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Mixed results for Somalia's new government

Monday, May 6, 2013

As donors gather in London for the International conference for Somalia, a quick glance before the conference begins shows that Somalia's security situation remains precarious.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague reopened the British Embassy in Somalia's capital Mogadishu last week, after two decades of diplomatic absence. The re-opening of the embassy was a clear message to the Western community that they should have confidence in the new Somali National Government, and it was just in time for Tuesday's (07.05.2013) Somalia Conference to be held in London.

The United Nations recently approved a new mission to Somalia. Under the UNSOM (United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia), the UN will send experts to advise the government and local authorities. "The resolution would help to improve the security situation of the Somali government," Ahmed Abdi Hassan, a security expert and former senior official of the national security forces said. Up to 200 experts are to be sent to Somalia.

On the right track

Former president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's transitional government was regarded as being highly corrupt. After his election victory in September 2012, successor Hassan Sheikh Mohamud seems to be on the right track.

His priority list includes among others, rebuilding the collapsed law institutions, a powerful police and army, fighting corruption and improving public safety. His policies have so far impressed many supporters in Somalia, earning Sheikh Mohamud a clear sympathy bonus, given the notorious Somali political class wrangles.

While the engineer and former dean of University seems to have gained from the fact that he has virtually no political experience, as a member of the influential Hawiye ethnic group, he knows how important it is not to leave clan leaders behind – especially since power in the Horn of African country is mostly dominated by ethnic loyalties. Mohamud's new Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid is also a close ally, which gives hope that a wrangling between the president and prime minister could fail this time.

The demonstrative Western support for Somalia is right, Rashid Abdi, a Somalia expert at the International Crisis Group told DW in an interview. "The international community has no alternative, if she (international community) refuses Somalia the necessary recognition, this plays into the hands of terrorists," Rashid said, alluding to the Al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab militia. "And for the Somali people, it is a signal of solidarity."
Returning home

The new government enjoys considerable faith with Somalis in the Diaspora.

Since the beginning of 2013 many Somalis have returned from the USA, UK and neighboring Kenya. Some have given up well-paid jobs and a secure existence to help in the reconstruction of their home country. The few airlines that fly to Mogadishu are fully booked for weeks in advance. The legendary beaches of Mogadishu, which were once dubbed the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean" by the Italians, are once again hosting visitors and even the shrill tones of mobile phones, which were strictly prohibited by al-Shabab, are back.

Faced with a national debt of over two billion US dollars (1.5 billion euros), Somalia is dependent on the good will of donors. They have a significant interest in a stable Somalia. According to the World Bank, piracy off the coast of Somalia costs the world economy 18 billion US dollars annually.

So far, so good

The UN Special Envoy to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, speaking at a press conference in mid-April 2013 gave a very positive review of the first six months of government. The situation had "significantly" improved Mahiga noted.

There is also an "effective, more representative government" with influence beyond the borders of Mogadishu. The impression of the past 22 years that there is no effective central government in Somalia has changed considerably," the diplomat added.

Not all see it that way. "The main dilemma of the government in Mogadishu is exactly this: it is only a government in Mogadishu and has no power to influence other areas,“ Annette Weber, long-time observer of Somalia at the Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin said. Weber however believes that the central government could extend its authority mainly on the southern port of Kismayu, the former retreat of al-Shabaab Islamists.

Renewed attacks

A series of attacks in the past three weeks have significantly dampened the euphoria. 34 people were killed in a series of coordinated suicide attacks on April 14. So far, it was the deadliest attack since the inauguration of the new government. And there is little doubt that the suicide attack on Sunday (05.05.2013) which left at least 11 people dead, was meant to send a signal to London. It was directed against a high-level delegation from Qatar. The Qataris are playing an important role as mediators at the London conference.

UN Special Envoy, Augustine Mahiga is concerned about further attacks, especially "explosives and suicide bombings". The security situation is also the main topic of Somalia conference in London.

For Germany, the London Conference is seen as a yardstick. Berlin has for many years offered continued support to the Somali peace process, with a focus on building institutions of rule of law. Germany also pays a substantial part of EU aid flowing to the famine-stricken country. Obviously pleased with the progress of the new government, Angela Merkel's government recently re-appointed an ambassador to Somalia for the first time in two decades.


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