SOMALIA hosted regional East and Horn of Africa heads of state on Tuesday for a summit that was the first of its kind in the capital Mogadishu since the country plunged into conflict in 1991.
Streets were shut down to traffic in Mogadishu, which regularly faces attacks from the Islamist al Shabaab militants, for the one-day meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a grouping that includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, Sudan, Uganda and Somalia.
Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Djibouti’s Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, and Ethiopia prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, attended the summit.
“It symbolises the reconstruction of Somalia and Somalia coming back to the (family of) nations,” Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer was quoted telling Reuters news agency.
A FIRST FOR SOMALIA
Somalia has hosted visits of heads of state, but this was the first summit gathering for nearly 30 years, since the rule of Siad Barre, whose ouster in 1991 was followed by two decades of conflict.
It was also the first IGAD summit ever held in Somalia, according to Da’ud Aways, a spokesman for Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, chair of IGAD, said Somalia had made progress but more was needed.
Many VIP foreign visitors to Mogadishu stay in the airport area, a compound surrounded by high blast walls with barbed wire and patrolled by the African Union peacekeeping AMISOM force. The IGAD summit was held just outside the perimeter at a nearby hotel.
“The presence of the heads of state in Somalia is a clear dividend of returning stability in the country,” AMISOM said in a statement.
Ordinary Mogadishuans were forced to walk around the capital as traffic was blocked from many streets. Al Shabaab has often used vehicles packed with explosives to launch attacks on sites in Mogadishu, blowing up security posts so fighters can storm in.
Mogadishu still has many buildings that are bombed out shells. But there has been a construction boom in recent years, that has seen new buildings erected, often financed by Somalis returning from abroad.
Somalia, is trying to use recent advances against Shabaab to attract investors and rebuild the economy.
The fact that there has been a reverse flow of refugees, with Yemenis coming to Somalia to seek sanctuary from the war in their country has, though in a small way, helped shift perceptions about the Horn of Africa nation.
External investments, including Turkey-funded expansion of the international airport, and a booming export in livestock, have added to the sense that Somalia is slowly bouncing back.
The upcoming election presents an opportunity for Somalia to take another forward.
Security concerns mean that only a fraction of the country’s 11 million people will vote in the election, with 14,000 people gathered from the federal states choosing the 275 members of parliament, before the lawmakers then pick the president.
But that would still be a significant improvement on the 135 elders who chose parliament in 2012, and which in turn picked Mohamud.