The U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, says despite on-going security challenges in Somalia, the country's Transitional Federal Government and African Union peacekeeping troops are making positive strides to lift the country out of nearly 20 years of war.
Briefing reporters in Nairobi about his visit, Under-Secretary General Pascoe says what he saw in Mogadishu is not the picture of a weak, faltering government and an unpopular peacekeeping force as they are often portrayed in the Somali and international media.
He says critics of the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, are overlooking some positive developments that have occurred since 2007, when Islamists began their bloody campaign to topple the U.N.-backed government.
"I do not want to sound overly optimistic and perfectly recognize all the difficulties that are there," he said. "But I also do not accept the statements, which I have seen repeatedly for the last three years, that everything is terrible and it is all falling apart. Yes, the government is weak. But the government is much more inclusive than it was before. The reaching out to groups, I think, is going to continue. When I look at the AMISOM-influenced or controlled area, however you want to define it, I see an AMISOM force, which very much has its act together."
The assessment follows a one-day visit by Pascoe and the Secretary General's recently-appointed Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, to Mogadishu.
The U.N. officials held talks with AMISOM force commander and Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a former Islamist leader whose came to power in early 2009 in a U.N.-sponsored power-sharing deal.
The deal was hailed as the best opportunity Somalia had for restoring peace and order since 1991, when the country's last central government was ousted and Somalia fell into chaos.
But after nearly two more years of conflict that has escalated in intensity, President Sharif's government has been unable to generate the popular support the United Nations had hoped it would receive. The African Union peacekeeping force, made up of troops from Uganda and Burundi, has also been sharply criticized for shelling densely-populated neighborhoods during clashes with insurgents.
Western analysts and human-rights groups have expressed fear that allegations of widespread government corruption and AMISOM's use of indiscriminate fire may have aided Somalia's al-Shabab group in its quest to become the most powerful force in the country.
The Somali government and the African Union argue their ability to counter al-Shabab's threat and to stabilize the country has been largely limited by the tepid support given to it by international donor countries.
Pascoe acknowledges that there are problems that need to be addressed within the government and AMISOM. But he says he believes both require more international support, not less, if Somalis are to have a chance at re-building their shattered country.
"It is quite clear that you need a strengthened role, I think, for AMISOM, which in fact is strengthening now and is much better than it was in the past," added Pascoe. "And you clearly need more work on developing forces that are loyal to the government, or at least associated to the government, in other areas. Is this a huge challenge? Yes. Is it going to be very difficult? Yes. But what strikes me is how the pieces are coming into place and the political will of the international community is strengthening."
The European Commission confirmed its support for the three-year-old peacekeeping mission by providing an additional $54 million. The United States says it has obligated more than $185 million in support of AMISOM troops this year.