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Somalia, facing severe challenges, also shows signs of hope

Brookings Institution
Thursday May 3, 2018
By Ian Livingston

Despite important progress through years of international assistance around counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, humanitarian efforts, and state-building, peace and stability remain elusive in Somalia. On April 6, the Africa Security Initiative in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted a discussion with experts on the challenges Somalia faces now and potential paths forward.

Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon remarked that Somalia “has essentially been in one degree or another of chaos and civil war” ever since former President Siad Barre was deposed in 1991. Amidst ongoing conflict, he pointed to areas of hope today: There is stability in Puntland and Somaliland; the federal government in Mogadishu was formed peacefully and through at least quasi-democratic means; and there has been progress in security and socio-economic matters since the height of al-Shabab’s rule almost a decade ago.

Stephen Schwartz—appointed in 2016 as the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia since 1991—described the challenges he saw when he arrived in mid-2016: rampant corruption, a lack of social trust, persistent insecurity, inadequate government revenue and capacity, and limited government presence in much of the country. And he pointed to progress, including presidential elections and the peaceful transition of power from former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to the current president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. While the vote “was not comprehensive and universal,” Ambassador Schwartz explained, “people from every part of the country were able to vote for parliament in some numbers.” The new parliamentarians organized a free and fair vote for president and conducted it well and transparently, according to Schwartz, ultimately choosing a very strong candidate. The new government enjoyed a high level of legitimacy and inspired hope. “The Somalia of today is vastly better and more hopeful than the one of 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” Schwartz concluded.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke of her December 2017 fieldwork in Somalia in preparation for a United Nations University report on amnesty, leniency, and defectors’ program in Somalia (forthcoming in May). She explained: “Al-Shabab is only one of at least 60 warring actors in Somalia, and so Somalia will not achieve peace unless it starts doing a much deeper reckoning with the multiplicity of armed actors there.”


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