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[Dehai-WN] Scoop.co.nz: London Conference on Somalia: A Rebranding of War on Terror?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2012 23:06:15 +0200


London Conference on Somalia: A Rebranding of War on Terror?

Monday, 27 March 2012, 1:22 pm
Article: Said Liban

London Conference on Somalia: A Rebranding of the War on Terror or a New

Said Liban
March 19, 2012

Of the numerous international conferences organized to deal with Somalia’s
seemingly endless conflict, the London conference has attracted by far the
highest expectations of Somali people, closely matching that of Djibouti in
2000. But unlike the latter, the former also provoked extraordinary
apprehension as to what may transpire from such unexpected, sudden

Perhaps the most important factor that sparked Somalis’ optimism was the
British government itself. A powerful UN Security Council member, a major
donor country, and a former colonial power of part of Somalia (Somaliland),
Britain was seen as the best candidate to succeed where others failed in
ending what many describe as the hell on earth.

Besides the negative experience of previous international conferences, the
anxiety of the Somalis was mainly incited by the coincidence of British
government’s unexpected announcement of the conference and
Ethiopian/Kenyan’s incursion into Somalia territory without prior UN

Has London conference met the high expectations it generated, or was it a
re-run of previous futile exercises, full of lofty speeches, but destructive
outcomes that ultimately make bad situation worse? Before I attempt to
answer this question, I will try to answer another crucial and often asked
question: “Why Somalia, the only relatively homogenous society in Sub-Sahara
Africa, is engulfed in such heartbreaking violence that earned it to be
called the world’s most failed state?”

The root cause of Somalia’s endless violence is based on tribal and
religious extremism. These dual extremisms feed each other, but radical
tribalism is the mother of all evils that plague Somalia. Tragically, with
TFG’s abhorrent, un-Islamic, poisonously divisive 4.5 clan politics,
tribalism is glorified at the national level, while it is celebrated as a
genuine building block in establishing regional or local sub-national

As the Arab spring has revealed in countries like Libya, tribalism is not
unique to Somalia. But unlike our cousins in Libya, Somali leaders pioneered
a new phoneme: formation of clan or coalition of clan-based sub-states. No
doubt that some of the leaders did so because of legitimate grievances,
while others use these new political constructs to maintain old privileges
or secure new ones. However, most of them use it as a bargaining chip to
secure a favorable place in any future government.

Since Somalis are all Sunni Muslim, Islam has always been the strongest
weapon to combat tribalism whenever it rears its ugly head. Tragically,
Islam itself became victim of two camps. On one hand, some extremist
Al-shabab leaders hijacked the religion and use it to masquerade their
diabolical agenda. On the other hand, most of regional or local authorities
and to certain extent TFG leaders use religion as bogyman to fight against
any of their opponents no matter how genuine their grievances might be.

Extremism in all its shades is destructive, but tribalism and religious
extremism are the worst ever known to mankind, particularly when it comes to
nation-building. These two extremisms destroyed Somalia’s nation-state; a
nation-state pillaged by its elites, abandoned by its friends, and exploited
by its enemies.

With this backdrop, I will now turn to answer the first question related to
London Conference. Naturally, it is very hard to make a fair assessment on a
five hour conference, and I am not arguing mine is fair. My appraisal is
based on my reading to the final communiqué and what I garnered from key
participants’ speeches.

While the conference offered each of the “Somali representatives” something
to claim victory, there was nothing for ordinary Somalis except
contradictory, ambivalent, and outright alarming statements, leaving them
with questions and bewilderment. However, not everything was negative. There
were some aspects of the conference that inspire optimism.

According to the communiqué, the conference welcomed the UN resolution
expanding AMISOM`s mandate and raising its troop ceiling. While this
resolution is admirable, the trouble is Kenya forces’ incorporation into
AMISOM, while acquiescing Ethiopia force`s freelance operation into Somali
territory. It is mystifying why these late comers, with their suspicious
agenda, are allowed to spoil the admirable job of the Ugandan and Burundian
AMISOM troops, considering the fact that these two countries’ leaders have
repeatedly expressed their readiness to provide more troops if requested.

