The recently concluded London Conference on Somalia is probably the most high profile that has been held for Somalia. As a Somali citizen I see a glimmer of hope for Somalia in the London Conference. It looks like the entire international community is acting together cohesively and that will hopefully eliminate the competition and division among the international community itself on the issue of Somalia. Fifty heads of state and representatives attended the conference; even the breakaway self-declared Somaliland was pressured to attend the conference by Britain. This is what really makes this conference different from the others before it. At past conferences there were too many doctors in the operating room, many of them were suspected by Somalis of operating with dirty knives,  but this time the world seemed to be united with one message. Today the people of Somalia celebrated the London Conference and in support of the London Conference they decorated the main roads of Mogadishu with Somali and British flags.

Thank you to mayor Tarzan of Mogadishu (a legal resident of the UK) who was also invited in the conference. This is the first time that the flag of a western country was decorated on the streets of Mogadishu in the last two decades and that shows trust. As Professor, Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College said this week, the London Conference is the subject of considerable anxiety, skepticism, and hope among Somalis. It is widely seen as a critical moment in Somalia’s long 20-year crisis, a meeting that could shape the direction of the country in the coming years, for better or for worse.

The goal of the London Conference seems attainable with the focus on piracy, famine and terrorism which is the number one concern for the West. Terrorism is also equally a concern for Somalis. Terrorism, lack of security and rule of law is what led to both the famine and the piracy in Somalia today. The international community and the Somali government should carefully focus on Al Shabaab which seems to be crumbling by the day. As requested by the Somali Prime Minster Dr. Abdiwali Ali, airstrikes should intensify. AMISON troops whose number was increased this week by the Security Council from 12,000 to 17,000 should also now be able to compound pressure on Al Shabaab who recently joined Al Qaeda. The Kenyans and their TFG ally forces in the South are moving very slowly and they should be pushed to move quicker and capture Kismanyo. This war is about winning the hearts and the minds of the people as no one can win the public with prolonged foreign occupation. It is essential that Ethiopia and Kenya help TFG forces fully quickly liberate Kismanyo,  Baydhabo and the other Al Shabaab strongholds  and withdraw rapidly after these cities fall under the TFG control which must get ready to fill the void. Keep in mind, the people of Somalia are tired of war, civilian casualties and the interventions of their neighbors especially Ethiopians.

The London Conference will bolster the security accomplishments and the momentum is likely to continue. The once feared Al Shabaab is now crippled to a point where the only option for them is to hit and run. With that being said, it’s an uncomfortable truth, but direct dialogue with groups like Al Shabaab is sometimes indispensable to reach a sustainable peace. And even if it turns out that dialogue gets us nowhere with Al Shabaab, talking and listening can help us to better understand how we can bring  some of the moderate ones on board. Al Shabaab recently joined Al Qaeda and that may create divisions within its ranks. For instance, there are reports that some members of the Al Shabaab leadership are  a bit more moderate than hardliners like Ahmed Godane,  who is the current Al Shabaab leader. Generally speaking, there are three groups of Al Shabaab.  Some are hardline,  the so-called irreconcilables (Godane and foreign jihadists fall in this category); the reconcilables (often showing a nationalistic agenda and a conciliatory tone) and the third are those who lie somewhere in between the  two. The Somali government will have no choice but to fight people like Godane and migrant foreign jihadists to the end but the TFG must initiate a negotiation effort that empowers Somali traditional elders to reach out to those Al Shabaab members who are willing to talk. The Somalis should recognize that military power alone cannot defeat  an insurgency; even the Americans are now talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan. We should talk to our young fighters and The International Community should also encourage this dialogue with Al Shabaab in order to reach a lasting peace in Somalia.

By: Saeed Aden

The Author is a fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and is the Director of Global Peace Aid-Somalia.

2010/ AFP Photo