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Somalia is still fragile, but fragile is progress 0

Al-Shabaab is still launching attacks, donor fatigue is rising, and countless other challenges remain. But there’s no doubt Somalia is moving in the right direction.

For more than two decades, Somalia was synonymous with a failed state − a country controlled by terrorists and warlords, lacking an effective government and beset by recurring cycles of man-made and natural disasters.

No doubt, Somalia remains a work in progress. But as the world’s attention has shifted to other nations on the brink of collapse such as Yemen, Libya and the Central African Republic, Somalia’s quiet progress has made a return to anarchy increasingly unlikely. Today, Somalia, one of the world’s poorest nations, is rebuilding its economy and re-establishing a functioning government.

The influx of international diplomats augurs well, as does the relocation of more United Nations staff from Nairobi to Mogadishu.  The foreign nations who have established strong presence in Mogadishu also provide a sense of optimism and much needed economic revivalism to the capital. Most importantly, the noticeable Turkish and United Arab Emirates compounds provide a necessary public perception of security for Villa Somalia (the president’s compound) and continue to provide optimism for regional and international bodies to stay engaged inside Somalia.

A additional milestone on this journey was passed in January when the Obama administration nominated Stephen Schwartz, a career diplomat and longstanding Africa specialist, to become ambassador to Mogadishu, ending a 23-year lapse. This move highlights how ties between the US and Somalia have strengthened since 2013 when Washington ended two decades without formal bilateral relations.

However, Somalia’s upgrade from failed state to fragile one must be seen for what it is. Somalia remains vulnerable to political, security and economic shocks. There’s a danger that shiny symbols of normalcy like the return of MasterCard Inc. last year − the first by a company that relies on the international payments system − could lead to complacency among donor nations that face other pressing needs. After a quarter-century of conflict, Somalia cannot tackle its reconstruction alone. For progress to continue, it will need sustained assistance −aid that also pushes Somalia’s government and people to assume growing responsibility for their own security and economic development.

Fortunately, that process has begun with a six-year long climb back from the country’s abyss. The successes notched by Somalia offer a glimmer of hope for other nations that today are imploding under the weight of their own violent extremism, sectarianism and factionalism.

What’s behind the turnaround?

A new, indirectly elected and more broadly based government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, has won the confidence of the donor community as well as many of Somalia’s strong-willed and independent clan leaders. Over the past two years, Mohamud’s government has created a viable federal system comprising half a dozen states, pushed forward on development of a new constitution, and worked out initial arrangements for the country’s next elections. (They will be more representative than the previous ones, but fall short of a one-person one-vote standard.)

The new government has also made substantial security gains. Working closely with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and military advisers from several non-African countries, the Somali government has significantly degraded the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and pushed its fighters to the nation’s geographic margins. Greater stability in Somalia and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, its cooperative partner to the north, has also contributed to the sharp decline in Red Sea piracy.

Although al-Shabaab continues lethal hit-and-run operations, the Mogadishu government has expanded security in urban areas and broad swaths of the country, helping rebuild the devastated economy and state institutions. The government has re-established full control over Mogadishu’s port, a lucrative source of tax revenue, while the Turkish government, one of Somalia’s strongest partners, has refurbished and expanded the main airport, boosting revenue there.

Continue reading on African Arguments

by Muhammad Fraser-Rahim

Photo Credits: AMISOM/Tobin Jones

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi