On 23 February senior representatives from over 40 governments and multi-lateral organisations will come together in London. The aim is to deliver a new international approach to Somalia, but the jury is out on whether the conference will break the colonial mindset that has dominated approaches to Somalia.
The Somali state has become an object of charity after two decades of political crisis; multiple actors claim that Somalia needs international humanitarian assistance and military intervention due to terrorism, piracy and famine. For over 20 years these pleas have led to no progress and the Somali people have seen continuing death and destruction and as a result continue to suffer the consequences. The Somali people feel humiliation, despite claims of international generosity towards them.
The United Kingdom has now decided to host a conference on Somalia. Prime Minister David Cameron said in his speech to the Lord Mayor's banquet on 14 November 2011 that Somalia '...is a failed state that directly threatens British interests. Tourists and aid workers kidnapped, young British minds poisoned by radicalism, mass migration, and vital trade routes disrupted.'
This statement does recognise that there is a problem in Somalia that threatens the security interests of the UK and some argue that this recognition to change the conditions that contribute to the Somalia quandary gives a new purpose and opportunity to resolve this problem. Moreover, others go even further and say that this constitutes an act of generosity. But others characterise the London conference as a testament to the Eurocentric neocolonial mentality of the 21st century as Somalis were never consulted about the scope, nature and intentions of the conference. They point to the sketchy non-paper diplomatic details released so far as having colonial intentions. They warn that the conference creates the illusion of action, but will not be different from the 19th century colonial rule that gave Africa its current political configuration. They propose that real change must come from the society itself through a rejection of tribal politics, religious extremism, foreign domination and through becoming real actors in pursuing authentic political change by restoring justice, freedom and unity.
The intention of this paper is to make the London conference an object of reflection for my beloved Somali brothers and sisters and for those who are truly in solidarity with the Somali nation. In doing so, I want all to reflect on the current conditions of Somalia. In this perspective, the Somali people should not be treated as mere objects. This is to urge Somalis to respond to the changes occurring around them and question whether the London conference is an act of love and generosity or whether it is another grand design with predictable and dire consequences. To verify this, we must examine first the current condition of Somalia and contrast it with the proposals of the London conference, good intentions notwithstanding. In doing so, we will discover the intentions and designs of the London conference and arrive at objective discovery after thorough examination. Moreover, this paper will project a vision for Somalia in its conclusion that reflects the desire of the Somali people, hoping that the London conference will make an effort in this direction.
THE STATE OF SOMALIA
Reality in Somalia today is very grave in economic and political terms; there is widespread poverty and sporadic famine. The country is in a political crisis characterised by multiple foreign actors and visions reflective of personal and political desires that are not anchored with the will of the Somali people. The TFG has not evolved to a legitimate institution, despite international support, owing largely to a lack of vision and its lack of responsiveness to societal needs. It is a well-known fact that people in Somalia feel safer under Al-Shabab controlled areas as they face greater risks of robbery and rape in areas managed by the TFG/AMISOM authorities. Targeted killings of reporters and other local leaders are exceptionally high in these areas. Socially, there is awareness among the Somali people that tribal politics (4.5 federalism) and religious sectarianism have failed the nation and overcoming both of these dogmas are urgent priorities for the Somali people. The current Somali leadership have become pawns of these deterministic views and the agenda they push inside and outside Somalia is reflective of the political disconnect and lack of legitimacy these leaders find themselves with in Somalia. The 4.5 power-sharing formula and the foolish actions of Al-Shabab do show this divide. However, the 4.5 clan power-sharing formula and its new political dispensation, federalism, are designed to reshape Somalia into smaller and controllable clan based states.
The proponents of the Somali federalism project are divided into three groups. The first group includes neighbouring countries of Somalia; these are Kenya and Ethiopia, which due to their selfish state interests oppose a strong Somali state with robust central authority. In their view, a weak Somali state is antithesis to Somali nationalism that may pursue the restoration of 'Greater Somalia', which calls for the unification of the Somali territories in Ethiopia and Kenya with the contemporary Somali Republic. They fear a strong Somali state and pursue policies that maintain the current 'weakened state' status of Somalia. The second group entails individual Somalis who are blinded by clan hatred and desperation for power. They believe that the devolution of power benefits them as they will have power to advance clan interests. The third group, comprised of the US and the EU, is the most dangerous as they fund this project and have a long-term strategic interest in the entire region. In this respect, the US and EU are facilitators of the humiliation and suffering of the Somali people as they continue to empower Kenya and Ethiopia to engage in the destabilisation of Somalia. In this way, a system of domination is created where the Somali people find themselves powerless and on the periphery. Decisions are made without the Somali people through subservient, tribalist 'Somali leaders'.
The Kampala Accord and its subsequent Somalia roadmap marginalise the sovereignty of Somalia as its proponents, IGAD and UNPOS, dictate to the 'Somali leaders' as a result of the mandate of the Accord. The US attaches greater values to democracy while it is strangely supporting this oppressive roadmap. This contradiction supports the argument that this Accord precisely endorses their agenda in Somalia. As a result of this, the wider Somali public feels humiliated. This disgraceful action will lead to Somali nationalism, as history shows by the rise of German nationalism after WWI. It is already taking shape around this circus of 'Somali Conferences'. How long can the Somali people continue to live in this oppressive reality and remain impotent?
