12 May 2017

Somalia: Lessons for Peace in Somalia

Photo: Ilyas Ahmed/UN
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The international community has met once again in London to discuss drought-stricken fragile Somalia. But the new initiative is likely to fail despite noble motives, writes Ludger Schadomsky.

The list of attendees at the London Somalia Conference was impressive: British Prime Minister Theresa May (pictured above) kicked off the meeting that was meant to serve both as donor and security conference.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Somalia's new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known by his nick name Farmajo (cheese), were also in London.

The goal of the meeting was to sign off on a "new security partnership for Somalia" - the corner stone of this plan has been on the table since April. That begs the question: What happened to the countless other security partnerships with and for Somalia?

Since the early 1990s, there have been 20 Somalia conferences. The last time the international community came together in London in 2012, there was big talk, and promises were made as well - but without much consequence.

New partnership with new players

That's why a new partnership with new players is needed: Somalia has a new president, premier and a new parliament since the beginning of this year. The country is also battling a fresh hunger crisis - the group therefore agreed to increase its appeal for aid to $1.5 billion (1.4 billion euros) for the country in the Horn of Africa region that's been plagued by hunger and drought.

The center piece of future cooperation until 2020 was laid out on 17 pages: to quickly set up a powerful Somalian army made up of scattered regional troops and clan militia.

Time is of the essence: By 2018, the 22,000-strong but largely ineffective African Union-led AMISOM troops are set to be reduced and soon to be replaced by Somali forces. The donors are willing to dig deep into their pockets to fund these troops and their training, among other things.

Lessons learned?

However, more money doesn't translate to achieving more in Somalia - that's the lesson learned from a quarter century of thoroughly botched intervention.

On the contrary: Corruption, nepotism and politicians' attitudes of filling their own pockets are endemic in the country today. These practices are much more common than an interest in reform and good governance.

The so-called roadmap which has been discussed for years is still at a standstill as the president and prime minister as well as the regions within the fragile federal state are blocking each other from implementing it. Clan allegiance still matters more than a national sense of belonging.

Many Somalis who returned from abroad full of hope after the last election in 2012 are now frustrated and disillusioned.

The statement by President Mohamed that he plans to defeat the Islamist al-Shabab militia within two years whose fighters have been terrorizing Somalia's capital Mogadishu by unleashing terror similar to attacks on Kabul and Baghdad is as if to add insult to injury.

Somalia's new president used to work as finance chair in the US for four years and wrote a thesis on "US strategic interests in Somalia: From Cold War era to War on Terror." Both these topics - finance and the fight against terrorism - are essential for Somalia's future, so the new president does bring new hope to the office.

But the to-do list is long: Rebuilding the country's police and military forces, reforming the constitution, national dialogue, fighting corruption and most recently piracy again etc. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is right when he warns there's only a brief time frame for establishing a Somali army.

Despite the many domestic failures in Somalia - the truth is the donor community has not covered itself in glory in the past either. If they mean business with that "new deal" for Somalia, it's time to do it right this time.

London too busy with Brexit

But realpolitik might get in the way: The UK as patron of international Somalia diplomacy will be busy dealing with Brexit in the coming years and might only be willing to bother with captured British crude oil vessels close to Somalia's shores.

But this message didn't find its way into the 17 pages "tough lady" May gave to the Somali guests as a parting gift.

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