It may be too early to celebrate but Somalia seems to be at the threshold of finding peace at last. The conference hosted in London early this week, which saw the European Union make pledges that may go beyond $300m, demonstrated the outpouring of goodwill that the world is ready to shower on this long-abused country.
The conference was a culmination of a protracted effort kicked off as early as 2006 by Somalia’s neighbours and, later the following year, taken over by the African Union force that has delivered this faltering peace. It is a peace that has cost a lot in African lives and material, as well as European and North American material. For that and for the sanctity of Somali lives, this truly international community (including Africans, this time) is prepared to continue sacrificing.
But, of course, when all is said and done, only Somalis can save themselves. And with this abundant goodwill to build on, they should be able to strengthen this fledgling peace. There are many factors in their favour.
The first thing that works in their favour is that they are battling Al-Shabaab. For having links to Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab has earned the wrath of the West. That’s why the US and the EU have already sunk billions of dollars into the effort to root it out. This, in turn, encouraged the UN to quickly bless the AU, when it marshalled together a regional force. AMISON, with the Somali army, have delivered this peace. The good news about it is that, being regional, the force will continue to work with the Somalis.
The second thing that works in their favour, however, is more important: that Somalis are Somalis! The moment they recognise the fact that they are one people, clan or no clan, Somalis will lick their problem. Their young men and women have been fighting alongside AMISON and have got the hang of what it takes to finally do away with Al-Shabaab. The fact that the world community is now aware of what their defeat would imply should also spur them on to create lasting peace. All a weakened Al-Shabaab needs is a definitive coup de grâce.
Being one people, Somalis should know how they can work together easily. The leadership needs to immediately get down to finding ways of forging a strong working relationship with clan chiefs so as to end the clan rivalry that has dogged the country for decades. From the moment Major General Mohamed Siad Barre stopped sitting on their heads in 1991, the chiefs have been free to sow mayhem, each trying to carve out an expanded fiefdom of their own. Without resorting to such dictatorial force, the leadership can make peace with them and take them on as partners.
In fact, sometimes it is difficult to understand why Somalis find working together difficult. They share one language, one culture, one religion, many things. Sharing all these is an asset that’s lacking in many other African countries, yet these countries are at peace. Somalis should count their blessings and use this commonality to advantage. They should search their past to identify what has ever worked before. That way, they can examine the values of their tradition and from them embrace modernity to create home-made solutions.
Luckily for the Somalis, they have a living example not far, down to their south.
Rwandans, despite being one people like the Somalis – excepting sharing one religion – sank to even darker depths. Yet, against impossible (for lack of a stronger word!) odds, they rose to be the respected community they are today. The good news to Somalis is that they can source lessons on how this turnaround came to be. They would do better to approach Rwanda for advice.
The odds ranged against Somalia are trifling compared to those that Rwandans surmounted. In Somalia, there has been no UN peace-keeping force that withdrew in the face of a genocide (there may have been a country, yes, but not a world body). There haven’t been any deaths that amounted to anything remotely resembling it, either. There has been no centralised government machinery to poison the minds of Somalis and set apart, one fighting the other. Rather, a majority of Somalis are peace-seekers ready to do battle with the terrorist minority.
Most importantly, there is no super power that galvanised its African allies so that together they could whip sane-thinking Somalis on the battleground.
In Rwanda, even when that battle in the field failed, the super power continues to lend diplomatic support to that dying génocidaire machinery and also sell its cause to fellow super powers. It’s for that that, despite Rwanda having long ago decided to fix her gaze to the east, accusations from these powers of meddling in the affairs of a neighbour to the west are unending. No one pauses to consider the evidence that these accusations are false, when actually it’s everywhere.
All the above notwithstanding, however, Rwanda trudges on, roadblock after roadblock. And with every step, she gathers speed. Somalia would be well served to learn why.
As Somalis bask in the glory of the abundant largesse of the West, then, they should know that they can get truly effective assistance and vital lessons only from their neighbours in the region.