International donors pledged more than US$250 million on Thursday to strengthen Somalia’s security forces and try to stop the rampant attacks by armed Somali pirates that have plagued one of the world’s most important waterways.
The hefty sum, which included funding for military equipment and material as well as development aid, exceeded the initial request made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said.
“We have just begun the first step of an important process to restore rule of law in Somalia ... which has been a lawless state for 20 years,” Ban told a news conference following a one-day, UN-sponsored donors’ conference.
Stabilizing Somalia was the focus of Thursday’s meeting, but the near-daily pirate attacks along Somalia’s 3,100km coastline that endanger ships from around the world immediately moved to the forefront of the discussions.
“Piracy is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground,” Ban told the delegates. “More security on the ground will make less piracy on the seas.”
Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed pledged to do “everything imaginable” to stabilize Somalia and fight piracy.
“This phenomenon will not last forever,” he promised, expressing “regret” for the pirates’ actions.
The pledges were a recognition of the need to end two decades of anarchy in Somalia and of the threat that further lawlessness posed to the world, not just one nation.
The funds included at least US$134 million for African Union peacekeepers already stationed in Somalia. The force numbers 4,350 but is expected to expand to 8,000 troops.
Another US$31 million will go to training the Somali police force by the UN and developing Somali security forces and their oversight bodies.
The package also included aid for medicine, education and rural development under the auspices of the European Development Fund.
According to the UN humanitarian agency, an estimated 2.8 million Somalis received food aid last month, up from 1.8 million at the start of last year.
“The situation continues to be very difficult, but with this financial help ... I sincerely hope we will be able to control the situation there,” Ban said at a joint news conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Ahmed, elected by parliament in January, is a former fighter with the Islamic insurgency. He has been trying to broker peace with warring groups after years of chaos and gain legitimacy, but his Western-backed government wields little control outside the capital of Mogadishu and needs help from African peacekeepers to do even that.
UN bodies will oversee funding earmarked for Ahmed’s government, which wants to build a police force of 10,000 along with a separate security force of 6,000 members.
In the past year, pirates have hijacked dozens of ships in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane linking Asia via the Suez Canal to Europe.
Piracy experts estimate the seafaring gangs took in about US$80 million in ransom payments last year.