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Africa force key to Somalia stability: analyst



GULF NEWS — Dubai: Of late, rumours have done the rounds that the UN-backed African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) may withdraw from the country in a year or two. This, despite the fact that the threat from the Al Qaida-aligned Al Shabab militant group remains grave, as indicated by the horrific bombing in the capital Mogadishu in October last year that left at least 512 people dead and hundreds more injured.

“AMISOM has been in Somalia for over a decade now. Overall, its performance is a mixed bag,” said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, an influential Brussels-based think-tank. Speaking to Gulf News by phone from Nairobi, Abdi noted: “AMISOM has managed to push out Al Shabab from Mogadishu, and from many towns in south-central Somalia, especially in the past five years. But Al Shabab still exists in rural areas. And it’s not possible to control the towns and cities [fully] unless the rural areas are also under control.”

Abdi said AMISOM countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Djibouti – are caught in a difficult situation. “Eleven years on, progress has been slow. AMISOM is operating on only 80 per cent of its budget. Resources remain a challenge, especially equipment promised by Western countries. The West has talked about increasing training and equipment but they have not delivered 12 helicopter gunships as promised, for instance.”

Al Shabab still exists in rural areas. And it’s not possible to control the towns and cities [fully] unless the rural areas are also under control.”
– Rashid Abdi | Horn of Africa Project Director, International Crisis Group

For a majority of Somalis, their country has been in a state of war ever since they can remember. Full-blown warlordism became the norm in Somalia following the toppling of the military dictatorship of Siad Barre in 1991 by clan-based militias. The warlords carved out fiefdoms across the country.
A unity government formed in 2000, which had international backing, was never able to establish full control, and the two comparatively peaceful northern regions – Somaliland and Puntland – broke away, becoming de facto independent states. A coalition of Islamists jurists, called the Union of Islamic Courts, took over the capital and established a government in 2006. But, six months later, Ethiopia invaded to topple that government.

In the period that followed, Somalia was engulfed in violence. A new threat – the Al Qaida-aligned Al Shabab militant group – popped up, and AMISOM began operations in the country in February 2007.

In 2012, a new internationally-backed government was installed, but despite help from relentless US drone strikes and the backing of almost 20,000 AMISOM troops, Al Shabab continues to pose a serious threat to the authorities in Mogadishu.

“AMISOM is stretching itself … its supply lines are getting longer. Its casualties are increasing. Besides, [there is the question of] ‘liberated’ territory not being well governed, providing Al Shabab the advantage,” said Abdi.

Exit strategy talks hint at a ‘transition period’ in which the aim is to increase the capacity of the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF). But, Abdi said, the SNAF is “nowhere near” being a cohesive force. “If AMISOM leaves, SNAF cannot manage the situation. It is not capable [of providing security] in the short to medium term.”

Abdi agreed there were many parallels between the situation in Afghanistan and Somalia. “[In both countries] we have weak governments that depend on the support of foreign forces. The parallels are obvious.”

One of the reasons that AMISOM feels like it can now move out is Somalia’s bilateral secuirty arrangements with different countries. “There is a proliferation of bilateral security arrangements. But Mogodishu’s security dealings with these countries can never replace AMISOM.”

Asked what the endgame in Somalia would look like, after decades of war, Abdi said: “That’s the million dollar question. Mogadishu looks much different than before. There have been improvements. Somalia’s federal system has reistered progress. The picture overall is not hopeles. But, if AMISOM pulls out in a hasty manner, all that will be lost.”

Somali News

Africa is on the verge of forming the largest free trade area since the World Trade Organization



CNBC — According to the African Union, this would consolidate a market of 1.2 billion people, and a gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion.

But, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have both snubbed the summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

African heads of state have gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, to sign a free trade agreement that would result in the largest free trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

Leaders are poised to approve the African Continental Free Trade Area, a deal that will unite the 55 member countries of the African Union in tariff-free trade.

The agreement is touted by the African Union as encompassing a market of 1.2 billion people, and a gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion. It is hoped that it will encourage Africa’s trade to diversify away from its traditional commodity exports outside of the continent, the volatile prices of which have hurt the economies of many countries.

“Less than 20 percent of Africa’s trade is internal,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame, also currently chairperson of the African Union, said in a speech Tuesday. “Increasing intra-African trade, however, does not mean doing less business with the rest of the world.”

But, the deal has its critics. It was announced over the weekend that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari would not be attending the summit, despite his federal cabinet last week approving the deal. “This is to allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholders,” said an official statement from the foreign ministry.

The agreement is opposed by the Nigeria Labour Congress, an umbrella organization for trade unions in the country.

“Given the size of its economy, population, and given its political clout, Nigeria’s stance towards the African Continental Free Trade Area is key,” Imad Mesdoua, senior consultant for Africa at Control Risks, a global risk consultancy with offices in Lagos, told CNBC via email. Nigeria is the continent’s most populous nation and considered by some metrics to be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy.

“There is a general sentiment among (labor unions and industry bodies) that Nigeria’s export capacity in non-oil sectors isn’t sufficiently robust yet to expose itself to external competition,” Mesdoua said.

The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, also called off his visit at the last minute, although it remains unclear as to why.

Africa’s population is expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050, according to the African Union. By this time it will account for 26 percent of the world’s working age population. Talks for the African Continental Free Trade Area began in June 2015.
Should the agreement be signed, second phase talks are expected to begin later this year. These will focus on investment, competition and intellectual property rights.

According to a study published by the United Nations last month, the deal will lead to long-term welfare gains of approximately $16.1 billion, after a calculated $4.1 billion in tariff revenue losses. But, the report did warn that benefits and costs might not be distributed evenly across the African continent.

In principle, a free trade area across Africa “makes perfect economic sense,” Ben Payton, head of Africa at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC via email.

But, he added: “The biggest risk is that African countries would be unable to effectively enforce external customs controls. For example, this would mean cheap Chinese goods that are imported into Ghana could eventually cross various African borders without further controls and make it into Nigeria. This problem already exists, but a free trade area would potentially make it worse.”

The World Trade Organization was formed in 1995 and comprises of 164 members.

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Somali News

At least 14 dead, several hurt in car bomb in Somali capital



ABC — At least 14 people were killed and 10 others wounded in a car bomb blast near a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Somali officials said Thursday.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the explosion occurred near the Weheliye hotel on the busy Makka Almukarramah road. The road has been a target of attacks in the past by the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa.

Most of the casualties were passers-by and traders, Hussein told The Associated Press. The toll of dead and wounded was announced by security ministry spokesman Abdulaziz Hildhiban.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the blast. The group frequently attacks Mogadishu’s high-profile areas such as hotels and military checkpoints. A truck bombing in October killed 512 people in the country’s deadliest-ever attack. Only a few attacks since 9/11 have killed more people. Al-Shabab was blamed.

Thursday’s blast comes almost exactly a month after two car bomb explosions in Mogadishu shattered a months-long period of calm in the city, killing at least 21 people.

The Horn of Africa nation continues to struggle to counter the Islamic extremist group. Concerns have been high over plans to hand over the country’s security to Somalia’s own forces as a 21,000-strong African Union force begins a withdrawal that is expected to be complete in 2020.

The U.S. military, which has stepped up efforts against al-Shabab in the past year with dozens of drone strikes, has said Somali forces are not yet ready.

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Somali News

Somalia ranked sixth happiest African nation



CGTN — Despite decades of turmoil in Somalia – the citizens of the country remain happy as compared to other African countries. CGTN’s Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu on how this new found happiness can be used to develop Somalia.

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