Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Visit to Mogadishu

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s December 9th visit to Mogadishu—the first since former Secretary-General Boutros Ghali’s visit in January 1993—underscores the United Nations’ commitment to finding a durable political solution for Somalia after more than twenty years of conflict and state collapse. The Secretary-General, accompanied by the President of the General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz el-Nasser and his Special Representative Augustine Mahiga, made this surprise high-profile visit to Mogadishu to underscore the UN’s determination to carry forward the road map agreed to by the major political parties and civil society this summer for ending the long transition process and establishing the basis for a viable, broadly-supported central government.

In meetings with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and other leaders, the Secretary-General sought to coordinate the next steps in the implementation of the road map, bringing as many players as possible to support the plan of action agreed to this past September. He also announced that the UN Political Office for Somalia, led by Ambassador Mahiga, will begin to relocate from Nairobi to Mogadishu starting in January 2012.

The Secretary-General told President Sheikh Sharif, other government ministers, civil society representatives, and journalists that Somalia is at a “critical juncture” and that the TFG and its supporters must “seize the moment” while the international community is actively engaged and al-Shabaab is on the run. He urged implementation on the roadmap, including in the area of security, the drafting of a new constitution, and practical steps to reconciliation.

The visit comes at a time of substantial, although still fragile, gains by the United Nations, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the humanitarian aid agencies in dealing with a complex of political, military, and humanitarian issues. The Secretary-General urged coordinated action on three fronts—politically, to bring stability to the government and improvement in people’s lives; militarily, to consolidate recent AMISOM gains; and on the humanitarian front, to break the cycle of famine and poverty. Continued al-Shabaab incursions into the refugee camps in the Kenyan-Somali border area and retaliatory attacks by Kenyan forces across the border have underscored the regional implications of the situation.

The Secretary-General’s visit will be followed by his report on Somalia to the Security Council tomorrow. It is widely anticipated that he will recommend Security Council approval for the re-hatting of Kenyan forces into AMISOM, an increase in the authorized troop level, and requisite additional funding.

So, as we approach the end of 2011, Somalia’s political leaders have been given very strong encouragement by this visit at the highest levels of the United Nations. The challenge faced by Somali leaders and civil society is to figure out how to overcome their differences, and to take advantage of AMISOM’s enhanced presence and continued international media attention to move to a long-term period of stability. If they can do this, Somalia can begin to take the necessary steps on a long road to economic recovery and durable peace under a broadly acceptable governance structure. It remains to be seen how much can now be accomplished.

Ambsassador John Hirsch, Senior Adviser at IPI, has served as United States Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone, and had many other assignments in Africa, including Somalia.

About the photo: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser in Mogadishu on December 9, 2011. UN Photo/Mark Garten