Somalia: a long road ahead

New MPs pray during the inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in twenty years. (Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price)

New MPs pray during the inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia’s first parliament in twenty years. (Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price)

By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

Somalia: a long road ahead

Somalia marked an important milestone last week, as it swore in its new and first formal parliament in 20 years, but another key measure of its progress – the selection of a new president – has failed to materialise. Some real progress on its political transition, women’s rights and security has given Somalia an undeniable feeling of optimism and forward momentum. But each area of progress faces old realities: the ‘roadmap’ to transition and the parliament itself are marred by corruption and intimidation, women’s rights face huge challenges from the prevalent political culture, and the al-Shabaab insurgency remains a security threat despite some significant military gains by African Union forces. Somalia’s ability to leave these problems behind decisively depends on the new government – which may not be fully formed for some time. Read the rest of this entry »

Al-Shabaab branches out into Kenya

Amison vehicle in Mogadishu. Photo AU UN IST, Stuart Price

By Randolph Bell, Managing Director, IISS-US

Al-Shabaab has been spotted in Kenya more often recently. It has been just over a year since the Somali Islamist group was ousted from Mogadishu by African Union and Somali troops. The city is relatively peaceful for the first time in years (above), and although presidential elections due on 20 August have been postponed, its first official parliament in two decades was sworn in this week. After a ten-month campaign, Kenyan troops are poised to take the port city of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s last stronghold in Somalia.

However, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, al-Shabaab launched two new attacks recently, killing four and injuring eleven. That brings to around 30 the number of attacks it has been implicated in, or suspected of, in Kenya in the past year, since the high-profile kidnappings of first a British and then a French tourist in September and October 2011 respectively.

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Somali pirates now worry Mozambique

By Virginia Comolli, Research Analyst

Petroleum reserves and the discovery of large offshore gas fields have put Mozambique in the news in recent years. But the country is still battling the legacy of prolonged conflict during its 1964-74 war of independence and 1977-1992 civil war. More than half the population lives below the poverty line and the country relies heavily on foreign aid.

Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza (pictured) also expressed concern yesterday, in the latest IISS Oppenheimer Lecture, that piracy off the coast of Somalia could threaten offshore energy exploration – and his country’s future economic development with it.

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Saving Somalia

Somali PM Abdiweli Mohamed AliBy Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

On the eve of today’s London conference on Somalia, the country’s prime minister, Dr Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, laid out at IISS his vision for a secure, stable and prosperous Somalia. Without a functioning national government since 1991, the country has become a haven for pirates and al-Shabaab Islamist insurgents. However, the Western-backed transitional government in Mogadishu hopes to take advantage of several recent changes on the ground to consolidate a working federal state.

The prime minister admitted it was an ‘unspeakably ambitious’ goal, but took heart in the old proverb that ‘if Somali people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky’. He hoped today’s conference would be a ‘game-changer’ for his country, and welcomed international assistance – even ‘targeted’ air-strikes against al-Shabaab, provided these did not harm innocent civilians.

However, he stressed that the only long-term solution was a Somali one, with a robust national army, police force and coastguard.

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Oil on troubled waters?

By Hanna Ucko, Global Conflicts Analyst; Coordinator, Armed Conflict Database

Strange news from Somalia, where they are drilling for oil. Some optimists believe that the conflict-ridden nation could be sitting on 3bn-4bn barrels, and Somali politicians say they hope that this can bring greater stability and development. But that may be a tall order for a country with no functioning central government for 20 years.

At least 362,000 people have died during this period, and the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its African Union peacekeeping allies remain embroiled in an all-out conflict with the Islamist group al-Shabaab. Ethiopia – again – and Kenya – for the first time – have both also recently sent troops into Somalia. Decades of such fighting has greatly damaged the country’s infrastructure as well as its stability.
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