On October 1, Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke proposed the “grand development plan”, telling the UN General Assembly that a new Somalia was taking shape. The Plan, not yet shared with the international community, would rebuild the country’s social and physical infrastructure. It would also ensure accountability and transparency for every investment, hoping to turn the country into “an economic powerhouse and future trading partner.” He said that his Government wanted to “ensure a free and fair election,” despite the presence of an active insurgency. The new Government was actively rebuilding the country to realize its potential, but some issues persisted and required the help of the international community.
Somalia has struggled to maintain a modicum of stability ever since an internationally-backed government was installed in 2012, following more than 20 years of anarchy without a formal parliament. The challenge was exacerbated by the rise of Islamist insurgents in 2006, specifically al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with ties to al Qaeda that at one time gained control of much of the south, including the capital. Although al Shabaab has now been relegated to rural areas, it continues to pose a threat to national security and to destabilize the country.
To date, al Shabaab continues staging attacks on government targets and African Union bases. Last Sunday, the group bombed a hotel used as a popular rendezvous spot for government officials, killing at least 14 people. In September, the group overran an African Union military base in an attack that included a suicide bombing and an intense firefight, leaving 50 Ugandan peacekeepers dead.
Al Shabaab, has also carried out attacks in Kenya, most recently the massacre at Garissa University in April, which left at least 147 people dead. U.S. airstrikes and major ground offensives by pro-government forces in 2014 led to considerable success against it, but the group saw a resurgence in villages and towns African Union and Somali troops withdrew from in central and southern Somalia. They have lost many fighters and much of their territory, but they are still highly dangerous and remain a potent force in Somalia.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon outlined the progress the Somali government had made so far in a high-level meeting on Somalia held few days before Sharmarke’s speech. He stressed that a better future for Somalia must remain a collective international priority.
Despite its obstacles, Somalia has made steady progress in building a federal, democratic State. The day after Sharmarke’s speech, Somalia became the 196th State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. By ratifying the Convention, Somalia has committed to promoting and respecting the human rights of the country’s 6.5 million children. The United Nations documented nearly 200 cases of child recruitment by the Somali National Army and allied militias last year – a number that does not include the children al Shabaab includes as members. The challenge, of course, will be to implement it.