Somalia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 9th February 2012.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham 3:33 pm, 9th February 2012

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—has made genuine efforts to limit civilian damage and the use of certain armaments in built-up areas, for instance, yet there have been criticisms of some of the impacts on civilians and, perhaps, of the application of international humanitarian law. As part of the international co-ordination of the security effort, it is important that AMISOM operates to the very best international standards of peacekeeping and military intervention.

The political process is absolutely critical. The mandate for the current transitional Government expires in August this year, and it is important that we take the opportunity to build on their achievements. I think that my briefing states that this is the 15th attempt to form a Government in Somalia over the past 20 years, but it is one of the most successful such attempts. The Government have established a reasonable degree of control, at least over the capital city and some surrounding areas. It is important not only to build on that success but to take the opportunity to make the next incarnation of Somali government even more inclusive and broad based, and to build a political process.

The conference is also going to discuss local stability, counter-terrorism and, of course, piracy. The Select Committee’s contribution to that debate will be important. Richard Ottaway referred in passing to ransoms. The British Government have taken a clear position on that matter: we are opposed to ransoms, as they feed the pirate economy. It would be good if that was an internationally agreed position that could be properly enforced. We need to take real action to address that source of funds for Somali pirates.

The humanitarian effort is also extremely important. It is most welcome that the Department for International Development is already co-ordinating its efforts with the European Union to reduce duplication and maximise impact. There will be an opportunity to do that more widely, with the United Nations and other representatives who will be present at the conference.

Non-governmental organisations are concerned about the way humanitarian aid is being affected by the conflict in Somalia and, to some extent, by international policies. It is important that the international community draw a distinction between non-political humanitarian assistance and the military and political strategy. NGO staff are endangered when they become associated with the political and military approach, and that can also lead to the delivery of aid becoming a controversial part of the conflict. That inevitably leads to the aid not getting through. The international community needs to draw that distinction and protect that non-political humanitarian space for the delivery of aid. In planning the international approach, and the military approach, it is also important to factor in a respect for human rights and for international humanitarian law.

One topic is not on the conference agenda although I think it should be. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow talked about economic development. Aid will always be valuable for a country in humanitarian crisis, but in the end it is economic development that will lift people out of poverty. I will illustrate the problem to the Minister by citing a report that appeared recently in New Scientist. It concerned work by Anja Shortland of Brunel university, who has tracked the economic development of various villages in Somalia using satellite images. She discovered that two villages in particular had made spectacular progress. Tracking such features as electric light, she found that, over the past 10 years or so, those villages had prospered and that the wealth had spread among the community.

Sadly, the reason was that those two villages were closely associated with one of the clans most implicated in piracy. Anja Shortland concluded that piracy had proved quite effective in stimulating economic development in those places, although that is obviously not a statement that any politician could comfortably make. Piracy is clearly illegal, as well as divisive. It helps only one clan, rather than the whole of Somalia, and it undermines the entire peace and political process. Nevertheless, this does set a challenge for our approach to development. We must tackle what makes piracy attractive to clans and warlords. The economic development we deliver must be at least as effective as piracy at spreading prosperity to poor communities.