Istanbul II: A Blueprint for Somali National Consensus

Abdi Dirshe - Turkey has just hosted an international conference on Somalia, bringing hundreds of Somalis representing the civil society groups from Somalia, including the religious and traditional elders, intellectuals, and activists to discuss and deliberate on the current challenges regarding the Somali State without external interference.
Istanbul II: A Blueprint for Somali National Consensus

This unique opportunity is the only such international conference held in the past two decades without external influence and interference. The legitimacy of past conferences was questioned precisely because of the direct involvement and micromanagement of the host countries. Some of these countries have argued in the past that the political conflict in Somalia was so complex that the involvement and participation of regional and global actors were critical in these kinds of conferences for the Somali people to reach any consensus.

The Istanbul II conference was Somali owned. The Somalis have deliberated for four days and produced a blueprint for the way forward with regards to the political, economy, and the development of Somalia. The participants have underscored the need of Somali-led agenda and called for the immediate restoration of the sovereignty and unity of Somalia. Similarly, they have advised the re-establishment of the Somali national security forces to restore and uphold law and order, while also emphasizing the importance of concurrently undertaking development projects in the country.

This should be viewed as a national consensus. Moreover, the Somalis at the conference have singled out the State of Turkey as key strategic ally as recognition for its unwavering support from the people and government of Turkey to the Somali people. The Somali people are urged to support Turkey.

In response, the government of Turkey has decided to start training the Somali security forces immediately and expand its development efforts in Somalia, while also strengthening the international diplomatic effort to end the failed policies of the past twenty years that kept Somalia an object of charity and a death-trap.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a strong voice for the Somali people since his visit inSomalialast year as he challenges the world to walk the walk by stating that “without living there, you can’t devise the correct policies and you can’t help”. 

For the past twenty years, Western aid agencies remained in Kenya and have demonstrated only self-serving agenda by focusing on relief and humanitarian assistance, neglecting the root causes of recurring humanitarian disasters owing to unending external military intervention and the lack of robust infrastructure that can offer sustainable environment.

Repeated calls for revision of priorities and for development assistance were rejected by these aid agencies in Nairobi on the basis of insecurity. Former Prime Minister, Mohamed Farmaajo has courageously demanded the relocation of the UN agencies to Somalia. Consequently, in a country where Machiavellian politics is the norm, crises of apocalyptic proportions were invented, paving the way for his dismissal as Prime Minister and the birth of a new roadmap that has escalated the Somali crisis even deeper.

Turkey offers an alternative to the failed dominant Western aid paradigm which has been implemented in Somalia and to the Somali war economy. The Somali people are at the centre of the Turkish approach. They view them as the agents of their own development and choose to play the role of an ally and an historical friend, only adjusting to their needs and demands. In response to the plight of the Somali people, relief and development work have begun in Somalia with Turkish volunteers from government and civil society. The embassy ofTurkeyis reopened inMogadishuand direct international flights fromTurkeytoSomaliaare restored.

Moreover,Turkeybelieves that there is a correlation between insecurity and underdevelopment. Daryl Copeland concurs with this view as he writes in his book, Guerrilla Diplomacy (2009), that “to address the fundamental drivers of insecurity, decision makers must break the habits of attempting to contain or subdue adversaries and instead move toward engaging them while acting on the most pressing needs of humanity. They must reduce the use of armed force in favor of diplomatic approaches to achieve economic and political objectives, which will entail stowing the cold war baggage, substituting dialogue for battle, and embracing human-centered equitable and sustainable development as the long-term basis for the new security”.

The Somali state has little capacity to provide public safety and security; insecurity in Somalia does not only imply danger to physical safety but persistent poverty, social marginalization, economic exploitation and political exclusion, making living a risky business. Aside from the moral imperative, there are highly practical reasons for better engagement in Somalia.Copeland observes that countries like Somalia “with little or no capacity to provide public security may become safe havens for terrorist organizations if state capacity is not restored”.

In this view, one would expect that the international actors in Somalia would focus on the rebuilding of the public institutions of Somalia. But the United States of America as the leader of the international actors in Somalia has been focusing on the prevention and containment of terrorism in Somalia, an approach that is devoid of any pragmatic long-term strategic thrust.

Just as in the 1980s when the Reagan administration joined forces with warlords and Muslim extremists in Afghanistan to quell Soviet expansion, leading to disastrous blowback consequences like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, today the United States follows comparable failed policies in Somalia to contain religious extremism.

The United States provides military and diplomatic cover for similar controversial destructive entities such as the armies of Ethiopia and Kenya that are accused of human rights violations in Somalia as well as warlords, religious entities, and Somali tribal regions. These and other semi-totalitarian African regimes are fused to carry out theUSpolicies under the doctrine of the “war on terror”. This will undoubtedly have serious blowback in the long term as many Somalis are radicalized as a result.

This should not be a concern for only the Somali people but more so for the American people. Young Americans are radicalized who are responding to the call to participate in the resistance against the invaders of Somalia. The United States should learn from the Turkish application of soft power and development approach.  

Today Turkey is responding to the needs of the Somali people. With Turkey’s strong leadership, there is a deep sense of hope in Somalia as the government of Turkey has endorsed the Istanbul II Somali Civil Society communiqué that calls for strong Somali army, robust institution building and economic development.

This task will not be easy but it is one that the Somali public supports and appreciates. In addition, Turkey is a strong ally of the United States and a member of NATO that is receiving tremendous local support for its engagement in Somalia, the United States and other international actors in Somalia should adopt the Turkish model and support Turkey.

Abdi Dirshe is a political analyst and is also the current president of the Somali Canadian Diaspora

Article 21 May 2021 10:14

I read your article on Foreign Policy with keen eyes and interest. While whining from public officials does not deserve response from any sensible citizen of the Republic of Somalia, I felt compelled to counter false narrative with more objective analysis.