Somalia’s fragile leadership, its neighbors and international allies are meeting in London, in the hope of speeding the troubled east African nation’s progress toward a stable government and containing the threat from Islamic militants, who some fear could export terrorism to Europe and the US.
About 50 nations and international organizations were attending the one-day summit yesterday, including Somalia’s Western-backed transitional government, officials from the northern breakaway republic of Somaliland, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
However, many were skeptical that the talks would agree on concrete steps to address Somalia’s complex problems — pirates who target international shipping, the al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabaab which holds territory in the country’s center and south, and the effects of a lengthy famine which the British government estimates has killed between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
Others suspect the attention of Clinton and world leaders is currently focused on more urgent troubles, including the crisis in Syria — which will be discussed in meetings on the sidelines.
Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years, but it has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the nation into two decades of chaos. The weak UN-backed administration — which holds the capital, Mogadishu, with the support of about 12,000 African Union troops — has been boosted by recent offensives against al-Shabaab and UN approval on Wednesday for an increase in the size of the peacekeeping mission.
“We are moving from an era of warlordism, terrorism, extremism and piracy, and we are moving into an era of peace, stability and normalcy,” Somalian Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told BBC radio. “Twenty years of lawlessness, violence and chaos is enough. Somalis are ready to move on.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the London conference would try to bolster tentative signs of progress, including a recent fall in the number of pirate attacks off Somalia’s coast.
The EU’s naval anti-piracy patrol said pirates hijacked six vessels between May and December last year, compared with 19 between January and April. Ransoms last year cost the shipping industry about US$135 million.
“It means working with all the parts of Somalia — which has been more blighted by famine, by disease, by violence, by terrorism than almost any other in the world — to give that country a second chance,” Cameron told lawmakers on Wednesday.
In New York, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to authorize an increase in the African Union peacekeeping force — known as AMISOM — from 12,000 to about 17,700, and to expand its areas of operation in an effort to intensify pressure on militants.
Al-Shabaab — which earlier this month formalized its relationship with al-Qaeda — is currently being hit from three sides in Somalia, pressed out of Mogadishu by AMISOM soldiers, while Kenyan forces who moved into Somalia in October pressure the militants from the south and Ethiopian forces sweep in from the west. The leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia, who sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia’s instability would spread, were attending the talks.