x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Signs of hope in a perennially gloomy Somalia

It's just possible that Somalia is starting to emerge from its lost decades. But it needs some help.

Long-suffering Somalia is beginning to show signs of emerging from decades of warlordism, anarchy, corruption, extremism, poverty, intermittent famine and non-stop chaos. The country's fragile new start deserves renewed attention and prudent support from the region and the world.

The 10 million Somalis, subsisting on an average of Dh2,200 a year, have endured two lost decades since Mohamed Siad Barre's dictatorship collapsed into confused, incessant wars among many militias.

But new leadership, supported by a new consensus, is now reviving the national government, which despite international backing had until last year controlled little more than a part of Mogadishu.

Al Shabab, the principal Islamist militia, is now in retreat before 6,000 African Union troops (most of them from Uganda and Burundi) who are supporting the government's little army with increasing success from the north. From the south, meanwhile, Kenya has sent troops across the border to counter Al Shabab incursions and influence in that country.

As the militants have been squeezed, trade, aid, stability and construction have started to flow into new areas. Somalia's renowned entrepreneurial spirit, long stifled except in the diaspora, is beginning to slowly show itself at home once again.

Last month a transitional parliament - previously seen by many as corrupt and illegitimate - named a respected educator, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to be president. An Al Shabab suicide bomber promptly tried to kill him. Although the attempt failed, it punctuated Somalia's hopes with the reality that stability will not come easily.

This is where the rest of the world comes in. Most foreign aid and NGO activity in Somalia dried up years ago, discouraged by violence and fraud. Now support is starting to flow to the new government. If it can show itself honest and efficient, there will be more.

The outside world has a strong interest in deterring offshore piracy, which a stable government has some chance to do, but there are other concerns too, beyond simple humanitarianism.

One of these involves GCC countries: As Al Shabab loses southern ports - reports say it is pinned down in Kismayo - it may lose the power to profit from taxing charcoal exports to the UAE and elsewhere, which the UN says earn Al Shabab Dh92 million a year. The US, for one, has banned Somali charcoal, because Al Shabab is affiliated with Al Qaeda. GCC countries that seek new sources for charcoal would be helping build the stability that Somalia so desperately needs.