President of Somalia: how my country defeated extremism
If we get knocked down, we get back up stronger and more determined than ever. As in Somalia, so around the world.
Four months ago, Mogadishu’s Jazeera Palace Hotel was nearly destroyed by a huge truck bomb in a wanton attack by terrorists as maniacal as those who attacked the Radisson Blue in Bamako on 20th November, and a concert, a sports stadium and the cafés in Paris on 13th November.
At the end of November, the rebuilt and refurbished Jazeera Palace announced that it was safe, sound and open for business again. This is not the only example of Somali resistance to terror; other successful businesses have been similarly attacked: the Village Restaurant famously three times, the Makka al Mukaram Hotel twice. Each time they have picked themselves up and quickly got back to work, their customers as keen as the businesses themselves not to be intimidated by those who want to drag them back to the dark ages. Somalia is a resilient country and Somalis are a resilient people.
Everyone knows that Somalia’s story over the last 25 years hasn’t been pretty. Civil war, piracy, famine, state failure and terror have been the all too familiar headlines. But now there is a new story, a story that shows the world that, together, these challenges can be overcome: violent extremism can be beaten. Of course, we still have a long way to go but since 2010, with the assistance of the African Union Mission in Somalia and our other partners, the Somali National Army has driven al-Shabaab out of all of Somalia’s major towns and cities and much of the rural hinterland. Proper political discourse is returning as we consult on our new constitution, federal system and prepare for the first democratic electoral process in 47 years. The economy is growing at a rate that most western countries would envy.
Mogadishu is developing at an incredible pace. Streets that were once just rubble and ruin have been rebuilt anew; modern multi-story blocks are springing up across the city and, despite the extremists’ best efforts, the capital’s famous café culture is thriving again. Those who left during the years of chaos are returning in significant numbers, full of the civic pride that comes with rebuilding their nation-—taking advantage of the accompanying business opportunities.
The combination of technical knowledge and experience gained abroad and the entrepreneurial spirit, skill and work ethic of Somalis who remained is proving to be a winning formula. As Paris and Bamako show, no city can be entirely secure from terrorist attacks but Mogadishu is now safer than it has been in a generation.
There are three primary reasons for Somalia’s forward momentum, which also provide hope for Syria, Iraq and other countries confronting the scourge of extremist violence. First, we are beating al-Shabaab in the field. Africans are doing the fighting with the logistical and technical support of our international partners. Second, we are taking on and undermining the extremists’ warped counter-cultural ideology. Al-Shaabab are a foreign-led and inspired cult trying to force foreign practices on an unwilling population, and our people know it. And third, the Federal Government, together with the Somali people, is addressing the roots of the problem as Mogadishu’s business boom and political discourse attest.
Clearly much remains to be done, and these hard won gains are still fragile. Somalia needs the continued assistance of the international community if we are to bring lasting peace and security to this part of the world. With al-Shabbab struggling internally with which international extremist franchise they should adopt, Somalia remains on the front line in the fight against international terrorism. Whether al-Shabaab chooses to stick with al-Qaeda or switch allegiance to Islamic State (IS) it is an organisation that seeks to wreak mayhem. Beating them decisively would be a major boost in the battle against the global phenomenon that they represent. If we can beat al-Shabaab together in Somalia, the world can beat IS in Syria and Iraq.
Mogadishu knows only too well the tragedy of the sort of attacks experienced last month in Bamako and Paris but it is bouncing back stronger, safer and more determined than ever. So too will the people of Mali and France. The re-opening, phoenix-like, of the Jazeera Palace Hotel shows that the terrorists will never win.