In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip. Katrina Manson, the FT’s east Africa correspondent, tells us about her visit to Somalia.
Why now? It’s a rare day anyone can say the future looks bright for Somalia, but for the first time in years, the state preyed on by jihadis, pirates and warlords has a shot at stability. The most significant success came towards the tail-end of 2011, when African Union troops forced out al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, from the capital Mogadishu.
On guard: a pirate on the Galmudug coast.
Ever since, diplomats, donors and Somalis have been hopeful. But Somalia hasn’t had a functioning government for the past 22 years. Everything needs to be done and all gains are fragile. Relations between a new, weak central government and clan-aligned regions are increasingly fractious, al-Shabaab launches regular suicide attacks on Mogadishu and still controls much of the southern countryside. This month, the UK hosted a conference dedicated to security, political stability and reform in Somalia. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid were pledged. Much more is needed, but Somalia’s debts need to be cleared first. Read more
It’s a competition with some questionable talent, scorned for its lack of taste, and yet the Eurovision Song Contest has an audience of 125m and brings pundits out in force to discuss what is says about the state of Europe today. With this year’s final coming up this Saturday in Malmö, Sweden, we give you the best pieces on how it works and why Europeans care, so that you can mingle with confidence at Eurovision parties.
Did we mention it is seen as a proxy for the political situation in Europe? The FT’s Gideon Rachman wrote in 2008: “With both Eurovision and the EU, expansion has had a similar effect – west Europeans complain that they no longer recognise a club that they founded, and that they continue to fund.”
The Germans: rated trustworthy but lacking in compassion (Getty)
The Pew poll on European attitudes came out this week and drew plenty of attention because of the remarkably negative attitudes it revealed towards the European Union. But to my mind, some of the most amusing and intriguing findings came when the pollsters probed nations’ views of each other, and of themselves.
The Germans were widely rated as both the most trustworthy and the least compassionate people in Europe – which says something about the complexity of European reactions to the euro crisis. The Italians rated themselves as the least trustworthy people in Europe. Do we call that self-knowledge or self-loathing? Asked to choose from a list of several countries, the French rated themselves as the most arrogant people in Europe. But they also rated themselves the least arrogant people in Europe. Maybe they are just the most self-obsessed? Read more
Britain’s future in the EU
Prime Minister David Cameron thought that his promise to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU, and to hold an in-out referendum on British membership in 2017 had bought him domestic political peace. Instead, many in his own Conservative party are agitating for an even harder-line position, and the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party is soaring in opinion polls. An eventual British exit from the EU is looking increasingly possible. So what’s going on, and what do other Europeans make of it. Quentin Peel in Berlin joins Janan Ganesh and Gideon Rachman in London. Read more
Fighting on: rebels on a training exercise in Syria's northern Latakia province (Getty)
The international diplomacy to try and resolve the crisis in Syria is entering a new and complex phase. Over the next few weeks, the main focus will be on attempts by the US and Russia to convene a peace conference in early June that brings together representatives of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, president, and the Syrian opposition. Whether this conference can achieve anything – indeed, whether it will even take place – is hard to tell. As President Obama said when meeting David Cameron, British prime minister, this week: “I’m not promising that [the peace conference] is going to be successful. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.”
Despite that effort, the UK and France are not giving up on an altogether different diplomatic push. Both want to open the way for the transfer of weapons by EU states to the moderate rebels fighting the Syrian regime. Britain has committed itself to providing the opposition with armoured vehicles, body armour and power generators. But Mr Cameron said this week that he now wants “more flexibility” to support the rebels.
The UK and France are therefore committed to trying to get the EU arms embargo on Syria amended at the end of this month so that weapons can at some later stage be transferred to the Syrian opposition. The difficulty is the huge opposition within the EU to any amendment that allows weapons to be transferred to Assad’s opponents. Read more
Seen from outside France, the country’s “cultural exception” – which protects its art, music and movie industries in trade negotiations – is like a long-running film franchise.
In the new sequel – Exception Culturelle 3D, if you will – Pierre Lescure, author of a government-commissioned report, has given the story a great new twist by suggesting a tax on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and e-readers to fund French cultural output. Read more
Gideon became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. He also edited The Economist’s business and Asia sections.
His particular interests include American foreign policy, the European Union and globalisation