News / Africa

    Somalia Strives to Shake Off 'Failed State' Tag

    A scene in Mogadishu (AU-UN)
    A scene in Mogadishu (AU-UN)
    Reuters
    Western powers are in early talks on writing off Somalia's debt, a big shift for a country that was long branded a failed state and has with help scored successes against al-Qaida-linked rebels and piracy.
           
    Just two years ago, Islamist militants and African peacekeepers fought daily street battles in Mogadishu.
           
    Now the city is rid of insurgents, though still vulnerable to attack, and the government's focus is on bolstering security, rooting out corruption and imposing the rule of law.
           
    Foreign diplomats point to a determination to re-enter the international fold under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected last year in the country's first vote for decades.
           
    This is welcome progress for regional states whose economies have been rattled by their neighbor's instability and for Western capitals which long worried Somalia provides a base for militant Islam to flourish unchecked.
           
    "A couple of years ago all the talk was about humanitarian disasters, piracy and terrorism,'' said a Somalia-focused senior Western diplomat based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. "Now we're talking about an arrears process.''
           
    Mohamud had made it clear Somalia should not be seen as a basket case and wants to change donors' attitudes, envoys said.
           
    Discussion about debts suggest that change is happening. Somalia's arrears stood at around $2.2 billion in 2010, World Bank data showed, peanuts in international terms but daunting when domestic revenues are forecast at $54 million in 2013.
           
    Washington, London and Brussels are among those which have formally recognized the government for the first time since civil war erupted in 1991. Diplomats say it is high in ambition but hamstrung by a lack of funds, manpower and expertise.
           
    "This is a better government on every level,'' said a U.N. diplomat in Nairobi. "They're more responsive, more interested in what they're doing and they're not feathering their own nests.''

    Weakest Ebb       

    Security worries persist. Britain warned this week of imminent attacks in Mogadishu and al-Shabab militants have claimed several suicide bombings in past months, more than two years after they were driven out of the capital.
           
    Their fighters still control swathes of the countryside, but an African Union force has forced them out of most cities and the Islamist group is now at its weakest ebb in the six years since it emerged amid anarchy as a fighting force.
           
    The 17,600-strong African force includes troops from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya. Nairobi is worried by a surge in bombings, kidnappings and grenade attacks on its soil that it blames on the Somali militants and their sympathizers.
           
    Mogadishu's mortar-blasted facades and refugee camps tell of chaos inflicted by clan warlords and then Islamists after dictator Mohammed Siad Barre's overthrow set off civil war.
           
    But now its rubble-strewn streets are choked with traffic and constructions sites point to a new confidence. Well-dressed Somali men from the diaspora hold their girlfriends' hands in public - impossible when the strict Islamists were in charge.
           
    "Mogadishu is now like other cities in the world,'' said Hassan Hashi, an elder from Dusamareb in central Somalia.
           
    But he said the government still struggled to exert influence in the provinces. In a country divided along clan faultlines, the government's relationship with the regions is delicate and often uneasy under a fledgling federal system.
           
    Strips of Somalia's coast remain infested with pirates, even if they stage fewer successful attacks now due to the greater use of armed guards, increasingly aggressive naval action and slight improvements in law and order onshore.
           
    "The other parts of the country are dark,'' said Hashi. "Mogadishu, which is the heart of Somalia, has recovered but the other regions, the limbs, are still paralyzed.''
           
    A political newcomer, Mohamud's election was hailed by many as a vote for change, but seven months on some grumble.
           
    "He promised to improve security but it has not yet happened,'' said shopkeeper Halima Bile from Baidoa, which relies on foreign rather than local forces for protection from the rebels. "I don't know when Somalia will become a real country.''
          
    Moving Back
           
    But Western powers are no longer dealing with Somalia as a failed state. Humanitarian aid is still essential, but now they have an interlocutor in the government which increasingly pushes visitors to meet in Villa Somalia, the presidential palace, instead of behind the fortified fences of Mogadishu's airport.
           
    "By treating them as a normal state we're signaling things are really beginning to change,'' said the European Union's envoy Michele Cervone d'Urso, who is still based in Nairobi but spends more time in Somalia. "Of course, it is step by step.''
           
    Some U.N. officials and aid workers are also slowly moving out of Kenya to Somalia, and diplomats will not be far behind.
           
    Britain plans to open an embassy in Mogadishu by the end of July, and other Western powers who left in the early 1990s may follow. It will join others such as Turkey, Sudan and Yemen.
           
    Recognizing Mohamud's government may open the way for more Western aid and funds from World Bank and International Monetary Fund, vital for services like health, education and security.
           
    But Somalia still has a way to go to build foreign confidence. Asked whether direct budgetary support was a possibility, the Western diplomat said: "Not for a long time.''
           
    "I wouldn't say it is a functioning government. It lacks capacity at all levels,'' he added.
           
    But the West is providing more support. Britain says it plans to use its presidency of G8 nations to urge the World Bank and others to re-engage with Somalia.
           
    Almost half Somalia's $2.2 billion of external debt is owed to the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank. Those debts must be clear before further support is offered.
           
    The World Bank's lead economist on Somalia, Paolo Zacchia, said there was no quick fix but that the bank was looking at acting as swiftly as possible to "stabilize the government''.
           
    Others also want to avoid missing an opportunity to prevent a slip back into anarchy.

    "We have to bank these opportunities otherwise they will slide backwards,'' the Western diplomat said. "The gains made are incredibly fragile.''

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    Carry-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society, so here's the deal with pizza, Chinese food and what racism has to do with taking food to go

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora