African Union summit makes it a historic day for Somalia

Magodishu hosts African leaders for the first time in 20 years.
Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (C) Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn (R) attend the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, September 13, 2016, the first time Somalia has hosted a gathering of African leaders for 30 years. Feisal Omar / Reuters
Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (C) Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn (R) attend the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, September 13, 2016, the first time Somalia has hosted a gathering of African leaders for 30 years. Feisal Omar / Reuters

MOGADISHU // Somalia on Tuesday was hosting its first regional summit of African heads of state in 30 years, a source of pride for the country after decades of chaos and deadly attacks by Al Shabab extremists.

Security measures were high as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn arrived. Residents of the Somali capital said celebrations of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha had been severely restricted in recent days.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir said he would not attend after being invited, Somalia’s foreign minister Abdisalam Omer confirmed on Tuesday. Mr Al-Bashir’s presence would have been in breach of a warrant for his arrest from the International Criminal Court.

Somalia’s government had said leaders also were expected from Djibouti and South Sudan for the summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development regional bloc. But a plane carrying Djibouti’s president had to turn back after developing engine problems that prevented it from landing at the airport, Djibouti’s ambassador to Somalia confirmed.

The crisis in South Sudan and Somalia’s upcoming elections were two of the top issues for discussion.

The summit has been seen as the latest sign of confidence in a return to normal life in Somalia, which was plunged into decades of conflict in 1991 when warlords overthrew the regime of dictator Siad Barre.

“The presence of the heads of state in Somalia is a clear dividend of returning stability in the country. It is an endorsement of Somalia’s recovery,” said Francisco Caetano Madeira, the African Union’s special representative for Somalia. The United Nations mission in Somalia called the summit a “great achievement.”

The country is now preparing for a presidential election in October, another significant step forward.

But home-grown Islamic extremist group Al Shabab continues to strike at the heart of Somalia’s seaside capital, killing scores of people so far this year. In the latest attack, a suicide bomber detonated explosives packed on a lorry near the gate of the presidential palace in Mogadishu late last month, killing at least 12 people.

Several of the countries invited to the summit take part in a 22,000-strong African Union force protecting Somalia, though the force faces funding cuts and troop shortages that experts have warned could further destabilise the country.

* Associated Press

Published: September 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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