Mogadishu (UM) – President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo has left for the Chinese capital Beijing to participate in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). This is the main mechanism through which China and African States discuss their relations, agree on the basis of their future cooperation and for both sides to display unity in the eyes of the world.In many ways, it is also the best forum for China to demonstrate its increasingly prominent role in the African continent as an investor and supporter of economic development.
In FOCAC the Chinese side like to reiterate the supposed Win-Win, mutually beneficial aspects of their relationship with Africa and the African leaders, after praising China, its leaders and the Chinese Communist Party, usually ask for further assistance in areas traditional western donors have stayed away from or have been slow to respond to such as infrastructure. This has yielded many successes including infrastructure investment and support for industrialisation through grants, soft loans and Foreign Direct Investment. Of course, there are disadvantages but for Somalia, a long-term supporter of China, the FOCAC mechanism has had no impact at all in the country and on the lives of the Somali people.
When the FOCAC mechanism was established in November 2006 Somalia was still in a state of chaos and violence. Yet since 2012, Somalia has been steadily improving and in 2015, the former Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in South Africa in the last FOCAC meeting and both agreed for China and Somalia to increase their support for one another. To date, aside from limited humanitarian support and academic scholarships, Somalia remains an orphan of the FOCAC process because of lack of Chinese investment and support. Chinese policy in Somalia appears to still be wait and see which is very damaging for both sides relations.
There are possible reasons China’s caution and the loss of a guard in the Jazeera hotel attack of 2015 and the volatile nature of Mogadishu’s security could be factors but China has invested in far more challenging environments in Africa in the past like South Sudan. Is Somalia any worse than South Sudan? In fact, the conditions are better in Somalia yet there is not nearly as much Chinese interest so far.
During the FOCAC meeting President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo will meet with his counterpart Xi Jinping and he must take this opportunity to convince the Chinese leadership that Somalia remains an ally which expects something bigger, better and more long term from China, like every other African nation at the FOCAC Summit. He must also put to bed the Chinese fears of the westernisation of the Somali government with many Diaspora officials holding very senior positions, including the President and Prime Minister themselves. He must stress the message that his government will put the interest of Somalia above all else and that China should return to take a risk in Somalia by rehabilitating the vitals infrastructure they invested in after independence including the national roads, theatre, Benadir hospital and the National stadium. Somalia must be fully included in the Belt and Road initiative as Somalia was a key location on the old Silk Road that connected so much wealth and people from East to West globally. As China knows well, building roads is the beginning of real economic development.
China, like all partners, wants to see its own interests in Somalia as a condition of investment. This is acceptable and fair, but the Chinese side must be more forthcoming with their ideas and views on Somalia’s development and the two sides bilateral relations despite their usual rhetoric of not interfering in the politics of sovereign nations. None of Somalia’s challenges are a secret including the uncompleted constitutional process, the difficulty of forming functioning federal member states working with the central government and the remaining security challenges. Therefore, it will be unfair for China to continue with its policy of watch and see in Somalia as other partners make a real effort to assist it in turning it around. Somalia voted for China to join the UN Security Council despite great opposition, now it is time for China to stop sitting on the fence and start engaging with Somalia more meaningfully.
FOCAC is more than an opportunity for Somalia and China to revitalise their historic relations and bonds of friendship; it is an opportunity for both sides to also matter to each other as they once did. Somalia belongs to no one but the Somali people and the Somali government have always been a friend of China. It will be a great waste of opportunity if this FOCAC, like the one previous, yields nothing for Somalia in its hour of greatest need as it struggles uphill towards stability and economic recovery.