Call for world aid to rebuild a Somalia 'at a crossroads'

Conference in London set to agree moves on piracy and establish schools, courts and police.

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LONDON // For nearly two decades, Somali and foreign leaders have met annually in the shadow of a civil war that has led to the deaths of up to one million people.
The Horn of African nation has been without an effective government for 21 years, crushed by famine and infamous for its marauding pirates.
But this year, many of the representatives of the 50 nations and international organisations gathering in London can detect what the British foreign secretary, William Hague, sees as "a glimmer of hope" for that divided land.
Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, prime minister in the transitional Somali government whose mandate ends in August, yesterday described his country as being "at a crossroads" and said he hoped the conference would deliver a internationally financed aid package to rebuild Somalia.
"It is at a very critical juncture in its history," he said in a BBC radio interview. "We are moving from an era of warlordism, terrorism, extremism and piracy and we are moving into an era of peace, stability and normalcy. Twenty years of lawlessness, violence and chaos is enough. Somalis are ready to move on."
Inevitably, a shadow over the proceedings will be cast by those who are not there, especially the militants of Al Shabab who, despite recent setbacks, control large chunks of central and southern Somalia, and who last week aligned themselves with Al Qaeda.
The sort of measure expected from today's conference, attended by the UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, was illustrated by an announcement on Tuesday that Britain, with help from the Netherlands, will fund an intelligence centre in the Seychelles to coordinate action against pirates.
The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, this week described piracy as "inseparable" from efforts to create a stable state and Mr Hague said he believed the Seychelles operation would "allow the international community to target the kingpins of piracy".
He said: "For too long, the international community has focused its efforts on the young desperate men who are sent out to sea, without seeking to hold to account those who finance and enable huge pirate operations."
Britain is also to donate £150,000 (Dh866,000) through the UN to help create a maritime security office in a stable part of Somalia to coordinate action on the ground against the pirates.
Yesterday, the UN Security Council authorised an increase in African troops from 12,000 to 17,000 in Somalia in an effort to defeat the Al Shabab militants.
Such initiatives are long overdue, according to George McKillop, managing director of Haymarket Risk, a London-based firm of international security specialists.
"The issues surrounding security and piracy in Somalia must be tackled immediately. The situation has deteriorated dramatically in recent years," he said yesterday.
"There is no way anything will improve without coordinated international action and sanctioning of armed guards on ships."
The conference will also launch an international "rapid response" fund to establish schools, hospitals, police and courts in areas freed from Al Shabab control.
The UAE, Britain and Scandinavian countries are understood to have committed millions of dollars to the fund.
Britain, which will also today announce aid packages for a quarter of a million Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia, admits to having a vested interest in Somalia returning to some form of normality: intelligence analysts believe that about 50 UK citizens are undergoing training at Al Shabab terror camps. "The security threat is real - it is substantial," the UK prime minister, David Cameron, said in an interview with the Somali service of the BBC.
Hopes of political progress in Somalia were boosted by the meeting last weekend when the Somali president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the leaders of the pro-government militia, Al Sunna Wal Jamaaca, and officials from the semiautonomous region of Galmudug, reached agreement on a blueprint for a federal government when the transitional government's mandate expires.
But according to Abdirashid Duale, of the money-transfer business Dahabshiil, Somalia's largest private sector employer, the key test for today's conference rests in how successful it can be in encouraging social entrepreneurship in the region.
dsapsted@thenational.ae
* With additional reporting by Joe Lauria in New York????????