Representatives of more than 50 governments and international organizations are converging on London for an international conference designed to be a catalyst for rebuilding Somalia. Participants will include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ahead of Thursday's conference, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali insisted a stable, prosperous future for Somalia is not an impossible dream.
"Despite being described as the world’s most failed state, Somalia is achieving standards of living that are equal or superior to many other African nations," said Ali. "The country ranks in the top half of African countries on several key indicators. It may also surprise many that two northern Somali ports account for 95 percent of all goat and 52 percent of all sheep exports for the entire east African region.”
Nevertheless the transitional government has little control of large areas of the country outside the capital Mogadishu. Prime Minister Ali said a stable future depends on the cooperation of the transitional authorities with the African Union and the wider international community.
“It is time to return both the process and the country to their rightful owners: the people of Somalia," he said. "And come August, so it will be. There must be no further extension of the transition; it has to end. With the help of our neighbors and friends of the African continent and beyond, we are making progress on the four strategic goals of the roadmap: security, reconciliation and political outreach, completion of the constitution-making process and delivery of good governance.”
Despite such glimmers of hope, warlords control large swathes of Somalia. The militant group al-Shabab, which earlier this month formalized its relationship with al-Qaida, also controls large areas, though is being hit on three fronts, by African Union, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops.
Amid the fighting, a severe drought which turned to famine in the south last year took thousands of lives.
In addition, pirates remain active on Somalia's eastern coast, attacking ships and costing the shipping industry billions of dollars, mostly for increased security costs.
The host of Thursday’s conference, British Prime Minister David Cameron, says he hopes the participants will tackle the twin threats of piracy and terrorism.
But officials from human rights groups say the focus should instead be on protecting the people of Somalia after more than two decades of war.
Benedicte Goderiaux is from Amnesty International:
“If you look at the discussions that have happened ahead of the conference, the hints that different governments have been giving, it’s very clear that for instance Somali civilians don’t have a voice there, and for instance Somali civil society activists - and I’m talking about human rights activists, but also Somali journalists, who sort of continue to try to report what is really happening on the ground - they have not been consulted, they have not been invited," said Goderiaux.
Somalia’s government has high expectations of the conference - calling it a potential ‘game-changer’ for the country.
Again, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali:
“The problems of Somalia such as piracy, terrorism, anarchy, refugees, famine, droughts are not unique to Somalia and will not be confined to the borders of Somalia," he said. "So we have to all hope to contribute and succeed.”
While many participants welcome the Somalia conference as long overdue, others fear the attention of the international community remains elsewhere.
Secretary of State Clinton and Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague will travel from London directly to another conference on Syria's future, being held Friday in Tunis.