May 6, 2013 6:28 pm

Somalia needs a Marshall plan, president says before aid meeting

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia©AFP

Somalia needs its own Marshall plan to recover from decades of poverty, civil war and terrorism, says the country’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Mr Mohamud made his appeal for a large-scale, comprehensive aid package as more than 50 nations and organisations, including the US, Turkey and the African Union, meet in London on Tuesday to discuss Somalia’s future.

The conference is intended to secure and co-ordinate international support for seven key areas, including administrative and security improvements in a country whose instability has damaged global trade and given Islamist militants territory to operate.

“In Somalia today we have the level of destruction of Europe in 1945 – the same level of displacement, the same level of shattered economic aspects,” Mr Mohamud told the Financial Times during a flight from Mogadishu on his way to co-host the London conference, adding that two million Somalis had fled their homes.

“But added to that are two very dangerous, complex phenomena – in the Europe of 1945 there was no terrorism and there was no piracy.”

Donors such as the EU and US have already spent billions trying to wrest Somalia from the grip of warlords and al-Qaeda-linked militants who still control much of the southern countryside, mount regular attacks and attract jihadis from abroad. Pirates based in Somalia have hijacked 149 ships in the past eight years, reaching as far as India and the Seychelles.

An estimated 260,000 people died in a two-year famine that ended last year, according to figures by the UN last week.

Mr Mohamud says more aid is needed to make good on recent gains. On the streets of the capital Mogadishu, Somalis are pouring money into renovating bullet-ridden brickwork and painting bright murals on shop fronts to advertise everything from burger bars to hairdryers as domestic trade picks up. Scaffolding reaching several storeys high shapes the skyline. Beachgoers relax and women can swim in the sea for the first time in years.

But peace and a political settlement are some way off. Although al-Qaeda-linked militants were cleared out of Mogadishu 18 months ago under sustained pressure from UN-backed African peacekeepers, they still mount regular deadly attacks.

Mr Mohamud spoke to the FT only hours after a car bomber killed at least seven people in a suicide attack that had targeted his minister of the interior, who is tasked with heading the war on the Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

Somalia is recovering from 22 years of anarchy and statelessness and recurrent and intermittent conflict

- Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, president of Somalia

“We are seeing the signs of decline of the conflict . . . but these types of attacks – roadside bombs, suicide bombs – will continue for some time. They are the characteristics of extremist groups in urban warfare,” said Mr Mohamud, who escaped an assassination attempt two days into his presidency.

“I’m living under constant threat but the risk is worth taking. My country is moving [forward] from the dark days of the anarchy,” he said of the period from 1991 when civil war took hold.

“What we are requesting is a Marshall plan – we need a similar engagement from the international partners, particularly European and the US and the Gulf states,” he said, referring to the huge American programme to kick-start European economies after the second world war.

Two more conferences, in Tokyo and Brussels, will also address Somalia’s needs this year.

Mr Mohamud’s new government, selected in September last year, is the most promising and representative in years. Last month, it won recognition by the IMF, which could pave the way for large grants and loans if it can clear its debts and implement more accountable forms of spending money.

Donors, whose money was embezzled by previous administrations, are unlikely to commit funds unless the country signs up to stricter transparency rules.

Some, such as Turkey and Norway, have already started multimillion-dollar programmes and others such as Qatar and the World Bank are preparing plans.

But for the time being the government is so short of cash, controls so little turf and collects so little in taxes – mostly from port revenues – it cannot hope for financial stability without international assistance.

“Somalia is recovering from 22 years of anarchy and statelessness and recurrent and intermittent conflict  . . .  ,” said Mr Mohamud. “We have a very clear plan about moving the country from emergency . . . to development in the future.”

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