Category Archives: London Conference on Somalia

“The war is changing, not over”: Roland Marchal on Somalia after Afgooye, part two

In part two of our interview with Roland Marchal, find out why the war in southern Somalia is changing but not ending, and why the road map process may soon run into trouble. For part one of the interview, click here.

It seems that you are quite cautious about the current TFG offensive, and the prospects that it will be over soon. So military victories and territorial gains are not the only story there is to tell?

The question is, and we see that everywhere, what kind of political answer you give to the population after having beaten Shabaab. In Beledweyne and Baidoa, two big cities that have been taken from Shabaab, the Ethiopians promoted their friends, their allies. That makes a lot of sense. But if you don’t have local reconciliation with clans that explicitly supported Shabaab – because they had some good interest to do that, some very real interest beyond the jihaadi rhetorics – if you don’t do that, then sooner or later you create tensions and new problems come up. 

That’s what happened in Beledweyne. Beledweyne is an unsettled city because of the very old problem of who should rule the place, the Galjaal or the Hawadle clan. This problem has not been resolved by the Ethiopians; they basically gave power to the Hawadle, and as a consequence you now have a whole clan that shifted its support to Shabaab again. Now people don’t care very much about Beledweyne because it’s not the capital city, but the situation there is not quite as the postal card would tell you. 

Baidoa is the same. It’s a complicated story because the dominant clans of the area had different agendas, but the simple fact that you give priority to one section of the clan against another means that tensions are growing. You have of course some terrorist attacks that will kill one, two, three people, but that is not the key issue. The key issue is that socially there is a discontent that is growing, and that may express itself at the right time, either by organising new armed groups that will be supported by Shabaab, or by providing new recruits to Shabaab directly. And of course it’s the same question in Gedo, Lower and Middle Juba, considering what Ethiopian and Kenyan troops are doing there.  Continue reading

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“The war is changing, not over”: Roland Marchal on Somalia after Afgooye, part one

As if last week’s feature story in Vanity Fair had not been enough to convince us that things are changing in southern Somalia, AMISOM has launched a military offensive to the north of Mogadishu from which, it claims, Shabaab “may never recover”. But Roland Marchal, a leading specialist on Somalia at CERI, is much less convinced that Afgooye will be a turning point in the fight for southern Somalia. In part one of his interview with Focus on the Horn, he talks about the humanitarian aspects of the TFG’s current offensive, and why al-Shabaab is not going to split anytime soon.

How should we interpret the current military offensive around Afgooye and the recent successes of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)? Is the balance of power in southern Somalia really shifting?

What we see in Afgooye right now is not so new, it has been in the pipeline for some time. It comes as a consequence of the withdrawal of Shabaab from Mogadishu in July last year, and of course as a consequence of the Kenyan intervention, which in turn created the conditions for a new intervention of the Ethiopian army. The real issue is whether AMISOM, when attacking Afgooye, will get support from Kenyan forces in Lower Juba, and also whether there will be increased activities of Ethiopian troops in Bay and Bakool, so that Shabaab won’t be able to gather reinforcements on a large enough scale to create the conditions for a tough battle around Afgooye. 

A second, more political issue is the fact that in the Afgooye area, the population has been very supportive of Shabaab. It is very uncertain how the population will react, in the medium term, to the end of Shabaab rule. If the TFG is able to provide security and radically change the patterns of banditry and insecurity of the 1990s, then maybe the population of the clans living there may shift their support from Shabaab to the central government. But if that is not the case, then these populations will keep supporting Shabaab, and that may create new problems for both AMISOM and the Somali government.

And there is a third, humanitarian issue. It is getting too little attention right now because people in the TFG feel confident about the military campaign. But I believe that we have to be very alert about the humanitarian implications of what is going on right now. The Afgooye area is one of the most productive agricultural areas of Somalia, and the rainy season just ended. So is the current battle – which is going to last, it is not going to be over in a couple of days – going to disturb and disrupt farming activities? If yes, the consequences would be an increase in the price of most basic foodstuffs and, again, increased vulnerability of IDPs in Mogadishu and elsewhere, people who are slowly recovering from the drought and the famine of last year. So I hope that AMISOM headquarters have a very clear vision on how to contain those humanitarian dynamics and make sure that the population won’t suffer much as a result of the current fighting. Continue reading

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Who is the Somali diaspora?

This post is contributed by Maimuna Mohamud, a current graduate student at Oxford. Reflecting on the London Conference on Somalia of 23 February, 2012, and a follow-up seminar on reactions to the conference held by Dr. Laura Hammond of SOAS on 3 May, 2012, Maimuna shares her thoughts on the challenging role and definitions of the Somali diaspora.

From the perspective of a Somali-diasporan-young-woman, the London conference on Somalia was already a failure long before February 23rd.  Not only that I felt a general sense of pessimism, there were also initial sentiments of anger and frustration.  For some unknown reason, my state of ‘conference fatigue’, which has conveniently served me in the past, was replaced by an unprecedented desire to act.  So I resolved to do something—finally.  Armed with a hot latte, I sent urgent Facebook messages to my ‘comrades’ asking them to join me in a demonstration in London. Our mantra would surely be: NO MORE CONFERENCES.  Unfortunately, there were no replies.  My generation, except for two Bulgarian friends, was in a state of conference fatigue.

Yet, there was a glimpse of hope. Prior to the conference, a series of consultative meetings with the Somali diaspora were held as part of an initiative “to elicit their thoughts on the way forward for the country”, wrote Dr. Laura Hammond in an article for the Guardian.  At the 3 May seminar, Dr. Hammond also shared the reflection that the “level of consultation with diaspora was unprecedented.” But was this a remarkable shift, a departure from business-as-usual and conference politics often associated with Somalia?

I held my breath and waited.  As I followed the developments I recalled the role my father played in many previous conferences. Years ago, he would often travel to attend numerous meetings and conferences in Nairobi and Djibouti.  During the 1990s, our habitual residence in Cairo served as a location from which my father would patiently wait for the next conference to consult. To apply a classic scholarly definition of diasporas, he maintained imagined as well as material links with ‘the homeland’.

Surely, then, he was a diasporan who travelled to attend consultation meetings.  So, wasn’t he part of diaspora consultative processes? Continue reading

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