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The London Conference on Somalia: A Limited Success

Despite notable absentees and inconsistencies, the gathering of world leaders made some hopeful steps.
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From left to right: TFG Prime Minister Dr Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Jean Ping at the London Conference on Somalia press conference.

London, UK:

The London Conference on Somalia was a success, according to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Agreements were reached on the end of the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and on the establishment of a new fund for reconstruction. Some things, however, were distinctly missing.

Contradicting colleagues

Firstly, there was clearly not full coherence or agreement amongst all the speakers. In the first part of the press conference, for example, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said he would welcome targeted air strikes over al-Shabaab-controlled areas. Just one hour later, however, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a separate press conference: “I’m not a military strategist, but I think I know enough to say that air strikes would not be a good idea. And I have no reason to believe anyone, certainly not the United States, is considering that.”

According to Ali Dahir, senior executive  at Somalia’s main media network Shabelle, coherence is also often lacking within the TFG. Over his 11 years experience observing Somali politics, he told Think Africa Press, “If the president makes a speech in Arabic and the prime minister makes a speech in English, they completely contradict each other.”

Notable absentees

Second, representatives from some Somali regions were notably absent. Dahir explained that figures from only 12 out of the 18 Somali regions that existed before state collapse were invited to join the London conference. This was also the case with the previous three conferences (Mogadishu, Garowe I and Garowe II).

“I think organisers don’t live in reality. You cannot fit all the Somalis in one room, but it has to be more inclusive,” Dahir explained. When he put this to the panel at the conference, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali responded by pointing out that the conference included all the representatives invited to the previous conference (Garowe II), plus people from the areas recently liberated from al-Shabaab control as well as from Jubaland. “This was the most inclusive conference ever in Somalia, and we will make it more inclusive as we go along,” he said.

The depth of the actual dialogue may also have been limited. Some media organisations such as SomaliReport managed to publish the conference’s final communiqué a day before the conference and the official statement released after the conference was practically unchanged.

Diplomatic fruits

The efforts in London did, however, bear some diplomatic fruits and make progress in certain areas. It was made clear, for example, that the TFG mandate will end in August 2012. The new government “will be much smaller, but more representative,” according to Hillary Clinton. She added that the US believes in a unified Somalia, and claimed that the US is confident the current situation can be changed.

“There is every reason to believe that given the right political environment the Somalis can govern themselves very well…We have no doubt that structured programming, the right kind of constitution, the right elections, the right people being elected will put Somalia in a much more secure path forward,” said Clinton. The “right” new government will also be 30% female.

A new fund to aid the reconstruction of the areas released from Al-Shabaab control was also created. The Local Stability Fund will receive contributions from the UK, Denmark, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. ”I hope other countries may be able to help support this over the coming weeks,” said Cameron.

Cameron also celebrated the approval of a UK-led resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council on the day preceding the conference. The resolution extends the mandate of African Union peacekeepers beyond Mogadishu and increases the number of troops from 12,000 to 17,731.

The Somalia London Conference will be followed by another international meeting in Istanbul in June 2012.

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