It has been two decades of mayhem, chaos and bloodletting in Somalia. A child born at the onset of the Somali crisis is now twenty one. Somalia has still a long way to go: the Al Shabaab are defeated, but they are not yet fully eliminated, and they still have the capacity to kill and to maim.
The risks of reversal - and of humanitarian crisis - are always there, and we are not yet done with the effects of disaster. News agency reports last week remind us of the delicate humanitarian and fragile political situation.
But while Somalia has a long way to go, it is clear that it has also come a long way. The country now – with its new Government, Parliament, President, Prime Minister and 6-point reconstruction plan – is getting to its feet.
This week’s Lancaster House Conference, convened by the UK and the Somali Government, marked a significant step on a long journey.
This is the first time in a long time that there has been such optimism, even if it is tempered by the unfinished business on the security and humanitarian front.
Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have fallen by three-quarters in a year.
Somali armed forces – with the help of the AU and the UN’s newly extended AMISOM mission – have reclaimed territory from the insurgents of al-Shabaab, retaking their last urban stronghold of Kismayo in October.
What was the world’s largest settlement of internally displaced people at Afgoye, outside Mogadishu, has seen its numbers drop by two-thirds in a year. Canvas is replaced by brick, and fear is replaced by hope as business picks up, from construction in Mogadishu, to mobile telephony and property.
Somalis are returning: over 60,000 came back last year alone. We estimate that two billion dollars are sent back each year. The Somali shilling has appreciated; commercial airlines are doing well; and there are nine mobile phone networks across the country.
Cargo ship arrivals in Mogadishu, seeking to regain its reputation as the white pearl of the Indian Ocean, have risen dramatically in a year. UNICEF reports that children are going back to school in large numbers. Somalis are not just talking with their neighbours; they are talking amongst themselves. Their commitment to dialogue with all the regions of Somalia is testimony to the potential of a collective national will.
The country of one language, one history, and one religion has more to unite it than divide it: Somalia can build itself anew.
In this, the international community which turned out in force to join the Somalis at Lancaster House has a critical role to play. If it is to play an active role in Somalia, however, there are certain preconditions.
First, we must apply the lessons we have learned in post-conflict state-building in Africa and elsewhere. The meeting on Tuesday was a good beginning. The Somali Authorities reported on their own progress on their own plans, especially in the security sector, the judiciary, the rule of law, and the management of public finances.
These are indeed the start-points. The Somalis must be in the driver’s seat, and be seen by all – above all their own people – to be so.
Our task is to support them as they build their own capacity, plan, and execute. At no time should the international community want to supplant what the Somalis themselves are planning and doing. It may be well intended, but it will not work.
Second, we need to manage the complex relationship between humanitarian agencies providing short-term emergency help, and those addressing longer-term issues of development, ‘resilience’ and reconstruction. Time has taught us that the two phases can blend and reinforce each other.
The famine and drought of 2011-12 claimed over a quarter of a million Somali lives, reminding us of the close links between security, humanitarian support and long-term resilience-building.
Thirdly, we must remember the regional context. The Greater Horn is not only a collateral victim of the Somali crisis; it is also the bedrock of the security solution. If today we see light at the end of the tunnel, it is thanks to Kenyans, Ugandans and Burundians who have been ready to lay down their lives. There is no solution for Somalia which does not involve the people and the countries of East Africa and the Greater Horn.
Rebuilding the Somali state will challenge us all. There is no manual, no toolkit. We will be learning as we go, drawing on the lessons of the past.
In London, the Somalis reported on their progress in putting in place a transparent Public Finance Management system, with a strong fiduciary framework. It is a very good place to begin. It is this kind of detail – and commitment – that will assure Somalis and their partners that the scarce resources available for the rebuilding Somalia will be well used.
The African Development Bank, with a uniquely African character, is already on the ground, helping to strengthen the foundations in Somalia and to apply the lessons learned in other fragile states.
In the history of Somalia, especially the 1970s and 1980s, the outside world did not always help, and at times it actually contributed to some of the causes of the Somali crisis of the last twenty years. That is why it is essential that it supports Somalia now – and that it does so with humility. Let us empower Somalis to take charge; let us minimize the burdens and demands on the new young State.
An immediate priority is regularizing Somalia’s relationship with the International Financial Institutions. Let us begin by ensuring that a quick external debt arrears clearance scheme is put in place. It took three frustrating years in Liberia to clear the bilateral, multilateral and London Club debt, but Somalia’s modest debt should enable the process to go faster.
Somalia’s journey of reconstruction has begun. It could be the most complex African journey in fifty years, but it can prove to be the most rewarding if we get it right.
The author is the President of the African Development Bank