Sunday, 28 April 2013

Somalia Conference in London (Take Two)

It feels a bit like déjà vu. It feels a bit like last year. Another big Somalia Conference is being held in London - last year it was on February 23, this year it's on May 7. It's being held in the same venue, Lancaster House and, just like last year, lots of heads of state and other bigwigs have been invited.

British officials keep telling me this conference is different. Unlike the one last year, which was hosted by the British prime minister, David Cameron, this one will be hosted by both Mr Cameron and the (relatively) new Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Some British officials are so keen to stress that the conference is, in part at least, 'Somali owned' that large Somali flags emblazon the bottom of their emails. Sometimes I get confused, and think I have received an email from someone in the Somali government, not the British one.


Somali flags emblazon the bottom of emails from British officials

And, just like last year, the UK has caught Somali Fever. A seemingly endless series of Somali-related events has been organised, ranging from posh dinners with the president to angry protests by angry self-declared Somali states.

The conference itself has three main aims:

1. The Somali government is expected to 'share its plans' for developing Somalia's military, police, justice sector and public financial management systems.

2. The 'international community' is supposed to reach an agreement on how to support the implementation of the Somali government's plans.

3. The Somali government is expected to outline how it plans to resolve the outstanding political issues within Somalia (does this include Somaliland, or does it refer to other 'issues' including Jubbaland, Puntland, Galmudug, Khatumo State, areas controlled by Ahlu-Sunna-wa-Jamaa, areas controlled by Al Shabaab, areas occupied by pirates, areas 'secured' by Ethiopians, Kenyans, Burundians, Ugandans, Sierra Leoneans, Djiboutians, Nigerians, Bancroft, etc, etc?).

The conference is also expected to:

4. 'Welcome' dialogue between 'the Federal Government of Somalia and Somaliland' to 'build trust and cooperation. (The two presidents met recently in Turkey, but Britain has been finding it difficult to convince Somaliland to come to the conference).

5. Endorse the UN Security Council resolution which extends the mandate of AMISOM forces in Somalia.

6. Endorse another UN resolution mandating a new UN mission for Somalia. (I wonder what will happen to the head of UN mission, Augustine Mahiga?)

7. Agree what it calls a 'package of support' for Somalia on preventing sexual violence. (Remember a Somali woman was this year jailed in Mogadishu for saying she had been gang raped by members of the Somali armed forces - she has since been cleared of the charges and released. One of her alleged crimes was insulting the government.)

8. 'Hear the latest' on the Somali government's maritime strategy.

9. 'Emphasise the importance of the orderly and voluntary return of refugees to Somalia' and 'look forward' to an event on this issue to be hosted by Somalia, Kenya and the UN. (Kenya last year ordered Somali refugees to leave urban areas and go to the huge Dadaab camp in the east of the country. The UK, US and other countries are also hotting up on efforts to deport Somalis.)

Of course, the conference will have to have an 'outcome'. I expect the 50 or so countries and organisations will pledge their support for the initiatives discussed in Lancaster House, and perhaps offer some more money. But Somalia is featuring in so many big international events this year, that the London Conference will probably only be able to offer a relatively small slice of the cake. Other pledges and financial commitments have to be saved up for the other big meetings later this year, including the Tokyo conference on African development and an EU conference on a new deal for fragile states (which Somalia has already embraced).




Days before the conference, the Islamist militia Al Shabaab announced a 'week of hell' in Somalia, urging "the mujahideen to increase the number of martyrdom operations so as to permanently cripple the weak apostate regime". As a result, the Somali authorities on May 1 closed the main roads in Mogadishu. They reopened them on May 4. The following day Al Shabaab carried out two big attacks. One -- at the busy Kilometre 4 roundabout -- targeted an interior ministry vehicle carrying a Qatari delegation. They escaped unharmed but a number of Somalis were killed, including a woman and her baby. A BBC colleague took these photos after the explosion, which was caused by a suicide car bomber:



Click on this link to see an interview I did with BBC television about the blast: Mary Harper on Mogadishu suicide attack

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