Letters: Military action in Somalia will not solve root causes of conflict

Air strikes in Somalia will solve nothing (UK weighs up strikes against Somalia rebels, 21 February). First, the corruption and ineptitude that underpins the transitional federal government's (TFG) inability to act as a responsible instrument of the state facilitates al-Shabaab's control. This was seen last year when the TFG failed to seize on al-Shabaab's withdrawal from Mogadishu in August and the group returned in October with the detonation of a truck bomb. Air strikes will make no difference if the failures of the TFG go unaddressed.

Second, the piracy issue will not be solved by military force. Addressing the conditions that compel young Somali men to seize the profitable opportunities of the sea requires analysis of deep-rooted social impoverishment which has penetrated Somalian society for more than 20 years. Further militarisation may be tempting to treat the symptom, but it will not alleviate the cause.

Third, the international community's approach to Somalia insists on structuring the state around a centralised system. This is fundamentally flawed and underpins a deeply misguided understanding of the country.  

At the London conference on Somalia, policymakers should be mindful of these issues and move away from discussions of military action. They should look beyond the narrative of criminal piracy and think instead about the conditions which led young Somali men to this path. They should take direction from the Somaliland and Puntland experiences, and consider why the internationally backed solution has not worked. This doesn’t require any special out-of-the-box thinking. But it does require some thinking.
Shireen Lau
Programme assistant at the secretariat of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict

• The last 20 years have seen a litany of exclusive political deals between Somali elites and foreigners. These have shut out ordinary Somalis and made many disillusioned and angry. The international community desperately needs to change its approach and support a process that is led by a broad range of Somali stakeholders, with the outcome of the process made to work by them.

We in the international community feel instinctively uncomfortable with this as we don’t know where it might lead. But in supporting a political settlement in Somalia we must accept that solutions may be unorthodox.

Now is the time to put into practice rhetoric about a process that is Somali-owned and driven. That means the international community facilitating the process, not steering it towards the outcome we want.

And we need to stop thinking and acting as though we ourselves have to find the Somali solution to Somalia’s conflict – we don’t and we shouldn’t. Somalia’s eventual political settlement may well reflect a constellation of smaller Somali-owned settlements that together add up to an arrangement accepted by the majority of Somalis.

The London conference should be a launching pad to restart talks on the structural problems that Somalia faces. There are options, we just need the political stamina and openness to pursue them. 
Henry Smith
Director, Saferworld

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