Stabilising Somalia: a new chapter begins

Abdirashid Duale, the chief executive of Dahabshiil, the largest money-transfer business in the Horn of Africa, knows only too well the cost of doing business in Somalia. After two decades of serving the residents of Mogadishu, his offices have not been spared from the violence. In 2009, an Al-Shabaab attack that took the lives of some of his staff forced him to close some outlets. But his remaining 29 offices in Mogadishu still serve as a lifeline for many.

Such attacks have so far not stopped the commercial boom the capital is experiencing. Dahabshiil has seen a 20% rise in its Mogadishu transactions in recent months, and the Somali shilling has been getting stronger against the dollar, Duale wrote to Africa Renewal. “We have noticed that some of our customers are rebuilding their properties. There is also a high demand for rental properties, especially for business premises.” He notes there are now daily flights to Mogadishu packed with people from the Somali diaspora returning to invest in their homeland.

Sharif from Minnesota is looking forward to joining his grandmother, who has been living in Hamarweyme, a relatively safe area of Mogadishu. “Somalia is making one of the biggest transformations since the war in 1991. We need to give this government more of a chance to see what it is going to do, rather than criticise.”

Strengthening security

Many people with a vested interest in a peaceful future for Somalia agree that strengthening and reforming the national security forces is essential to keeping the momentum going. The African Union is pushing for the UN Security Council to lift its arms embargo on Somalia, while at the same time keeping it in force against non-state actors. The AU is also asking for an expansion of the UN support package to Somalia, as well as for help in financing the full deployment of military personnel for AMISOM, to reach its agreed level of 12,000 troops.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has agreed with President Mahmud to start peacebuilding activities. He wants the UN to establish a “heavy footprint” in the country, meaning he wants to have all relevant UN agencies, funds and programmes move to Somalia by January 2013 (most have been operating from neighbouring Kenya).

Restoring basic services such as water, education and health is also crucial to the new government’s success, Maxamed Ibrahim, a graduate student of international development at the University of Vermont in the US, told Africa Renewal. He is from Bardera, an agricultural city connected to the port of Kismayo. He left Somalia in 1995 and has not been back since. He remains a bit sceptical about the country’s future. Clan warfare, corruption, security challenges and the aftermath of the famine are problems carried over from the previous administration. “No one talks about reforming the army, paying taxes… Does the government actually have money to do this? As for AMISOM, military victory is almost all they talk about. But once they capture a city, what’s next? Nobody really talks a lot about that. The AU troops are already stretched too thin and the government does not talk about services. People will turn to Al-Shabaab for security and services if they don’t get them from the government.”

As of January 2012 there were an estimated 184,000 internally displaced people living in Mogadishu, says Russell Geekie of OCHA. A new estimate of well over 200,000 was expected by the end of 2012. The government’s immediate challenge now is to establish local and district administrations, justice and the rule of law. Then it will be in a better position to provide for local populations.

For now, Ibrahim believes that the Somali people are “tired of groups like Al-Shabaab.” As long as the Somali people remain in control of any future stabilisation effort, he concludes, they will be “tolerant” and will give the new government time to resolve longstanding problems.

This article was first published in Africa Renewal