Will a London conference help set Somalia on path to peace?
Somalia aid groups and experts welcome renewed international attention, but warn that a focus on either state-building or military action alone could make things worse rather than better.
After two decades of despair, there are tangible signs of progress in Somalia.Skip to next paragraph
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African Union forces, together with the armies of Kenya and Ethiopia have managed to push back an Al-Qaeda-allied militia force and create the kind of breathing space that the Somali government needs to start functioning. Food aid donations and successful crops have helped end Somalia’s worst famine in more than 20 years.
Now, donor nations and regional partners are gathering in London for a British-sponsored conference starting tomorrow to help figure out a way forward that could lead to sustainable peace in Somalia. Donor groups, Somali politicians and activists, and neighboring allies such as Ethiopia and Kenya will be gathering to discuss security, humanitarian efforts, internal politics, and the perennial question of how to break the cycle of violence within Somalia.
Among the topics that are guaranteed to draw the most attention is how much international players like the United Nations and the African Union should intervene and how much military force should be used in the intervention. Britain is considering air strikes against the Islamist Al Shabab, reports the Guardian newspaper. The United Nations is expected to vote this week to send 5,700 peacekeepers to augment a 12,000 strong African Union peacekeeping force. And aid groups are issuing appeals to keep the supply of food and other aid flowing to meet the needs of some 1.5 million people displaced by war.
Given that Somalia has not had effective peace for more than 20 years, it’s hard to imagine how a single conference could solve all the accumulated problems. But the costs of failure are steep.
“It matters for the Somali people if we make progress, but it also matters for the rest of the world,” said David Cameron, the British prime minister, in a BBC interview. “While the problems are very deep and the challenges are very great, I do see some signs of progress.”
Rather than leave young Somali expatriates living in Britain and in America continue to live without hope of peace, and thus to be easily recruited by either pirate gangs or by the Al-Qaeda-linked militia, Cameron believes the time has come for renewed international commitment to helping Somalia to solve its political and humanitarian problems.
“…let us give this country and its young people the hope of a job and a voice,” said Mr. Cameron.
"We could see it all across north Africa, the prospects of an Arab Spring, where people actually start to have more of a say in their country and how it's run, and that should be the case in Somalia as well as in the Arab world."