted by many differing African nations did not have the resources that are currently been dedicated to Somalia today.
Without doubt David Cameron’s decision to tackle the Somali issue is fuelled by the recent success of the Libyan venture which ousted long term despot Colonel Gaddafi. But does he not realise that this is not Libya and that the current TFG led by Sheikh Sharif was not elected by the Somali people? The London conference is also extremely unpopular with a large majority of the expanding Somali community in the UK who seem to be confused by both Britain’s sudden interest and motives.
“The UK intervention appears to be artificial. It smells of colonial arrogance. England is no longer a world power and quiet insignificant in global affairs so this is an opportunity for them to show their muscles,” said a Somali man who refused to attend the conference in London. “This conference is for the English ego.”
Another laughed, “Perhaps this conference was sponsored by Migration watch which wants to send Somalis back home or the Association of British Insurers as a means of reducing their own insurance premiums if they have third party insurance themselves. Or Cameron has been sent by the oil lobby to fight for their interest as oil is soon to be dug from Somali regions.”
Whatever Cameron’s private reasons, his official ones are clear and understandable but this conference has stirred very little interest in the Somali Diaspora as they have been disappointed many times in many different global cities. Nor has it appeared to dent Al-Shabab resolve or inspire hope in those living the nightmare in Somalia and in the refugee camps of East Africa.
Without doubt the Somali civil war and the ongoing violence need to be resolved as soon as possible. It has cost too much for too long and it threatens the stability of the safer, functioning peaceful parts of Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa. It has destroyed the lives and prospects of an entire generation. It is heartbreaking to know that the young adults today born at the start of the Civil war in 1991 and still living in most of the Southern parts of Somalia have never known peace. For these reasons and more, the Somali situation becomes more desperate by the second.
Here we go again
From the past interventions of the then UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the 2004 Nairobi conference, the Somali people have been listening to promises of state building, peace and a return to normality. What’s wrong with the London conference is that it offers no more hope or solutions than its predecessors and it comes at a time when not all are committed to rebuilding the Somali nation as one unit governed centrally from Mogadishu. However, It will no doubt be an opportunity for the well connected elites, so called experts and government (word used as loosely as possible again) officials to meet, chat, make promises and leave feeling as though they have advanced the Somali people’s cause.
It will be more important for some than others as the Somaliland delegation which might be lead by the President himself may attend giving Sheikh Sharif and his men the political upper hand and the confidence to undermine the Somaliland cause.
Whatever is said by whom and how at the London conference, will be of little relevance as in the eyes of the wider Somali community both in Somalia and in the Diaspora, these unrepresentative groups and their colleagues with vested interest will be making speeches for each other. Judging by their disengagement and their pessimism the Somali people have stopped listening to unrealisable political rhetoric, that are made by uncommitted and untrustworthy selected individuals and groups who supposedly exist to represent them. They already know the answers that will materialise at the conference. Greater commitment to tackling terrorist groups and pirates, more aid for the AMISOM troops and the TFG and the continuation of the top down state building mechanism that has thus far failed.
“Development is a human right and the continuation of the war is a violation of every Somalis human right,” argued a PhD student who did not want to be named. “Although I am not invited in any case, I would never have gone anyway because whatever the decisions and outcomes, Somalia will be governed by deals done in dark corners of dark corridors by immoral and ruthless vultures that live of the degradation and misery of the Somali people.”
The Somaliland government is still pondering whether to attend the conference in London and if so in what capacity and with whom. The personal visit of the British Deputy Ambassador Chris Allan to Hargeisa, the capital of the self declared independent State of Somaliland, last week will put greater pressure on the Somaliland president to at least send a delegation if he himself will not attend. What is clear though is that the president will not entertain any ideas of a reunification with Somalia. More frustratingly for him and his administration, is that the British government whom they feel ought to be more supportive and vocal about their recognition is shackling them to what for them is a dead corpse. Is Somaliland been sweet talked only to be later forced back into a marriage with a partner it divorced more than 20 years ago?
There was much celebration of the news that Puntland might be the sight of large reserves of oil. The black gold has been known to change the fortunes of nations and whether it will be a blessing or a curse will be determined in the future if it is found. However, taking into account Somalia’s geographical tribal layout, will Puntland now accept central government interference with its new found fortune? Will Abdullahi Yusuf, the formerPuntland president’s leadership of Somalia in the past be enough to convince them to share oil revenues if any materialise? Clearly the task ahead is daunting and it is not one that can even be partially addressed by delegates in opulent setting making grand speeches.
There is no hope at the moment of the London conference bringing forward any meaningful change in the near future. Yes, English interests are been threatened but by whom? Who are these pirates and kidnappers? What do they seek? Has the poor leadership of the TFG exacerbated the threat? These questions will not be answered or if they are in a biased fashion as those that are crucial to the talks are not present. The Somali people have not been invited yet their unelected foreign crowned bosses have and are been given the legitimacy of a functioning freely elected government. For there to be genuine hope of peace in Somalia, there has to be a shift from top down state building to local community development. The foreign donors and nations must lend a genuine ear to the concerns of differing groups, especially those seeking independence from Somalia and address their concerns. Furthermore, every conference on the future of peace creation and state building must have the Somali people at its heart. This does not and as such it is a pointless conference which will have no legitimacy in the eyes of those it is supposed to help.
The UK is an important player in the future peace of Somalia as its past strong diplomatic and colonial ties with it are well recognised. In addition the largest number of Somali Diaspora in Europe if not the world live within its borders and it is for their future development and security also that the British government needs to address any threats to British interests in Somalia. However, what is most fearful is that if the British government invests too much hope in this conference and relies too heavily on the so called Somali representatives attending. As if they do, this will be their Black Hawk Down and the victims once again will be the helpless Somali people living through violence and an on going humanitarian crisis for the foreseeable future.