More than 53 nations come together on Thursday to discuss Somalia's future once the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in August. Host nation Britain has a strong security interest of its own.
No one in the international community wants to risk a power vacuum in a failing state that faces hunger and terrorism. Recent images of the fistfights in Somalia's parliament reminded observers that there is still a long way to go before the geostrategically important country at the Horn of Africa becomes a western-style democracy.
The long-overdue constitutional reform that is being shaped with the help of German lawyers is in dire need of fresh impetus. At the conference in London, the international community is trying to reanimate the peace process in Somalia. Among those expected to participate are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and US Foreign Minister Hillary Clinton.
A radicalized diaspora to become a security threat
Britain, the host nation of the conference, has a strong interest of its own in the region. An increasing number of young Somalis with British passports travel to the Horn of Africa to become terrorists. They are considered a major security threat, and Britain is especially concerned since it will be hosting the Olympics this summer.
The official announcement of al-Shabab formally joining al Qaeda earlier this month will definitely be on the agenda in London. The conference is going to try to bring together established Somalia actors with emerging Arabic players Qatar, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. The latter are complaining about a dominating US and its regional ally Ethiopia which are strictly opposed to talks with al-Shabab.
Talks or no talks with al-Shabab
"The US and countries such as Britain feel they shouldn't talk to al-Shabab because they are regarded as a terrorist organization," said Emmanuel Kisangani, Somalia analyst at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Nairobi. They fear that they would be legitimizing them once they agree to talks. But al-Shabab does indeed control a huge part of Somalia and is also considered a security player by the local population, he added. "If you only pursue a military solution to the Somali problem, you won't reach far."
In the meantime, Somalia's neighbors have taken matters into their own hands. Kenya's army has intervened sending troops into southern Somalia. With the tacit approval of the US and the regional body Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Ethiopia sent in soldiers, as it did in 2006 invoking "legitimate security interests."
The German delegation is also going to invoke security interests. The Germans will have a brand-new concept ready for Somalia. Germany supports the African Unions' peace and security council - Africa's decision-making body on the Somalia conflict. By opening an embassy in Djibouti, Germany wants to work on "regional stability on the Horn" in a more sustainable way.
The humanitarian crisis on the Horn of Africa has claimed more than 100,000 lives. Berlin believes that after 22 years of stagnation, there needs to be another attempt at solving Somalia's problems. Walter Lindner, Germany's Africa Commissioner says "Piracy, terrorism and migration from Somalia are things we have to address more strongly."
No road map once TFG's mandate has run out
The meeting in London which is explicitly not a donor conference had been criticized before it even started. There is no road map for the period after August 23 when the TGF's mandate expires, said Kisangani.
"I'm quite sceptical. What people want is for the current Transitional Federal Government's lifespan to come to an end. But so far, we have nothing that speaks about what exactly will happen after the end of the current Transitional Federal Government's time," he said.
Providing troops and financing AU's peace mission AMISOM will be one of the main topics of the conference. The UN Security Council wanted to adopt a new resolution prior to the conference which would bring troop levels up to 17,700. But this would require the allocation of more money to a mission that is already notoriously underfunded.
Just before the conference, the European Union hinted it would contribute "significant resources" in order to top up the mission's monthly budget of 10 million euros ($13 million). The Europeans are the biggest contributor to the mission and have spent one billion euros ($1.3 billion) on it over the past four years. Europe also engages in Somalia by fighting pirates on its "Atalanta" mission which will also be discussed at the conference.
A regional solution for regional problems
The international community will certainly agree with Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali who said that the conflict at the Horn of Africa will only be solved by involving Somalia's neighbors. He told DW prior to the conference that piracy, terrorism and lawlessness had spilled over into other parts of the region such as Kenya and Ethiopia. "Since it is a regional problem, it has to be addressed regionally," he said.
A problem which Britain appears reluctant to address is that the masterminds of the Somali pirates are within earshot of the conference in the City of London, Britain's financial hub. This - as well as the bank accounts and real estate held by many corrupt Somali politicians in Britain - could be hard to explain.
Some think one should be prepared to accept a modest outcome to this conference.
"We shouldn't set the bar too high, because it's a very complex conflict that has not been solved in 22 years," Germany's Africa Commissioner Walter Lindner said.
Author: Ludger Schadomsky /sst
Editor: Mark Caldwell