GOOBJOOG NEWS|MOGADISHU: The year 2023 will undoubtedly go down as one of the most productive years for Somalia, as President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s administration shepherded the country into monumental achievements, bringing to a close long-desired milestones. The year also marked 15 years since the cessation of all armed conflict across the country stemming from the Djibouti Peace Process Accord signed between the then-Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS).
Three notable developments, all of which were a product of sustained efforts by three administrations, stood out in 2023. Somalia acceded to the East African Community on November 23, the UN ended the longest-running arms embargo on Somalia on December 1, and the World Bank and IMF declared Somalia debt-free, lifting off a $4.6 billion debt on Somalia’s shoulders.
The remarkable and newly found sense of stability and peace was evident when President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud attended his second direct public engagement since coming into office in May of 2022. The town hall event was diverse with many groups in the country represented, including the youth, women, former government officials and the private sector stakeholders.
During the forum hosted and moderated by Minbar Initiative, a civic engagement organisation, the President presented a candid outlook on some of the most consequential developments in his one-and-half years in office. Four key issues—security and the lifting of the arms embargo, debt relief and economic development, Somalia’s accession into the East African Community, and the arms embargo—featured prominently in the discussion. The president also fielded questions from attendees.
The four areas of discussion continue to be timely topics that the public at large is interested in given the weight of such developments for Somalia’s short and long-term prospects. President Mohamud responded to the questions posed to him by the audience at the town hall with clarity and clear prose, exuding the oratory skills and vast knowledge of a leader who is ushering Somalia into an epoch of peace, stability and economic development. The president remarked the following from the onset:
“We are today marking achievements including debt forgiveness, lifting of the arms embargo, and opening up the East African market. Some have been met while others are still on course.”
Here are excerpts from the discussion:
The president praised the Somali Security Forces noting that they had come a long way and were now ready and capable of taking over the security of the country. He also paid tribute to the African Union troops for their support in rebuilding the national army and providing security, especially to key government installations. He singled out the handover of security responsibilities from ATMIS to SSF at Villa Somalia and Parliament Buildings as remarkable progress in weaning the country of foreign security dependence.
“From the year 2,000 when the Third Republic was founded until now, I am happy, honoured and I feel great to be the first Somali president not protected by a foreign army, but protected by Somali boys. God gave me a special fortune, and I thank God for it. I feel completely safe.”
In addition, President Mohamud while also addressing the security question and developments in Somalia added that the crux of ATMIS mission to Somalia was to support and create political space for the organic growth of discussions and dialogue in Somalia whilst acting as a peacemaker. In this regard, the president affirmed that ATMIS has indeed been successful as it provided a safe political space for Somalis to build a government. The president also reminded the Somali public and the audience at the town hall of the existential threat that Al-Shabaab has posed in the past and continues to pose while acknowledging the crucial contributions of ATMIS in curbing such threats to provide political space.
President Mohamud referred to the withdrawal of ATMIS from Villa Somalia as a remarkable feat in self-sufficiency and stability in Somalia, noting that it is time for Somalia to build on these security developments and successes into a new era of state building.
“God willing, Somalia is now not in need of a foreign 911 to mediate and play the role of peacemaker showcasing the existing peace and stability in the country. This is to say that Somalia’s security needs and other such needs are not in the hands of foreign players/parties but in the hands of Somalis themselves. Foreign parties do aid Somalia and continue to aid but in the end, it is Somalia that needs to handle its security needs.”
While responding to questions from the participants on the ongoing war against Al-Shabaab, the President said Somali Security Forces had liberated territories covering between 700 to 800 kilometres removing all roadblocks. He pledged that all constraints to the movement of people would be cleared.
“On the 10th month, regular operations have been going on until now. During this period, many areas have been liberated. The Somali people today stand together for the liberation of the country. Many tribes have been working together to eradicate terrorism.”
Debt Relief and Vision 2060
President Mohamud said Somalia’s achievement of complete debt relief was a major relief following years of constrained development since the country could not access credit from the international market. He noted that the country’s economy had significantly grown and that his administration was working hard to realise more robust growth in 2024. The World Bank and the IMF announced mid this month the cancellation of Somalia’s external debt which stood at $4.6 billion. This followed Somalia’s conclusion of milestones under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative monitored by the World Bank and IMF. He added that the poverty index had reduced from 69% to 54% and was set to go down further.
On Vision 2060 which he launched in late November, the President said his government was setting the building blocks. This, the president said included the hiring of 3,000 additional teachers to revamp the education sector to enable it to produce competent graduates who will shepherd the country towards Vision 2060.
“The development of a country must have a long-term vision. As we said, this year and the next year, we cannot overcome the challenges that exist, and that is why we brought the vision of 2060. Thirty-seven years from now, Somalia will look like we have reached its decision today.”
Regarding the constitutional review process, the President said his administration will deliver a final document before the term ends. He added that the process will be widely consultative and inclusive to ensure the aspirations and thoughts of all Somalis are taken into consideration.
“The review of the Provisional Constitution has experienced many delays and the draft has been submitted to several parliamentary sessions. We are determined not to exceed this term before it is completed and it will be based on the wishes of the Somali people.”
Somalia’s Accession into the East African Community and Economic Development
Somalis from across the country and in the diaspora filed several questions and concerns regarding Somalia’s entry into the East African Community (EAC). Many were hopeful about the new development, while others raised concerns, particularly about the country’s preparedness to join the regional block.
One such question and comment stemming from this development was posed by a participant who noted that when Somalis talk about Somalia’s accession to the EAC, they often talk about Somalis travelling visa-free into these countries. This, she shared was shortsighted hence the question to President Mohamud of what exactly Somalia can bring to the table to attract investments and provide incentives for Somalis to take advantage of such opportunities.
The president said Somalia’s entry into the EAC community represents a huge development for not only Somalia but also for the other seven EAC countries. He highlighted that Somalia brings with it its natural resources, the ingenuity and business acumen of Somalis and Somalia’s geographic strength given the strategic location of the country along the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, providing the EAC with a gateway to trade and commerce from this side of the globe.
The president also added that the government is working on providing incentives for investments from the EAC member countries to pour into Somalia whilst also redirecting Somali investments in these countries back into Somalia in a mutually beneficial way. This, President Mohamud remarked will provide jobs and increase economic growth and prosperity for Somalis with a more robust market for healthy and more diverse competition.