Last week was one of International focus on Somalia, well documented as one of the most war-ravaged, poverty stricken and dangerous countries in the world. As this video (made in the last few weeks) briefly reveals, it is not pretty but does actually show signs for encouragement. I would highly recommend taking the time to watch it for those unfamiliar with the country’s turbulent past.
The culmination of this focus came in the form of the London Conference on Somalia, where the world descended on Britain. In a nutshell, the conference, a ‘humanitarian meeting’, was a global initiative in tackling this broken state. Its aim was to help a nation which can genuinely be described as a rapidly sinking ship (no more pirate puns, this is serious). Issues included Piracy, which is a threat to international trade and ravages its western coast, internal security – especially the threat of the Somalian militant group, Al-Shabaab and widespread famine. Not exactly straightforward then.
So, as the world came to town and sat quietly and listened to, among others, the soothing tones of Dave Cameron and Hilary Clinton (I presume the rest popped over on the basis of nibbles and air miles) the task at hand was discussed and plans formulated (http://www.dfid.gov.uk/News/Speeches-and-statements/2012/London-Conference-on…. By all accounts, and these accounts were largely via twitter, everything went well and it was promulgated as a significant step forward.
But what is Britain’s role in this? Why London? What role does Somalia play in the context of UK foreign Policy?
The armchair cynic (realpolitik-er) will instantly retort with a, ‘its obvious, international politics is driven by money and money alone – all this peace and development posturing is just Cameron ruffling his union jack bedecked peacock feathers and this conference was just a good old fashioned diplomatic knees up.” Or something similar, sounding very bloggy. This would probably be followed by the boring old oil argument again, a consistent element to Britain’s recent modus operandi abroad.
Well, so did the Observer, who fired a toxic arrow straight out of the armchair cynics’ bow on Sunday with their report: ‘Britain’s Oil Dash.’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/25/britain-oil-dash-somalia
This was not particularly substantiated journalism and there is no reason to necessarily believe it, but one can’t help but feel ‘here we go again.’
So, Is this our role? Was the conference just a sparkling but obfuscating cloak hiding our real only aims: trade and oil?
Partially, it looks this way and if it was just unabashed flirting, whilst BP have their necks down a Somalian oil well, then that clearly is pretty damn awful and of-late – typical. But does this matter in understanding UK foreign policy, the aim for this blog. Not conclusively. It would be naive, of course, to ignore economic motives in the face of our millions of pounds in aid offering – although we should, I think be quite proud of this side of the coin, the side of the Queens perfectly noble nose.
But crucially, to weigh up these two aspects of policy is futile. The most important point, is to recognise the context and role of Britain within the global system, which this blog will hope to pursue in the future.
UK foreign policy is hugely complex and it may have financial aims, may as in obviously yes it does, but it also has valuable humanitarian aims; we do give a bloody great lot of cash and construct international social projects. To perceive one as greater than the other does not matter. But as the purpose of this blog will be, what matters is what is going on and how UK foreign policy furthers British interests abroad, whilst contributing to the global political system.
This is about knowledge and understanding and not about judgement, or ethics. To those who conspire to denigrate any UK international involvement as unethical must understand that like most things in life, as we all hope them to be, are never absolutely ethical or follow absolute rules on morality. The hole that we hope to plug is the missing knowledge of what Dave and the lads are up to, good or bad. One must avoid isolating the cynic or high minded viewpoint in the face of getting to grips with a genuine conception of policy.
For example, history is also an invaluable tool to shed light on UK activity abroad. Although it is difficult to measure how influential it was, Somalia (British Somaliland) was a former colony. Furthermore, part of the British aid ‘package’ were substantial funds to another former colony, Kenya, to deal with the overflow of Somalian refugees. Such a historical precedent represents important existing ties which still play a role in UK foreign policy today across the world.
The most valuable thing to have come out of this conference is the hopeful initiation of collaborative dialogue and earmarked aid that specifically attempts to work within local communities, and to quote Mr. Cameron, ‘getting behind the efforts of Somalis to help themselves’ (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/london-conference-somalia/full-coverage). Somalia must be treated with caution and use every lesson from history possible. In a society of normalised violence and suffering, progress must permeate society at every level but especially through and with the Somalian people. London most only serve as igniting collaboration, as we have learnt from the report in February (video above), progress is being made. This progress is prior to any conference so therefore Britain only has a role in offering indirect influence, advice and as a financial sponsor. A guiding, rather than a directing hand.
This, as a first post is a bit of a scene setter, but hopefully clears up our aim to enlighten UK foreign policy; the triumphs, the courting, the secrets and the treachery.
By Jack Goodman