NAIROBI, (Reuters) – Somalia’s government called on Saturday for an international peace plan like President Barack Obama’s new Afghan strategy, saying it would be more effective and far cheaper than current efforts to combat Somali piracy. “We accept that … the situation in Somalia will appear beyond repair but the reality is very different,” Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said in a letter to The Times Newspaper in Britain.
Somalia has lacked a functioning central government since 1991 and is home to insurgents and pirates, who prey on shipping in the Indian Ocean despite international naval patrols.
Sharmarke’s U.N.-backed administration controls only part of the capital, Mogadishu.
Obama’s plan for Afghanistan marked a “sea change in international support to troubled countries”, wrote Sharmarke. “What is so startling is that all the conclusions are as true about Somalia as they are about Afghanistan.”
Obama announced this week that the United States would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to combat Taliban insurgency, as well as measures aimed at ending corruption and promoting local accountability before a U.S. withdrawal. “Piracy and the growth of Islamic extremism are not the natural state of being. They are but symptoms of an underlying malaise — the absence of government and hope,” Sharmarke said. “The irony is that it would cost only a quarter of what is being spent right now on the warships trying to combat piracy, to fund our plan and actually solve the problems rather than simply chasing them round the Indian Ocean,” he said.
The Horn of Africa state hit the headlines again this week when a suicide bomber struck a medical graduation ceremony and killed at least 22 people, including three government ministers, several doctors, students and their relatives.
Western security agencies say Somalia has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the impoverished region and beyond.
Fighting has killed at least 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
Sharmarke agreed regional stability was increasingly at stake, and said his administration first needed help to restore effective government and train its security forces.
Second, he said, the world must restore and enforce the nation’s economic exclusion zone so it could use its own potential wealth of fish, oil and gas to fund its future.
“Our fishermen currently watch as other countries plunder our waters,” the prime minister said. “Whilst we condemn it outright, it is no wonder these angry and desperate people resort to ‘fishing’ for ships instead.”
Thirdly, he called for a large civil programme to train young Somalis and set up legitimate commercial livelihoods. He did not give any estimate of how much this might cost.
Sharmarke said the same principles had been used to great effect in other troubled places that harboured threats to UK national security such as Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, and asked why they had never been tried in Somalia.