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The London Conference and Prospects for Peace and Stability in Somalia

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A Somali soldier patrols next to the burnt-out wreckage of a car that was used by suspected Al-Shabab fighters on 16 April 2017. AFP

The 11 May London Conference on Somalia comes at a time when prospects for peace and stability have substantially improved, even as the threat of famine looms. The meeting aims for a surge in humanitarian aid, a recommitment of international political support and to review a Somali National Security Plan that could increase the army’s numbers to 18,000 troops, reform the chain of command, and set a budget. But overall progress towards ending the country’s 25 years of conflict will require the new President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo and his government to display resolve in promoting better governance, tackling corruption, restarting the stalled national reconciliation process, facilitating dialogue among federal states to tackle territorial- and resource-driven conflicts and conduct a constitutional review.

Farmajo, elected amid a surge of hope in February, inherits a corrupt and dysfunctional state, riven by deep clan and factional divisions, and hemmed in by Al-Shabaab, a ten-year-old violent Islamist insurgency that is still the greatest threat to the country. Farmajo is therefore subject to the same pathologies that have undone previous administrations. But his situation is not entirely bleak. His predecessors established rudimentary institutional structures of a viable state and his administration comes into office with high public approval ratings. It is more diverse and relatively inclusive, with several effective specialised army units and significant progress in the federalisation project.

National and sub-national state-building cannot occur without a comprehensive political settlement and reconciliation. True, every government since 2000 has paid lip service to reconciliation, but all have balked at crucial implementation stages. National reconciliation shouldn’t be about restoring a romanticised, organic relationship among clans. Rather, it is about fostering peaceful resolution of conflicts, rebuilding cohesion and mutual solidarity, encouraging inclusive local governance, addressing disputes over resource and, where possible, seeking creative ways to address past crimes. To achieve this, the federal and state governments should be co-facilitators of a bottom-up reconciliation process, providing resources, security, strategic guidelines and oversight, even as it steers clear of controlling the process.

Progress has been made toward finalising a federal structure. But the process was initially both contested and designed to lock out certain minority clans from power. The federal government came late to the game, at times legitimised a flawed status quo and at others manipulated the process to benefit certain factions. Territorial claims, if addressed poorly or not at all, are liable to provoke armed conflict. The government now needs to do more to facilitate dialogue among federal states to resolve inter- and intra-clan power and address grievances regarding resource allocation, as well as to support the committee created to resolve border disputes. As important, it should finalise and make permanent the constitution that will formally delineate the division of power and resources among the federal government and the states.

Of course, Al-Shabaab lies at the core of the security crisis. While the movement has been dislodged from many of its south-central strongholds by regional troops serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), it remains resilient and adaptable – combining rural guerrilla insurgency tactics with a violent terror campaign that now extends beyond Somalia’s borders. It owes its longevity and resilience not so much to its military genius as to its capacity to exploit Somalia’s protracted disorder, deep social divisions and fractured politics. As long as these conditions persist, the group will be able to rebound. In addition to addressing those circumstances, the government, with the support of international allies, should devise a strategy aimed at persuading less hardline Al-Shabaab elements to abandon jihad – in particular by proposing a well-structured amnesty program among other incentives. Somalia’s partners should signal they will not veto any such initiative.

This is all the more important insofar as AMISOM troop contributing countries have signalled they are seeking an exit. In 2011-2015, they dislodged Al-Shabaab from most urban centres in a series of costly offensives but the mission cannot pacify the entire country. Its biggest setback was its Somali allies’ failure to backfill and stabilise liberated territories, much of which remains plagued by localised conflict and discontent. The drawdown, which could start in 2018, should be orderly and synchronised with implementation of a coherent Somali National Security Plan. These reforms to the security sector are under negotiation among AMISOM troop contributing countries, donors and the Somali government but could take years to negotiate and implement if they lack full support from both the federal government and federal states, or if they are not carefully coordinated by all the country’s security partners, particularly the “S6” – Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), European Union (EU), U. S., UK, and UN.

The government has drafted a national security strategy barely three months after coming into office. President Farmajo has staked his reputation on reform and upgrade of the Somali National Army. There are positive signs: recruitment and clan diversity within the army and police are improving; forces belonging to the federal states increasingly are being offered training placements and the army’s competence and combat effectiveness generally are improving. Yet the proliferation of parallel bilateral training programs has inadvertently created a number of challenges. Skill levels among the troops are inconsistent; some units are better paid and equipped than others, provoking frictions and undermining cohesion; structures designed to achieve greater coordination between national and federal state troops are deficient; and, despite attempts to ameliorate troop integration, unit cohesion, loyalty and morale, they remain far from optimal. All of which is compounded by old problems – indiscipline, perceived clan bias, desertions, corruption, including pilfering of fuel, equipment and ammunition, as well as a weak command chain.

These are but some of the many challenges facing Somalia. If the new government fails to fulfil hopes of better governance, less corruption, more work on reconciliation and addressing conflicts among federal states, it should come as no surprise were London to host another conference, with precisely similar aims, in 2023.

Briefing Room

Saving Somalia Through Debt Relief

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KEVIN WATKINS

Kevin Charles Watkins is the Chief Executive of Save the Children UK

Somalia needs humanitarian aid to stem its short-term suffering, but that cash will not break the country’s deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. To do that, the IMF must forgive Somalia’s crushing debt, just as it has for nearly every other heavily indebted poor country.

