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Diplomatic snapshots : memories of Somalia (Part 1)

Emmanuel Besnier - Mogadiscio, Somalie - date fmt jour mois annee

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A routine mission in Somalia.

4.30 a.m. Time to get up.
6.30 a.m. Take-off from Nairobi.
9.30 a.m. Arrival in Mogadishu in a small twin-engine plane belonging to the European Union (EU).

Welcome to Mogadishu airport. Blazing sun. The damp heat is tempered by a timely sea breeze. Opposite the terminal lies the Indian Ocean. On the tarmac, a few civil aircraft, some UN-chartered Ukranian helicopters and a large military transport plane are waiting. Facilities belonging to the United Nations and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are scattered alongside the landing strip.

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Ruinas de la antigua embajada de Francia en Mogadiscio

Ever since the closure of our embassy in Mogadishu in 1991, the French Embassy in Nairobi has been responsible for Somalian affairs.

This is my 32nd mission to the country, so I have quite a few memories of it by now.

The programme for today includes a series of meetings with the United Nations representatives and one with with Fatiha Serour, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Somalia. We will be discussing recent political and security developments in the country, which has been racked by conflict for over twenty years and is still partially controlled by al-Shabaab, a militia linked to al-Qaeda.

These are routine meetings for a diplomat, just like others happening every day across the world. Except that here, the discussions take place behind a double barrier of bastion walls and barbed wire, under the protection of armed guards.

April 2011 – Mogadishu remains divided

I set off in an AMISOM armoured convoy with a colleague from the EU. In my helmet and close-fitting bullet-proof vest, I am struck by what a great job I have. Just a year ago, I was in office in Tokyo…

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A travers les rues de Mogadiscio, dans un blindé de l’AMISOM

We head to the camp where the Somali soldiers who were recently trained in Uganda by the EU, and France in particular, as part of the operation EUTM Somalia, are gathered. Building a real national army is essential in order to achieve stability and restore the rule of law in the country, and the EU plays a key role in this field. Then we cross the dunes to a small fort belonging to the Burundian contingent of AMISOM, at the edge of the city. We cannot go any further. Al-Shabaab, which controls half of Mogadishu at this time, could be less than a kilometre away.

A year later, a colleague from New York and I travel with AMISOM through the centre of reunified Mogadishu, which has been largely rid of al-Shabaab, at the cost of heavy sacrifices on the part of the African Union forces and Government troops. AMISOM is one of the most difficult peace-keeping operations in the world, at once spearheading the fight against al-Shabaab throughout central and southern Somalia and playing a crucial role in stabilizing the country. France is one of its main partners.

September 2011 – the fragile territory of Puntland

Our plane glides over the black mountains of Al Madow and starts to descend towards Bosaso, on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, in the autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia.
The Minister of Finance receives us in his office, which overlooks the turquoise water of the port, where some dhows are waiting to be loaded. The Minister is based here rather than the regional capital, Garowe, so as to keep a closer eye on the port traffic, which is the Government of Puntland’s main source of income. In fact, the port is scarcely larger than a Breton fishing port and Puntland’s annual budget is only $30 million. It is a territory that is relatively stable, but affected by crime nonetheless.

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Bosaso, a orillas del golfo de Adén, región autónoma de Puntlandia, al norte de Somalia.

This crime includes piracy of course, but also illegal trade, especially human trafficking. Bosaso and the surrounding area are a major hub for immigration to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. The representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees takes us to a camp for internally displaced persons ; as always in Somalia, the vast majority of them are women and children. They have been driven from their homes by conflict or drought, and some of them are waiting to leave for Yemen. Very young girls queue with their babies in front of a clinic. How old are they ? It is rare for girls of 16 not to be mothers already, I am told.

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Bosaso, la punta del cuerno de África

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