Somalia is now better than before is the common response that one gets upon enquiries about the situation in the “Horn of Africa” country that has suffered almost 25 years of civil war, erupted by clan-based militias. Thanks to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)!
Yes indeed, Somalia, one of the founding members of the Organisation of African Unity and now African Union, is better than before; but uneasily calm. The country now ranks sixth among the ten least peaceful countries in the World!
“I have been in this country since 2010, the situation is better than before, now you can see people going about their lives, it was not so before,” Daniel Omondi, a Kenyan Civil Engineer, the Project Manager for IDMAN General Trading Company Limited told me.
We, a group of journalists from Police Contributing Countries of Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Burundi basked in with sense of security when the AMISOM Spokesman, Colonel Joseph Kibet welcomed us to Somalia at the IDMAN Hotel in Mogadishu with the message “Somalia is now very calm..but it is unpredictable,” thus assuring us of our security.
Mogadishu is a heavily militarised city, with the commonest vehicle in town being armoured vehicle and bullet proof four-wheel drives used by the peacekeepers. While in Somalia on the embed trip, at the invitation of the AMISOM, we had to wear 10 kilogram extra load of bullet proof jackets and in an armoured vehicle to go round town.
The AMISOM, which has military, police and civilians components from a number of African countries have been deployed in the country since 2007 to help restore peace and security.
Refreshingly, they have substantially helped stablise the country from Al-Shabaab militant attacks. About 80 per cent of the country is relatively safe and peaceful, and under the control of the Africa intervening forces.
However, the terrorist militant groups are still holding on to small areas, mainly at the rural and hinterlands, engaging in what the military described as “asymmetric warfare” with the AMISOM.
They use Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to attack through suicide bombings and other terrorists’ acts, at the least opportunity.
Been in Mogadishu and Kismayo, two major towns in Somalia from May 22-26, on an embed trip, it is no exaggeration to confirm that Somalia is better, courtesy the yeoman job of African security personnel, who have sacrificed the comfort of their homelands to help liberate their fellow brothers and sisters from the scourges of blood thirsty terrorist militant group, Al-Shabaab.
Indeed, for the period that I have been in Somalia, I did not hear of mortar shelling, a trade mark of the Al-Shabaab. I see “tro-tros” carry people round the city.
Al least for the five days I have been in the country I see people go about their lives even at night. I see shops open for business; I see aircraft, often Turkish Airline and Jubba Airways, a local airline now based in Kenyan capital Nairobi, jet in and out of the militarily fortified Aden Abdulle Airport in Mogadishu, the capital town of Somalia. I see people play football by the road side and empty spaces though the stadium is “no go” area as it is occupied and heavily guarded by AMISOM, after they recaptured it from the Al-Shabaab.
Indeed, I see life return to normal in the once beautiful city of Mogadishu, with holiday makers cool off at the Liido Beach resort, which had been attacked by Al-Shabaab with heavy casualties.
Again, I see the Jazeera Palace Hotel, which used to house the China, Kenya and Egypt Embassies and office accommodation for Qatari officials, which had been closed following attacks by Al-Shabaab, now back to life.
I see the AMISOM /AU Base Camp, which provides office and residential accommodation for the peacekeepers that had come under mortal shelling by Al-Shabaab, heavily fortified with the personnel going about their duties.
Furthermore, I experience the Uganda and Nigeria Formed Police Unit conduct joint operations with the Somali police aim at enhancing law and order, public security and safety in the country, especially at night.
I learn of private sector resurgence in industry, telecommunications, construction, money transfer service led by wealthy Somalis returning from the Diaspora, to reconstruct their country. A sign of economic recovery!
More significantly, Somalia now has a recognised federal government system in place headed by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who live in the respectable Villa Somalia(Presidential Palace).The country has four functional states of Jubbaland, Central State, Puntland and Interim South West Administration. Also in place are the Legislative and Judiciary organs of government.
Preparations are under way for general elections, as the four- year tenure of President Mohamud comes to an end by the close of the year. There is no one-man-one-voting, as we know in Ghana and other democracies in place yet; the country practise a controversial power sharing formula 4.5 in which the four major clans of Darod,Dir,Hawiye and Rahanweyo referred to as the “noble clans” are offered lion’s share and the other minority clans given the least share.
The AMISOM has helped in the training of 10,000 police force for the various states. They continue to mentor them to become more efficient and effective in modern policing, especially in criminal investigations, traffic management and control, community policing, crime scene management and crime prevention and control.
Besides, about 10,900 soldiers have been trained by the AMISOM for the Somalia National Army who are in joint collaboration with the AMISOM military wing to enhance the stability, security and territorial integrity of the country. Miliatry source say the country needs about 30,000 soldiers.
Somalia, which has a culture of clan loyalty, had been colonised by the French, English and Italians. The country eventually gained independence in 1960 with the merger of the British Somaliland and the Italy Somaliland. The French territory became the country Djibouti. The Army Commander, Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, became the leader of Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country, seizing power from the elected government in a bloodless coup in 1969.
The military dictator outlawed the clan-based loyalty that had been the bane of the country and injected a sense of nationalism into the citizenry with his “Scientific Socialism” system of government that had brought some appreciable level of socioeconomic development.
Regrettably (my own perspective), his government was overtaken by event with the re-emergence of the clan-based militias who forced him out of power in 1991. This brought the country into full-scale civil war. Consequently, two governments emerged in the midst of the crises, controlling different parts of the country, but were not recognised by the international community.
The African Union intervened in 2007 with about 22,000 personnel after United States, which initially sent intervening forces to quell the crises, pulled out of the failed state following humiliations from the war lords.
An agreement was reached with the establishment of transitional federal government which gave way to the election of President Mohamud, in 2012, to lead the country to the path of reconstruction. It was the first time the country went to the poll, in nearly five decades; elections were last held in the country in 1967.
The Deputy AMISOM Force Commander in Charge of Support and logistics, Maj. Gen. Nakibus James Lakara, says Somalia is faced with herculean infrastructural challenges. “The roads are not in good shape for the deployment of logistics, airlift of logistic is expensive, getting portable water for the troops is a challenge, we are in a very complex operating environment because of the nature of the conflict which is rooted in clannish attitudes, it is difficult to de-clannish them,” he said.
Somalia, which has the longest shoreline on the India Ocean, a major international marine transport route, holds prospects for recovery from the devastations of the civil war. The country is known to have oil and gas deposits yet untapped.
The International Monetary Fund review of the economy in 2014 showed that the country’s economy grew by 3.7 per cent. The fisheries and livestock sectors being the engine of growth.
The path to reconstruction of Somalia will not be easy as the Al-Shabaab continue to pose a threat to peace, security and national stability. But President Mohamud remains confident that Al-Shabaab will be defeated.
“The end of Al-Shabaab is closing by the hour and by the day, with the grace of God we will defeat them in the very short time in the future in Somalia and elsewhere on the continent,” the confident looking President Mohamud assured the gathering in Mogadishu to mark African Union Day on May 25.
The “very short time in the future” remains what all are hoping and watching for. Thousands of Somalia refugees in Kenya and other neighbouring countries are yearning to return to their motherland, to rebuild their lives.
By Salifu Abdul-Rahaman