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Friend or Foe? Britain in Somalia

Somali groups are growing increasingly frustrated by the UK's aid intervention, which many believe is self-serving.
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UK Foreign Secretary William Hague speaking to members of the Somalia community on the eve of the London Conference on Somalia in February 2012. Photograph by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Nairobi, Kenya:

If Somalia experiences its own Arab-style 'spring', it might not be a revolutionary wave against its own government, but an uprising against British intervention in the form of 'aid'.

Senior government ministers in Mogadishu have expressed concern at the renewed international interest led by London. They believe the "projectification" of Somalia benefits mainly Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya, where NGO workers have earned a negative image because of a fondness for driving brand-new Land Cruisers and inflating property prices.

"They don't consult with us. It's like a doctor trying to prescribe medicine for a patient you haven't seen yet", says Abdullahi Goodah Barre, Somalia's Minister for Planning and International Cooperation.

According to Barre, it is the Italian NGO workers in particular who are thriving. "One of them is building houses in Nairobi. Another is making cheese. It's like The Sopranos," he said.

A helping hand?

British aid to Somalia started in March 2010. A year later, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced an average spend of £69 million per annum. Total humanitarian assistance rose by nearly 600% between 2009 and 2011.

In an ironic twist, the spike of international humanitarian interest in Somalia has encouraged a blossoming of new organisations set up by Somalis to defend against it.

Hands Off Somalia is described by activist Haseeb Ahmed as a political organisation which opposes British intervention in Somalia. Although it is just three months old, its supporters already number in the thousands.

"We have agreed from the beginning that it is unfair and unjust for Britain to be talking about Somalia behind closed doors and branding the country a 'failed state'," Ahmed says.

In February, a London conference on Somalia issued a communiqué reading: "We are determined to place the interests of the Somali people at the heart of all our actions." But many Somalis say it drowned them out.

On the day of the conference, the Somali Relief and Development Forum released a plea. "If you want to help us, listen to us," they said.

"We are fed up with sitting on the sidelines as endless international meetings take place to decide the needs of Somali people."

It is estimated that 25% (or even 50% according to some sources) of Somalia's GDP comes from remittances abroad. "The diaspora are coming back. We've been appealing to them for a long time", says Barre.

Through poetry, blogs, petitions and protests, the internet is also providing a platform to re-engage those living abroad.

Awoowe Hamza's poem, Letter to David Cameron, contains the lines: "You decide to punish me by robbing my brothers and sisters in Somalia from their economy / and politically try to change them and bring them back to being a colony."

The British government's unpopularity with Somalis is related to the country's ostensibly selfless provision of 'aid', which Cameron then justifies by calling Somalia "a failed state that directly threatens British interests".

This is a dangerous position. "When humanitarian assistance of this nature is presented as beneficial to Britain's national security, one's ability to reach those most in need is fundamentally undermined," wrote Marc DuBois, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières UK (MSF) last year.

Economy without a state

The perception of the UK serving its own interests was reinforced in February when The Observer reported that British officials had held talks with the semi-autonomous northern state of Puntland about oil exploration. The UK campaign group, World Development Movement, warned "the UK's new drive to provide aid to Somalia is looking like a cynical attempt to grab its oil".

A United Nations source insists "there is no alternative" to the costly Nairobi-based international aid missions. But Somalis believe there is: investment, not aid. "Somalis are renowned for being some of the most commercially savvy people in the world and the country coined the phrase, "The economy without a state”.

The largest telecoms company in Somalia, Hormuud, reported sales of $40 million in 2010 – staggering when the World Bank estimates that 73% of Somalia's population of nine million lives on less than $2 per day. Selling phones is only one part of Hormuud's activities: it also distributes emergency food aid.

Prior to being Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, Mohamed Ibrahim was a teacher at Newman Catholic College in Brent. "Now that Mogadishu is liberated, we welcome a lot of private investors, especially in the tourist sector," he says. The al-Shabaab Islamist militia retreated from the city in August last year, leaving it under the protection of African Union troops. Like many of his fellow politicians, one of Ibrahim's dreams is for Somalia to become self-sufficient.

Hope lies in people like Junaid Egale, a 30-year old former Londoner, who this year opened a UK-registered international business consultancy firm, MIJ, in Mogadishu. "We are here now to service the Somali government projects and the international private sector firms – NGOs, telecoms and finance," he says.

Egale returned to Mogadishu after al-Shabaab's defeat. Although the Somali capital is still in counter-terrorism mode, security is much improved.

Tourists are also returning. On Lido Beach in Mogadishu, Ibrahim, a man in his late-twenties who lives in London but was born in Somalia's second city Hargeisa, says he has come on holiday "for the beaches".

And Somalia's transitional government is developing its own anti-piracy task force – bypassing international NGOs.

