‘For the first time there is hope for Somalia’

After years of civil war, reconstructin has begun in the Somali capital, Mogadishu AFP

The recently appointed United Nations Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini of Switzerland, reckons the war-torn country may be turning the corner, thanks to the support of the international community.

This content was published on January 26, 2014 minutes
Mohamed Cherif,

A “new deal” for Somalia: that’s what the international community proposed at two conferences, one in London in 2012 and the other in Brussels last autumn. The idea is that a process of reconciliation and reconstruction should take place over the course of three years, ending with general elections in 2016.

The European Union believes strongly in this process of change, which it is supporting to the tune of nearly €2 billion (CHF2.5 billion) spread over three years. The aim of the new deal approved in Brussels is to help Somalia recover economically and to return to stability. What does that mean for Somalis today?

Philippe Lazzarini: People here are living in abject poverty. So stabilisation means showing Somalis that having functioning institutions makes a difference to everyday life. When we speak to the president, he tells us:’If you can provide access to education, health, water, local administration local and a police force, that in itself would make all the difference to daily life.’

Because without development, you cannot have durable peace. But you still have to guarantee security…

P.L.: Yes, of course. There’s also a security aspect and a governance aspect to what we are doing, through stabilisation programmes, not just in Mogadishu, but in the rest of the country as well. Supporting the training of police and local administration is also part of my job description.

Philippe Lazzarini

Lazzarini, 49, has a degree in economics and a master of business administration. He has served as a Red Cross (ICRC) delegate in southern Sudan, Beirut, Amman and the Gaza Strip.

He directed ICRC activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Angola and Rwanda.

He then moved on to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), where he was deputy director of the Coordination and Response Division, and also held field positions in Iraq, Angola, Somalia and the Palestinian Territories.

He was appointed coordinator and resident representative of the UN Development Programme in Mogadishu in March 2013, and at the end of the year he was made Deputy Special Representative, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia.

End of insertion After the famine that followed the 2011 drought, what’s the humanitarian situation like now?

P.L.: At the end of 2013, we had for the first time fewer than a million people [out of a population of ten million] in need of urgent food aid. There has been a significant improvement since the time of the famine.

That said, the needs are still huge. In all, including the million who still need regular food aid, we have two or 2.3 million people living in a situation of fragile food security. In addition, there are a million internally displaced people and a million refugees in neighbouring countries.

Then last year there was a polio epidemic, despite the fact the disease was eradicated from the country in 2007. We managed to bring it under control with an extensive vaccination campaign. And there are other health problems and sexual violence, all in a country where it is very difficult to reach people outside urban zones. The international mission also includes supporting peace. What kind of relationship do you have with the armed groups, and in particular with al-Shabaab?

P.L.: The UN Security Council decided to increase the resources allocated to the Somali national army in order to enable it to carry out fresh offensives against the armed groups. We are in the midst of a process of reconciliation, but the African Union Mission in Somalia has been charged with continuing to fight all those groups that do not wish to join the national army, including al-Shabaab.

ONU In all the years that Somalia has been at war, have you suffered from donor fatigue, and a fall-off in media interest – and in the interest of the international community?

P.L.: It is true that the crisis has been going on for a long time, but it’s certainly the first time in 20 years of chaos that there is reason to hope.

You see it in the actions of the Somali diaspora, who have returned home to join in the rebuilding process. Mogadishu today can’t be compared with what it was a year ago. Everywhere you hear hammering, lots of infrastructure is being repaired, small businesses have been established. There’s a buzz, quite a positive energy.

I did think too that there would be a certain amount of fatigue among the international community, but there’s a desire and a commitment to helping Somalia become a “positive story”, and people want to believe in it. The London and Brussels conferences showed that in spite of all the geopolitical agendas that are competing with Somalia, it has nevertheless remained high on the list of priorities.

But the funding of humanitarian aid seems to be running out of steam. It’s a general phenomenon which can also be seen in other crises around the world. What are your expectations for the coming year, and for the success of the new deal?

P.L.: This is an absolutely crucial year. By the end of 2014 we will be one third of the way into the new deal, a third of the way into the political process which is to lead to elections in three years. The new government will have to prove that it is able to provide security in the towns in order to enable the new institutions and the development partners who are supporting them to show the Somalis that having a nation and having institutions is much better than continuing to live in chaos.

So it will be necessary to demonstrate that we can reconcile Mogadishu and the regions, provide children with education, give people access to health care and to water, and, above all, that it’s possible have some kind of government and security system that will enable people to embark on economic activity.

Forgotten war

Since the fall of Somali dictator Siyaad Barre in 1991, half a million people have lost their lives in civil war.

Once the Islamic Courts Union assumed control and imposed sharia law in Somalia the country became a stronghold for fundamentalist groups from 2007 onwards.

To this day the al-Shabaab militias control large parts of the rural areas. Three regions unilaterally declared their independence, leaving the central government in charge of little more than the capital, Mogadishu.

The country’s economy is virtually in ruins with two million people starving and another two millions displaced inside the country or living in exile.

Two years ago another 500,000 people starved to death.

Somalia finished bottom of the Human Development Index in 2001 and has been taken off the list since then.

Amnesty International in its 2013 report on Somalia collected evidence of a high risk of rape and other sexual violence against women and children.

Police investigations into rape are rare and some women have faced additional abuse and stigmatisation if they do report the crime, Amnesty says.

According to the UN there were at least 1,700 cases of rape in refugee camps for internally displaced persons in Somalia in 2012. At least 70% of these were carried out by armed men wearing government uniforms. Nearly a third of the survivors are reported to be under the age of 18.

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Swiss aid to Somalia

Switzerland has made the Horn of Africa region a priority for its humanitarian aid and development since 2013.

Lazzarini says Switzerland’s contribution includes explaining its federal political system that governs ties between the central power and the regions or for resource management.

Last year, Switzerland spent a total of CHF27 million in all the Somali regions; two thirds of the money went towards aid projects.

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