MOGADISHU, Somalia — For more than two decades, Mogadishu residents have marked Somalia's independence day under the threat of chaos and violence; but this year is different. Due to security gains and the return of relative stability to the Somali capital, citizens finally have something to celebrate.
For twenty-one years anarchy and humanitarian disasters have over-shadowed Somalia’s Independence Day.
The July 1 holiday commemorates the day Somalia declared independence from Italian colonizers, 52 years ago.
This year, Mogadishu residents are breathing in freedom and optimism like never before, following security gains by African Union forces and Somali government fighters against al-Shabab militants.
Ahmed Afi, who works with Direct Aid, a Kuwait-based aid agency, says this Independence Day, he has been able to visit places he could not go to the year before.
“It’s somehow different from previous celebration, because now we are celebrating under more peaceful environment, we have access to markets, to main roads and streets, we can move around whenever we can go," he said. "We can greet our friends, families and relatives.”
Another resident, Hussein Omar, who is supervising the construction of a new hotel along Mogadishu’s Lido Beach, says this year's national day is a double celebration for him.
"The country is now independent from two groups," he says, "the colonists and the insurgent group. It feels like this is our actual first independence day."
At the same time last year al-Shabab still controlled some pockets of the city and launched daily attacks against AU troops and Somali government forces.
Now, the al-Qaida linked group has been weakened militarily and financially, and African forces are preparing to move against the group’s last stronghold, the coastal city of Kismayo.
For Afi, the hope for continued peace and stability depends on the country’s future political leaders.
“I and other Somalis today their future depends on the upcoming elections and its results in August 2012," said Afi. "If we will have a good leadership from August we expect to reach the next celebration of July 1st with prosperity, progress and development.”
Somalia has until August 20 to elect a new parliament and president in accordance with a United Nations-backed plan to end a 12 year political transition.
If they are successful, Somalia will have yet another reason to celebrate.