Tahir Remi writes from Mogadishu: The London Conference on Somalia is trying to do the impossible: create a viable state out of the tangled web of militias and tribal enmities. William Hague, on a recent visit, said that every building had bullet marks. This underlines one truth about Somalia: there are too many bullets, guns, mortars, tanks and artillery pieces around. No wonder there has been civil war for over twenty years. Al-Shabaab, the so-called Mujahedeen Youth Movement, is in control of most of the country. It has recently linked up with Al Qaeda. This makes it a target for Western intervention. Mr Hague has also said that Somalia is the world’s most failed state. It is also a humanitarian disaster as foreign relief agencies are denied access to the population in al-Shabaab controlled areas.
Last October, Kenya sent 2,000 troops into southern Somalia to chase away the terrorists who were badly damaging Kenya’s lucrative tourist trade. Somalis also inhabit northern Kenya so it was like going home for some of the soldiers. The Kenyan government boasted of wiping out al Shabaab in no time. A target was the port of Kismayo, one of the rebels’ bastions. It has just remained that: a target. Advancing in armoured personnel carriers and tanks does not faze them. Some think the Kenyans are keen to merge southern Somalia and Kenya. That would be one way of solving the security problem.
Somalia has the misfortune to have been ruled by the Italians, French and British at various times. It became a Soviet ally in its war against Ethiopia. Then Moscow changed sides as Ethiopia offered greater strategic advantages. After communism collapsed in Ethiopia, the Somalis began to fight among themselves. The vast arsenal fuelled endless conflict. In came Uncle Sam, fearing that the mildly pro-Islamic regime In Mogadishu would mutate into another Taliban. The Somali government which was imposed on the country consisted of previous warlords who took America’s money and prepared for the day they could seize power in their own name. Washington had to high tail it out ignominiously in the end.
The Somalis are astute people. They discovered that piracy was good business and extracted $7 billion from the world’s shipping last year. The country is strategically placed between the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. Yemen is an unending source of arms so smuggling is also a lucrative business.
The African Union put in about 12,000 troops to pacify the country. This increased the supply of arms as soldiers sold their weapons. The food supplied by aid agencies was taken by local officials and sold in the markets. There is talk of another 7,000 AU troops being sent. One bit of good news is that Baidoa, in the centre, has been reclaimed from the jihadis.
So what is this conference offering as solutions? After all, everything tried during the last 20 years has failed. The same old recipe of bringing security to the country before development can begin. The latter is impossible under present circumstances. How do you bring security to such a vast country? Occupy it. However no one has the stomach for such an imperialist solution.
The Salafists or jihadis are influential in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Will they allow their brothers to be driven out of Somalia? A question to ponder.
The tired, old solutions will be trotted out at the London Conference. They have failed twenty times in the past and will fail again.