With emerging peace and stability, the scramble for Somalia is on

Saturday May 18 2013

Three years after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991, Robert D. Kaplan published his highly influential essay in the Atlantic Monthly (February 1994), warning of “The Coming Anarchy” and relating a sad tale of how scarcity, crime, tribalism, disease and overpopulation were rapidly destroying the social fabric of the planet.

Africa was on the threshold of Afro-pessimism, exacerbated by the withering away of the Somali state, the genocide in Rwanda, public disorder, poverty, disease, death and destruction.

Two decades on, Africa is rising and Afro-optimism is in the air. Somalia is inching towards a new order, hopefully ushering in peace, stability, economic recovery and progress.

A peaceful, secure and functioning Somalia without the menace of terrorism and piracy is a tantalising prospect, particularly for its neighbours and the world’s powerhouses. Somalia’s neighbours have contributed troops while the world is opening its coffers to underwrite a “new deal” for reconstruction.

Tackle terrorism

Britain has particularly praised the “rapid recovery” that its former colony has experienced since last year. But its Development Minister Justine Greening has warned of a “risk if the Somali government cannot manage its own public finances properly, avoid future famines or tackle terrorism and piracy.”


On May 8, Whitehall convened a high-status conference on Somalia in London’s historic Lancaster House partly to address his risk. The meeting pledged up to $350 million towards the country’s reconstruction. Britain promised $280 million in aid.

But the British package is only a small portion of the overall aid flow to Somalia. Since 2008, the European Union, which was represented at the London conference, has provided more than €1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) towards Somalia’s stabilisation and security.

During the London Conference, the EU pledged €44 million ($56.4 million) to support the reform of the justice system and the police.

America has channelled more than $1.5 billion through the African Union to support security in the turbulent Horn of Africa nation.

Turkey, a newcomer, has provided development and humanitarian aid since 2011. The Turkey package included $360 million from its private sector, $49 million from the government and 1,200 full scholarships worth about $70 million for Somali students to study in the country.

The aid flow to Somalia reached a high of $499 million in 2012, and is expected to rise this year.

External aid is seen as a tool for restoring law and order, a functioning democratic government and fostering unity among the more than 500 fractious and competitive clans and sub-clans that constitute the country’s 9.5 million population. But it is a certainly steep climb out of the abyss of violence, poverty and lawlessness in which Somalis have been since 1991.

In the past two decades, Somalia has loomed large in the geo-strategic imagination as “Africa’s Afghanistan,” a humanitarian and military black hole that even the major world powers avoided like the plague.

In 1993, America pulled its troops out of Somalia in the wake of the Black Hawk Down incident, where 19 of its soldiers were killed in Mogadishu.

Similarly, the UN withdrew its Operation United Shield in March 1995 after suffering significant casualties amid increasing insecurity and breakdown of law and order. Somalia was officially confirmed as a collapsed state.

Insecurity linked to a deadly mix of state collapse, violence, lawlessness and natural disasters (floods, droughts and famine) crippled the country’s formal economy and reduced foreign direct investments to a $102 million low by December 2012. This gave rise to a war economy controlled by warlords and criminal networks, which the new government is finding difficult to dismantle, and massive poverty.

Insecurity also caused a humanitarian crisis. An analysis by the refugee agency UNHCR shows that by April 2013, 1,022,932 residents of Somalia had fled the country and registered as refugees, the bulk of them (492,046) in Kenya. Ethiopia received 240,086, Uganda 29,355 and Djibouti 18,725.

Somalis formed the third largest refugee cluster after Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the same period, 1.1 million citizens were displaced within Somalia’s borders. Eighty per cent (885,000) of Somalia’s internally displaced persons are in the strongholds of the Al-Shabaab militia in the south and the fringes of Mogadishu. The breakaway regions of Puntland and Somaliland received less than 20 per cent.

Somalia’s turn to peace and stability reveals three inter-linked developments.

New order

The inauguration of the Federal Government of Somalia on August 20, 2012 marked a turning point. This is the first ever permanent and legitimate central government in Somalia recognised by the African Union and the United Nations.

A “post-transition road map” agreed on in February 2012 set clear benchmarks for the creation of permanent democratic institutions by August 2012, when the interim mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expired.

