For the first time since taking office last October in neighboring Kenya, the leaders of Somalia's government in exile are visiting their homeland, assessing conditions for moving the government to the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi began their five-day, six-city tour in the town of Jowhar, about 90 kilometers north of Mogadishu.
The two leaders arrived there late Thursday, as part of a fact-finding and confidence building trip for the new government. Because of security concerns in the Somali capital, the government has been based in Nairobi, Kenya since it was formed four months ago.
In speeches, President Yusef focused on reassuring Somalis that a functioning government would be established in the country after 14 years of chaos and lawlessness.
The president declined offers from leaders in Jowhar to temporarily host the government in their town. He insisted that the government must be seated in the capital to be seen as legitimate. He further vowed, "to thwart the efforts of the minority in Mogadishu who reject peace."
Somalia has been without a government since 1991 when a coalition of warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and then turned the Horn of African nation into a violent patchwork of fiefdoms.
Despite the presence of several top Somali warlords as ministers in the new government, there has been no consensus about how to move the government safely to Mogadishu, where the warlords' well-armed militias still fight on a regular basis.
President Yusef and Prime Minister Gedi are planning to visit the capital, where many people say they are eager to see a government take office. But some Somalis vehemently oppose the government's plan to deploy between five and 7500 peacekeepers from the African Union and the Arab League to pave the way.
Some people oppose the idea of including Ethiopian soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping force. The two neighbors have bitter relations over long-standing territorial disputes and Somali claims that Ethiopia helped fuel the civil strife in Somalia by backing one of the country's factional leaders.
Other Somalis, particularly hard-line Islamic clerics, reject the idea of deploying any foreign peacekeeping force on Somali soil. In early January, the head of the country's Supreme Council of the Islamic Courts, held a protest rally in Mogadishu calling on Somalis to prepare for a holy war against all foreign, non-Muslim, troops if they arrive in the country.
A spokesman for the Addis Abba-based African Union, Desmond Orjiako, says his organization is prepared to contribute whatever the new Somali government needs to ensure its safe return.
"For us here in the African Union, we believe it is in the interest of the people of Somalia that all the people embrace the government that is coming there. There is prospect for peace if all the people of Somalia embrace themselves and their neighbors because at the end of the day, they have to live in peace," Mr. Orjiako said.
But a Brussels-based research organization, the International Crisis Group, has warned that if the concerns of Somalis are not adequately addressed, they could result in further violence. The group notes that the deployment of U.S. and U.N. peacekeepers in the early 1990s sparked some of the worst fighting in Somali history.