Another radical militia is on the move in Somalia as its fragile government is hunkered down in the capital. This is on the heels of a violent hostage standoff between Somali pirates and the U.S. Navy last month.

So what can be done to help foster peace in Somalia?

This question was posed at a recent hearing in the U.S. Senate. Diplomats, academics and aid workers discussed long-term options to help Somalia, a poster child for failed states, turn itself around.

"To address the piracy problem we need to know what's behind it. We cannot ignore the problems on land," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who chaired the hearing on May 20.

The Obama administration's policy aims to promote an internal peace process, build professional security forces, support the transitional federal government in Somalia, and fund the African peacekeeping mission there, according to Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for Africa at the hearing.

Coordinating policy decisions with Somalia's regional neighbors is also crucial, said Oxfam America's senior policy advisor Shannon Scribner.

The Enough Project recently published a strategy paper, which recommended solutions to the Somali conflict.

"For state-building efforts to succeed, the Obama administration must privilege long-term political solutions over short-term military responses to the threats of piracy and terrorism in Somalia," Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert and co-author of the paper, said in a statement.

"The immediate challenges for the United States and other external actors are helping to ensure that the transitional Somali government pays its security forces, providing training and non-lethal equipment conditioned on their improved conduct, and establishing oversight mechanisms to ensure that funding does not support abusive forces or political score-settling," said  Colin Thomas-Jensen, co-author and Enough's policy advisor, in the same statement.

The recent election of President Sharif Ahmad by the Somali parliament has given some hope that a legitimate and broad-reaching government may emerge in the African country.

But a first step may be stemming the flow of arms and foreign fighters that are entering the country. Toward this end, Somalia's neighbors have called for a blockade of the country's ports to prevent new weapons shipments as well as sanctions on Eritrea, which they accuse of supplying militant Islamic groups.

About the author

  • Oliver Subasinghe

    Oliver joined Devex in late 2008 as an international development correspondent and researcher. He previously served as a microfinance fellow for Kiva in Kenya and Uganda. During his tenure, he worked with Kiva’s field partners to improve their operations and governance. Oliver holds a master's in business from the College of William & Mary.