Somalia has made “remarkable” progress in the last two years and has reached a “tipping point” where it can secure peace, the chief United Nations official in Somalia said on Thursday.
Philippe Lazzarini spoke to reporters in Nairobi as he stepped down after 2-1/2 years as U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, which has been mired in conflict since 1991.
“For the first time, a real peace and state-building agenda is on the table and the Somalis are committed, behind it,” he said. “I think a tipping point has been reached to make it happen.”
Diplomats and experts note steady, if often slow, gains in rebuilding the state, but say the government still needs to tackle corruption and threats from an Islamist insurgency.
Western governments have stepped up support for Somalia since its first elected president in 45 years took office in 2012.
Only parliamentarians were eligible to vote then, and were chosen by community elders. But there are plans to broaden the franchise in nationwide elections in 2016.
The initial goal of a popular vote is unlikely to be achieved, but the government is committed to a more inclusive way of picking members of parliament, diplomats say.
“Somalia is a positive narrative in the making,” said Lazzarini. “It is one of the optimistic stories in a world falling apart with crisis and conflict.”
Mogadishu has changed dramatically in the last few years, partly as a result of investment by Somalis who have returned home from abroad.
“The progress is quite remarkable,” Lazzarini said, pointing to its new airport and hospital.
The Somali army and African Union peacekeepers have driven the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab, which once ruled much of Somalia, out of major strongholds over the last year.
But the group still threatens regional stability and has launched a series of attacks during the current Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Lazzarini said that more must be done to improve security, which would enable the United Nations to scale up its assistance. Some 700,000 Somalis need humanitarian aid, the majority of them internally displaced in cities, he said.
“We are operating in an extraordinarily volatile and dangerous environment,” he said. “We operate with armored vehicles and armed escorts and, daily, we have security threats.”
The United Nations has been attacked six times during Lazzarini’s tenure, resulting in the deaths of seven U.N. staff and dozens of bystanders.
“It is a bumpy road but the trajectory is certainly in the right direction,” he said.