30th April 2013 Washington DC, USA

Talking Somalia in Mogadishu, London and… Columbus, Ohio

Last week I went to Columbus to talk to representatives of the 50,000 or so Somali diaspora community living in Ohio.  It was hosted at a community learning centre set up to help Somali youths succeed in school. It seems to be working as I was told growing numbers are going to university.

I set out our priorities for the Somalia Conference on 7 May in London in similar terms to a speech our Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds MP, gave in Washington a couple of days earlier. I echoed his message that the UK recognises that there is a real opportunity in 2013 that must be seized if Somalia is to build on the remarkable progress it has made over the last twelve months. This year is a potential turning point in Somalia’s history. We must not miss the opportunity.

Meeting Somali representatives in Columbus, Ohio
Meeting Somali representatives in Columbus, Ohio

Over two hours of lively discussion I heard very positive things about the effort the UK is putting into Somalia but, unsurprisingly from such a well-informed group, there were also some challenging questions. Many told stories of continuing violence in parts of Somalia, including sexual violence against women. They stressed that security was vital above all else for stability and development. Several audience members asked that we urge the Somali government to ensure that power and wealth are distributed fairly across the different regions of the country. It was a fascinating evening and a good reminder of how much diaspora communities have to contribute both to their original countries and their adopted ones.

It also got me thinking about why we’re hosting another conference; didn’t we do that last year? Well yes, we did. But there are three reasons why I think it is important that we are doing it again:

  • We are doing it again. I know a conference (or two) is not going to solve all the problems of a very fragile state emerging from decades of conflict. But what is equally clear is that Somalia’s friends must not turn away at this crucial time.  A lot of hard work still lies ahead of us and the Conference is a signal of the international community’s continuing commitment to Somalia.
  • The last one worked. Yes, there are still serious challenges but let’s reflect on the progress since February 2012. We’ve seen the selection of a President and Parliament inside Somalia for the first time in years. The African Union force has been strengthened and security is improving in many parts of the country. Apparently, the postal service may even resume so I’m looking forward to a postcard from our recently reopened embassy in Mogadishu.
  • This one is different. It is co-hosted with the Somali government. That isn’t window-dressing; the Conference agenda is based on the Somali government’s priorities. And it will be the Somali government who present their own plans on how to strengthen security, justice, public financial management and political reconciliation in the country. Our job is getting the international community to support these plans in a coordinated way and provide the resources needed.

I believe that the plans the Somali government intends to present on 7 May are a real attempt to deal with many of the concerns I heard in Ohio.  The UK stands ready to put more time and money into helping them succeed. I hope that Somalia’s other friends and neighbours will too.

About Omar Daair

Omar joined the British Embassy in Washington DC in June 2011 as First Secretary covering Africa, the UN and conflict issues. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office first sent him to…

Omar joined the British Embassy in Washington DC in June 2011 as First Secretary covering Africa, the UN and conflict issues. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office first sent him to Africa in 2004 to study Arabic in Egypt, followed by a three year posting to Sudan. In Khartoum he focused on internal politics and the Darfur crisis, as well as acting as the Embassy Spokesman. Following two years as Head of the NATO Team in London, Omar returned to Sudan but this time as Head of the UK Office in Juba, South Sudan. During that time he worked on issues relating to the Referendum on southern independence and acted as an Observer during the vote. In his current role Omar covers all of Sub-Saharan Africa but recently most of his time has been spent on Somalia, Mali, Kenya and the DRC. His interest in Africa was first stimulated by his father, who was born in Tanzania. Omar a Masters degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He wants to visit as many African countries as he can but has only got to 12 so far.

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