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Debate over Somalia’s future continues

“Somalia at Crossroads

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After more than 20 years since the fall of Somalia’s national government in 1991, experts gathered to engage in discussions on ways to improve and rebuild the state of Somalia.

Jibril Mohamed, president and CEO of SomaliCan, a community outreach and advocacy organization based in Columbus, said something has to be done soon.

“Somalia right now has been in a state of anarchy for 20 years, and the situation is getting more complex and more hopeless by the day,” Mohamed said.

Experts on Somali affairs from all across the U.S. and Canada visited Ohio State’s campus Friday as part of a two-day conference called “Somalia at Crossroads: Foreign Intervention, Humanitarian Crisis and Aspirations for Statehood.”

The conference was held in Hagerty Hall, Denney Hall and at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and it involved several panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions and discussions.

Other organizers included Laura Joseph, program coordinator of African studies at OSU; Abdikarim Gole, lecturer in OSU’s Department of African American and African Studies; Abukar Osman, Somali Special Envoy to the U.S. and Abdinur Mohamud, from the Ohio Department of Education.

Somalia has experienced an absence of proper government for more than two decades despite numerous attempts from neighboring African countries, the U.S. and the Middle East to restore the country’s stability and peace.

Mohamed said the recommendations gathered from the conference will be published and shared with stakeholders in the Somali crisis and media outlets.

The Obama administration revealed it’s foreign policy toward Somalia in September 2010, calling it the dual-track approach, which was one thing discussed at the conference.

The policy outlines that the U.S. would engage economically and diplomatically with any Somali political figures, whether they are opposed to the current Transitional Federal Government, and as long as they do not support the Somali extremist group al-Shabab.

Mohamed said the reason for the policy’s failure is the lack of input from the Somali people.

“The reason it’s not working is that the input from the Somali people is missing from the equation,” Mohamed said, “External groups, the international community with all its contradicting policies, wants to really get a solution, but things get worse because it’s not what the people want that they’re doing.”

Deborah Malac, director of the Office of East-African Affairs for the U.S. Department of State, said the purpose of the “Dual-Track” is to get all forms of government in Somalia to cooperate and work toward bringing stability back into the country.

“We felt that we could not only focus on the TFG (transitional federal government) and ignore all these other parts of the country,” Malac said. “We want to be engaged with both, not in an effort to divide the country into little pieces, but with the hope that by providing assistance and support strategically to those other areas as well, it builds pressure on the center government to reach out and also on the local governments to help build out from there.”

Malac called the process of restoring Somalia “difficult” and “complex,” saying the Transitional Federal Government lacks the necessary resources it needs to ensure the safety and stability of the country.

“It struggles, it’s not very deep in terms of capacity and ability, so it’s very fragile in that regard,” Malac said. “Plus it exists in a very unstable, insecure environment in Somalia, with the fighting and the conflict that goes on at many different levels … it’s just hard to get things done, it takes much longer.”

In what the United Nations declared in summer 2011 as the worst famine to have hit the region in 60 years, the U.S. has provided more than $600 million in humanitarian efforts to Somalia, and to Somali refugees that have migrated to Kenya and Ethiopia.

In addition to providing humanitarian assistance, the U.S. developed programs in Somalia geared toward eliminating local conflicts at the grass-root level.

Malac also said the U.S. alone cannot help Somalia and that all help from other nations is necessary and “welcomed.”

“We’re hopeful that we’re able to pull in some other countries that have not historically or necessarily been engaged in the search for stability in Somalia like Turkey and like some of the states in the gulf. We’re looking to have other partners and we certainly welcome them because the task is huge,” Malac said.

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