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UN Envoy Has High Hopes for Somalia

Augustine Mahiga, special representative of the secretary-general for the United Nations Political Office in Somalia. (January 24, 2012 file photo)
Augustine Mahiga, special representative of the secretary-general for the United Nations Political Office in Somalia. (January 24, 2012 file photo)
The U.N. special representative for Somalia says the backbone of the al-Shabab’s militant group has been broken. However, Augustine Mahiga says isolated terrorist attacks in the country may continue for a time.

Speaking on VOA’s Press Conference USA, Ambassador Mahiga says the terrorist acts should not detract from the accomplishments of the AU, Kenyan and Somali forces.

De Capua report on Ambassador Augustine Mahiga
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“These isolated incidents of terrorist acts should be seen in the broader context of huge successes in the field in central and southern Somalia by AMISOM and Somali troops," he said. "The last bastion of al-Shabab, which is Kismayo, should fall any time."

However, he says the fall of the port city does not spell the end for al-Shabab.

“It may retreat in the rural areas and melt into the population. But the backbone of al-Shabab military strength has been broken. But we should continue to expect terrorist acts behind the lines and in populated areas. And these may be the kicks of a dying horse, but we shouldn’t underestimate them,” he said.

He added, however, there have been large numbers of defections from al-Shabab and that many foreign fighters have left the country.

Mahiga says Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is ready to take on the challenges of rebuilding his country.

“The new president is somebody who has never left the country throughout the 22 years of crisis and civil strife. But while in the country he was actively engaged in civil society, particularly in the area of education, and has great and very close knowledge of the challenges and needs of the people of Somalia. That is what actually gave him the credibility to be elected,” he said.

The U.N. representative says the president’s popular support will help him deal with challenges from political rivals.

“He will have to do a lot of reconciling and balancing act. That is the nature of politics in Somalia between clans and regions. And there are certainly those representing the previous establishment that will try to recreate or regain or recover their lost prestige. But such efforts without a popular base won’t get very far,” he said.

President Mahamud has also promised to fight corruption and have a transparent government.

Ambassador Mahiga says the international community is heavily involved in supporting the new Somali government. But he says some security gaps still need to be closed.

He added that the Somali Diaspora has helped the country during its long years of conflict.

“The Diaspora is also capable of future investment in the country. Already $1.6 billion from the Diaspora has kept households in Somalia alive and resilient over the past 20 years. And with peace coming, we should expect more resources, and the Diaspora should be encouraged,” he said.

The U.N. special representative says he’s very optimistic about prospects for Somalia. He describes the political strategy for the country as being legitimate, representative and democratic.