A newly sworn-in federal parliament elected a civil rights activist and former university dean Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the president on September 10, 2012.

But the new administration is yet to prove its mettle. Rival clans are covertly backing the Al Shabaab fighters accused of suicide attacks in Mogadishu and neighbouring countries.

There are also major tasks to be achieved. The new government has to steer the finalising of a new Constitution that sets out the sharing of power and establishes commissions to demarcate boundaries and electoral systems.

The government has to realise the unity of post-transition Somalia. The leaders of the semi-autonomous Somaliland and Puntland in the northeast say that the “days when Somalia could be governed from the centre are over.”

Somaliland’s straight-talking Foreign Minister Mohamed Omar says Mogadishu’s new leader has little to show despite being liked by regional and international players. They snubbed the May 7 London conference on Somalia.

Al Shabaab defeat

With the continued stabilisation of Somalia, the new government at Villa Somalia in Mogadishu can now devote some time to implementing the federal Constitution.

The unfolding new order in Somalia is a victory to the 17,000-strong Africa Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) authorised by the United Nations Security Council on February 21, 2007. Made up of troops from Uganda (5,700), Kenya (5,000), Burundi (4,400), Djibouti (500) and several other African countries (1,400), Amisom and the Somali National Army (SNA) have succeeded in beating back the Al Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab Islamist group, significantly reducing the twin threat of piracy and terrorism.

The entry of Kenya into Somalia has been a game-changer in the stabilisation of the country. On October 16, 2011, the Kenya Defence Forces and the Somali National Army launched “Operation Linda Nchi” (Kiswahili for “Operation Protect the Country”). Kenyan troops crossed the border into Somalia in pursuit of Al Shabaab militants in the southern region who were accused of kidnapping foreign tourists and aid workers inside Kenya.

The Kenyan/Amisom forces, assisted by the Somali troops and the Ras Kamboni militia, captured the port city of Kismayu, the last stronghold of the Al Shabaab, on September 28, 2012.

Beaten back, Al Shabaab fighters have taken advantage of the large number of Somali refugees in East Africa to carry out revenge bombings inside Kenya and Uganda. They still stalk the landscape of rural Somalia.

The new government has to move quickly to assert its authority across the country or risk losing whatever legitimacy it has acquired so far.

But, in the turbulent Horn of Africa, the stabilisation of Somalia can become a doubled-edged sword. A common Somali identity would be a boon for the consolidation of peace across the region.

On the other hand, the possibility of an assertive government in Mogadishu coming under the sway of hard-core Somali nationalists in the diaspora and at home rekindles the fears of the spectre of irredentism. This would be a throwback to the “Greater Somalia” movement largely blamed for cross-border incursions involving Somalia and its neighbours in the 1960s and the 1977-78 Ogaden War with Ethiopia.

Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya are closely watching events in Somalia for any incipient signs of irredentism.

But Somalia’s stability is still hostage to regional proxy wars. The first relates to the aftermath of the Eritrean–Ethiopian War (1998-2000) and the unresolved territorial dispute between Addis Ababa and Asmara.

Some members of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) have accused Eritrea of arming the Al Shabaab militants. Although international pressure has forced Eritrea to cut its support for the Shabaab, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which investigates violations of an arms embargo on both nations, insists that Asmara remains a destabilising influence.

The second aspect of the proxy wars relates to the hydro-politics of the River Nile. For decades, Egypt has been accused of playing on hostility between Somalia and Ethiopia, and of supplying Somalia with heavy weapons during their 1964 and 1977-78 wars.

Cairo was seen as using Somalia as its proxy in a campaign to force Ethiopia to abandon its ambitious energy production plans, perceived to threaten the flow of the Nile waters — Egypt’s lifeline.

But, after the Arab Spring and the Egyptian Revolution, the post-Hosni Mubarak rulers are caught up in internal struggles and are unable to influence the Horn of Africa politics.

Militant Islamist networks have also supported Al-Shabaab fighters. Arms to Somali militias come from Libya, Iran and Yemen, which is also home to a large number of Somali refugees.

Beyond the proxy wars is the role of private military companies (PMCs), which the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia has singled out as a major destabilising factor in Somalia. The PMCs’ business is highly lucrative, with activities ranging from armed escort to leasing of weapons netting millions of dollars.

