Donors thrashing out ‘new deal’ for Somalia’s recovery




BRUSSELS — International donors began work this week on a “new deal” for Somalia to drive its economic and political recovery after two decades of bloody civil war.

European Union (EU) foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud faced one of “the most difficult challenges in the world”.

“I hope this will be a really significant moment” for Somalia, Ms Ashton said as she went into a meeting with the president.

Mr Mohamud said he was “very grateful” for all the effort made on behalf of his country, highlighting four priorities among the many tasks ahead — security, legal reform, public finances and economic recovery.

Fifty high-level delegations from Africa, Europe and the Gulf are attending the one-day meeting in Brussels, along with aid groups and global finance institutions.

In January, Mr Mohamud won the first formal US recognition of a Somali government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre sparked a bitter civil war.

Over the past year, the government and parliament have worked without interruption, but are not yet strong enough to secure international loans and are therefore dependent on grants.

The New Deal Compact, to be approved on Monday, sets out the government priorities and outlines international support.

Ms Ashton said the deal was “the beginning of a long road”.

But Somalia’s hardline Islamist al-Shabaab rebels, who control wide swathes of southern Somalia, have dismissed the conference as a “Belgian waffle” and a waste of time. “It’s a bit like Belgian waffles: sweet on the outside but really has not much substance to it. They are just hollow promises of Kufr,” or infidels, the group said on Twitter.

High on the agenda are plans to get 1-million children into school in a country that has one of the world’s lowest enrolment rates — with only four of every 10 children attending classes.

Between 2008 and 2013, the EU provided €1.2bn in aid — €697m for security and €521m in development co-operation.

Most security funding went to the African Union Mission in Somalia, comprising 17,000 troops and launched in 2007 with UN Security Council approval.

The mission props up the government in Mogadishu and has fought alongside its army, seizing a string of towns from the al-Shabaab rebels.

In recent months, however, several deadly rebel attacks have dented confidence.

In June, a suicide commando assault on a fortified UN compound in the centre of Mogadishu killed 11 people.

And at least 18 people were killed in Mogadishu on September 7 when two blasts rocked a popular restaurant, an attack quickly claimed by al-Shabaab.

With insecurity growing, medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders closed all of its operations in Somalia last month, after 22 years of working in the Horn of Africa trouble spot.

As well as a military training mission in Somalia, the EU runs an antipiracy operation off the Somali coast, where attacks on shipping have fallen steadily in the past year.