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Somali News

Somalia: Why 2010 was a watershed year for peace in Somalia, though risks remain

Tuesday 01 February 2011 SMC

On January 26, Somalia marked two decades since his overthrow. In that time, much of the Somali capital, as well as much of the country, has indeed been reduced to rubble.

Still, when history is written, 2010 may well come to be regarded as the year Somalia rejected Barre’s gloomy prediction.

The year witnessed the full deployment of the continental peacekeeping force, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) as well as the beginning of the collapse of extremist insurgency against the country’s internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

However, it also marked a new phase in the internationalization of the Somali conflict, with Al Shabaab carrying out attacks outside Somalia for the first time.

When the year began, the country was still reeling from the December 3, 2009 suicide bombing of a graduation ceremony for medical students that killed over 30 people.

The TFG was still riven by internal wrangling and unable to deliver services to the needy population. The 4,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers, only half their then mandated strength of 8,000, controlled less than a third of the capital, Mogadishu, and were struggling to keep the insurgents at bay.

Internationally, arguments for “constructive disengagement” from Somalia were gaining strength with proponents advocating the withdrawal of the AU forces, paving the way for an Al Shabaab takeover.

Undaunted, the AU continued to deploy more troops. In January, Amisom controlled only the seaport, the airport, the state house, Villa Somalia and the famous K-4 junction in Mogadishu.

As its capacity improved, and more troops arrived, Amisom extended its deployment in the capital. By April, when their number had surpassed 6,000, it had established 12 bases and was pushing back the insurgents.

By October, the force had stretched its control to the Juba Hotel, Bondere, Shakara, the parliament building, the Coca- Cola factory, Dabka junction, Fishbay, and Singale.

Today, with Amisom support, the government can exercise its authority in over 60 per cent of the city area and 80 per cent of its population. In many of these areas, life, business and the economy are slowly returning to normal.

This reality has been attested to by many independent analysts of the Somali conflict. For instance, according to a recent article in the Economist: “The Makaal Mukarama Road, which links the presidential palace with the AU headquarters at the airport, was previously unsafe. The Shabaab targeted it with improvised explosive devices, machine gun-fire and mortars.

Now packed minibuses and private cars pass up and down.”

Much of this progress was achieved in the face of a determined and ruthless campaign of terror waged by the insurgents.

On July 11, a week before a scheduled meeting of AU Heads of State in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Al Shabaab carried out twin terrorist attacks in the city killing 76 people as they watched the World Cup finals.

While the extremists doubtless hoped to dent the AU resolve, the atrocities had the opposite effect. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) immediately agreed to deploy a further 2,000 troops, and shortly thereafter the AU recommended the expansion of the Amisom force to 20,000.

The gruesome attacks, combined with the continued infusion of foreign fighters into Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda endorsement of its activities, also put paid to the idea that abandoning Somalia to the extremists would enhance the safety of the region.

In August, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the extremists launched what they called a “terminal offensive” with the declared intention of dislodging the Amisom forces from Mogadishu.

This offensive was an outright failure and by the time the fighting died down, Amisom had established a total of 26 positions, many on ground taken from the insurgents who had lost at least 500 fighters.

Civilian targets

Unable to dislodge the peacekeepers and topple the TFG, the Al Qaeda-aligned extremists, under the tutelage of foreign fighters, turned on the civilian population.

On August 24, militants wearing Somali military uniforms stormed Muna hotel in Mogadishu, firing indiscriminately and killing close to 40 people, including six parliamentarians.

A day later, a roadside bomb killed 15 people, including several schoolchildren. Another suicide attack, in September, this time on the Aden Ade International Airport, also claimed the lives of nine.

This only further alienated them from the populace.

On the political front, an initial draft of the new Constitution was completed and submitted to the Independent Commission for scrutiny. On President Sheikh Sharif’s request, a committee of experts was established to review the draft to align it with Somali culture and values.

The TFG wrangles also came to a head in September when Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned saying he could not resolve the differences he had with President Sheikh Sharif.

In October, parliament confirmed the president’s appointment of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the new premier and later approved his vastly reduced 18-strong Cabinet, largely made up of technocrats from the diaspora.

This new government had an immediate impact. TFG soldiers, unpaid for the previous 12 months, were immediately paid a month’s salary within the government’s first 40 days in office, and proper registration procedures are in place.

The seaport of Mogadishu also recorded an immediate doubling of revenues paid into the national Treasury and an annual budget was published and passed by parliament.

With Amisom’s support, a capacity building programme targeting key ministries was launched and is equipping Somali civil servants with professional skills.

The government also began delivering services to the population in Mogadishu, many of whom continue to flee the brutal strictures of the Al Shabaab to the relative safety of government controlled areas where they can access medical attention and humanitarian aid.

Defying Barre’s jeremiad, the city’s mayor, Mohammed Nur, has rolled out a programme of road rehabilitation and begun providing street lighting and rebuilding markets in the capital.

He has also submitted to development partners a four-year plan for regenerating the city, the first time this has ever been done.

For its part, Amisom distributed nearly two million litres of clean drinking water to civilians living near its bases in addition to providing them with free medical services at its hospital and outpatient clinics.

The situation in Somalia remains fragile and dangerous. The insurgents may have suffered severe setbacks but they still retain the capacity to kill and maim.

The United Nation’s Security Council decision last December to authorise the deployment of a further 4,000 Amisom troops will prove crucial this year.

With the extra soldiers, Amisom and the TFG can secure and hold a significant part of the rest of Mogadishu, and in turn bring more relief to civilians.

The return of the first batch of 1,000 Somali government soldiers currently being trained by the EU in Bihanga, Uganda, will contribute immensely to this endeavour.

This could not have come too soon as famine is looming in the wake of drought and continued fighting. Amisom’s role in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and alleviating the suffering of millions will be increasingly critical.

Partners from the international community should now demonstrate their commitment to assisting the needy Somali population including those living in areas controlled by the armed opposition groups such as Al Shabaab.

The TFG also faces huge challenges. As more areas are brought under its control, the government will need more international help to deliver services.

And with its mandate due to run out in August, it also needs to get to grips with the pending transitional tasks, especially the conclusion of the Constitution-making process.

In this light, the continued engagement of the international community cannot be gainsaid. Somalia stands on the brink of a new era, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the TFG, Amisom and other partners.

It is crucial that this opportunity to build upon the achievements made in 2010, and to prove Barre wrong, is not wasted.

Source: The EasetAfrican

Ahmed Muse Gure  +254717460513

Somaliweyn Media Center (SMC)

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