In 'failed state' Somalia, instability is lucrative for some
Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:29am GMT
* Power-brokers, pirates, tycoons getting rich off war
* Britain hosts conference, aims to re-focus global response
* Islamist militants seen as threat to Western security
By Abdi Sheikh and Richard Lough
MOGADISHU/NAIROBI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Life got easier for trader Siad
Hussein when Somali Islamist militants pulled out the capital. He no longer
pays a Jihad tax nor does he have to watch mortars kill his customers.
Small mercies, Hussein said in Mogadishu's frenetic Bakara market, under
government control since al Shabaab withdrew its fighters from the city in
August under pressure from African troops, ending the almost daily artillery
But the recent security gains in Mogadishu, where vines crawl out of blown
out houses and famine victims squat under once majestic colonial facades,
have not been matched by political progress, a headache for foreign powers
and regional allies.
On a trip this month to the coastal city, British Foreign Secretary William
Hague described Somalia as the "world's most failed state" as he drummed up
interest ahead of a London conference on Feb. 23 to tackle Somalia's
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon will
attend the meeting London hopes will refocus and better coordinate the
international response to Somalia.
One reason for the lack of political progress is that war and instability
are lucrative. Somalia's power brokers, pirate kingpins and business tycoons
are reluctant to give up the status quo.
Diplomats say many players in Somalia's turmoil find that by spoiling reform
they can continue to reap the spoils of war.
Talk of peace and reform unsettles bribe-seeking politicians, traders
smuggling arms and contraband, militants making deals with pirates and aid
contractors taking cuts.
Hussein's frustration is now vented at Somalia's rotten political system,
where corruption is rampant and the selfish interests of power brokers too
often trump national interests.
"Cash that ends up with the leaders is not cash for Somalia," said Hussein
who sells sweets and soap in Bakara's labyrinth of crowded alleyways. "I
don't know why the world is blind to what is going on."
How much money is stolen, or handed directly to politicians is hard to pin
down. Some Arab countries are known to carry suitcases stuffed with cash
into Somalia, diplomatic sources say, so it is difficult to track the money.
The Somali government points to the establishment of a new anti-corruption
commission as evidence it is fighting the endemic graft that has left it
ranked world's most corrupt country for the last five years by Transparency
"The (government) is known by ordinary Somalis as being so corrupt that it
has no legitimacy," said J. Peter Pham of U.S. think-tank the Atlantic
"But these will be the people that the international community will 'engage'
- the same ministers and parliamentarians whom donor states know to have
stolen most of the bilateral assistance given them in recent years."
THREAT TO BRITAIN
The chaos in Somalia has seen piracy off its shores blossom into an
international criminal enterprise that the One Earth Foundation said costs
the world economy up to $7 billion a year.
Pirate gangs, their investors and financiers raked in at least $155 million
in ransoms in 2011.
While patrolling warships bristling with hi-tech weapons and private armed
guards have cut the number of attacks, a lack of effective government and
alternative livelihoods mean piracy still draws a steady stream of recruits.
Ever since warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the Horn
of Africa country into civil war, the West has focused on building a strong
central government. That is what Western democracies are comfortable with,
analysts say, but it defies Somalia's clan-based social structure.
Britain says the political process must be broader and more representative
to succeed. London also wants to make it harder for militants to operate
under the cover of Somalia's mayhem.
British nationals are among al Shabaab's ranks of foreign fighters and
provide a credible threat to British security - an uneasy reality ahead of
the London Olympics this summer.
"Our engagement in Somalia is not a luxury, it is a necessity," Hague told
an audience at British think-tank Chatham House earlier this month.
Al Shabaab's exit from Mogadishu and a twin-pronged offensive by Kenyan and
Ethiopian troops in the country's south as well as a roadmap towards a new
constitution and elections by August offer an opportunity to turn the
corner, Hague said.
The insurgents, however, are not a spent force, a fact underlined this month
by their formal union with al Qaeda.
"No-one hitches their fortunes to a falling star," said Bruce Hoffman at
Georgetown University in the United States.
MORE STICK, LESS CARROT?
The U.N. Security Council is expected to pass a resolution to boost by
nearly half the African Union peacekeeper force, AMISOM, that has been in
Somalia since 2007.
Raising the troops number ceiling to near 18,000 would allow Kenya's forces
in Somalia to re-hat under AMISOM and see the peacekeepers operating far
from Mogadishu for the first time.
While there is broad agreement regionally and among Western diplomats on a
bolstered AMISOM force, question marks hang over who will foot the bill.
Britain wants a deal on the sustainable funding of AMISOM.
The European Union, which pays the salaries of AMISOM troops and has already
committed 307 million euros to the force, wants guarantees from the Somali
government before offering more.
"The political apparatus has to demonstrate they are sincere and serious
when they speak of peace ... of ending the transition," an EU diplomat told
Reuters, adding its share of the financial burden would have to fall.
Britain acknowledges there has been little political progress made by a
string of Western-backed administrations since 2004.
Somalia's future political structure remains a largely blank canvas. Britain
and others are clear that the current transitional institutions must go.
"We welcome the London conference," Somali government spokesman Abdirahman
Osman told Reuters. "But we need help in terms of resources. The tasks are
huge and time is short."
Frustration is mounting within some Western embassies at the failure of
Somalia's political leaders to keep pace with the hard-fought security
There is increasing talk behind closed doors of punishing those deliberately
stalling the political process, possibly via targeted sanctions such as
travel bans and asset freezes.
Muddying the waters is the fast growing political influence in Somalia of
Turkey and Gulf states including United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
"For Somalia, the Gulf states probably mean easy cash with few caveats,"
said a Western diplomat in Nairobi.
Expectations of a game-changing conference in London are low.
"Britain does good political theatre. They're playing for a tie to prevent
embarrassment," a diplomatic observer said. (Additional reporting by Mohamed
Ahmed in Mogadishu, William Maclean and Adrian Croft in London; Writing by
Richard Lough; Editing by James Macharia)
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Received on Tue Feb 21 2012 - 08:34:57 EST