Last week Foreign Secretary William Hague made a surprise visit to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, ahead of an international conference on Somalia taking place in London this month. The visit comes at an important juncture for Somalia's internal politics and its relations with the rest of the world.
Twenty one years without functioning state institutions has left the country ravaged by violence, food insecurity, terrorism and extreme poverty. The current political authority, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), is internationally-recognized but ineffectual, controlling only a few kilometres within the capital city in a country more than twice the size of the UK. The TFG is supposed to be temporary, and is mandated to prepare the way for a democratically elected government to eventually take power, but it has become increasingly entrenched.
Somalia's status to use William Hague's words, 'the world most failed state', has thus far proved frustratingly difficult for the Somali people and the international community to change. However the Foreign Secretary's meetings with Somalia's president, prime minister, and the mayor of Mogadishu highlight Britain's ambition to galvanize a renewed international focus on finding a solution to Somalia's interlinked, and seemingly intractable, problems.
On 23 February, the London Conference on Somalia will involve high-ranking ministers from forty governments and representatives from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the United Nations to discuss the next steps for Somalia. There is no clear idea of what Somalia's political landscape will look like following the expiry of the TFG's mandate in August, and the looming political uncertainty is a concern for politicians internationally and within Somalia. What role the burgeoning number of self-declared regional entities within Somalia should play in efforts to find a stable political solution is one of the key items on the agenda.
It is the inclusion of this factor which offers hope for this latest effort by the international community. Since 1991, a number of sub-state entities have emerged within Somalia, establishing governments and a semblance of stability and security within their regional territories. There is increasing international recognition that the governments of these smaller entities offer valuable examples of how a 'bottom-up' process of establishing governance could happen in Somalia. Major international players are adopting a 'dual-track' strategy, liaising with the central government in Mogadishu but also with the established governments of these entities. Representatives from the governments of Somaliland in the north-west, Puntland in the north-east and Galmudug in central Somalia have been invited to participate in the London Conference.
At Chatham House last year, a meeting was held with members of the Somali diaspora and policy-makers to discuss the role which sub-national entities could play in Somalia’s political transition. A report from the event suggests that authority and legitimacy must be earned from the population, which is an advantage some of these entities have over the TFG.
William Hague is not the only high-ranking international official to have visited Somalia in the last year. Visits by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Iran's Foreign Minister demonstrate the increasing number of players, with differing foreign policy objectives, who are taking an interest in Somalia. This growing international interest makes it all the more important that it is the voice of Somalis themselves which predominates in the joint effort to establish stability, security and development for a country which has long lacked all three.
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