Ali was excited. “Soon, I will be able to return home,” he exclaimed to me. This young man is a Somali refugee in South Africa who fled the violence in his country as a child with his parents. What triggered his excitement and the hope of return to his conflict-ridden country was a conference on Somalia convened in London by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The conference was holistic in scope – bringing together 55 countries and organisations. It is hoped that this will lead to greater coordination between the different actors as they attempt to end the violence and rebuild the strife-torn country. Often, one hears of holistic counter-terrorism approaches, but in practice they are hard to come by. The London conference is different, in that it has military, political and humanitarian dimensions. Furthermore, it is adopting a longer-term perspective focusing on rebuilding the Somali state, as opposed to just responding to the terrorist threat posed by Al Shabab and its alliance with Al Qaeda.
On the military front, the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of a further 5,700 African Union troops in Somalia. This would bring the AMISOM force to 17,700 and it is hoped that they would liberate more areas from Al Shabab control. On the political front, recognising the importance of a more inclusive government, the mandate of the TFG will expire in August paving the way for a more representative entity. This is crucial, given the clan-fractured nature of Somali society and polity.
On the humanitarian front, more aid was promised at the London conference with an emphasis on long-term needs as policy-makers consider not just the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction but also rebuilding a failed state. To this effect, 16 UN agencies are already working to alleviate the plight of Somalis. It is imperative to recognise that the provision of basic social services and the like is not only important to alleviate human suffering but also for the purposes of the consolidation of military gains through the acquisition of political legitimacy.
Whilst Al Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage denounced the London conference as another attempt to colonise Somalia – something which Al Shabab has pledged to resist, the fact is that Al Shabab is increasingly finding itself besieged by Ethiopian, Kenyan, Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces. Having been forced out of Mogadishu and its surroundings, Al Shabab last week also lost control over the key strategic town of Baidoa to Ethiopian and Somali troops. A naval blockade of Kismayo is on the cards in the coming weeks together with more aerial and land attacks on Al Shabab’s southern Somalia stronghold.
The ongoing military, diplomatic, political, and humanitarian surge might well represent Somalia’s best hope for peace. Perhaps Ali would have his wish and return to the country of his birth.