The London conference on Somalia held last month with participation by 55 countries and international organisations concluded with a communiqué which gives as much attention to Somalia-based piracy as it does to stability and recovery of the country. The emphasis on the former is understandable given that 62 seafarers have been killed in the last four years, that nearly 200 attacks on merchant ships have been logged in the first 10 months of 2011, and that ransoms now stand at $4 million per ship. But unless the fight against piracy is part of a comprehensive plan to help Somalia reacquire a functioning government, it will never fully succeed. The world's shipping powers collectively spend $2 billion a year on anti-piracy operations spread across an area the size of mainland Europe. Many countries have also approved the use of armed guards on board their ships. On the political side, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2036, passed on February 22, widens the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia and increases the size of its troop contingent. The London communiqué, for its part, notes that the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) mandate ends in August, and proposes that a caretaker authority govern Somalia until a new constitution is endorsed by a referendum and a new executive and parliament are elected.

The communiqué, however, says nothing about standards for shipboard guards, rules of engagement, or liability for harm or damage to third parties. Secondly, it rules out impunity for pirates, but ignores the warlords who have devastated Somalia. Thirdly, a purely military response sidesteps the need to address the absence of sovereign authority. Somalia's TFG was represented in London, but so were representatives of three northern provinces; moreover, the Joint Financial Management Board created by the conference will mean de facto western economic control over Somali finances. In the war-torn south, the TFG has recaptured most of the capital, Mogadishu, from the extreme Islamist al-Shabaab grouping, but the Kenyan and Ethiopian forces which helped them will not leave soon, especially as instability on the border could cost Kenya tourism revenue. Sadly, the London communiqué makes no attempt to address the creation of physical infrastructure in Somalia, which would enable the flourishing, clan-based Somali civil society to provide a foundation for the political reconstitution the country needs. The conference, in effect, focused more on the threats piracy poses to foreign commercial interests than on Somalia itself. Which is a pity, since a lasting solution to the problems at sea can only be found on land.

Keywords: Somali pirates

More In: Editorial | Opinion