Some reflections on the Istanbul II International Conference on Somalia
From 26th May to 2nd June 2012, Istanbul hosted a landmark event that will be recorded as a turning point in the modern history of Somalia. A conference unlike any other held in the last twenty first years. A sense of great relief and comfort overwhelmed every one of the participants and a hope of a rebirth of the nation was vivid in the hearts and minds of each: no more special interests and hidden agendas to manipulate Somali crises for the promotion of hegemonistic ambitions.
The event was composed of three parts: the first was a gathering of the Somali civil society that took place 26th to 30th May. The second was a one day conference held on 31st May, attended by donors, international organisations, United Nations specialised agencies, Turkish agencies tasked with cooperation and development, and the Somali private sector. They had the goal of planning and agreeing projects related to alleviating poverty, building infrastructure and the reconstruction of the country. The third conference was a high level meeting of 57 representatives of governments, international and regional organisations, and UN specialised agencies.
The Somali civil society conference
The main objectives of the first conference which was under the theme “Preparing Somalia’s Future: Goals for 2015” to enable Somalis of all political persuasions, including traditional elders, regions, Diasporas, women, youth, religious scholars, and academics to form a common vision for national reconciliation, and to determine how the transitional institutions should end, the shape of the country in the post- transition period, a longterm programme of state-building, and a plan for the development of national resources. The overall intention was to eliminate the root causes of insecurity, to create a national public opinion favourable to achieving peace and stability, and to harmonise and mobilise international support and resources towards realising these goals.
The Istanbul gathering of the Somali civil society was inaugurated by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Dovutoglu, who delivered a passionate and moving speech of which the main points were:
- It is a strategic choice of Turkey to help Somalia to be a country of stability and peace, a condition that can be achieved only through national unity and reconciliation.
- Turkey’s aim is the establishment of a new political system based on an efficient, inclusive government of national unity.
- A new, comprehensive economic reconstruction strategy will be laid out aimed at planning, coordinating and managing the exploitation of Somalia’s rich natural resources by, and for the benefit of, the Somalis.
- A high priority is to rebuild a unified Somali security force under one command, without which no economic revival or business activity is possible.
- Turkey will help Somalia to restore its status in the international community and to lift the isolation that is imposed on it.
Dr Abdulwali Mohamed, Prime Minister of Somalia, also spoke, recollecting the historical and cultural ties that united the two countries for over 500 years, and how the visit of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan was a turning point in the modern history of Somalia. He commended the huge assistance given by the Republic of Turkey to Somalia and paid tribute to the initiative of convening this international conference in an effort to lead the process of the reconstruction of Somalia.
The star of the conference was the honourable Abdirizak Hagi Hussein, a 90 year old, well-respected statesman, who was Somali Prime Minister in the period 1964-1967. He had been a staunch fighter for independence, and a formidable reformer who battled against corruption and struggled to build a modern state. He was honoured by the conference for the role he played during his premiership, to develop the state machinery. He was acclaimed for coining in the Somali language, in those early years of independence, slogans of ’accountability, efficiency, integrity’ and ‘the right man in the right place’ (hufnaan, karti,).
He paid tribute to Turkey for its support for Somalia, and analysed the causes of the turbulent last four decades of Somali history, the role of Ethiopia in destabilising Somalia, and the motive behind the establishment of Somaliland and Puntland as an attempt to undermine the integrity and unity of Somalia. He described how both regions are controlled by Ethiopia, to the extent that Ethiopian officers are running the intelligence apparatus. He criticised the current state of affairs, the move towards federalism, the process of drafting the new constitution and the political process in the transitional institutions. Finally, he called for support for the end of the transitional stage in order to pass to a new phase of a legitimate, permanent and viable state, capable of satisfying the needs and aspirations of the Somali people.
One important feature of the Somali civil society gathering was the vibrant, sincere and frank dialogue that took place between the participants representing all shades of opinion on one side, and Somali traditional elders on the other. Though sometimes tensions erupted, in the end consensus was reached on the major issues such as reconciliation, conclusion of the transitional mandate, establishment of the Somali security institutions, economic reconstruction and social development. But there was disagreement over the preparation of the draft constitution, which was accused of being shrouded in secrecy, pushed through in haste, prepared in a foreign country by foreigners behind the back of the Somali people.
One thorny issue was Federalism. There was a general repugnance to it since it is considered to be foreign-engendered and liable to cause destabilisation, though no one objected to the idea of establishing devolved and decentralised regions that are economically viable, vibrant and prosperous. The only exception to this was a statement made by the spokesman of the regions of Bay and Bakol, who declared in the strongest terms that they staunchly adhere to the idea of federalism for their regions.
There were moments of alarm and anxiety when news came that a minister of the Transitional Federal Government and regional entities had expressed displeasure about the civil society conference, accusing its participants of being unrepresentative and ‘saboteurs’. However, the crisis was averted when the conference made a declaration of its aims and objectives.
