x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Turkey's turn to 'fix' Somalia

Even UN officials helping them arrange a three-day summit in Turkey to rethink solutions for the African state have reminded delegates not to expect any "magical negotiation".

A pro-government militant mans a checkpoint in Mogadishu on Saturday.
A pro-government militant mans a checkpoint in Mogadishu on Saturday.

NEW YORK // The Turkish hosts of a conference to be held in Istanbul this week on conflict, piracy and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Somalia say the event will offer policymakers an opportunity to "rethink" solutions for the war-torn nation. But even the UN officials helping Turkey arrange the three-day summit that begins on Friday have reminded delegates not to expect any "magical negotiation" that will resolve Somalia's long-running problems.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, will join regional leaders, businessmen and envoys from the African countries providing troops to peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. The hope is that new initiatives for reconstruction and job creation will be devised that will also help to bolster Somalia's weak transitional federal government. Ertugrul Apakan, Turkey's UN ambassador, said the meeting offers a "new opportunity for rethinking the Somalia issue" and signal international support for a western-backed government that is engaged in a power struggle against al Shabab and other hardline Islamist militias.

With the backing of 7,000 African Union peacekeepers, a mission known as Amisom, the transitional government controls only an area around the presidential palace in the capital, Mogadishu, the airport and the seaport. Lawlessness across much of the rest of the country allows pirates to launch raids on shipping passing through the Gulf of Aden and far out into the Indian Ocean. In 2009, 47 vessels with 837 crew members were taken, despite the presence of an international naval force.

Violence, poverty and drought have spawned a humanitarian crisis that has seen almost two million Somalis displaced within the country. There are overcrowded Somali refugee camps in nearby Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Announcing an appeal for US$60 million (Dh220m) last week, Alexander Aleinikoff, the deputy high commissioner of the UN's refugee agency, warned that a deep and long aid crisis could get worse.

"We need to be prepared for the possibility of continued instability in Somalia and the population displacement associated with that," Mr Aleinikoff said in Geneva. Somalia has been racked by civil war since rebels deposed the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Repeated attempts by UN peacekeepers and troops from the African Union and neighbouring Ethiopia have failed to bring stability. During the 1993 "Battle of Mogadishu", militia forces downed a US helicopter and killed US troops, some of whose bodies were dragged through the streets of the capital, an incident later portrayed in the book and film Black Hawk Down.

With Somalia split into clan fiefdoms and without a central government, the UN brokered the creation of the transitional government in 2004. But the transitional government failed to restore order, spawning instead a violent counter-reaction from al Shabab. In a sideswipe at international efforts, Somalia's deputy prime minister, Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim, told the UN Security Council in Manhattan last week that two decades of "reports, missions, statements, assessments, embargoes and a proliferation of conferences" had failed to improve conditions for Somalis. "It is high time that we come up with a paradigm shift that would look at the situation differently," he said.

Lynn Pascoe, the UN's head of political affairs, later told reporters that the transitional government was slowly making progress and would probably have 7,000 trained police officers under its control by July. "The pieces are coming together," he said. "We need a change from the pattern of 20 years of no governments, or very weak governments and chaos in the country. The secretary general does not accept as a fact that a country and its people can be abandoned or ignored by the international community just because of their difficulties."

Mr Pascoe reminded delegates that progress in Somalia would be "very slow and difficult". The transitional government, he said, would have to strengthen its institutions over a period of years before it could seek to establish control over the entire territory. "One should not expect some sort of magical negotiation which is just going to solve the problem quickly - all the history of Somalia defies that," he said. "There have been all kinds of agreements between groups that haven't worked."

Although analysts agree that the stabilisation of Somalia will be slow and painful, some, such as Bronwyn Burton, from the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York-based think tank, question whether world powers are willing to stay the distance. "The situation in Somalia is bleak and getting bleaker," she said. "Unfortunately, it's about admitting that we don't have a lot of control. We're not willing to send troops in. We're not willing to invest billions of dollars. The problem is not going to be solved without investment or resources so, options are really limited."

In her recent study, Somalia: A New Approach, Ms Burton argued that the transitional government was unlikely to become an effective government. She suggested that world powers could "coexist" with an Islamist leadership willing to permit entry of aid workers and tackle terrorism. jreinl@thenational.ae