Friends like these

Walking around Mogadishu, young children who see me shout: "Turkey, Turkey!" Ankara has had remarkable success in Mogadishu, for the obvious reason of their shared Islamic faith, but also, as one local put it, because they show they are not afraid to walk around in the city and "get their hands dirty".

In early March, a Turkish trade and investment delegation arrived on the inaugural Turkish Airlines flight to the capital and stayed for days to discuss opportunities for diplomatic cooperation.

By contrast, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague was described spending "a few hours in Mogadishu glad-handing the president, announcing a new ambassador (who will stay in Nairobi) and praising the improved security (while travelling in an armoured car and wearing a flak jacket)".

Hague also chose to call Somalia "the world's most failed state" in front of its president and gathered international media, a quote that is now routinely attached to any description of the country.

In February, Abukar Arman, Somali Special Envoy to the United States, coined the term 'ghost-lords' for the invisible actors in Nairobi and beyond – i.e. the international community – which he accuses of being "perhaps the biggest and most elusive obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state".

Unless the ghost lords start listening, the anti-imperialist Somali Spring could derail attempts to stabilise this nation. Private investment in Somalia is risky, but dialogue would be a start. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, "the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place".

This article was originally published by The Week, a UK-based weekly news digest.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com

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Comments

What can I say; well done and right to the point. Many Somalis including myself have put to the international community what we think a solution to the Somalia's problems can be. The reality is that the so call UN, NGO's in Nairobi, and other actors who have their own vested interest in Somalia don’t listen or don’t even care what we think about the solution to own countries problems. They have their own agendas and they just want to chuffed in our throat.
The problem to the Somalia’s problem is already well known that it is solvable. We have two different but success stories in both Somaliland and Puntland. They are both homegrown solutions that can be copy and applied to the South of Somalia, with a very little adjustment if at all. In comparison; the all the solutions that had been try in South Somalia are all imported solutions, that are done in Nairobi, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Rome, London, Washington DC, or some other capital cities somewhere, without asking for the input of those whom the decisions that are made in those capitals is going to affect.
Let me give you a perfect example of what goes on in Nairobi. Before I do that I just want to mention every news paper that comes out of Somalia is translated in Nairobi. When ever a local NGO announces that they are going to tackle problem so and so; the Nairobi NGO’s will contact them and say that they are going to fund the project. They will device the plan in Nairobi, then they will determent how much it is going to cost, then they will request funding from their counter parts in London or Rome or New York. They could get say $1, 000, 000 million dollar, but allocate $100, 000 thousand to the local NGO and then that money is split between corrupt officials in Somalia and the local NGO. Who is the real looser here?
Of all the money that is been spent in the name of Somalia, how much really went into Somalia or was spent on Somalia. I read a report with regard to the 1990’s UN intervention in Somalia; for every $11 dollars that is been spent on Somalia, only $1 benefitted the Somali people whom aid was given in their name. Who is the real looser here? I ask an American State Department official one time what does America show for all the dollars that it spent in Somalia or to the Somali people? I gave him the contrast between the Chinese and USA with regard to all the aid that was given to Somalia. The only road that connects Somalia was built by the Chinese. The two theaters in Somalia was built by the Chinese. Only two cultural building in Somalia was built by the Chinese. The Stadium in Somalia was built by the Chinese. The water well in Hargeysa, North Somalia is still called Chinese well. The water infrastructure that the people in Hargeysa are still using is the same one built by the Chinese in 1970’s.  The distinction between the two aid given to Somalia is tangible and none tangible aid. And that is a proof how the solutions to the Somalia problems are not really for solving the problems, but to insure they get worse, so those who are benefiting from these crises will get rich, while the mess and the misery will remained with the Somali people.
In conclusion; I have a friend who went out of his way when it comes to finding solution to the Somali problems. He even went back to Muqdisho, Somalia so he can help as much as he can. When he came back disappointed, I ask him why he came back so fast? He told me I find out that no one is trying to solve the Somali problem, except Turkey he said. He say Somalia has become a lucrative business for so many people, that they will have no other way but to insure the problems are never solved. It is all about money!!!
 

The UK government is never a friend of Somalia or the Somali people and even if it believes it is, which it doesn't, it doesn't know how to honor a friend unless its an Anglo-Saxon war machine like the United States.Somalis discovered the meaning of UK, United Killers, long before even the State of Israel was formed.UK is the biggest contributor to the destabalization of Somalia. It secretly channels billions to Ethiopia, Kenya and warlords inside the country to ruin every effort of peace.Somalis will look after their own interest when it comes to UK, USA, Ethiopia, Israel, Kenya and Uganda.The only friends Somalia has are Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Djibouti, Egypt, Yemen and the Gulf states including Kuwait. Thanks Arab League, Iran and Turkey for everything.