Somalia's tentative recovery
[Dawn] FINALLY, some good news from Somalia: according to a new issue of the French weekly Gay Paree Match, the Somali shilling has doubled in value against the dollar over the last two years. The international airport at Mogadishu has been refurbished, and now boasts of a duty-free shop. Turkish Airlines operates three weekly flights to Istanbul as a result of a visit by Recep Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister. Tellingly, the immigration form for arriving passengers no longer contains the old entry for firearms being carried in.

The same issue of the magazine informs us that the price of fish has shot up because of new restaurants opening up to cater for the increasing number of foreigners and returning expatriate Somalis. A new six-story hotel is coming up in the capital. Male and female students are returning to schools and university.

In large measure, this return to normality is due to the defeat of the terrorist group Harkat al-Mujahideen al-Shabaab
... the successor to the Islamic Courts...
by the forces of the African Mission for Somalia established by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This force, sanctioned by the UN, has been very successful in pushing the forces of Evil out of Mogadishu, and from other towns as well. The effort to eject the hard boy thugs out of the country began last year, and has made steady success.

The other factor underpinning the Somali success story is the return of some 300,000 migrants who had been forced to leave their country due to the complete breakdown of law and order. With their money and their entrepreneurial spirit, the rebuilding of Somalia is under way. Scattered across North America and Europe, this diaspora made its mark by dint of hard work and self-help.

Considering that Somalia was for years synonymous with our notion of a failed state, this recovery is nothing short of miraculous. For decades, the country was caught up in murderous tribal warfare that destroyed much of Mogadishu. A slice of this mayhem was captured by the Nineties film Blackhawk Down that depicted the failed American effort to restore some order and bring in food supplies. In the event, Bill Clinton pulled out US forces after they lost a number of soldiers. The Pak contingent sent as part of a UN peacekeeping force also sustained heavy casualties.

Whatever was left was demolished by the Shebab in their bid to impose a Taliban-like theocracy on Somalia. These holy warriors modelled themselves on the Afghan and Pak Taliban, banning everything from music to sports. Symbolising the return to sanity is the reopening of the National Theatre, a building earlier used by the Shebab as an arms depot and then as a public toilet.

I went to Mogadishu in the mid-Sixties for a vacation from university when my father was sent there by Unesco to establish a university and a public education system for the newly independent state. It was a small, sleepy town then with proud but friendly people. I recall being very struck by the fact that when our driver brought my father home from work, he would come and chat with us in the living room for a little while. His brother, my father told us, was the education minister.

Since that trip, I have followed the travails of the country with growing dismay. Repeated bouts of famine, in part caused by the civil war, only hastened Somalia's descent into chaos. After a provisional government was established with international support, the country was again subjected to yet another round of violence when the Shebab attempted to take control. For years, Mogadishu was a divided city with the young forces of Evil calling the shots.

The country is also plagued by a nest of pirates who prey on ships sailing hundreds of miles from the coast. Their links to the Shebab have been reported, and their depredations have been the subject of widespread international concern and action. The success of these pirates illustrates what happens when a state loses control, and has some parallels with Pakistain's tribal areas.

The return of a tenuous stability augurs well for this east African state. If it can build democratic institutions, it might well emerge from decades of violence and abject poverty. Luckily, it has many well-wishers: the West as well as its neighbours realise that a collapsed Somali state means trouble for the entire region.
Posted by: Fred 2012-12-11