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[Dehai-WN] Pambazuka.org: Somalia: The London Conference - An Act of False Generosity?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2012 23:13:14 +0100

Somalia: The London Conference - An Act of False Generosity?

By Abdi Dirshe, 10 February 2012


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.


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?


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

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

Abdi Dirshe is a political analyst and is also the current president of the
Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance


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Received on Fri Feb 10 2012 - 17:13:49 EST
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