Last Thursday’s London Somalia Conference has been dismissed as having broken no new ground, and recycling the same tired old rhetoric. Wrong. The big story at the conference was precisely in the photo opportunities, and the actions that the regional players in the region took so that they could look strong on the world stage in London.
The pictures of the London meeting tell the story. The “high table” and front row in the photos was given, in addition to British Prime Minister David Cameron, to the regional power brokers in Somalia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, the “big boys,” were always together to the right in the front. Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, was often in a row or two back — by fact of his shyness, not lack of clout on Somalia. And to the left edge, the leader of one of the newer members of Amisom — Djibouti’s President Ismael Omar Guelleh.
In most of the photos, Museveni wears the arrogant bored look of someone who has nothing to prove. It was his moment of vindication.
The June 2011 Somalia Conference in Kampala that extended by one year the life of the Transitional Federal Government, and from which Abdiweli Mohamed Ali emerged as the new Prime Minister, was definitely more important than the London meet. So was the April 2011 9th Extraordinary Summit of the East African Community heads of state in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, that signalled a shift to a more aggressive posture toward the Al Shabaab militants, and was the first high level group anywhere to suggest that the TFG should get an extension.
Nevertheless, the London Conference was significant, because for the first time, it brought together all the international players who have a stake in Somalia, but have been hiding their hand.
Secondly, it was an acknowledgement of an important fact — the African Union through its peace-enforcement force Amisom (comprising Uganda and Burundi forces), Kenya, and Ethiopia, had broken the back of what the world had come to view as an intractable problem. And though, as President Museveni once said, London represented the continued attempt by the Western powers to grab the glory from a Somalia promise that has been brought about through an “African solution,” it is important that Africa can offer leadership.
At the end of the conference, Oxfam International issued a statement that, while correct in evaluating the outcome in bread and butter terms for the Somalis, curiously failed to note how it would not have happened without the actions by African forces on the ground.
“While we recognise the huge efforts of the UK Government to make the conference a success, what we had hoped for was a recognition that 20 years of internationally imposed solutions have failed. However, what we’ve seen once again are externally driven solutions that haven’t worked, aren’t working and will not work.