Somalia: Verbal declarations of support are not enough
Over several months, in a whole series of resolutions from IGAD, the AU Peace and Security Council and the AU Heads of State and Government Summit, and most recently with last week’s International Contact Group (ICG) declaration in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the international community has time and again announced its readiness to support Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in its efforts to restore peace and stability in Somalia. Indeed, there is an impressive consensus of support within the international community for the TFG and for Somalia. However this has still not translated into the necessary material support when considering the enormity of the challenges faced by the TFG and its allies. By contrast, the opponents of the TFG, the combined extremist forces of Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam with Al Qaeda operatives, have been continuing to receive unlimited and unchecked support. This has allowed them to take advantage of the lack of sufficient, concrete assistance from the international community to the TFG and its allies. The situation has created a balance that clearly favors extremists and needs to be addressed urgently by the international community.
The increasing security threats and the associated problems of statelessness emanating from Somalia are not confined to Somalia or indeed to the region. There has been a succession of terrorist attacks in Somaliland and Puntland as well as in Mogadishu, Belet Weyne and other towns in Somalia, many under the guidance of foreign nationals of Somali origin coming from Europe and America. Significant numbers of foreign fighters have been appearing in Somalia in recent months. Al-Shabaab itself has also been making threats against a whole series of countries in the region, in Africa and even more widely.
The solidarity and support shown to the TFG and to Somalia in general has so far been largely focused on the political and diplomatic arena. This may have created unprecedented verbal support and a favorable international environment for the Government of Somalia. There have been successive resolutions at the regional and continental level in support of the TFG. Now the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its continued support to extremists who have been openly working to undermine the TFG and the international efforts to restore peace and security in Somalia.
This may all sound impressive, but it fails to provide what the TFG actually needs: more resources, more practical support and above all more security assistance. Unless the international community is prepared to exert more realistic and coordinated efforts to assist the TFG and help resolve its security problems, it will remain difficult for the Government to exert its control. There is certainly a need for the TFG itself to demonstrate more progress and engage more actively with its actual and potential allies in overcoming the challenges posed by Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam group. Equally, the TFG needs to re-emphasize its links with supporters of peace in Somalia including Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamma, the administration of Puntland, the different clan militias, the business community and civil society. There is currently a real opportunity to do this following the December 3rd suicide bombing in Mogadishu which has shocked all Somalis, and demonstrated the true nature of Al-Shabaab’s barbarism, its lack of interest in innocent Somali lives, and, indeed, its un-Islamic behavior. It underlined the fact that Al-Shabaab has become dominated by foreign extremists whose agenda is no longer related to Somalia.
Increased practical support to the TFG from the international community would now provide a great opportunity to change the situation for the better. At the Brussels donor’s conference on Somalia in April more than $200 million USD was promised. What has been delivered is too small to have had any real impact. On Monday, President Sheikh Sharif opened the 10th session of the Somali Parliament in Mogadishu. He told MPs that the Government had “only received $3 million from the huge sum of money promised by the world”. He called on donors to “fulfill their pledges to the Somali people who are currently facing brutal radicals bent on destabilizing not only Somalia but the entire region”. Dressed in a military uniform, the President told MPs that establishing security was the principal priority for the Government, and it was making considerable progress in this direction, recruiting and training Somali National Forces and appointing a new leadership. He said the Government had recruited enough troops to take on the extremists, but called on Somaliland and Puntland to join forces with the TFG in the fight against Al Qaeda which was, he said, a menace to all Somalis. Certainly, without greater immediate and practical support from the international community miracles cannot be expected of the TFG and its allies. If the international community is serious in its repeated protestations of support, it must be time for it to put its money where its mouth is, and provide the resources the TFG needs on the ground to defeat Al-Shabaab and its extremist allies.
We say all this not because we are convinced that the TFG itself has no weaknesses. It has. But it is critical that we all recognize that the context within which the TFG operates in Somalia should be taken into account. Context really matters. What the TFG is facing today is not a normal challenge. What we have in Somalia is rather an emergency situation and that is exactly how the need to provide support to the TFG should be taken.