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Waging Peace in Somalia

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MOGADISHU – Later this week, an important high-level conference on Somalia in London, sponsored by the British government and attended by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will present an unprecedented opportunity to take stock of – and reinvigorate – the international community’s engagement in Somalia. The meeting could not come at a better time – these are momentous days in the Horn of Africa.

In early December 2011, Ban traveled to Somalia and announced that the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) would move its headquarters to Mogadishu. There was no shortage of doubters, but I am pleased to say that my office has now relocated from Nairobi, and for the first time since 1995 a Special Representative of the Secretary-General is based in the Somali capital.

This encouraging sign caps a year of remarkable progress and transition in the Somali peace process. Continuing attacks by the insurgent group al-Shabaab, as well as piracy and kidnappings, may dominate the international news, but for the first time in many years, Somalis have a real reason to hope for a better future – that is, if the international community and the Somali authorities can capitalize on this moment of opportunity. Let me explain.

First of all, I could move here from Nairobi because Mogadishu is now relatively safe. After years of fighting, the brave African Union (AU) peacekeepers (known as AMISOM), assisted by the armed forces of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, pushed al-Shabaab out of most of the city. Unfortunately, the insurgents have resorted to terrorist tactics, and their suicide attacks have claimed many innocent lives. Nevertheless, the progress is undeniable.

This month, the UN Security Council is expected to approve an increase in AMISOM’s force strength. This would allow the troops to expand their areas of operation outside Mogadishu and bring soldiers from Kenya, who are battling the insurgents in the south of the country, under the same umbrella. Consolidation on the security front will be critical to sustainable progress, and I call on the Security Council to approve the requested increase and give the AU forces the resources they need to finish the job that they have so ably started.

But any military advances must go hand in hand with a viable political process. In September 2011, the Somali authorities adopted a “Roadmap for ending the transition,” which commits the Transitional Federal Government to a series of concrete tasks and fixed benchmarks to be accomplished by the end of August 2012. The Roadmap focuses on security, constitutional reform, reconciliation, and good governance, and its implementation will be critical in moving forward in a transparent and inclusive manner.

Probably the most important task is to finalize the draft constitution by May 2012 in consultation with all Somali stakeholders, and to adopt it provisionally through a Constituent Assembly until conditions permit a referendum. The other main task will be to select a new parliament, which will then choose the new leadership. Somalia deserves and requires a representative government.

I hope that my presence in Mogadishu will also encourage more members of the international community to reestablish a full-time presence here. The complete engagement of international and regional actors and donors will remain a central component of progress for the foreseeable future.

Being permanently based here allows us to be closer to all of the stakeholders – the Transitional Federal Institutions and other administrations, NGOs and other civil-society groups, business leaders, journalists, and the Somali people in general. As a result, it will be much easier to communicate, exchange ideas, and take important decisions quickly during this crucial period.

I saw great interest in Somalia at the African Union’s recent summit in Addis Ababa, and at a meeting in Djibouti of more than 40 governments and regional groupings that belong to the International Contact Group on Somalia. The region is engaged and behind our efforts.

Of course, after two decades of conflict, Somalia’s problems will not be solved overnight. There are still hundreds of thousands of people affected by the drought and famine who require urgent and sustained help, and we must work to prevent such a disaster from recurring. The insurgents continue their efforts to undermine the peace process, and political wrangling and discord threaten to paralyze the fragile institutions of governance.

But let me be clear: the international community has spoken with one voice, and spoilers of Somalia’s peace process will not be tolerated. I truly believe that this time, with the backing of the Somali people and the global community’s engagement and political will to see the process through, this year will witness real progress towards a more stable and prosperous future for the country.

The world is now watching, and we will need the expanded participation and contributions of all stakeholders if we are to capitalize on this hard-earned moment of opportunity.

Augustin P. Mahiga is the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

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