ANALYSIS: London conference on Somalia must address bad governance
By Michael Logan Feb 22, 2012, 6:05 GMT
Nairobi - As politicians and officials from over 40 countries and international bodies prepare to descend on London Thursday for a conference aimed at addressing Somalia's many woes, the narrative being peddled is that a window of opportunity has opened up.
The 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre plunged Somalia into an unending cycle of violence and lawlessness that allowed piracy to flourish and helped last year's drought become a full-scale famine.
The conference aims to agree to a series of 'practical measures' on security, political progress, stability and humanitarian issues.
The problem is that the hopes of the conference rest on a crop of Somali politicians who have been running a regime described last year by the International Crisis Group (ICG) as 'inept, increasingly corrupt' and hobbled by the leadership of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
But at the same time, those who believe the time is ripe for change appear to have a point.
Islamist group al-Shabaab, which began its insurgency in early 2007, is finally on the back foot after years of penning the government into a small area of the capital Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab, which recently announced it had merged with al-Qaeda, has pulled out of Mogadishu and the 10,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in recent weeks ventured outside the capital for the first time.
Other pro-government forces and Kenya, which got involved late last year after a spate of kidnappings it blamed on the insurgents, are also gaining ground across the country.
One of the discussion points at the conference is increased funding for the AU mission, known as AMISOM, to boost it to the 17,700 soldiers requested.
European Union officials at a Brussels briefing said that the 10 million euros (13.2 million dollars) it spends per month to bankroll the force would have to be increased by 50 to 100 per cent to achieve this.
The argument can be made that more money will bring more gains - AMISOM has been demonstrably successful and the track record makes putting more cash down a relatively uncontroversial matter.
Equally, there is little outright resistance for plans to increase humanitarian aid to millions still dealing with the after-effects of last year's famine or attempts to put more pressure on the pirates.
Support for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has failed to bring stability since it was established in 2004, is thornier.
The TFG has been criticized for its merry-go-round of presidents, prime ministers and cabinets and is regularly accused of being a black hole into which donor cash disappears without trace.
The ICG last year called for the plug to be pulled on the government if it continued to achieve nothing. Yet diplomats hold to the position that this government is the best hope, and should be supported.
On the face of it, a deal signed over the weekend laying out a new federal system to be implemented after elections set for August is good news.
The new system envisages two houses of parliament, recognition of the breakaway states of Puntland and Galmudug and representation of all clans.
However tinkering with the system in the past has achieved nothing, as the politicians and former warlords who continue to fight - sometimes literally hitting each other in cabinet, as happened twice recently - are still hanging around.
Clan divisions remain strong and analysts are concerned about attempts by these extended families to carve off their own fiefdoms through the creation of mini-states.
Added to this is endemic corruption.
Abdizarak Fartaag, a former government officer, recently issued a report showing tens of millions of dollars were released from the Central Bank to individuals with absolutely no accountability.
Diplomats acknowledge this corruption, but accept it as the price of doing business despite the fact it has led to a massive loss of confidence amongst ordinary Somalis, who view the TFG as the lesser of two evils.
The conference hopes to establish a Joint Financial Management Board, which may help reduce the theft, and many hope that the increasing introduction of educated Somalis from the diaspora to government may increase the competence of the administration.
If al-Shabaab is on its way out, Somali commentators say it is time for the international community to force politicians to put aside their differences and lust for money to govern effectively.
'The London Conference on Somalia ... should finally articulate the unified determination and commitment of the key international actors on the formation of sovereign and effective governance in Somalia so that all corollary problems can be taken care off,' analyst Mohamed M Uluso wrote on Somali website Hiiraan Online.