Will the world help or hinder Somalia?

Somalis queue at a food aid distribution centre in Mogadishu
Image caption Decades of civil conflict and no stable government have left Somalis vulnerable

Now that the world's leaders have swept out of Lancaster House in their shiny black limousines, all we are left with is two pieces of paper, printed on both sides.

This is the final communique, and it is time to take stock.

There appears to be something of a contradiction in the communique. On the one hand, in bold type, it says "decisions on Somalia's future rest with the Somali people". As Britain has constantly reiterated, and as Prime Minister David Cameron said after the London meeting, "this is not about telling people in Somalia what to do".

However, much of the final communique and many of the words spoken in Lancaster House seemed to be precisely about telling Somalis what to do.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was almost bossy in tone when she said there would be no negotiations with al-Shabab and that the time for political transition was over.

The final communique details several areas where the outside world will have control over Somalia.

Watching funds

A Joint Financial Management Board, staffed by Somalis and non-Somalis, will ensure "transparency and accountability in the collection and efficient use of public revenues, as well as international development aid".

Image caption Mr Cameron said the conference was not about telling Somalis what to do

Somalia's budget will, to some degree, be managed by outsiders.

Mr Cameron said foreign powers would ensure that there was no more political transition, and that they "would hold Somalia to this".

The communique said the international community would "incentivise progress and act against spoilers to the peace process". This is not leaving Somalia to the Somalis.

Mr Cameron seemed very pleased that, the day before the London Conference, the United Nations Security Council had voted to increase the number of African Union peacekeepers from 12,000 to 17,7000, to expand its mandate, and to secure funding.

Although the peacekeepers have helped clear much of the capital, Mogadishu, of the Islamist group al-Shabab, they are a foreign force, something Somalis have not taken to kindly in the past.

Kenya and Ethiopia also occupy substantial parts of the country, and it is likely that if they stay for too long, even those Somalis who currently tolerate them will turn against them.

A two-pronged policy now seems to have been adopted towards al-Shabab. On the one hand, smash them militarily, on the other, lure them away from by inviting those who abandon the movement into the political process.

Al-Shabab, which was not invited to the conference, issued a press release on the day of the gathering. It accused the conference of "carving up Somalia" and "bolstering the invading African forces that are prolonging the instability in Somalia".

Distant dream

It is not only al-Shabab that is worried about the "carving up" of Somalia.

Other Somalis are worried that the conference has given too much prominence to the more stable northern areas such as Puntland and Galmudug, let alone the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

A new Stability Fund has been established to increase foreign support to these areas.

There has been explosion of mini-states in Somalia, some, perhaps not coincidentally, established just ahead of the London Conference, maybe because they want a share of the new money.

Somalia may be entering another phase of violence and instability, this time between its regions.

There were no less than four Somali presidents at the conference, one representing the transitional federal government, the others the more stable regions in the north.

And outside the conference there were no less than three small but noisy demonstrations, all shouting and singing for different causes. This suggests that peace and unity may be still be a distant dream.

Some Somalis I spoke to expressed unease that the final communique gave a lot of attention to ending impunity for pirates, and setting up a new Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Co-ordination Centre in the Seychelles to track pirate money and help prosecute what it described as "the kingpins of piracy".

"What about ending impunity for the war-lords who have killed so many of our children? What about the African Union peacekeepers who shelled residential areas in Mogadishu? What about al-Shabab and even our transitional government soldiers?" asked one man.

Although the conference was, as Mr Cameron said, "the largest and most influential gathering that has ever come together" on Somalia, it is unclear how much will change in the country as a result.

Doubtless there has been real progress in the fight against al-Shabab and piracy. The expiry of the transitional government's mandate in August offers an opportunity to establish a better kind of politics for Somalia.

But there is a huge amount to do before what the final communique described as a "new era of Somali politics" that "supported by the international community, will bring peace to Somalia".

The delegates from 55 countries and international institutions said they "looked forward to the day" when an international conference could be held in Somalia. It is not clear that this will happen in their lifetimes.

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