The reason behind this apprehension lies in the fear of the emergence of a new political approach that might undermine the Mbagati Charter upon which the institutions of the TFG are built. (This charter reduced the Somali national identity to a bunch of tribes, each enclosed in ‘federal states’, on the model of Puntland and Somaliland. Later on, it transpired that the entire leadership of Somalia was meeting in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Africa Union on the subject of the end of the transitional mandate, and where it was subject to intensive pressure from Ethiopia to boycott the Istanbul conference.
Never before in the modern history of Somalia has such a variety of segments of society met together in a friendly milieu to reach a consensus on the shape of the future of their country at a very crucial moment in their history. The foundation of a durable reconciliation was laid down. The hearts and minds of Somalis had changed decisively. A unity of purpose and a common vision was formed, of building a sovereign, united, just, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Somalia.
The Conference on Infrastructure Development
Another conference of huge importance was held on 31st May, which was purely technical and the participants were international and regional organisations, World Bank, TFG, Somali business community and the Turkish agencies concerned with development and cooperation. Highly technical reports on reconstruction, building infrastructure, addressing natural disasters and humanitarian assistance were discussed. Conclusions were drawn on enhancing resilience of Somali households and communities, development of water resources, rehabilitation and construction of roads, and measures to be taken to call upon the United Nations and other international organisations to urgently mitigate energy poverty.
The Summit Conference
The most important event was the conference of 1 June which was presided by the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, who delivered a warm and welcoming speech. Other dignitaries who took part were the President of the Republic of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, who commended the role and the achievements of Turkey in Somalia. Representatives of 57 states consisting of Heads of State, Prime Ministers, Minsters and high officials took part. 11 international and regional organisations attended. It was the biggest demonstration of support and solidarity towards Somalia ever displayed.
The tone of the final communiqué was optimistic and promising for the future of Somalia. It reaffirmed respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity of Somalia. This resolution has a very particular resonance to the ears of the Somalis, since their country was subject to foreign interference for over 20 years, and is still exposed to all kinds of interventions in the name of fighting terrorism, while in fact pursuing sinister aims. The communiqué focused also on major issues related the revival, reconstruction and state building.
Importantly, there was a paragraph relating to the reestablishment of the Somali security institutions. It stated the need to support the reconstitution of a professional, inclusive, disciplined and well-equipped security apparatus, including a national army, police force, navy, coast guard and intelligence service under a unified command, as well as mechanisms to ensure civilian oversight of the security sector.
It is the first time that we read such an undertaking in an international document. The project of building a national army is the cornerstone for peace, stability, economic survival and development, progress and prosperity. Credit goes to the initiative and effort of Turkey.
The most significant feat of the Istanbul conference that outweighs any other achievement is the statement made by the Turkish Prime Minister, in a joint press conference with the Somali Prime Minister Abdilwali Mohamed Ali, in which he said “Turkey considers Somalia as a strategic ally and will continue solidarity in the fields of economy, commerce, culture and politics with determination. He further went on, “Somalia’s problems could be solved by formulas of the Somali people”.
The Somali Prime Minister’s reply was similarly powerful and reflected the conscience of his people when he said, “Somalia is Turkey’s strategic partner and we have 100 percent full faith in our relations with Turkey”.
From now on we will no longer be an isolated and outcast country, but a nation with full dignity, respected and supported by a state with the resources and prestige of Turkey. The allusion to the foreign formulas is an eloquent reminder to the foreign spoilers who may try to obstruct the determined will of the Somali people to unity, progress and statehood.
This statement, which missed the attention of observers, is to my opinion the peak of all the accomplishments brought about in the historic conference of Istanbul.
During my stay in Istanbul, I was following with joy the Turkish English-language newspaper “Hurriyet Daily News” which gave extensive coverage to the activities of the conference as well as writing wonderful articles on the friendship and historical ties that bind both countries, as well as the prospects for Somalia if her natural resources are developed. One article that attracted my attention, entitled “Somalia may rise from the ashes” and written by Serdar Cam, Head of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, spoke enthusiastically of the Somali economic potential.
He said, “Somalia has the potential to become a regional trade hub along the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden through the implementation of a wise development plan and the devoted hard work of Somalis inside and outside the country.”
He underlined the importance of opening all transportation channels from and to Somalia to be able to trade with neighbouring and other countries. The country had huge potential, especially in the fields of animal breeding, fisheries, forestry and agriculture, if these transportation channels are opened. It could even be considered for a future free trade zone. He concluded “I am of the opinion that this process of reconstruction will bear fruit within two to three years”.
The one week visit I have had in Istanbul, the second in my life, helped me discover the weight of Turkey as a big player in the international relations, its huge economic potentiality, its rich history and civilisation as demonstrated by its museums, monuments, memorable buildings as well as touristic attractions. I enjoyed every minute of my stay there, the lavish hospitality, delicious food, healthy climate, fresh air and the beautiful scenery of the sea, nature and modernity. I relished the scent of the past, the majesty of the modernity and the sense of confidence in the future it wants to achieve for itself and its role in her region and in the world at large.
I am so proud that at the end my country after two decades of maelstrom has found a friend indeed, a true friend and has established strategic alliance with such a great nation.