What Somalis are expecting from the International Conference on Somalia in Istanbul?
Turkey is hosting the Istanbul 2 International Conference on Somalia on 31 May-1 June. It is not the first initiative of its kind Turkey has embarked on. It has already hosted several International Conferences on Somalia that dealt with crucial components of the Somali issue, including humanitarian aid, development, political and security issues. Turkey has extended all types of assistance to Somalia so that the country could stand on its feet, and mobilised the International Community to look positively towards Somalia and to support it. What Turkey has done in sustaining Somalia during the worst famine in the region in 60 years has no parallel. The symbolic visit of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan to Mogadishu last August, the first by a head of government in 20 years, changed the course of history of our country, raised the morale of the Somalis, and reversed the way the International Community looked at Somalia.
The International Conference on Somalia in London on 23 February succeeded in bringing the Somali problem to the forefront of the international agenda. It unified the world view of the Somali issue and especially on security threats such as terrorism and piracy and the danger they pose to international maritime trade. However, our expectations of the Istanbul Conference are even higher and more ambitious. We are expecting it to face the causes of the Somali plight which underlie the instability, rather than the symptoms.
Somalia was condemned for being a failed state, but the truth is that Somalia was a victim rather than a culprit. We accept the blame that we managed our country badly, but the allegation was an attempt to hide the origin of the disaster that wreaked havoc on the Somali people. The convergence of two superpowers’ interests against Somalia during the cold war, the destabilisation engineered by regional countries, the tragic intervention by the U.N under the command of the U.S.A in the 90s, the vacuum created by the abrupt withdrawal of these forces without establishing any political arrangement for a legitimate governance framework, the violation of territorial integrity and sponsoring proxy tribal disputes and creating political realities on the ground, the financing, arming and manipulating of warlords, the dumping of toxic wastes and plundering of Somali marine resources by nations from all over the world, were the fundamental cause of the plight that befell the Somalis. The British Foreign Secretary put it diplomatically when he said, “We know that the international Community has not got it right in the past, and that we can easily make mistakes”.
Since the London Conference which sent a message of hope and confidence to the Somalis and the world, positive developments are unfolding rapidly in Somalia. Delegations representing major states are paying visits to Mogadishu to show support or open diplomatic missions. Security is taking root, business is booming and the Somalis from all the corners of the world are flocking to Somalia to repair their houses, restore their businesses and build their projects.
The Istanbul Conference will usher Somalia into a new phase: that of consolidating what has already been achieved and building on it. The constitutional arrangements for durable institutions are proceeding well. Turkey has close working relationships with all Somali stakeholders, including the insurgents, and they are in a good position to mediate and ensure satisfactory results, since there are no military solutions to the political problems. The conditions are mature for establishing an inclusive and broad-based political settlement on a national level that will lead Somalia to peace, stability and prosperity.
The root cause of the Somali crises is underdevelopment coupled with environmental degradation that causes cycles of natural catastrophes that wipe out the meagre economic resources. Their fallout is the political disputes that have ravaged the country for a long time. A revolutionary approach is needed, such as the plan sponsored by Turkey and with the Arab countries to build 650 wells, in the most needy areas in order to solve the recurrent problem of drought and famine. This initiative gives hope that more audacious enterprises may follow to kickstart a massive economic development, exploiting Somalia’s oil, mineral, agricultural and abundant livestock and marine resources. This endeavour will undoubtedly be the backbone for establishing and building a stable and modern Somali state.
In preparation for this Conference, Turkey has engaged relevant organs who have the authority, competence and resources, such as World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank, the International Labour Organisation as well as the Transitional Federal Government and the Somali business community. Following extensive consultations, they have decided to present jointly specific projects to the Conference for approval. These projects regarding energy, water, roads, and schemes to immunise the country against man-made and natural disasters, will lay the foundations for the take-off of the Somali economy. At the time of writing, nothing has been announced, but we are hopeful they will be groundbreaking, and will change the course of history. This is the only way to create jobs, to attract foreign investments and to commit people to work for peace and stability.
One of the reasons that led to the disintegration of the country was the break-up of the Somali national army and the police force in the last days of the military regime in the late 1990s. So the creation of security institutions are the sine qua non for a state to carry out its responsibility to protect the nation, secure internal peace, guarantee national cohesion, protect its borders, safeguard public order and tackle natural calamities. Our expectation is high that decisive decisions will be reached in building the Somali security institutions.
We expect the Istanbul Conference 2 to put an end to the transitional mandate, establish the foundations of a permanent political system underpinned by a broad-based inclusive representation of all Somali regions and all political and ethnic spectrum, accelerate the process of building the Somali security forces and justice sector, as well as building the capacity of the government and public institutions, and lay down the economic infrastructure of a viable Somali state that can satisfy the ambitions of its people and pave the way for a sustainable peace and stability.