In early October, a Somali online newspaper, Hiraan Online, interviewed Hiba Nura, a popular Somali singer who left the country for nearly 22 years to live abroad when the Somali Civil War ensued. Nura, who came back to Somalia in September to host a music festival, is one of many returning to the recovering country and now acts as a spokesperson for displaced persons looking to potentially return to the state following intense reconstruction efforts in Mogadishu. Whilst the Somali Federal Government, the first permanent central government since the start of the civil war in 1991, has been putting efforts internationally and domestically to first and foremost secure the state and then follow President Hassan Sheikh Mohammed’s six pillar development plan. As many aid agencies and refugees have commented, the country is far from ready for refugees to return. Although Nura, along with Kenya and the Somali Federal Government, believe that the country has progressed enough for a more involved, collaborative effort to take place with foreigners and Somalis abroad, this may, in fact, only reflect and be endangered by the more immediate needs of these parties.
When the US reopened diplomatic relations with Somalia for the first time since 1991 at the beginning of this year, the international community responded with optimism at the new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s efforts in designing a development plan and preparing Somalia to reach out to the international community for aid and local political bodies to form a cohesive federal state as the Somali constitution mandated. Since then, the UK, EU, and Turkey have all given significant support to the country financially, militarily, and diplomatically. A large part of this aid comes after al-Shabaab, the terrorist organisation associated with al-Qaeda, was ousted from major southern strongholds in Somalia, such as Kismayo. After the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), acting on behalf of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) regained control over Mogadishu last year, the country has been on an upward trajectory in conveying a progressive message to the international community. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has said that security for Somalia was of foremost concern, but has been publicising the optimistic milestones on the road to achieving stability for the state. He is working for the improvement of Somalia’s situation on all counts, but the truth is that real development seems a long way off.
Sources of pessimism occur less within the political rhetoric internal and external to the state and more from workers, citizens, aid workers, and businesses in Somalia. This is unsurprising, as Somalia is known to be one of, if not the, most difficult places to perform these functions in the world. Numerous organisations have been withdrawing this past year, even after the encouraging push-backs against al-Shabaab last year. In August alone, organisations with a major presence in the state, Barclays and Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF), announced closure of their most needed services. Barclays closed its Money Services Business (MSB) accounts and MSF withdrew its healthcare services from the region due to thefts and abductions not only by al-Shabaab of aid and other supplies but threats from all parties with an active political presence in the region, including the Somali Federal Government. MSF, which has been present in Somalia since 1991, withdrew from the region because it was not only the parties reputed to act as a security threat to the aid organisation that were serving that role. The organisation was completely discontented by the fact that the supposedly responsible government was indifferent to serving justice to the many atrocities committed to MSF staff, even whilst that justice was in the federal government’s power. MSF announced its decision on 14 August to withdraw its services from Somalia due not only to the killings, abductions, and abuses against its staff, but also because the extreme measures the organisation had to take to operate were becoming intolerable. A spokesperson for MSF said that the organization had reached its threshold for being able to independently assess and respond to the needs of the population.
Poor security in Mogadishu and beyond is the primary cause, however, for all these concerns. The federal government is currently still trying to build up power, whilst local governing bodies dispute over the extent of their authority and the President, whilst still slightly suspicious of KDF motives, garners military and economic aid from abroad. In the meantime, al-Shabaab, whilst slightly diminished is nonetheless a great presence in the area, as the attacks on UN main offices in Beledweyne demonstrate. Barclays’ decision to withdraw banking services from 250 money transfer services came out of suspicion that these services were funding terrorist activities. The decision, which stems from fines of over 1.9 billion dollars to HSBC after Mexican drug cartels were able to launder nearly 800 million dollars from Mexico to the US using HSBC’s services, has devastating effects for the many Somalis that use remittances as a lifeline.
Internal security issues are not all, however. There is pressure from Kenya to begin repatriating the nearly half a million refugees in the Dabaab refugee camp into Somalia, where al-Shabaab have been cleared near Somalia’s southern border, but aid agencies know this is unrealistic. Somalia is not ready for an influx of refugees, especially following the famine last year and highly insecure operational status of camps within the country. These are known concerns. The legal and financial infrastructure necessary to maintain order also needs much further development in order to keep bodies like Barclays and MSF within the country and make living conditions somewhat bearable.
The top concern then is to secure the state before paving the way for true development to take place. The UN Security Council, towards this end, has approved on 12th November, the addition of nearly 4,000 troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia to secure the state. Although nearly 22,000 troops will be deployed towards this aim, it is important to keep in mind the aid agencies’ outlook. The only concern in the country is not al-Shabaab. There are a myriad of actors, including the Jubaland state, Puntland, Somaliland, and the federal government itself that need to do their part to secure the Somali people and to build Somalia anew.