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Tackling the security crisis in Somalia

Jane Ayeko-Kümmeth
May 17, 2017

As Somalia continues to suffer from ongoing violence and a possible famine in the near future, the international community is working together to address the country's poor state of affairs.

Somalia Al-Shabaab fighters
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/M. Sheikh Nor

On Wednesday the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Somalia. Earlier that morning three bomb disposal experts were killed by a car explosive near the capital of Mogadishu. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Islamist extremist group al-Shabab is known to frequently carry out similar attacks in the city.

DW spoke with Laura Hammond from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London about the situation in Somalia and possible outcomes of the meeting in New York.  

DW: What outcome can we expect from the Security Council meeting in New York?

Laura Hammond: Well I suspect that the discussion of the Security Council will be to review and lend support to the outcomes of the London Somalia Conference which was held last Thursday, in which all of the major donors to Somalia agreed to a common approach towards their collaboration with Somalia. So it's important that the Security Council members get behind that communiqué which came out of the meeting and that it bares the strength of the UN commitment in addition to the bilateral commitments that were made by independent states. I wouldn't expect very much of a new direction coming out of the meeting. More of a strengthening and resolve around the communiqué from the London conference.

Laura Hammond, SOAS
Laura Hammond is an expert on issues in the Horn of Africa from SOAS in LondonImage: privat

Somalia has been locked in conflict for decades. Several possible solutions have been laid out including the presence of AMISON troops, but the situation keeps bouncing back. Is it time to change approach?

I think there have been quite a lot of successes that Somalia can point to in the last couple of years. There is now a new administration which has not been popularly elected because it's still not possible to have popular elections, but they have a very strong commitment to tackling corruption and improving governance structures and to take very seriously the current challenges placed by the drought and the impending famine. I think that there are a lot of successes that can be pointed to, but clearly there are also a lot of challenges. The rebel movement al-Shabab remains in control of many of the rural areas and it's not been possible to achieve a military success there. One of the main outcomes of the meeting in London was to agree to a common, coordinated approach to a security architecture on Somalia that should really help to strengthen the formation of a strong national military presence in parts of Somalia. So far we've had a security situation in which the multiple clans and regional leaders have pledged their individual militias to work in the common interests of the national military, but there hasn't been a single command structure for a national military. I think that's what they are trying to work towards now and it would strengthen their hand. I wouldn't say an entirely new approach is needed, but a serious commitment to making good on the promises made in the last couple of weeks and some patience as well. It takes a long time to turn the situation around in a very durable way.

Can the Somali diaspora play a key role in peace building and reconstruction of their country?

The Somalia diaspora is already very much involved and one of the features of the meetings last week was a very well-attended side-event on the engagement of civil society in Somali reconstruction and stabilization efforts. The diaspora are involved at all levels of government. The president himself has come back from the diaspora in the United States and there are over 100 parliamentarians who are from the diaspora, so on a political level they are there. But also in the private sector are a couple of very important humanitarian efforts to try to raise funds and deliver assistance into areas where international humanitarian organizations have difficulty accessing to try to avert famine. One can see the mark of the diaspora in virtually any aspect of life in Somalia now.

Does the new Somali government have both the regional and international support that it needs to consolidate its position?

I think it does. I think the new president does not only have international support, but more importantly the support of Somalia. People for the most part are very pleased with the outcome of the selection process that has brought the president to power. The donor community is also very encouraged by the turn of events and the political situation in Somalia. I think there's a lot of good will and optimism to work with. One of the challenges it to maintain that enthusiasm to make sure that it results in the actual delivery of assistance that is pledged. Attacks like the recent one we saw outside Mogadishu can still be expected – al-Shabab is doing everything it can to discredit the new government and the international community's efforts to work against it and there will be for the foreseeable future moments of insecurity.

Whereas prompt humanitarian action has kept drought-ridden Somalia from sliding into famine, better security and increased access to remote areas may be needed to bring the country back from the brink. Is this an appropriate approach?

I think that it is. What it will take is a concerted effort and close coordination between those who have access and those who have the technical expertise and the ability to respond to similar kinds of crises. There is a lot more joined-up coordination that needs to take place. Probably capacity building as well on the part of those who are frontline responders who may not have as much experience. The Somali government has made a commitment to opening up the road network as a matter of urgency so that is very important in this context. But ultimately I also think it is going to take some kind of a recognition even on the part of the al-Shabab controlled areas that there is a greater need for famine relief and prevention which needs to be given priority above all political questions at a time like this.

Interview: Jane Ayeko Kümmeth 

Laura Hammond is a Horn of Africa expert from the Department of Development Studies at SOAS

London conference seeks stable Somalia