THE LONDON CONFERENCE
As announced in November 2011 by the UK government, 'over 40 countries and multilateral organisations will come together in London with the aim of delivering a new international approach to Somalia'. From this view, it is evident that there is a recognition that there is an opportunity to build an international consensus to 'tackle both the root causes and effects of the problems' in Somalia. The British government is convinced that Somalia represents a security risk, not only to Britain but to the international community, as evidenced by the growing radicalization and piracy in Somalia. London views Al-Shabab, a group listed as a terrorist group, as representing a growing security concern due to a large Somali community present in England. Similar concerns are shared by other countries such as Canada, US, and others in Europe and Africa. Similarly, the growing threat of piracy in Somalia impacts many more nations around the world. Moreover, recurring famine and other humanitarian needs in Somalia represent no less important challenges. These factors are additionally complicated by the weak institutions and complex political environment in Somalia.
Currently there is a Somali peace process that has its contradictions. The new roadmap calls for ending the transitional political arrangement and the recently concluded Garoweh meeting, which was scheduled to formally do so, has produced another four years of the transitional period and institutions. The announcement of the London conference comes in the midst of this confusion.
Recently released documents show an intense consultation and communication from the UK government with other relevant countries, individuals and groups. These papers show the political mindset of the US, UK, Sweden, the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, Italy, Kenya, Ethiopia, some Muslim and Arab countries and the Transitional Government of Somalia and other Somali regional stakeholders. Remarkably, these consultations show that the Somalis were not consulted prior to the announcement. This shows that the intention of this conference is not to empower the Somali people to make a collective decision that the world can support, because if that was the case the logical approach would have been to consult with the affected people, that is to say initiate a consultative phase before announcing the London conference.
It is absurd not to realise that though Somalia is shattered people still have the capacity to understand and be resilient. Often international actors who lack the knowledge of local terrain discount such positive aspects of local knowledge by imposing their will and Western values - as reflected in this upcoming London conference. Moreover, the proposal from Italy bizarrely advances a neocolonial agenda that puts Somalia under trusteeship. This is an affront that outraged the Somali people inside and outside the country. It similarly shows why the Somali people do not and should not trust any foreign intervention. Wholesale euphemisms such as 'piracy threats', 'terrorism', 'and humanitarian intervention' are used to malign and discredit, with the intention to erode the self-determination and sovereignty of the Somali people. The Somali people are deprived of their voice and unjustly dealt with by the US and its European allies of France, Italy and England continually supporting the destabilisation of Somalia by Kenya and Ethiopia. For these states to affirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia over and over again in their communications and support the continuing invasions of Ethiopia and Kenya is an extreme contradiction. Can the London conference be in solidarity with the Somali people who are yearning to address their political, social and economic problems and at the same time continue to support the war crimes continually committed by Ethiopia and recently joined by Kenya? The Eurocentric approach that is expounded in the popular press with slogans such as 'the Somali people cannot handle democracy and civilized constitutionalism' as one recent 'Somalia expert' purports in, 'Getting Somalia Wrong? Signs of Hope in a Shattered State - a Realistic but Empathetic Analysis' must be totally rejected and discredited. Edward Said must be rolling over in his grave every time a European scholar with his/her Eurocentric biases writes as an expert on cultures of other people.
The Somali people have been traditionally making collective decisions in their communities for centuries. Similarly, democracy is a rational or idealistic concept which endorses the idea of collective decision making in areas of mutual interest such as law and order, quality of life, culture and distribution of wealth. Given that democratic decision making is not an alien concept to the Somali people, why is it that an irrational and discriminatory political dispensation such as the 4.5 power-sharing clan formula is advanced in Somalia with the financial support of the international community?
The aim of the London conference is to 'pull together international effort' in order to make sure that the current international effort in Somalia and the Somalia peace process succeed according to the UK government. This conference has surely spurred the interest of the Somali people. Many hope that it may offer a new direction and bring an end to two decades of failed international policy. Others are skeptical and are worried that the UK is not driven by generosity and has its own selfish agenda. However, the Somali people are better positioned this time as there is genuine will to transcend the tribal politics that has undermined State sovereignty and unity for the past two decades. The London conference should capitalise on this goodwill and move to:
- Provide guiding principles, or terms of reference, to make this conference more transparent; so far as the Somalis are concerned, they are suspicious of this conference due to its secrecy and lack of transparency.
- Have a clear, detailed consultation framework at the outset; the fact that this conference will address agendas set by outsiders with no clear framework will only complicate its outcome.
- Provide clarity of what an end result would look like. The UK government can only facilitate and should let Somalis decide the best approach to address the Somali conundrum. Somalis and other participants have common objectives to address security, terrorism and piracy; it is in the best interest of all to address a common problem collectively.
- Make the conference a two round process to develop ideas and refine them; let this be a brainstorming exercise and set up another conference inside Somalia. It is illogical to be holding conferences outside of Somalia while addressing security problems pertaining to Somalia. A serious action plan to address piracy and terrorism needs to be done inside Somalia and supported by the Somali people inside the country.
And finally any outcome must make sure that Somalia's sovereignty and territorial integrity is maintained and individual freedom and choice is guaranteed.
Abdi Dirshe is a political analyst and is also the current president of the Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance