"Today is the next stage of a long journey for Somalia"

Prime Minister David Cameron opened the London Conference on Somalia on 23 February.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

Let me welcome you all to London - and thank you for coming. This is not just the largest gathering of countries and organisations that have ever come together to discuss the issues in Somalia, it’s also the most influential. We have leading figures from governments in every continent of the world, leading organisations from the African Union and European Union to the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the United Nations. And most importantly of all, Somali delegations - representing almost every region of Somalia not under terrorist control. So let me tell you why I have asked you all here today. And what I believe we can achieve together.

First, why we are all here. For two decades Somalia has been torn apart by famine, bloodshed and some of the worst poverty on earth. As many as one million have died. The terrible scenes we all saw with the famine last year were truly heart-breaking, with death and suffering on a scale that no country and no people should ever have to endure in today’s world. Earlier this week I met with some of the Somali Diaspora here in Britain. Many had fled from fighting and famine and had grave concerns for their relatives left behind. Of course, it’s natural to want to help any country in such distress. But there’s another reason for the international community to help the Somali people.

These problems in Somalia don’t just affect Somalia. They affect us all. In a country where there is no hope, chaos, violence and terrorism thrive. Pirates are disrupting vital trade routes and kidnapping tourists. Young minds are being poisoned by radicalism, breeding terrorism that is threatening the security of the whole world. If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so. So as an international community, it is in all our interests to try and help the Somali people address these problems. And yet for two decades politicians in the West have too often dismissed the problems in Somalia as simply too difficult and too remote to deal with. Engagement has been sporadic and half-hearted. That fatalism has failed Somalia. And it has failed the international community too.

Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to change that. There is a real momentum right now. International aid has pulled Somalia back from the brink of the humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the extraordinary bravery of African Union and Somali troops, the city of Mogadishu - a once beautiful, now bullet-hole ridden city - has been recovered from Al Shabaab. Despite the huge challenges still ahead, when the British Foreign Secretary visited Mogadishu he saw a growing confidence returning to the streets. Shops re-opening, homes being rebuilt, a city beginning to get back on its feet again. Crucially, across the country, Al Shabaab are losing the support of ordinary Somalis. Why? Because they tried to stop vital food supplies reaching their fellow Somalis.

The final piece of momentum is the steps the Somalis themselves are taking to ensure there is proper representative and accountable government. That is why they are ending the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government and the meetings at Garowe have made real progress in taking that forward. And that’s the most important part of all, because ultimately the problems in Somalia can only be solved by the Somali people. So we are not here to impose solutions on a country from afar. Nor are we here to tell you, the Somali people, what to do. But rather, we’re here to get behind your efforts and help you to turn things around. If everyone comes together and does their bit I am absolutely convinced that Somalia can solve its problems and ultimately fulfil its potential as a key player in Africa and the world.

So let me turn to how. And specifically what we want to achieve at this conference. There is no single magic solution that will make all the difference. It’s about the patient work of helping the Somali people to rebuild their country from the bottom up. And for me that means three things. First, helping to build security through a strengthened African Union peacekeeping operation. Second, getting humanitarian aid and development support where it is needed. And third, ensuring that Somali efforts to create a representative government are backed by real international commitment. Let me briefly take each in turn.

First, security. I want to see an African Union mission that has the resources to put Al Shabaab permanently into retreat and that also takes seriously its responsibility to protect civilians. The first outcome of this conference happened yesterday. The United Nations Security Council agreed a UK-led Resolution to extend the mandate of African Union peacekeepers beyond Mogadishu and increase the number of troops from 12,000 to 17,731.

This is a major step forward and I am grateful for the support of many of the countries represented here for their help in reaching this Resolution yesterday. Building security also means keeping up the pressure on the pirates. Mauritius, Tanzania and the Seychelles have agreed to take pirates as prisoners. Somaliland has agreed to take back convicted pirates. The United Arab Emirates have provided $15 million to strengthen the Seychelles Coast Guard. Denmark and Japan are also major bi-lateral donors, with Japan leading work to improve information sharing throughout the region on maritime safety and security. And vitally, the UK and the Netherlands are supporting the Seychelles to establish regional centre for co-ordinating intelligence and pursuing the leaders and financiers of piracy. And I was delighted to sign the UK’s agreement with President Michel of the Seychelles yesterday. So let’s build on these efforts today with further agreements for the trial and detention of pirates. Let’s create an international taskforce on ransoms. And let’s set the ultimate ambition of stopping these payments because in the end they only ensure that crime pays.

