04 July, 2012

Political progress brings small window of hope in Somalia

Political progress brings small window of hope in Somalia

International naval action must be combined with political rebuilding and strong support for the Somali coastguard
By Francis Matthew, Editor at Large
Published: 00:00 July 5, 2012

Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

There is a small window of hope in Somalia as the African Union forces in Amisom, combined with troops from Ethiopia and Kenya, have succeeded in driving back Al Shabab militia from the capital Mogadishu and large areas of south and central Somalia. This comes at a time when a complicated process of rebuilding political direction gathers momentum.

Many of the leading participants in the process were in Dubai last week for the 2nd Counter Piracy Conference. The UAE contributed to the gathering momentum by facilitating the first meeting for over 20 years between Somalia and Somaliland, when President Shaikh Sharif Shaikh Ahmad of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and Somaliland President Ahmad Mohammad Silyano formally endorsed a process of mutual talks in the presence of Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

The Dubai meeting followed a restart of the whole process at a conference in London in February this year. This was followed by a gathering in Istanbul, followed by Nairobi in mid-June when the presidents of Somalia, Puntland and Gualmadug and a representative of the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma militia all signed an agreement on how to create a more permanent constitution. The diplomatic caravan moved to Rome this week to focus on coordinating support from international donors.

The Nairobi meeting was not attended by the government of Somaliland, the independent territory in the northwest, which has achieved substantial political stability and economic progress on its own. It is wary of getting sucked back into the chaos. Therefore it was a significant achievement that the UAE got Silyano of Somaliland to meet Shaikh Ahmad of Somalia in Dubai.

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The UAE has two reasons to help solve the chaos in Somalia. The first is the major political problem of having a failed state exporting violence and destablising the region. The UAE is also a major maritime trading nation with significant interest in restoring law and order in the high seas, as spelt out by Sultan Ahmad Bin Sulayem, Chairman of DP World. He pointed out that the Arabian Gulf is being held to ransom by a small group of pirates, who have cost international trade a total of $6.9 billion (Dh25.32 billion.

British Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham told Gulf News in Dubai that the London conference in February this year had been vital to galvanising the whole international effort. He described how important it was that the Transitional Federal Government joined the process, since many in the international community were nervous that it might well decide to sit it out, as its predecessors had done for years.

Bellingham’s overview of events this year listed four strands of action. The first was support for the political process of gathering the constituent assembly of traditional leaders, moving on to a new parliament and a new president.

The second was to build better coordination between the major development donors, so that the various efforts to support Somalia follow the same broad strategy. In particular, Bellingham pointed out, it will be important for people to see progress in the coastal communities, and give them some hope for the future.

The third strand was recognising the military progress, and linking that to building stability as communities will need to see a quick peace dividend.

The fourth strand was how to tackle the pirates operating out of Somali territories. Bellingham described a regional agreement between the maritime neighbours of Somalia, including Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, and the Seychelles, under which pirates will be captured, detained, prosecuted and imprisoned. This regional prosecution capacity allows all the states to share the burden of prisons, and in addition, prisons have been upgraded in Somaliland and Puntland.

But in addition to the presence of world navies in the Arabian sea, action by Somali coastguards remains vital to stopping piracy. This is the importance of the EU’s new programme costing €28 million to support the Somali coastguard with both vessels and maintenance. The importance of support for the coastguard was recognised by the UAE when it announced a further $1 million package at the Dubai conference.


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