The conference agreed that the Transitional Federation Institutions (TFIs)
must end in August 2012. This is understandable since TFIs have been
ineffective and dysfunctional since their formation. However, the irony is
how the communiqué also welcomes the agreements, such as Transitional
Federal Charter (TFC) and the current mystifying Roadmap, that have been
established to be the main factors that caused TFI’s disastrous failure.

The TFC, for instance, imposes a federal system, which although ideal in
many multi-ethnic countries, is a devilishly monumental task, if not
impossible, in one ethnic nation-state, no matter how some of our leaders
and their domestic and foreign cheerleaders argue otherwise. Somalia’s
current environment, which is full of grievances, hostility, and mistrust,
federalism would be nothing but an institutionalized tribalism, plunging the
country into more violence.

The conference called international community to “support any dialogue
between Somaliland and the TFG or its replacement.” this is ambiguous, to
say the least. What is the relationship between TFG and Somaliland leaders?
Are they leaders of a central government and a regional one, as TFG leaders
entertain, or leaders of two neighbouring countries, as the Somalilanders
assert. What is the role of the recently crowned and soon-to-be crowned
Puntland and Galmudug ‘states’ in this dialogue?

According to the communiqué, the conference agreed “to incentivise progress
and act against spoilers to the peace process.” This is clearly a vague
statement as there is no indication on how to determine the spoilers. For
instance, would the leaders who oppose the deeply flawed agreements (i.e.
TFC and Roadmap) be considered spoilers, or the international community’s
friendly leaders who are speeding to implement these agreements? Are the
Ethiopian and Kenyan leaders, who are engaged in fishing expedition, solving
one problem, while creating many more, also treated as spoilers?

One disturbing question is related to the eye-souring presence of four
“Somali presidents” at the conference. Why when TFG executive leaders
authorize Ethiopian/Kenyan forces’ military operation in the country, their
endorsement is considered an act of a legitimate federal government, but
such status is denied to them to represent Somalia in the conference? After
all, the larger, multi-ethnic Ethiopian federation is represented by its
Prime Minister.

It is now established that USA’s dual-track policy on Somalia has produced
conceivably unintentional disaster, resulting an explosion of mini-states
that have undermined even the relatively peaceful areas in Somaliland and
Puntland. Sadly, the communiqué, as I read it, is the same policy dressed
differently. It focuses on an all-out-war against Islamist militants, and
invites new regional or local tribal warlords to join in the campaign.

I should hasten to add that some of the TFG and other authorities are
genuine nationalists with an impeccable integrity, but most are heartless,
ruthless, rapacious individuals who use violence as an enduring profitable
project. As Prof. Menkhaus righty says: “what we (international community)
see as threats and crisis – humanitarian emergencies, state collapse, armed
conflict, piracy, and Islamic extremism – the Somali political elite views
as opportunity.”

Perhaps one of the most painful ironies ordinary Somalis are constantly
witnessing is the international community`s aggressive approach against
militant Islamists, while entertaining tribal militants. Certainly, Islamist
militants are a threat to Somalia, the region, and the world. But, so are
tribal extremists with their hideous ideology rooted in hostility,
exclusion, and injustice. They are not only fuelling the violence, but they
are also the stumbling block to Somalia`s nation-state building. More
importantly, they are the very cause that lends groups, such as Al-Shabaab,
a reason for existence.

Despite this somber assessment, I still believe that, at least symbolically,
the conference has been successful in many important aspects. The conference
was, as British Prime Minister rightly said; “the largest and most
influential gathering that has ever come together” on Somalia. It was the
first of its kind attended by powerful Muslim countries such as Turkey,
Qatar and United Arab Emirates. Also the first attended by elected
Somaliland leaders. And, most importantly, the conference moved Somalia’s
crisis out of hostile corners of Africa into the center stage of world

Although these positive aspects of the conference are significant in many
ways, they are not substitute for a bold, balanced, and fair policy
alternative to end the tragedy in Somalia- a tragedy that Turkish Prime
Minister Erdogan called: “a test for civilization and contemporary values.”
Whether the international community will pass such a test in its June
Istanbul conference remains to be seen.


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Received on Tue Mar 27 2012 - 17:06:27 EDT
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