It has been two decades of mayhem, chaos and bloodletting in Somalia. Somalia still has a long way to go: the al-Shabaab are defeated, but they are not yet fully eliminated.
The risks of reversal - and of humanitarian crisis - are always there, and we are not yet done with the effects of disaster. News agency reports remind us of the delicate humanitarian and fragile political situation.
But while Somalia has a long way to go, it is clear that it has also come a long way. The country is getting to its feet. Last week’s Lancaster House Conference, convened by the UK and the Somali Government, marked a significant step on a long journey.
This is the first time in a long time that there has been such optimism, even if it is tempered by the unfinished business on the security and humanitarian front. Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have fallen by three quarters in a year.
Somali armed forces - with the help of the AU and the UN’s newly extended Amisom mission - have reclaimed territory from the al-Shabaab. What was the world’s largest settlement of internally displaced people at Afgoye, outside Mogadishu, has seen its numbers drop by two-thirds in a year. Fear is replaced by hope as business picks up.
Somalis are returning: More than 60,000 came back last year alone. The Somali shilling has appreciated; commercial airlines are doing well; and there are nine mobile phone networks across the country. Cargo ship arrivals in Mogadishu have risen dramatically in a year. Unicef reports that children are going back to school in large numbers. Somalis are not just talking with their neighbours; they are talking amongst themselves. Their commitment to dialogue with all the regions of Somalia is testimony to the potential of a collective national will.
The country of one language, one history, and one religion has more to unite it than divide it: Somalia can build itself anew.
In this, the international community, which turned out in force to join the Somalis at Lancaster House, has a critical role to play. If it is to play an active role in Somalia, however, there are certain preconditions.
First, we must apply the lessons we have learned in post-conflict state-building in Africa and elsewhere. Last week’s meeting was a good beginning. The Somali authorities reported on their own progress and plans. The Somalis must be in the driver’s seat.
Our task is to support them as they build their own capacity, plan, and execute. At no time should the international community want to supplant what the Somalis themselves are planning and doing. It may be well intended, but it will not work.
Second, we need to manage the complex relationship between humanitarian agencies providing short-term emergency help, and those addressing longer-term issues of development, ‘resilience’ and reconstruction. Time has taught us that the two phases can blend and reinforce each other. The famine and drought of 2011-12 claimed over a quarter of a million Somali lives, reminding us of the close links between security, humanitarian support and long-term resilience-building.
Thirdly, we must remember the regional context. The Greater Horn is not only a collateral victim of the Somali crisis; it is also the bedrock of the security solution. If today we see light at the end of the tunnel, it is thanks to Kenyans, Ugandans and Burundians who have been ready to lay down their lives. There is no solution for Somalia which does not involve the people and the countries of East Africa and the Greater Horn.
Rebuilding the Somali State will challenge us all. There is no manual, no toolkit. We will be learning as we go, drawing on the lessons of the past.
In London, the Somalis reported on their progress in putting in place a transparent Public Finance Management system, with a strong fiduciary framework. It is a very good place to begin. It is this kind commitment that will assure Somalis and their partners that the scarce resources available for rebuilding Somalia will be well used.
The African Development Bank is already on the ground, helping to strengthen the foundations in Somalia.
In the history of Somalia, especially the 1970s and 1980s, the outside world did not always help, and at times it actually contributed to some of the causes of the Somali crisis of the last 20 years. That is why it is essential that it supports Somalia now - and that it does so with humility. Let us empower Somalis to take charge.
An immediate priority is regularising Somalia’s relationship with the international financial institutions. Let us begin by ensuring that a quick external debt arrears clearance scheme is put in place. It took three frustrating years in Liberia to clear the bilateral, multilateral and London Club debt, but Somalia’s modest debt should enable the process to go faster.
Somalia’s journey of reconstruction has begun. It could be the most complex African journey in 50 years, but it can prove to be the most rewarding if we get it right.