Somali leader seeks aid to battle piracy
April 24, 2009
BRUSSELS — Expressing "utmost regret" for Somali pirates operating off his shores, the president of Somalia told attendees at a U.N.-sponsored conference Thursday that his government is "firmly determined to undertake reforms."
In the short term, however, President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed stated his 3-month-old government needs financial and technical assistance to start tackling immediate concerns, particularly security. He and other attendees have maintained over the past two days that combating piracy at sea begins on land.
The donors conference in Brussels represents "an opportunity to help Somalia," said Ahmed, who is promoting a 100-day plan to bridge the security gap. "The Somali people are tired and fatigued" by years of civil war.
"We have to work together to restore peace to Somalia," Ahmed said in a brief address to representatives from about 30 countries prior to the pledge portion of the two-day meeting.
The U.N. announced the conference had received pledges totaling $213 million. That money is for security only and will go into two pots: the African Union for its forces in Somalia and the development and training of a Somali security force.
About 60 million euros (about $78 million) of the total pledges will be earmarked for the African Union Mission to Somalia, or AMISOM, said Louis Michel, who heads the European Union’s Office for Development and Humanitarian Aid. The EU is hosting the U.N.-led conference. That money would go toward expanding the AU force and supporting and mentoring Somali police.
Additionally, 43 million euros would be spent expanding, training and paying the police force, Michel said. He said the EU is already spending about 125 million euros in 2008-09 on humanitarian aid and is prepared to spend at least twice that amount through 2013 on reconstruction and development.
"The problem of piracy has opened the eyes of those who have forgotten Somalia," said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special representative for Somalia.
Somalia hasn’t had a functioning federal government since the days of Siad Barre, a dictator who ruled the clan-based East African nation for 22 years. Barre was ousted from power in 1991. Since then, Somalia has fragmented and drifted, falling under the control of one rival group or clan after another.
Over that period, at least 15 quasi-governments have fallen by the wayside.
"For the first time we have a real opportunity with the government, with this president," Michel said. "We can’t leave him alone."
If the world community does not step forward aggressively with aid and assistance, Michel said, "a time will come when we will have no solution at all."
One relatively quick solution to the piracy problem is the establishment of a modern coast guard for Somalia. Ahmed, as well as his foreign minister, Mohamed Abdulahi Omaar, raised the issue with U.N. and EU officials, who are concerned about the integrity of shipping lanes in the western Indian Ocean.
The United States was hardly mentioned during the public portion of the meetings. According to Nicolas Bwakira, the special representative for Somalia for the African Union Commission, the U.S. is planning to provide $10 million for Somali security. Half of that amount has already been approved, while the administration is waiting for Congress to OK the other half.