UN chief visits a safer Somali capital
In the first visit of a UN Secretary General since 1993, Ban Ki-moon promised aid and military support, but warned Somali leaders they must stick to reform pledges.
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Eighteen years later, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon found an altogether warmer welcome during his surprise visit there last week. Security officials still insisted that he wear a bulletproof vest, and he was sped through the city’s wrecked streets in a convoy of armored personnel carriers.
But the mere fact that such a high-profile figure was able to visit what is still considered the world’s most dangerous capital is testament to what one analyst called the “dramatic improvements” in security there in recent months.
The country’s famine situation, although still dire with a quarter of a million people facing imminent starvation, is slowly improving, thanks to a massive international aid response during the last six months.
Pirate attacks off Somalia’s coast dropped by two-thirds in November compared to the same month last year, European naval officials reported last week.
Mr. Ban said the timing of his visit was in part to celebrate these gains, and he commended both the Somali government and the African Union (AU) peacekeepers for their efforts to secure such success.
In recognition of these improvements, Ban announced that a key UN agency, the UN political office on Somalia, would move to Mogadishu from neighboring Kenya next month.
It will be the first time in more than a decade that the UN will have significant numbers of international staff permanently based in the Somali capital.
But buried further into his comments was what analysts identified as the real reason for his visit, which was as much about the business of governing Somalia as it was about the symbolism of showing solidarity.
International humanitarian and development donations to Somalia will top $1.2 billion this year, with another $300 million spent on the AU peacekeeping mission.
This support, Ban said, “should not be taken for granted” by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), bankrolled since 2004 by the UN and Western nations including the US. President Sheikh Sharif’s administration, dogged by allegations of corruption, is already slipping behind on a tight reform timetable, named the “road map,” designed to lead to democratic elections scheduled for August next year.