Somalia needs problem solving, not problem stating

By Anna Aiken
February 25, 2012

Somalia: the ‘most failed’ of all failed states.

Since 1991, there has been no central government which has managed to control the whole country. In the decades of civil war that have followed, customary, religious and tribal law have dominated, and large parts of the country have reverted to an informal bartering economy. What infrastructure there once was is now weakened, broken or destroyed. Piracy disrupts international trade routes and the influence of al-Shabab, part of al-Qaeda, continues to cause international concern.

This week David Cameron convened the latest in a long line of conferences to discuss and contemplate the future of Somalia. On Thursday, international leaders from 55 countries met in London, including the American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the transitional president of Somalia, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon.

Cameron was predictably enthusiastic about the outcomes:

"We’ve backed the Somalis' decision to end the mandate of the transitional federal institutions in August. This timetable will be stuck to. There will be no further extensions. We will hold the Somalis to this. We’ll act against those who stand in the way of the peace process and we’ve also agreed the formation of a new government must be as inclusive as possible."

Cameron also made it clear that this conference was not about telling Somalis what to do. The conference declaration states support for the Somalis’ decision to end the mandate that maintains the transitional government in August 2012. But the final communiqué quickly moves from support of Somali decision making to international demands which threaten to override Somali control of the process.

Sanctions are threatened against those found to be disrupting or preventing the establishment of a stable government. Exactly how effective sanctions can be implemented without making life even harder for the people of Somalia, and whether international sanctions will serve to reign in the pirates, for example, remains to be seen. The deadline of August was declared ‘fixed’ with support for the transitional government only guaranteed for another six months – a further pressure on the fragile steps to stability.

Abdiweli Mohamed Ali once again made the request for military action against al-Shabab with the proviso that civilians are not hurt: “We have to face this menace, and al-Qaida in Somalia is not a Somali problem -- it is a global problem that must be addressed globally," he said. "Therefore, again, we welcome targeted airstrikes against al-Qaida, not against the populace."

Lessons from elsewhere show that targeted airstrikes cannot possibly guarantee the safety of civilians.

It was agreed that rebuilding Somalia requires that the challenge of al-Shabab be met head on. This seems so obvious that it hardly needs to be stated. However, they were not invited to the London conference, and Hilary Clinton was firm when she stated that there would not be any negotiations with al-Shabab.

Engagement is crucial if a sustainable, realistic and attainable path to peace and stability is to be found. However hard to establish and however hard to work through, a dialogue is essential if Somalia is to find a stable future. If talks with al-Shabab have already been dismissed, then Somalia risks another two decades of problem stating, not problem solving.


© Anna Aiken is a graduate of Birmingham University’s International Development Department. She holds an MSc in International Development, and is particularly interested in faith based development and women’s rights issues.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.