Second, humanitarian aid and development support. Aid helped save the lives of 750,000 people affected by the famine last year, feeding 2.6 million people across Somalia and providing emergency assistance to many more. I am proud that the British government has been the second largest bi-lateral donor and that the British people themselves made such an enormous contribution. But while the famine is technically over in Somalia, there are still 2.3 million people in urgent need of emergency assistance. Somalia’s recovery is in a very fragile state. So it is critical that greater security leads to more humanitarian aid getting through to those who need it. And also that we provide more support to those who fled Somalia for Kenya and Ethiopia and who are also in desperate need of further help.

Britain is today providing a further £51 million over three years for refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia. But it’s not enough just to give emergency aid. We need to help Somalis get back on their feet. What matters most to ordinary Somalis is what matters to all of us: finding a job, supporting their families, and making sure their children are properly fed and educated. This means providing them with long-term agricultural development assistance that will help them not only survive the lean season but actually put themselves and their families on the path to sustainability and self-sufficiency. And it means helping to bring in new resources to promote stability and prosperity in all parts of Somalia. So I am delighted that Denmark, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands are joining us today in setting up a Local Stability Fund to provide support to previously neglected regions, including those emerging from conflict or terrorist control. This will facilitate local people building a network of safer, better governed areas that can gradually put the squeeze on areas still held by Al Shabaab. I hope other countries may be able to help support this over the coming weeks.

Third, a reinvigorated political process. Unless we can help the people of Somalia to build a stable future, the problems will keep reoccurring. The only way to address the causes of piracy and terrorism is to back local efforts to forge a new peace deal ensuring that people from across Somalia have a voice in how their country is run. So most importantly, I hope this conference will forge a new momentum to put in place the building blocks of a more stable country, getting behind the efforts of Somalis themselves to turn things around.

That momentum is already being felt. Just last week a second meeting in Garowe produced a major step forward towards replacing the Transitional Federal Institutions when their mandate ends in August. Principles for reform have been hammered out by the Somalis themselves, with agreement on the selection criteria for the Independent Interim Electoral Commission and the National Constituent Assembly.

Somalia is within reach of a new political process that will involve all Somalis and ultimately a new government truly accountable to the demands of its people and properly representative of all of Somalia’s regions. I am delighted that we have with us together for the first time today, the Presidents of almost all those regions. It is vital that this whole process is as inclusive as possible with a Constituent Assembly chosen by the Somali people leading to a more representative government. And it is equally vital that this whole process sticks to a firm timetable so that when the Transitional Federal Government ends in August, there is no danger of a power vacuum. And we must do all we can to support this today.

Finally, the success of the new political process depends on trust. All over the world people want governments that are effective, fair and free from corruption. This point was made to me over and over again by representatives of the 200,000 Somalis who have made their home here in Britain. So we are helping to improve transparency and accountability by establishing a Joint Financial Management Board through which donors will work with the Somali government to help make sure that revenue from key assets and international aid is used for the good of the Somali people.

In my meeting with members of the Somali Diaspora here in Britain on Monday, one young lady told me it’s all about having a job and a voice. That is what so many Somalis dream for their homeland. A Somalia where hunger no longer holds thousands in its grip where extremism no longer holds sway. Where Somali children hold school books, not guns. And where women can give birth safely, have a job and a voice in their political future. Today is the next stage of a long journey for Somalia and its people but our message to the people of Somalia is that we believe in them and we back them in trying to fix their problems. So let’s make this conference the turning point in helping the Somali people to reclaim their country and with that achieve greater stability and prosperity for Somalia, the region and the world.

Published 23 February 2012