September 2012 – Mogadishu: a new president is elected
Bursts of automatic gunfire in the night in Mogadishu. Joyful gunfire. It is 10September, and after a political process lasting eight years, the new Parliament has elected a President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in accordance with the new Constitution. He is unknown to most of the observers gathered that evening at the United Nations compound.
On11September, I accompany the European Union Special Representative and several foreign diplomats (United Kingdom, African Union) to an initial meeting with the new President in his hotel overlooking the city, which will unfortunately be attacked by al-Shabaab the very next day.
[The atmosphere is resolutely optimistic. Somalia is looking towards the future at last. Later that day, we head to Villa Somalia, the Government’s headquarters. A door opens to reveal a dimly lit room. The outgoing President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and the former Speaker of the Parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, are settled comfortably in huge armchairs that seem to come from an oriental tale. Yesterday’s rivals are reconciled in their defeat. There will be no violence, Sheikh Sharif tells us. The Somalis, whatever their clan, are tired of war.
- Mogadishu seen from Villa Somalia | Photo: E. Besnier
May 2013 – Somaliland: visiting an unrecognised State
We are in Hargeisa, a city in the north of Somalia and the “capital” of the unrecognised “State” of Somaliland, which decided in1991 to declare independence from the rest of the country to rebuild itself alone, with a certain amount of success: the region is relatively stable and pluralist elections have been held there.
That morning, alongside the French Ambassador Etienne de Poncins, I meet with President Silanyo and his ministers to discuss security and relations with the Government in Mogadishu, as well as investments and economic development.
When night falls, the view from the roof of Edna Adan hospital over the city and its surrounding hills is superb. Edna Adan, 76years old, with energy to spare. Previously First Lady and Minister of Foreign Affairs, fluent in French, and a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour, she has set up one of the best hospitals in Somaliland, with support from several partners, including France. MsAdan gives us a tour of the hospital, its university facilities and operating theatre, talks passionately about her fight against genital mutilation and shows us the hospital’s statistics: 12,000births and 13,000 patients treated in ten years.
- Hargeisa, Somaliland | Photo : E. Besnier
January 2014 – Mogadishu, looking towards the future
The ruins of Mogadishu’s old town flash past the window of the armoured car. The old lighthouse, the remains of the Italian cathedral and the partially destroyed, bullet-riddled facade of the Uruba hotel, which was once the grandest hotel in the city, hosting expatriates, Somalian high society and foreign tourists. A few hundred metres away, the former French Embassy has been waiting for 23years to see the situation improve. It was evacuated in January1991 in dramatic circumstances, at the height of the conflict, and has long since been occupied by several hundred internally displaced persons who have found refuge there.
We are not in Mogadishu today to talk about the past, but rather the future of a country which is trying to rebuild itself and turn the page. As the French Ambassador Rémi Maréchaux presents his credentials to President Hassan Sheikh, he recalls the reasons for our commitment in Somalia: the stabilization of Somalia is in our interest.
If there is no stabilization, national reconciliation or reconstruction of the rule of law, Somalia will continue to suffer the terrorism of al-Shabaab, warlords and gangs of pirates, all of whom represent, for the international community, a threat to peace in the region and beyond. The task is a huge one, but there is reason to hope.
On the way back, I notice once again how much Mogadishu has changed. New buildings are appearing each day and shops are opening throughout the city, despite the attacks. The traffic is heavy. Our convoy is stuck in a traffic jam on Maka al-Mukarama road, a major avenue which, just three years ago, used to be an area of no man’s land, fought over by the militias. Traffic jams: a sign of progress in Somalia…