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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 M by 2015

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'i
X
Scott Stearns
September 23, 2014 10:52 PM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video US, Gulf Allies Strike Islamic State Militants in Syria

United States forces have carried out strikes against Islamic State or ISIL militant positions in Syria - the first time Western forces have taken action on Syrian soil. Five U.S. allies from the Gulf joined the military action. Local reports suggest dozens of militants were killed. The U.S. also carried out unilateral missile strikes against a Syria-based terror group which Washington says poses an imminent threat to the West. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video High Intensity Focused Ultrasound Used to Kill Cancer Tumor

There is a new way of killing certain cancer tumors that allows the patient to go home on the same day. Surgeons at the Keck Medical Center of the University of Southern California became the first doctors to use this procedure on a patient with the help of high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU, and new robotic technology. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in Five Countries

Hollywood stars Alicia Keys, Jennifer Garner and 30 others have voiced their support for a U.S.-backed initiative called "Let Girls Learn." The $231 million program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is aimed at ensuring public and quality education for girls worldwide. As VOA's Mariama Diallo reports, this new program will focus on five countries in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Video

Video UN: Relocation of Bedouins in Israel Weakens Two-state Solution

Rural Bedouins living in disputed lands east of Jerusalem could soon find themselves forcibly relocated. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Jerusalem that while Israel defends the move as in the Bedouins’ best interests, the United Nations says the plan threatens the survival of the two-state solution with Palestinians.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Prolonged Drought Plagues SW Oklahoma Farmers

Parts of western Texas and southwestern Oklahoma have been in drought conditions for several years running and the deficit in rainfall has taken a heavy toll on cotton and grain production. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin says the state has suffered $2 billion in agricultural losses since 2011. There has been rain in recent weeks, but, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Altus, Oklahoma, for most farmers it has been too late.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid