Somalia: Back from the brink?

Somalia: Back from the brink?
  • PublishedJune 13, 2013

Last month, London’s historical venue, Lancaster House, was home to a rather eyebrow-raising and much hyped meeting on Somalia, co-hosted by the British and Somali governments. Why in London though?

When I got the wires about the “London Conference on Somalia”, my first reaction was, why London? Why not – ideally – in Nairobi, the regional capital, Addis Abba, at the AU headquarters, or in Johannesburg, Africa’s commercial hub? Though in London, I elected not to attend.

It was not long before news headlines ran saying how Ugandan and Kenyan leaders were “snubbed” in London. On Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, to an extent, I understood. His indictment by the ICC meant both he and the British government had to swim carefully, though I am sure Kenyatta would have loved a little bit of the spotlight.

Since America’s defeat in Mogadishu in October 1993, the country largely exists, but just in name. Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Mohamed Siad Barre, who ruled from 1969, was overthrown in 1991 by General Mohamed Farrah Hassan Aidid. In a mission initially claimed “humanitarian”, Washington attempted to favour one faction in a post–Siad Barre regime – against General Aidid, a former ally. But it was not long before Aidid fought off the Americans and one single event, the 1993 Black Hawk Down battle of Mogadishu, in which 18 US soldiers were brutally killed (the incident was later immortalised in a Hollywood blockbuster movie by the same name) was one of America’s worst military disasters since Vietnam.

A country with a proud, spirited and enterprising people, and an entrenched predominantly Islamic culture, Somalia is – like most of Africa – rich in natural resources including uranium, iron ore, tin, copper, natural gas and among others, huge oil reserves.

Its geographical position – having one of the longest coastlines on the continent, and the most lucrative waterway in the world – renders it strategically important and it is therefore hardly surprising that the enterprise of “piracy” soon emerged. Who would not want to control such a territory? Perhaps that was one of the answers the “London Conference on Somalia” was set to answer. But alas, the Somali conference route is one travelled many times before to no avail. As aptly put by the influential Pambazuka News: “Since the collapse of the central government in 1991, over 17 conferences have been held to reconcile Somalia’s different stakeholders and factions. Most of these conferences, sponsored mainly by the international community, have failed to resolve the seemingly never-ending Somali conflict. The question is, will the London conference make any difference this time?”

Sadly the answer to that remains elusive. It is left to the writer Muuse Yuusuf to conclude: “From the outset, I cannot help but to compare the conference with previous reconciliation conferences held in foreign countriesv. Just like the past ones, the London conference seems a top-down process in which some powerful foreign leaders have taken the lead to ‘coerce’ Somalis to reach some form of a political agreement. The 1993 UN-sponsored Addis Ababa conference, held at the height of the civil war, was one of those top-down conferences, which failed Somalis. While different Somali factions were negotiating political settlement, the United Nations Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, supported by president Bill Clinton – both of whom were determined to make the UN a peace-enforcing organisation in the post-Cold War era – was threatening to place Somalia under a UN trusteeship unless Somali factions reached a political agreement.” The Somalian solution will remain a long way off as long as dollars and arms are friends to dictators. Just wave them and your biddings will be done.

So can we conclude that the Conference calls for celebrating the end of a terrible chapter and that Somalia is back from the brink? The jury is still out on that one.

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