The next six months will be crucial for Somalia. The international community is taking a renewed interest in the country; the mandate of the feeble and dysfunctional Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in a half-year; and emboldened troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Kenya and Ethiopia are keen to deal the weakened (though still potent) extremist Islamist movement Al-Shabaab further defeats. This confluence of factors presents the best chance in years for peace and stability in the south and centre of the country. To achieve that, however, requires regional and wider international unity of purpose and an agreement on basic principles; otherwise spoilers could undermine all peacebuilding efforts.
The crisis has been climbing steadily back up the international agenda. The one-day London Somalia Conference on 23 February will bring together senior representatives from over 40 countries, the UN, African Union (AU), European Union (EU), World Bank, Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and League of Arab States. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) will participate, as well as the presidents of Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug (regional governments) and representatives of the largest armed group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a (ASWJ). It should prepare the way for desperately needed greater coordination, especially with Gulf and regional states, as well as between AMISOM and the UN.
Coordination is required because the mandate of the TFG is set to run out in August 2012. Although it has failed to achieve any of its core objectives, many officials desire another extension, such as it received a year ago. But it is unreformable – too many of its members benefit from the fully unsatisfactory status quo. It must not be extended. Instead, the London Conference should agree on a new political framework and principles for governing Somalia.