The London Conference on Somalia has received a surprising amount of publicity at a time when economic turmoil in Greece and unrest in Syria are pressing international concerns.
The presence of high-level participants including Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon and a host of Presidents, Foreign Ministers and officials from over 40 countries and international organisations has drawn media attention, and offers the hope that the UK government has set solid groundwork for its ambition to galvanise the international community into coordinating its approach to Somalia.
There has been scepticism about the reasons behind holding another international conference like this. In an effort to reassure voters in the UK, David Cameron has emphasised the importance of stability in Somalia for British interests, but protests outside Lancaster House yesterday demonstrated that these international efforts are not seen positively by all Somali people either. It is important that the international community acknowledges the need for any move forward to be as representative of the range of Somali views and interests as possible.
Somalia does not exist in a total state of chaos. A number of regional entities have emerged since the state collapsed in 1991, and the most-established of these, Somaliland and Puntland, have been built through local efforts to create stable and secure environments with elected governments. This contrasts with the situation in the capital, Mogadishu, which is controlled by the internationally-supported but ineffectual Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG). At the London Conference, there has been broad international consensus that the TFG’s mandate should not be extended past its August expiry date, but this must be accompanied by a willingness to explore ways of supporting more local efforts to establish stability.
Most importantly, the international community must pay attention to lessons from past international intervention in Somalia. Reports that Western players including the UK, France and the Netherlands have considered launching strikes against pirates and militants in Somalia are worrying. Foreign incursions into Somalia in the past have not established lasting peace and order in the country, and have often made the situation much worse for civilians on the ground.
As one participant in a consultation between the Somali diaspora and the British government held at Chatham House said, the international community must be prepared for the possibility that its current efforts could fail. If the emphasis is placed on short-term military strategy rather than long-term development and economic growth, failure is almost certain.
At yesterday’ conference, Hillary Clinton spoke of how the international community is prepared to start building better service provision and more stable state institutions in Somalia. The best thing that Western governments can do is not meddle, and be prepared to be flexible in their support for Somali-owned initiatives.
Adjoa Anyimadu is Assistant Researcher, Africa Programme, Chatham House
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