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Today from Hiiraan Online:
‘Leave Somalia alone’
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Last week visiting British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, met the leaders of the Somali diaspora in the Western Cape to seek their advice on the major international conference about how to resolve the Somalia crisis which his prime minister, David Cameron, is hosting in London this week.
Afterwards, Hague said he agreed with the Somalis that the conference should point the way to a more legitimate, representative government, “so that Somalis can address their problems themselves”.
But he also explained Britain’s other intentions for the conference, including securing greater and longer-term international funding for Amisom, the AU’s peacekeeping force in Somalia.
The Somalis told Hague that they had lost faith in the ability of international conferences to resolve their country’s problems because this would be the 18th in 20 years.
They also expressed misgivings about the presence of Somalia’s neighbours, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, at the London conference, because these countries had vested national interests in the Somali conflict.
They would prefer that neutral countries like South Africa and Turkey played a greater role.
And, indeed, International Relations and Co-operation Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, is expected to represent South Africa in London.
The Cape Somalis also complained to Hague that foreigners always tried to address the Somali conflict in clan lines.
“That’s not the reality of Somalia. If you leave them alone, they will eventually sort out their problems themselves,” one of their leaders said.
Evidently, many analysts also have low hopes for the conference, though some are encouraged by the participation of several Muslim states for the first time in a big Somali conference.
The heart of the problem, as the Somali expats told Hague, is how to get a legitimate, credible and representative government in Mogadishu.
And, one might add, what to do about al-Shabaab, the Islamist militias trying to topple the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The TFG, patched together from rival clans in negotiations in Kenya, has been clinging to power by its fingernails for the past five years.
Its mandate is to govern the country fairly and competently, devolving power from the centre to the regions and preparing Somalia for legitimate, properly representative elections.
But the TFG has not done much of that.
It is widely regarded as corrupt and incompetent, holding power for itself at the centre rather than sharing it and representing the interests of neighbouring countries, notably Ethiopia, and international powers, especially the US, in Somalia.
Hague said in Cape Town that Britain – and probably also other Western powers – were prepared to negotiate with anyone in al-Shabaab who wanted peace and democracy.
But he suggested that such people were rather few, if any, noting that al-Shabaab had declared its support for al-Qaeda and that foreign fighters had gone to Somalia to use Somalia and the Somalis for their own purposes.
(The Somali expats in Cape Town countered that the foreign fighters had gone to Somalia to oppose foreign interests backing the TFG).
Even so, this ought to be a good moment for the London conference.
Al-Shabaab is weaker than ever, having suffered military defeats last year when it was evicted from Mogadishu by the TFG, much stiffened by an extraordinarily-aggressive Amisom.
Meanwhile, Kenyan forces have entered Somalia from the south to fight al-Shabaab with the aim of capturing the port of Kismayo, which it controls and from where much of the piracy is directed.
Ethiopian forces are moving from the west.
The motives for these military encroachments can no doubt be questioned.
But the fact is that al-Shabaab is now vulnerable.
Some political strategy to increase the legitimacy of the TFG – or bypass it – and to embrace al-Shabaab elements ready to accept peace and democracy, if there be such, is what this conference must achieve.
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