Somalia and the London Conference - the Wrong Route to Peace
By Richard Dowden, 27 February 2012
At first I withheld judgment on the British government's decision to hold a
major international conference on Somalia. It was so good to hear the
government at last taking an interest in this battered country, so I thought
it would have been perverse to pour cold water on it.
From the start it was clear that piracy and the subsequent cost to the City
of London's marine insurance business, as well as the fear of terrorism,
were the main drivers for David Cameron's concern. The interests of the
Somali people were always going to be secondary. Since Britain had done
nothing during the past 20 years of war and suffering, it seemed unlikely
that concern for Somalis would be the top priority.
But I am shocked at the government's lack of understanding. Reading the
reports of the conference, one would think that the cause of the war was Al
Shabaab, the Islamic fundamentalist movement. Hilary Clinton spoke as if
this was simply an extension of the American war or terror.
But the roots of Somalia's state failure lie in its social structure not in
Islamic extremism. When the civil war, or rather wars, started back in the
late 1980s Shabaab did not exist. The wars were clan-based uprisings against
a domineering dictatorship in a centralised state and against the dictator's
clan. That fragmentation of Somali society still exists beneath the surface.
But this was hardly mentioned.
As order, security and hope were obliterated by clan warfare, leading to
impoverishment, hunger and death, people turned to religion. Saudi funded
fundamentalism spread rapidly throughout Somalia. It is hardly surprising
that many young people who had never know anything but war and misery felt
the appeal of the simplistic answers of fundamentalism.
Furthermore, Cameron does not appear to have learned from Britain's own
experience in Northern Ireland and the decolonisation process of the 1960s.
In both cases Westminster tried to build coalitions of moderates and exclude
the extremists and "men of violence". But in the end in Northern Ireland
peace came when the extremists were brought into the process, just as
Britain 40 years earlier had been forced to release the jailed 'terrorists'
throughout its empire and hand power to them.
Not inviting elements of Shabaab to London (and threatening to continue
bombing them) has ensured that the war will continue. Excluding the
Eritreans, major players in Somalia was also a mistake.
This conference was predicated on persuading the present but ineffective
Somali politicians who form the Transitional Federal Government to step
down. This is a nice dream, but Somali politicians are not known to commit
hari kiri. They are better known for living in luxurious Nairobi hotels,
talking at internationally funded conferences and chewing khat. A recent
audit of aid money given to them said that 96% was unaccounted for.
The agenda of the Somali politicians at Lancaster House on Thursday was
clear: to get the British and Americans to fight their war for them or pay
others to do it and bomb their enemies. That will enable them to hold office
- even though they have little power - and keep stealing the aid.
The parts of Somalia that work and are safe have evolved their own
structures and agreements with their neighbours and rivals. Somalia's social
structure is unique and still very powerful and the systems Puntland and
Somaliland are built on them. No such system has emerged in the south of the
country which includes the capital - the only part of Somali still at war.
This conference should never have attempted to deal with anything more than
helping to establish effective local government in the ports along the
eastern seaboard and thereby providing a base for controlling piracy.
The attempt to reestablish a strong Somali state was a mistake. It will
Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society.
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Mon Feb 27 2012 - 18:13:30 EST