Uncertainty in Somalia as political changes loom

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- As world leaders meeting in London agreed last week to end the mandate of the transitional government that has ruled the troubled country for the past eight years, Somalis living in Somalia and in the diaspora reacted with a mix of optimism and doubt about what the future holds for their country.

“We hope the decision by the international community will help end the weak Somali government and help replace it with a better and more effective one,” Khadar Mukhtar, a Somali businessman residing in South Africa, said.

Presidents and delegates from more than 50 countries attending the London Conference on Somalia last week decided that the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government, which was extended in June 2011, would end in August, paving the way for free elections. Somalia's new constitution is slated for completion in June.

The one-day conference, put on by the British government in Lancaster House in London, was an attempt to coordinate the international community’s efforts to bring more stability to Somalia, a country that has teetered on the brink of anarchy since the ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

“I think this is a game,” Omar Ali Afrah, an information technology officer from Hargeisa, in the autonomous northern state of Somaliland, said via e-mail. “Five hours is not enough to discuss the issue of Somalia. It was like a presentation that was already prepared by the United Kingdom and their alliances."

Analysts have expressed concern that representatives from al-Shabaab, a militant group with links al-Qaida, were excluded from attending the conference. This ensures that war will continue in Somalia, threatening the stability of any future government, they say.

“Al-Shabaab has become a major player in Somalia’s politics and a force to reckon with,” Macharia Munene, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said. “The international community will have to find a way to put them into consideration. Let’s not forget that the transitional government is associated by Somalis to be supporting Ethiopia, which is viewed as an occupational force.”

In Nairobi, Somali immigrants in the bustling business district of Eastleigh reacted with uncertainty about the conference, saying that the mere fact that it was miles from home discredits its outcome.

“Another conference, expensive hotels, free air tickets and the end of it there will be no solution,” Abdurrahman Mohamed, an electronics shopkeeper, said.

The response from Kenyans, whose army has been battling al-Shabaab in Somalia since October, has been equally skeptical.

“I think the conference should have been held over 20 years ago, when the war started,” Zawadi Birya, a communications consultant, said. “So many innocent lives have been lost and disrupted. The world should have done something about it years ago.”

Somalia's transitional government, which was established in 2004, receives financial backing from the international community and is support by more than 17,000 African Union forces stationed in the capital, Mogadishu.

Last year, the country experienced a severe famine, which the United Nations called one of the worst in decades.