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Posted on Friday, 20 November 2015 11:00

Somalia Country Profile 2015: Hope on the rise, but fear not assuaged

By The Africa Report

altDepending on the ever-changing perspectives in the region, Somalia still seems set to keep stumbling from glowing prophesy to disastrous implosion.

Even since the perceived stability of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's government brought the promise of billions of dollars from the EU in 2013, the world's focus has tended to shift onto the threat of Islamism, Somalia's dismal bête noire, to the detriment of the nascent economic promise.

Improvements there are, and the streets of Somalia's embattled capital, Mogadishu, have become generally more peaceful.

Oil discoveries and the rejuvenation of air and seaports have injected hope into the real prospects for Somalia's economy. Diplomacy, too, has increased.

The US has proposed its first ambassador since 1993 while China, which pulled out in 1991, is returning to reopen an embassy. However, any quiescence in Somalia is relative. Violent attacks, mainly by Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab, have remained common.

Markets throng once more, but Mogadishans speak of a quiet fear that cannot be allayed by the AU and its peacekeeping mission, which has been accused of rape and murder, or by the US, whose drone strikes are mistrusted almost wholesale.

Instability in the south

It was a drone strike, however, which on 1 September 2014 took the life of Al- Shabaab's leader since 2008, Ahmed Godane. His place has since been taken by one of his hardline former lieutenants, Abu Ubaidah.

It is unclear if Ubaidah, not known for his political or economic nous, can pull together the group's resources and its estimated 5,000-7,000 fighters. After Godane's death, Al-Shabaab lost control of its last remaining port of Barawe, 220km south-west of the capital, in October.

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The AU mission announced in mid-2014 that it was adding 4,000 troops from neighbouring Ethiopia. Many decried the decision, but the move could help to overwhelm Al-Shabaab and improve dialogue between Somalia and Ethiopia.

The continued instability of the south has deepened the rift between Somalia and Somaliland, a breakaway region.

A US Agency for International Development wind energy scheme will power the reopened airport at regional capital Hargeysa and Somaliland's president Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo has even rolled out an e-passport scheme, although the next election due in 2015 could pose a tough test of the strength of democracy in the territory.

The case for a divided Somalia may have been reinforced by Somaliland's success, but Puntland, in which lawlessness remains rife, has opened talks with Mogadishu.

President Mohamud is also due to face elections in 2016. However, in 2014, he became embroiled in a scandal involving the sale of overseas assets and a US law firm.

The prospect of more political instability arose in November when Mohamud's supporters sought to oust prime minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.

Oil, boom or bust—up?

Investors are still being drawn to Somalia and several oil discoveries along the maritime border with Kenya could be lucrative, although they also risk inflaming mutual relations.

Dialogue is needed to sustain both the joint economic opportunities and anti-terror efforts, as Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has terrorism problems to fight at home.

Livestock, fisheries, grain and minerals also represent huge economic potential. Seaports have been renovated thanks largely to foreign investment and, thanks to falling rates of piracy, ships are now arriving in larger numbers.

But just 10% of roads are paved and the government is still failing to provide solid infrastructure for exports.

Fake currency is also a big concern, although renewed International Monetary Fund (IMF) involvement will help quell the issue. The IMF will not provide new loans to Somalia until it clears its arrears but will help with technical and other assistance.

The challenges are monumental. Almost 70% of young Somalis are unemployed, but mobile and web penetration could help create a more prosperous, fluid market.

The biggest danger to the population comes from hunger. In a country where just three years ago 260,000 died due to a massive famine, experts said in October 2014 that 200,000 Somalis were at grave risk of malnutrition, including 50,000 children.

 



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