Somalia: Partial peace, substantial challenges

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Somalia is rebuilding after decades of turmoil, but great challenges still lie ahead.

A woman walks through a deserted market in central Mogadishu in 2011 (Picture: Africa Renewal/Flickr)

A woman walks through a deserted market in central Mogadishu in 2011 (Picture: Africa Renewal/Flickr)

Since the August 2011 withdrawal of Al Shabaab insurgents from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, security has improved, allowing for the gradual resumption of government functions. But sporadic suicide attacks, conflict-related population displacement and socio-economic problems persist, exemplifying some of the daunting challenges still ahead.

On March 18th, for example, a car bomb in Mogadishu left several people dead. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud responded in a statement: “We can only presume at this stage that this cowardly attack is the work of Al Shabaab. They have been severely weakened and now resort to terrorism and murder of innocent Somali citizens… Al Shabaab/Al Qaeda forces have no place in this world, and we will not allow them to have [a] place in Somalia.”

Al Shabaab has since claimed responsibility for the attack.

Below, the UN humanitarian and news analysis service, IRIN provides an overview of Somalia’s recent progress and some of the many challenges that remain.

What does relative stability look like in Somalia?

Recent gains by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces against the Al Shabaab insurgents have given the government some breathing space. Members of the Somali diaspora are now returning due to the increased stability. According to the mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Ahmed Nur Tarsan, there has been a significant improvement in the security situation there.

The lighting up of two arterial roads in Mogadishu has allowed businesses there to remain open after dark; children can also be seen playing in the streets. “I am playing football with my friends until late at night,” Mohamed Hassan, 12, told IRIN in the Mogadishu district of Howlwadag.

There are plans to gradually light up other major roads in Mogadishu in a bid to boost business.

Mogadishu as it looked in the early 1990s (Picture: CT Snow/Flickr)

What are the remaining security threats?

But “insecurity remained a key challenge throughout the country in February,” according to an update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), issued on March 6th.

Mohamed Moalin, the commissioner of Bakool’s regional capital of Hudur, said that Al Shabaab is preventing food from reaching the town.

In a March 21st press release, following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Hudur, AMISOM sought to reassure residents, stating it “is working closely with the Federal Government of Somalia in their efforts to re-establish a security presence in the area.”

AMISOM Force Commander General Gutti said, “We have in place contingent measures to ensure that areas in Bay and Bakool remain stable and secure in the event of further Ethiopian troop withdrawals.”

The Somali government is also grappling with acts of criminality by its armed forces.

Several hours after the execution of three soldiers for killing civilians, the chairman of Somalia’s Supreme Military Court, Hassan Mohamed Hussein Mungab, told IRIN: “We will not tolerate killers and rapists within the armed forces. We will kill them because they denied the very people they were supposed to protect the right to life.”

Armed, uniformed men have also been accused of robbery.

International focus on the security sector was reflected in the March partial lifting of a UN arms embargo on Somalia, which will allow the government to continue to train and equip its armed forces. (IRIN 26/3)

Deadly Attack on Radio Journalist

On March 26th, the United Nations envoy in Somalia, Augustine Mahiga  expressed shock and sadness at the killing of a female radio journalist and called on the government to bring those responsible to justice.

Ms. Abdulkadir, who worked at Abduwaq radio, was reportedly shot and killed by unknown attackers in the Yaqshid district in Mogadishu on the 25th. She is the third media professional to be killed in Somalia in 2013. In 2012, 18 journalists were killed in direct or indirect attacks.

“Somalia continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate.

This negative picture needs to change,” Mr. Mahiga said, calling on the recently-formed Independent Task Force on Human Rights and law enforcement bodies to ensure that the perpetrators are brought swiftly to justice.

In February, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon launched the Independent Task Force to end the culture of impunity on human rights abuses in the country.

“The Somali media community has proved its courage and resilience throughout the years. Somalia has moved to a new era where freedom of expression is guaranteed in the provisional constitution and the Government has committed to safeguarding human rights, and, in particular, the protection of vulnerable groups, including journalists.

I call on the assailants to stop this senseless violence,” added Mr. Mahiga, head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS). (UN News Service 25/3)

Meanwhile Ethiopia‘s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), confirmed March 26th that it had recently foiled a kidnap plot in Dolo Ado by a group with links to Al Shabaab. The group was “caught red-handed with arms as they plotted to carry out the kidnappings” the NISS said in a statement.

The plot was apparently aimed at foreigners working for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

According to the NISS the group’s aim was to seize the foreign officials and take them across the border into Somalia in a bid to extract ransoms from their institutions and their families. The arrests followed on from earlier operations, two months ago, when 15 militants accused of being trained in neighbouring Somalia by Al Shabaab, were detained. (Government of Ethiopia 26/3)

Hostages of the Gatekeepers

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that even though the new Somali government which came to power in September in 2012 has made some impressive statements, it has done very little to change the situation on the ground.

In a report, it says internally displaced people in Somalia are suffering sexual violence and other forms of abuse, and the abuse takes place at the hands of armed groups, including government forces. Women describe being gang-raped in camps in Mogadishu. Managers of the camps – often allied to militias – siphon off food and other aid, the HRW report says.

“Our findings suggested that the people in these camps are often basically kept captive in the camps,” said David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch.

“They are not really able to leave. The gatekeepers who control the camps are themselves very abusive.

The report, Hostages of the Gatekeepers, focuses on those who have fled to the Mogadishu camps since 2011. Running camps has become so lucrative, the group says, that managers – known as gatekeepers – refuse to let the inhabitants leave.

Some of the worst abuse involves sexual violence against displaced women and girls – which goes under-reported because women fear stigma and reprisal.

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