Donors meet in Brussels this week to discuss urgent funding for Somali security forces and African Union peacekeepers in what will be an important test of support for the chaotic country’s new government.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s administration is the 15th attempt in 18 years to set up a central government in Somalia, which has been ravaged by an insurgency and feuding warlords.
More than one million people have been uprooted by fighting in the past two years, a third of the population survives on food aid, and the turmoil has spilled into the international shipping lanes offshore, where Somali pirates are wreaking havoc, Reuters adds.
Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel leader elected in January at UN-brokered talks, is seen by many diplomats monitoring Somalia as the best hope in some time for restoring stability.
The UN special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said Thursday’s conference must send all Somalis a clear message that the whole international community was focused on fixing the Horn of Africa country’s problems once and for all.
“For me, money is indicative, we may get more, we may get less. But the overall result should not be about money. It’s the message we send, to say: enough is enough,” he told Reuters.
“I’m optimistic about the diplomatic message … it’s a show of solidarity with the people of Somalia.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will co-chair the meeting with Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission. Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, will attend, as well as senior officials from the European Union and United States.
It will be the first time in many years that a UN chief has chaired a conference on Somalia, Ould-Abdallah said.
Security will be top of the agenda.
Hardline Islamist insurgent groups — including al Shabaab, which Washington says is linked to al Qaeda — have been battling government forces and Ugandan and Burundian soldiers from the 4300-strong AU mission AMISOM for two years.
Meeting organisers say $165 million is needed over the next 12 months to pay for a 6000-strong new national security force, 10 000 Somali police, and to support the AMISOM troops.
In an April 3 letter to Somalis living abroad, Ould-Abdallah said US President Barack Obama’s government was very worried about a rise in extremist ideology among young Somali-Americans.
An American of Somali origin from Minnesota carried out a suicide bombing in Hargeisa, in northern Somalia, last October.
“The Americans and other Western countries are extremely concerned about this development as these individuals could engage in terrorist activities back home,” the letter said.
The talks will also focus on a crime wave offshore. Somali pirates have hijacked dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors hostage and made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, defying an unprecedented deployment in the area by foreign warships.
The violence in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden has disrupted UN aid supplies, driven up insurance costs and forced some shipping firms to route cargo around South Africa.
Ahmed’s government plans to present proposals at the conference to stop the sea gangs. The government has repeatedly said it needs more money to tackle insecurity on land and to provide jobs for the country’s many unemployed young men.
“Piracy has added to the importance of the meeting,” Ould-Abdallah said. “Piracy for me is a result of what is happening on land and that young people need to be given hope.”