David Cameron has held a conference in London to encourage the international community to rebuild Somalia. Over 50 countries and groups have attended the conference, which gives Somalis hope that the international community has not forgotten them. Somalia does not often receive good press: it is widely known for famine (during 2010-2012 250,000 died), a 20 year civil war, a massive Islamic insurgency linked to al-Qaeda, and piracy in the Gulf of Aden. To many observers, Somalia is simply a “failed state”. So what does the future hold?

Speaking to the press during the conference, David Cameron hailed Somalia’s “huge progress” in recent years. He added: “I think we are seeing the beginnings of a new Somalia. Extremism is in retreat.”

“AMISOM [African Union Mission In Somalia], together with Somali and Ethiopian forces, have driven al-Shabab out of town after town. Piracy attacks are down 80% with no vessel attacked so far this year.”

Referring to last year’s historic elections, Mr. Cameron said: “Government is moving ahead under the guidance of the UN and African Union…the transitional government that lasted 8 years is ended, and now there is a proper, legitimate, and federal government in its place.”

“This change has happened because of the vision of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his team and because of the strength and courage of the Somali people in beginning the long and difficult task of rebuilding their country from the bottom up.”

The Prime Minister is quite right when he says the task will be a long and difficult one. It is still plagued by many problems. The item with the highest priority is security. Since clan leaders overthrew the brutal regime of (Mohamed) Said Barre in 1991, Somalia has been torn apart by factionalism. Despite temporary lulls, the war never really ended and some parts of Somalia were effectively ungoverned or run by local warlords for a long time.

How long? Well, the civil war that raged through the country – located on the horn of Africa – started during the fall of Communism. While the rest of the world witnessed the ‘End of History’ during the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks and the credit crunch, Somalia’s war kept on going. Although there were attempts to bring the fighting to an end and set up a legitimate government, factionalism has remained. Progress was further stalled when al-Shabab, an Islamic terrorist organisation, deposed these local warlords and rapidly took over the south of the country, including the capital, Mogadishu. They officially merged with al-Qaeda in 2012.

Though al-Shabab has now been forced out of the main cities in the south of the country during a major offensive by government forces and their allies in recent years, though it still operates freely in rural areas. Some also believe they have infiltrated security forces. To highlight how real the threat of al-Shabab is, consider that a suicide attack launched on a government convoy two days before the conference killed at least 7 people.

One thing is for sure, Somalia is an issue which has been going on for a very long time and a conference will not sort everything out over night. However it does show world leaders taking an interest in extremism in this region once more and with the right approach it could be the beginning of the end for Somalian war lords.

BY: Matthew Jones

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