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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid