If the international community can agree on but a few core policies, there is the best chance in years to foster peace in Somalia, according to the International Crisis Group.
Somalia: An Opportunity that Should Not Be Missed, the latest International Crisis Group Policy Briefing, examines the build-up to the special international conference on Somalia, which takes place in London on 23 February, bringing together senior representatives from more than 50 countries and international organisations. The British initiative seeks to develop a consensus on a new political framework for tackling the multiple challenges faced by the war-torn country.
“Somalia has the world’s attention again”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “The mandate of the feeble and dysfunctional Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in a half-year and should not be renewed. Troops from the African Union Mission (AMISOM), Kenya and Ethiopia are keen to further weaken the still potent extremist movement, Al-Shabaab. This confluence of factors presents a genuine chance for peace and stability in the south and centre of the country”.
The root cause of Somalia’s many troubles – terrorism, piracy, periodic famine and constant streams of refugees – is collapse of effective governance, with resulting chronic conflict, lawlessness and poverty. The most effective and durable solution is to build gradually an inclusive, more federal structure most clans can support. Otherwise, Al-Shabaab, whose emir recently pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, or some similar successor and other disparate groups of would-be strongmen with guns, will exploit continued dissatisfaction with Mogadishu and innate Somali hostility to “foreign occupation”.
Renewed interest in Somalia has brought renewed jockeying for influence. The divergence of views is neither new nor surprising, considering the complexity of the crisis and Somalia’s geopolitical importance. The entry of new actors such as Turkey, which has supported the TFG, increases the difficulty of consensus. Te immediate need is to keep the focus on strategic goals and build unity of purpose over the outstanding issues and potential solutions.
The London Conference should agree on the new political framework and principles for governing Somalia. It must rebuild internal cohesion among core members of the International Contact Group, and enhance the role of Turkey and other Muslim nations in the stabilisation efforts. It should also endorse the formation of a truly inclusive deliberative body that represents all clans and most regions of the country and that can form an interim government to replace the TFG if necessary.
Al-Shabaab has been hard-pressed militarily over the past year, but to maintain momentum and consolidate gains, AMISOM should quickly assume full tactical and operational command of what are still poorly-coordinated, essentially autonomous efforts by the AU mission, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somali allies. This may require an expansion of its limited mandate (peace enforcement and stabilisation) and greater resources, as well as closer UN/AU cooperation.
“Al-Shabaab is resilient and will seek to regain strength by exploiting popular discontent with the TFG, its lack of progress, corruption and unwillingness to genuinely reach out and reconcile with other groups and sub-national entities”, cautions EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Unless a more appropriate political framework is developed for Somalia, Al-Shabaab or its successor will remain a regional and wider international concern for many years to come”.