Nations must help Somalia’s fragile leadership tackle terrorism, piracy and hunger or be prepared to pay the price, British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned at an international conference on the troubled east African nation’s future.
About 50 nations and international organisations attended a one-day summit hosted by the Prime Minister in London, including Somalia’s Western-backed transitional government, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“For two decades Somalia has been torn apart by famine, bloodshed and some of the worst poverty on earth,” Mr Cameron said as he opened the talks.
“Pirates are disrupting vital trade routes and kidnapping tourists. Young minds are being poisoned by radicalism, breeding terrorism that is threatening the security of the whole world,” he told delegates. “If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so.”
Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years, but has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a long-time 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 soldiers – has been boosted by recent offensives against the al Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab. On Wednesday, the UN approved an increase in the size of the AU peacekeeping mission to about 17,700.
Despite tentative signs of progress, security officials warn of a continuing threat from Islamic militants who some fear could export terrorism to Europe and the United States.
Pirates continue to disrupt international shipping off Somalia’s coast, and currently hold seven vessels and 191 hostages.
Western nations hope the conference will encourage greater support for Somalia from the Arab world – and more prominent leadership from nations including Turkey and Qatar. The UN leader said that Turkey would host a follow-up summit on Somalia’s future in June.
Mrs Clinton said Somalia’s leaders must be offered help to plan the transfer of power to a stable government, with the transitional authority’s mandate due to expire in August.
“The Transitional Federal Government was always meant to be just that, transitional. It is past time for that transition to occur, and for Somalia to have a stable government,” Mrs Clinton said.
She also ruled out negotiations with militants, despite some calls to include al-Shabab – which holds territory in central and southern Somalia – in the nation’s political process.
Leaders of the breakaway republic of Somaliland attended the talks, but did not win the international recognition they crave. Some critics of Western efforts in Somalia have suggested that local administrations in Somaliland and neighbouring Puntland offer a better model for the entire country than attempts to create a central authority.
The London-based think-tank Chatham House said in a report issued last month that progress in Somaliland “has been incremental and not always smooth, but it has responded to local pressures, adapted over time and shown that local democracy is a viable foundation for state building”.