London Conference Comes on the Heels of Somali History The Debt the British Owe to Somalis

At last, one of Somalia’s former colonial powers, Great Britain to be precise, could not stomach the pain that Somalia is causing to herself or to the rest of the World community. It was in that context that on November 14, 211, the Prime …Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, announced to his parliament of his government’s intent of hosting an international conference, the “London Conference” on ‘Somalia.
With about fifty countries, including EU donors and members of the Arab League, already pledging to attend, the multi-actor, London Conference would take place at Lancaster House on 23rd February 2012. The significance of the Conference lies in three areas:

1. The high profile of UK and its willingness to sponsor
2. The historical relationship between Somalis and Great Britain
3. The West’s geopolitical interest in stabilizing Somalia and the fight against the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabab terrorism and piracy
The expectations by the Somalis are very high. The Somali people’s expectation is succinctly expressed by the Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, Dr. AbdiWali M. Ali Gaas, who told AFP the following: “Somalia expects a lot from this conference. We expect the establishment of a trust fund for Somalia. We expect a complete reconstruction plan for Somalia. We expect a Marshall Plan for Somalia.” Such an expectation should include concrete measures dealing with the end of the transition period of Somalia, security, terrorism and piracy.

With over 250,000 Somali residents in the United Kingdom, who are part and parcel of the British fabric and the renewed geopolitical attractiveness of Somalia in the era of “war on terror, a new chapter in the Anglo-Somali relationships could not have come a better time.

Historical Timeline on Anglo-Somali Relationship

Great Britain possesses an unparalleled knowledge about and historical relationships with the country of Somalia, its people and culture. As far back as the 1800s, the Great explorer, Sir Richard Burton, was assessing about Somalis, their customs and system of traditional governance in a colonial expedition financed by the British Geographic Society. He was by all accounts one of the first white man Somalis have encountered in their own backyard. In 1884, Great Britain presided over the infamous partition of the Somali people into mini colonial entities administered by Great Britain, France, Italy and Ethiopia (ala British Somaliland, French Somali Coast (Djibouti), Italian Somaliland, Ethiopian Somaliland, respectively and later on Northern Frontier District of Kenya).

By 1910s, during which time Europe was embroiled in modern nationalism, Great Britain was locked in a bloody war with the pan Somali nationalist, Sayid Mohamed Abdullah Hassan. The highlight of this conflict is marked by the capture and eventual killing of Richard Cornfield of Great Britain by the Darwish soldiers, hence the piercing recitation of the poem of Cornfield or (a “farewell to General Cornfield” by Sayid Mohamed Abdullah Hassan).

Moreover, Somalia is a country which had shaped the political and professional resume of Winston Churchill. As the Under Secretary of State for Colonies (1905-1908), Churchill came to the port city of Barbara to observe and assess the war theater in Somaliland. The other legacy of the Anglo-Somali history is the aerial bombardment by Great Britain of Talex in Nugal, Somalia, which was at the time the military base of the Darwish movement– marking that bombardment the first time in African history for a colonial power to use aerial power.

In the late 1940s and at the closing days of Africa’s colonial chapter, the then foreign Minister of Great Britain, Earnest Bevin, member of the Labor party and Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, put a significant effort in promoting ways to reunify the Somali society and close a painful chapter of dislocation that his own country caused to the Somalis some one-hundred years ago. Secretary Bevin was not successful to advocate for the Somalis, mainly due to opposition to his Plan by Ethiopia. But his successor, the British colonial Secretary Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, was at least able to facilitate in February 1959 the unstoppable reunion of the two territories – British and Italian Somalilands, ultimately leading to the 1960 independence.

The post colonial state of Somalia had failed in 1990 in the hands of disparate warlords and marauding militia who kept looting Mogadishu for a number of years. Clansmen escaped to their homes of origin; Somaliland and Puntland declared secession and autonomy in 1992 and 1998, respectively.

Britain stood on the sidelines for the last 21 years when millions of Somalis were displaced in the hands of notorious warlords, Islamic radicals and foreign invasion, mainly its traditional enemy (Ethiopia). No one so far has taken responsibility or being indicted for all the mayhem, killings and lootings that continues to take place to date.

To change course in Somalia may take a complete reversal of political fortune. On November 14, 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron set in motion a potentially new chapter in the Anglo-Somali relationship. He did so by announcing to the world that Anglo-Somali history would not this time be one of “history repeats itself” in that the government of England would not replicate the marginalization policy to which Britain’s delegates at the Berlin Conference in 1884 adhered; Rather, he is promising to emulate one single predecessor in British history to whom Somalis till this day hold with high esteem – Secretary Earnest Bevin – whose papers in the British archives testify his sympathy for the legitimate cause of the Somali people in the Horn of Africa. It appears that Secretary David Cameron jumpstarted the “London Conference,” which, some hope, would pay back to the Somalis what Dr. Ali Hersi called a debt “the British owes to the Somalis.” That debt is for Britain to at least do Somalis right this time around.

