New vision needed for Somalia

By mborum

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Washington DC – Oxfam today called on governments meeting at the London Somalia conference to develop a coherent strategy towards the country that shifts away from the emphasis on short term security and anti-terror concerns towards a long term engagement that prioritizes the interests of ordinary Somalis.

In the briefing note, "A Shift in Focus – putting the interests of Somali people first", Oxfam said that at times international policies towards Somalia have been inconsistent, with support for state building and military interventions exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country and undermining the international community’s own relief efforts.

“It is time for a new vision of engagement that meets Somalis’ immediate and future needs, while providing the space for a negotiated peace process that puts Somalia on the road to recovery. Those attending the London Somalia conference must seize this opportunity and help start the process to address the causes of the conflict in Somalia and put the interests and aspirations of the Somali people center stage,” said Oxfam America Senior Fellow Scott Paul.

The agency said the London conference is an opportunity to stake out a new approach to the country by shifting the emphasis away from security concerns and taking practical steps towards an inclusive political solution to the conflict and crisis. Sustained international aid  is essential, both to save lives now and to help the Somali people rebuild their future, but to be effective this must be kept clearly separate from any political and security efforts.

Oxfam said that although responsibility for Somalia’s decades long crisis lies first and foremost with factions inside the country, international engagement has at times made matters worse. For many governments involved in Somalia current military action is seen as improving security and stability, both in neighboring countries and in Somalia itself, but reports from inside the country tell a different story.

Population tracking reports show that nearly half of the people displaced in January were fleeing insecurity, largely from areas seeing a return to armed conflict. Camps where civilians have sought refuge have been struck by warring factions on opposing sides, along with hospitals, a feeding center and more than one aid agency compound.

Aid agencies offering life-preserving assistance have also faced obstructions from warring factions on both sides of the conflict in trying to reach those in need.

“The US has a duty to promote adherence to international law by all parties to the war in Somalia – and although the US may not have influence with all armed factions within the country, it does have leverage to ensure that AU and TFG forces in Somalia and their allies comply with their legal obligations to protect civilians." Paul said. “The US must use that leverage.”

Oxfam said that the success of the London Somalia conference will be judged on whether it results in:

  • Governments from the region, the West and the Islamic world using their influence with the various parties to the conflict to enable civilians to have greater access to humanitarian assistance
  • Action taken to ensure that political and security strategies do not undermine humanitarian assistance;
  • Priority given to non-militarized and sustainable solutions to the conflict and humanitarian crisis, in particular through ensuring that a wide section of the Somali population is engaged in the process of developing these solutions.