The European Union, the biggest financier of the Somalia peace process, is looking for ways of engaging the new government. EU’s ambassador to Somalia, Veronique Lorenzo, shared the bloc’s plans with Fred Oluoch.
What does the outcome of the recent presidential election mean for EU relations with Somalia?
We are happy that we finally came to the end of the long-drawn out electoral process. There were security concerns, intimidation of candidates and allegations of manipulation.
However, having a successful election makes our work easier as partners. We will work closely with the new president to establish strong relations with the federal member states, the sub-region and with the broader international community. The president himself has identified his priorities: Security, better governance and reconciliation.
Are you hoping to see a new phase of Somalia after the recent elections?
Yes. Though it is an uphill road, the uncertainty is now over; the next step is for the prime minister to form a Cabinet that would include the right mix of skills and experience to drive the reforms. We are happy that the president has called on parliament to complete the constitutional reform as a priority. There have been delays on constitutional reforms in the past few years and we need a fresh drive to complete the process. We have been the biggest funders of all the work on the Constitution and we continue to be a strong supporter of parliament?
What is the level of EU support to Somalia?
Since 2008, we have committed $1.3 billion in Somalia, or about $127 million annually on the three sectors in our development strategy: Governance and rule of law; education, which we consider the seed for Somalia’s future; and food security, which is more important now with the ongoing drought. Security and education are more capital-intensive.
What is the EU doing to help Somalia cope with the current drought?
In November last year, we started planning for the drought because the most important thing is to be able to intervene in time before people become destitute. We are looking at how to re-orient the ongoing programmes to address the drought crisis through our humanitarian agency ECHO, whose annual allocation is being increased by 50 per cent this year to $35 million.
Our development programme has $93 million and we are working on how to best to re-orient this facility to serve the needs of the Somalia people. Currently, we have about $127 million to address the drought, is through improving water access points and direct cash payments to secure people’s livelihood, while improving in the long-term people’s resilience to natural disasters. We know the needs are huge so we are asking for more and we are hoping that we will get a substantial increase.
Insecurity in Somalia remains a major challenge; why is it taking so long to address this issue?
It is a complex issue because security is not just about putting soldiers on the ground. We realised that it is not just about military action but an elaborate plan for local governance. We need to establish local administration and people need predictability so as to go about their business freely, and access justice and basic services. If we are not able to deliver these, then we will not achieve durable security.
In specific terms, how is the EU supporting Somalia in its fight against Al Shabaab?
The EU supports the fight against Al Shabaab indirectly by supporting the security sector in Somalia. We do that in three ways — financing Amisom, providing supporting police reform to ensure human security at district level; through providing military support for the Somali National Army with training mission and maritime security, given that Somalia has a longer maritime than land border.
Why did the EU cut Amisom’s funding by 20 per cent last year?
The whole issue has been misrepresented. It is not a cut and it has got nothing to do with our diminishing interests. It has more to do with administrative hurdles and procedures. All the Amisom troop-contributing countries have strategic interests in keeping Somalia secure. We have come to offer complementary support to Amisom in the form of stipends but at a certain stage we realised we could not supply the whole of it.
The funds we put into Amisom are competing with other crises in the world that the EU is also involved in. But that is different from saying that we cut the funding, which sounds like a punishment.
We need to be seen as supporting the region’s efforts. We are still funding 80 per cent of Amisom stipends, but we are looking at collaboration with the region in the future. We have urged the African Union to seek alternative funding to fill the gap and this was communicated very clearly.
The semi-autonomous Somaliland is yet to be recognised by the world despite being peaceful for over 25 years. How does the EU deal with or support Somaliland?
We are very engaged in Somaliland. It has been an easy mission where we have more access because of peace and stable institutions so we have been able to invest better. If the government is in place like in Somaliland, it is much easier to invest.
But we are disappointed by the decision by the government to delay elections (which have been pushed to October). We are waiting anxiously and we have been encouraging the Somaliland government to keep up with the good record they have had for the past 20 years.