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.