LONDON – Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, once asked his country’s creditors a blunt question: “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” That was in 1986, before the public campaigns and initiatives that removed much of Africa’s crushing and unpayable debt burden. But Nyerere’s question still hangs like a dark cloud over Somalia.

Over the last year, an unprecedented humanitarian effort has pulled Somalia back from the brink of famine. As the worst drought in living memory destroyed harvests and decimated livestock, almost $1 billion was mobilized in emergency aid for nutrition, health, and clean water provision. That aid saved many lives and prevented a slow-motion replay of the 2011 drought, when delayed international action resulted in nearly 260,000 deaths.

Yet, even after these recent efforts, Somalia’s fate hangs in the balance. Early warning systems are pointing to a prospective famine in 2018. Poor and erratic rains have left 2.5 million people facing an ongoing food crisis; some 400,000 children live with acute malnutrition; food prices are rising; and dry wells have left communities dependent on expensive trucked water.

Humanitarian aid remains essential. Almost half of Somalia’s 14 million people need support, according to UN agencies. But humanitarian aid, which is often volatile and overwhelmingly short-term, will not break the deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. If Somalia is to develop its health and education systems, economic infrastructure, and the social protection programs needed to build a more resilient future, it needs predictable, long-term development finance.

Debt represents a barrier to that finance. Somalia’s external debt is running at $5 billion. Creditors range from rich countries like the United States, France, and Italy, to regional governments and financial institutions, including the Arab Monetary Fund.

But Somalia’s debt also includes $325 million in arrears owed to the International Monetary Fund. And there’s the rub: countries in arrears to the IMF are ineligible to receive long-term financing from other sources, including the World Bank’s $75 billion concessional International Development Association (IDA) facility.

Much of the country’s current debt dates to the Cold War, when the world’s superpower rivalry played out in the Horn of Africa. Over 90% of Somalia’s debt burden is accounted for by arrears on credit advanced in the early 1980s, well before two-thirds of today’s Somali population was born.

Most of the lending then was directed to President Siad Barre as a reward for his abandonment of the Soviet Union and embrace of the West. Military credits figured prominently: over half of the $973 million in US debt is owed to the Department of Defense. Somalia got state-of-the-art weaponry, liberally financed by loans. The IMF was nudged into guaranteeing repayment through a structural adjustment program.  Repaying the debt today would cost every Somali man, woman, and child $361.

None of this would matter if Somalia had qualified for debt reduction. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), created in response to the great debt relief campaigns of the 1990s, has written off around $77 billion in debt for 36 countries. Somalia is one of just three countries that have yet to qualify. The reason: the arrears owed to the IMF. (Eritrea and Sudan have also not qualified, for similar reasons).

The IMF view is that Somalia, like earlier HIPC beneficiaries, should establish a track record of economic reform. This will delay a full debt write-off for up to three years, exclude Somalia from long-term development finance, and reinforce its dependence on emergency aid. Other creditors have endorsed this approach through silent consent.

Somalia deserves better. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government has demonstrated a commitment to economic reform, improved accountability, and transparency. For two years, it has adhered to an IMF program, achieving targets for improving public finance and the banking sector. More needs to be done, especially in terms of domestic resource mobilization. But this is the first Somali government to provide the international community with a window of opportunity to support recovery. We must capitalize on it.

Waiting three more years as Somalia ticks the IMF’s internal accounting boxes would be a triumph of bureaucratic complacency over human needs. Without international support, Somalia’s government lacks the resources needed to break the deadly cycle of drought, hunger, and poverty.

Somalia’s children need investment in health, nutrition, and schools now, not at some point in the indefinite future. Investing in irrigation and water management would boost productivity. With drought-related livestock and crop losses estimated at around $1.5 billion, government-supported cash payment programs would help aid recovery, strengthen resilience, and build trust.

The benefits of these investments would extend to security. Providing the hope that comes with education, health care, and the prospect of a job is a far more effective weapon than a drone to combat an insurgency that feeds on despair, poverty, joblessness, and the absence of basic services.

There is an alternative to IMF-sponsored inertia on debt relief. The World Bank and major creditors could convene a creditor summit to agree to terms for a prompt debt write-off. More immediately, the World Bank could seek its shareholders’ approval for a special mechanism – a “pre-arrears clearance grant” – that would enable Somalia to receive IDA financing. There is a precedent for this: In 2005, the US championed World Bank financing for Liberia, which at the time had significant IMF debt after emerging from civil war.

The technicalities can be discussed and the complexities resolved. But we should not lose sight of what is at stake. It is indefensible for the IMF and other creditors to obstruct Somalia’s access to financing because of arrears on a debt incurred three decades ago as much through reckless lending as through irresponsible borrowing.

Somalia’s children played no part in creating that debt. They should not have to pay for it with their futures.

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Briefing Room

UNSC votes to extend sanctions on Eritrea and Somalia

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The United Nations Security Council has voted to extend an arms embargo imposed on Eritrea and Somalia for allegedly supporting al-Shabaab. The decision comes barely a week after a panel of experts called for the lifting of sanctions particularly on Somalia. CGTN’s Liling Tan filed this report from New York

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Briefing Room

Somalia’s Humanitarian & Disaster Management Minister resigned citing “Confusion and Disorder”

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(GOOBJOOG NEWS) Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management Dr. Maryan Qasim said Wednesday she quit the job following what she termed as ‘confusion and disorder’ in government.

Addressing the media shortly after confirming her resignation to Goobjoog News, Dr. Qasim said she could not put up with the level of ‘confusion and disorderly manner in which the government operates’ but noted she was not in any way opposed to the government.

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