The unprecedented show of support for the country’s fragile transitional government at an international donor conference in Brussels will go towards maintaining and enlarging an embattled 5,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, made up of Burundian and Ugandan troops, and towards training Somali security forces.
International donors pledged $213m on Thursday towards stabilising Somalia, galvanised by the threat to world trade posed by Somali pirates.
Ahmedou Ould Abdullah, the United Nations envoy to Somalia, said the commitments, led by the EU’s $72m (€56m, £49m), but which included a surprise pledge from Iraq, exceeded requests by about a third. He was as encouraged by the number of high-level international diplomats who showed up. Some delegates took this as a sign of a dawning realisation that naval vessels from around the world now patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean would be insufficient to curtail an epidemic of attacks by Somali pirates.
The attacks have pushed up shipping insurance costs and hampered international trade. “You cannot tackle piracy effectively at sea unless you tackle the root causes of piracy on land which [are] lawlessness and the insurgency,” Nicholas Bwakira, the African Union envoy to Somalia, told the Financial Times. He and other delegates expressed optimism that Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the new Somali president and erstwhile leader of a 2006 ruling coalition of Islamists, was making real efforts to reconcile warring clans, and re-establish the authority of the state.
There have been 15 past attempts to create a viable national government since the 1992 overthrow of Siad Barré led to the collapse of Somali state institutions and the descent into clan war. The bitter experience of US troops and UN peacekeeping troops, who were forced into a humiliating withdrawal in the early 1990s, has deterred greater international intervention to halt the resulting humanitarian crisis and help Somalis rebuild the state.
But recent pirate attacks and the success of Islamist insurgents, some of whom are allegedly connected to al-Qaeda, appears to have put Somalia back on the radar. More than 60 countries were represented at Thursday’s’s conference. This saw Sheikh Sharif flanked by Ban ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, and Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, among other international officials.
Mr Sharif and a coalition of other mainly Islamist Somalis were driven out of the country when Ethiopian troops invaded in 2006, with support from Washington. But the presence of the Ethiopian troops fuelled an Islamist insurgency which has increasingly drawn support from foreign jihadist elements. The Ethiopians have now withdrawn, but left insurgents in control of large parts of southern and central Somalia. They have continued attacks against the transitional government in Mogadishu, the capital, in spite of Mr Sharif’s own Islamist credentials and his efforts to promote broader reconciliation.
Mohamed Abdullahi Omar, Somalia’s foreign minister, said he believed a popular decision by parliament last weekend to implement Islamist Sharia law as national law, would undermine support for the insurgents, some of whom are fighting for just that. In an interview with the FT, he said the real answer to the threat of piracy was to fund and equip Somali forces capable of patrolling their own waters, and taking the fight to the pirates in their bases on land. “We could do this at 1 per cent of the cost of keeping the international flotilla in the water,” he said.