Reconstructing Somalia’s Failed State

How does one define a failed state? Based on intricate indices, most notably conflict, security, economic, social development, and governance, there are over thirty failed states in the world. Incidentally, all the countries in the Horn of Africa region (Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Southern Sudan, Eretria, Uganda, etc.,) are categorized as failed states. Somalia is in the unenviable category of “most failed states,” an affair of state where all national and governmental institutions have collapsed beyond repair. Moreover, Somalia has practically disintegrated and it would require much work to politically reunite and carefully and skillfully knit together the extremely fractured social fabric and breathe life to its non-existent infrastructure, institutional framework for governance, and anarchic economy.

What are in the practitioners’ tool box to address the Somalia issue and help it rehabilitate and move it from a failed state category into a viable and vibrant nation state? Although this may take a life time with much hard work by nationals, also with national taking responsibility and behaving like adults as given factors, there are three tools to address Somalia’s predicament:

  • 1. A multi-Actor approach: The world community needs to marshal a multi-actor involvement in addressing Somalia’s security and redevelopment. Neither the UN nor the EU nor AU can do on individual basis. The magnitude of Somalia’s level of failure requires many honest actors. The London Conference under the sponsorship of the government of Great Britain represents such a multi actor approach, where fifty nations would gather to pledge to help Somalia. The gathering at the London Conference is the right approach.
  • 2. A unique tool to address Somalia is what its Prime Minister Dr. AbdiWali Ali Gas, an achieved economist and a former Professor calls a “Marshal Plan” for Somalia. This requires setting up for Somalia sustainable and implementable political and economic programs that are Somali-owned but shepherded and financed by the world community. 
  • 3. The third tool is a deliberate and methodical sequencing of issues and programs to deal with the multitude of problems that plagued Somalia at the local and national level. According to a RAND Corporation report that studied twenty-two post conflict reconstruction case studies, the following sequencing or prioritization of tasks was found to give best results:

Security – stabilize and resume security to cities and regions to an acceptable level.

Humanitarian Assistance – deal with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and bring back refuges home.

Basic Public Services – major cities shall begin providing basic public services.

Economic Stabilization – banks and other institution that integrate Somalia into the regional and world economy must be quickly reestablished.

Political Reform – a process of democratization must begin with a new, smaller and functional parliament in concert with a system of governance, in this case a federalist government.

Long Term Development – the world shall engage Somalia in a sustainable manner so as to not let it slide back to anarchy
This sequencing of Somalia’s reconstruction is in line with the Transitional Federal Government’s Roadmap as well as the articulation of the goals and objectives of the British Prime Minister. The two programs were reconciled when the foreign Minister of Great Britain recently visited Mogadishu in January 2012. Moreover, the recently concluded Garowe conference (February 17, 2012) institutionalizes the need for forging ahead with the Roadmap whose sequential tenants are as follows:

Security peace and expanding Stabilization areas
Assisting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with Humanitarian help, and repatriating over 2 million Somali refugees from Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen
Re-energizing and re-invigorating services in Mogadishu
Reforming the Transitional Parliament
Drafting and Completing a New Constitution

The London Conference should come up with a firm resolution to implement and complete the Somalia Roadmap as well as design a new roadmap for investing (politically and economically) in Somalia for the long term so that post London Conference agreements are sustainable. Resolutions from the Conference must underscore the need for making the process to be a Somali-owned process with the goals of establishing Somali national army, phasing out the AMISOM, establishing a Somali national coastguard to help protect Somalia’s coastal line.
Multi-actor approach to reconstruct the failed state of Somalia makes difference only when it is accompanied with multi-year implementation programs. Somalia needs a “Marshal Plan” with the intent of reinvigorating the Somali national state.
The understanding between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) and the British delegation that visited Mogadishu in Jan 24, 2012 to modify the initial goals and objectives of the British proposal shall guide the outcome of the London Conference in that the London Conference shall promote and help implement the goals and objectives of the Gorowe Principles.
Somaliland’s participation in the Conference must be viewed positive compliment to the Garowe conventions where all regional governments agreed in principles to forge ahead with endorsing the outcome of the London Conference. There is a need for closed sessions between the leaderships of the TFG and Somaliland, starting with preliminary confidence-building and possibly starting laying down the infrasturacture for future and sustained dialogue

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