David Cameron has urged the international community to “get right behind” the rebuilding of war-torn Somalia or risk fuelling terrorism and mass migration.
The Prime Minister called for sustained financial and practical backing to rebuild security forces and end “grinding poverty” as he opened a conference in London designed to bolster support for the troubled African nation.
Almost 50 governments and global bodies such as the IMF gathered in the UK to hear Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud outline his plans to stabilise the country after two decades of brutal civil war.
A year on from the last such meeting in London the world was “seeing the beginnings of a new future for Somalia”, Mr Cameron said.
Extremism was “in retreat” as the al Shabaab militias were driven from more towns, piracy attacks were down 80 per cent and a “proper, legitimate” government had been put in place alongside a clan-selected parliament, he noted.
The capital, Mogadishu, is starting to return to more normal life with petrol stations, supermarkets and international flights returning for the first time since 1991, despite continued terrorist attacks by extremists such as a suicide car bomb which killed several civilians last week.
But the president faced “one of the most difficult tasks of any leader anywhere in the world”, Mr Cameron said, to overcome the “huge challenges” that remained including poverty, corruption, sexual violence against women and securing wider support for the government beyond the capital.
“These challenges are not just issues for Somalia. They matter to Britain – and to the whole international community,” he told the conference.
“Why? Because when young minds are poisoned by radicalism and they go on to export terrorism and extremism, the security of the whole world is at stake.
“And to anyone who says this isn’t a priority or we can’t afford to deal with it, I would say that is what we’ve said in the past and look where it has got us: terrorism and mass migration.
“We made that mistake not just in the Horn of Africa, but also in Afghanistan in the 1990s and we must not make it again.”
Ending poverty and the lure of payment by extremists was “the best antidote to extremism”, he said.