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Somalia seems ripe for the picking; bring out the knives and chop it up

This is from Daily Nation’s OP-Ed… Read it and tell us what you think.
Charles-ObboOn February 23 something very important for East Africa, and indeed all of Africa, will happen in London.

There will be a big conference on Somalia by the British Government. For good measure, Britain’s Foreign minister William Hague was in Mogadishu a few days ago, installing a new UK envoy.

In recent weeks, there has been a scramble to return to or visit Mogadishu. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dropped in. After many years, the UN moved its Somalia office from Nairobi back to Mogadishu.

The Chinese and Europeans have knocked on doors in Mogadishu and left cheques behind. The Turks settled in much earlier. The politicians in Mogadishu are just loving it.

Writing in The Times of London this week, Richard Dowden, journalist and author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, quotes a recent UN report that said that an audit of the Somalia government’s books for 2009-2010 of direct bilateral assistance “disappeared, presumably stolen by corrupt politicians and officials”.

The short of it is that Somalia is now “ripe” and the carving knives are out. The players who have put in money or fought the Al-Shabaab militants are beginning to share the spoils.

The Uganda and Burundi armies, the only two African countries that have contributed troops to the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), have beaten the militants out of the 16 districts of Mogadishu. AMISOM has not been shy to trumpet its victories, flooding newsrooms with thousands of happy Somalis frolicking on the beaches of Mogadishu for the first time in years.

Last October Kenya entered the fray, sending its army into the South. It has pushed on at a snail pace to the big prize, Kismayu Port. By March, some sources say, Kismayu will be in KDF’s bag. Kenya’s intervention and the cover of African Union allowed Ethiopia, a highly controversial power in Somalia, to adventure deeper.

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In addition, Al-Shabaab’s error in allowing hardline foreign elements in its ranks to gain ascendance (thus alienating the notoriously fickle and pragmatic indigenous Somalis), have combined to create a sense that the worst is about to end in Somalia.

Unlike the Berlin Conference of 1885, when the European powers partitioned Africa among themselves, the carving of Somalia will be different. It will not be only the Europeans and Americans sitting around the chopping board. There will be Somali politicians there. Then Burundi and Uganda will also be there. So will the Ethiopians, and Kenya.

However, I spoke to a diplomat who was in a preliminary meeting on the London conference, and he said he was worried that even with Africa at the Somalia table, the outcome might not be very different from the Berlin conference.

The Ethiopians, he said, are fairly clear about what they want — or rather what they do not want. They do not want a future nationalist demagogue who arises in Mogadishu on a pan-Somali wave, seeking to reclaim the “lost” lands in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Kenya has the same problem in the northeast region, as does Djibouti.

However, the diplomat told me Kenya’s position is “still decidedly undecided”. Uganda, meanwhile, has a growing “Eastleigh phenomenon”. Shortly after it sent its troops to Mogadishu, the intricate Somali supply chain that lands goods from all over the world in Nairobi’s Eastleigh merchant hub at prices lower than at the factory where they are produced, started moving goods into Kampala.

Today, more and more traders from Kisumu, Mwanza, and Bukoba in Tanzania travel to Uganda and return with Dubai-imported goods brought in by the Somali chain, at the same prices they would have bought them if they had flown to the Emirate themselves!

A lot of Uganda military-business interests want things to totally settle down in Somali for their trade to grow. For that, they need a minimal state government in Mogadishu.

I sense Kenya would also want a minimalist authority in Kismayu. The Ethiopians want the same thing, too. I am not sure what the Europeans and Americans want, but from this haze I sense the shape of a future Somalia that will emerge from London and other conferences that will follow.

Weak, but not too weak. Strong, but not too strong. Effective, but not too effective.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter@cobbo3

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