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Seizing Opportunity In Somalia

Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Hina Rabbani Khar in London at a conference of world leaders meeting to discuss Somalia. "Time is of the essence," she said. February 23, 2012 (Reuters)

Somalia's many crises have long seemed insoluble, but leaders are cautiously optimistic.

Leaders from over 50 countries and international organizations met in London last month to discuss the future of what, for the last two decades, has been one of the world’s most troubled countries: Somalia.

Roiled by violent conflict, piracy, drought and hunger, the nation’s many crises have long seemed insoluble. But even in the face of such seemingly insurmountable difficulties, leaders left the one-day conference with a renewed sense of engagement.

Officials said they are cautiously optimistic given recent successes in the East African nation. The African Union Mission in Somalia and Transitional Federal Government forces have cleared and held the capital city, Mogadishu, which until very recently was largely under the control of the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

Rains and the provision of humanitarian aid have stemmed the recent famine, though substantial humanitarian needs remain. And regional authorities have been able to provide some security and stability for the Somali people.

Those attending the conference were likeminded on a range of issues, including support for the UN Security Council’s authorization of a resolution that increases AU troop levels by nearly half; international consensus to keep pressure on Somali political actors to enact key reforms; and ways to support broader stability efforts in Somalia.

In response to the TFG’s request to keep pressure on al-Shabaab, the UN Security Council implemented an international import ban on Somali charcoal, one of al-Shabaab’s key financial lifelines.

The United States sees this momentum coming out of the London conference as an opportunity to make concrete improvements in the lives of the Somali people. We will work with Somali authorities and communities to build effective governance capacity, support peace building initiatives and continue conflict resolution programs.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced further humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa at the conference, bringing the total amount of aid to drought relief in the Horn to $934 million, $211 million of which is for Somalia.

Secretary Clinton noted that for too long the world focused on managing crises in Somalia. As the TFG ends its transitional mandate in August, the international community will focus on helping Somalia rebuild its institutions, services and stability.