Although in January 2013, South Africa pledged 100 million rand ($11 million) in support of post-conflict reconstruction and development in Somalia, it is caught up in the PMCs controversy. Critics say Pretoria has not provided sufficient disclosure on the activities of its PMCs operating in Somalia.

South Africa has also been accused of serving as a logistical hub for PMCs in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Having benefited from Somalia’s war economy, the question is whether South African actors will benefit from the emerging peace in the country. Africa’s biggest economy will most likely join the unfolding scramble for Somalia.

Oil and militarisation

The third major development is the discovery of oil and minerals, particularly in Somaliland, which has far-reaching implications for Somalia’s future stability. The discovery of strategic resources has refocused the global spotlight on Somalia. But it has also set off a new scramble for the country’s resources involving key Western powers and emerging global economic giants like China.

As in the rest of East Africa, oil diplomacy is transforming Somalia into a favourite destination for investment and a potential source of energy supplies for the world’s major economies.

At the end of the 2012 London Conference on Somalia, Britain acquired oil-drilling rights in the country.

Canadian company Africa Oil has started oil exploration in Puntland.

Turkey is the newest and most surprising entrant in the new scramble for Somalia. Following the maiden trip by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Mogadishu in August 2011, Turkey resumed diplomatic ties, re-opened its embassy in Mogadishu, and initiated direct flights by the Turkish Airline to Somalia.

Ankara is using “soft power” to win the hearts and minds of Somalis and to become a key player in a future stable Somalia. After the visit, Turkey gave $250 million in humanitarian aid to Somalia.

As a nation with a dual identity (European-Arab) and a relatively big production economy, Turkey views itself as the best positioned actor in the stabilisation of Somalia. Ankara is reaching out to the new government in Mogadishu as well as to the administrations of Somaliland and Puntland.

Turkey’s entry into Somalia is widely seen as part of Ankara’s grand strategy to strengthen its ties with Africa, now a new frontier in the scramble for resources.

Turkey has established embassies in all the countries in the Horn of Africa. For Ankara, Africa is one of its best alternatives, given its trouble in joining the European Union. A stable Somalia is an ideal entry point.

With the discovery of oil in Somalia, America has tied its security priority of containing the threat of terrorism and piracy to its commercial interests. A key agenda now is to secure its energy supplies and keep China under close check in East Africa and the Indian Ocean seaboard.

The new scramble for Somalia has gone hand-in-hand with intense militarisation of the Horn of Africa. The unveiling of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) hosted in Djibouti in 2002 gave America an advantage in the fight against radical Islamists fleeing Afghanistan after its invasion. But the move to bring the CJTF under the control of the US African Command (Africom) in June 2008 caused disquiet within the ranks of Somali nationalists and America’s partners in the Horn. In June 2012, Washington admitted to the presence of secret combat operatives in Yemen and Somalia in the fight against Al Qaeda.

Working side-by-side with America is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), which was drawn into the Somalia crisis by the disruption of commercial activities by pirates.

The cost of piracy in the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean has been heavy. In April, the World Bank estimated that between $315 million and $385 million has been paid in ransoms to Somali pirates since 2005. This, however, pales in comparison with the estimated $18 billion that piracy costs the world economy each year.

In 2008, NATO put together a Standing Naval Maritime Group comprising ships from Italy, Greece, German, Turkey, America and Britain to accompany UN humanitarian aid and peacekeeping supplies to Somalia. The group was allowed to use force to curb the activities of pirates off the Somali coast.

Piracy threat

Partly because of Nato’s role and the stabilisation of Somalia, the threat of piracy off the Somalia coast has gone down significantly. Hijackings in Somalia decreased to just 14 last year, from 28 in 2011.

Going by the attendance at the recent London conference, Somalia’s new government has the world’s goodwill. Stabilisation and reconstruction will most likely be on the agenda of the upcoming international forums, including the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) on June 1 and the Summit of the G8 Leaders in London on June 17.

Post-transition Somalia fits in the mantra of “Africa rising,” the new optimism buoyed by the return of peace and discovery of oil and strategic mineral resources. Mogadishu’s new rulers should not blow this chance.

Prof Peter Kagwanja is the chief executive officer of Africa Policy Institute. This article is part of the Institute’s African Citizen Security Project.