Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
As end of transition nears, Somalis pray for peace
Thursday, August 02, 2012

Sitting outside a dilapidated building in Mogadishu's heavily fortified government area, Ali Hussein waves his hand dismissively at talk of Somalia's notoriously fractious political elite.

"It is all corruption, all stealing, all fighting," Hussein, who says he is over 60 and unemployed, spits out in stuttering English.

"The president, all of them, they are just militia, militia, militia."

Now though -- as the weak Western-backed government approaches the end of its mandate on August 20 --- it is down to these same politicians to grasp what many say is the war-torn nation's best chance for peace in years.

Billed as the key to lifting anarchic Somalia out of two decades of civil war, the end of the transitional period comes as regional and African Union forces have wrested a series of key strongholds from Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents.

In the capital Mogadishu, Somalis are seizing upon the emergence of relative peace, with the streets bustling with shoppers and embryonic traffic jams forming around the city.

Dangers remain. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up on Wednesday outside the gates of a special assembly to endorse a draft constitution, seen as a key stage in the fragile political process.

With the government's mandate already extended twice, the international community -- desperate for political gains to match military successes -- is pushing for the complicated process to be completed by an August 20 deadline.

However, this is just one of over a dozen attempts to find a lasting solution, and with Somalia still not stable enough to hold elections, it will be unelected elders who select the parliament, that will in turn choose a new president.

UN Special Representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga has warned of "disturbing reports" of "bribery and intimidation" by the political elite to wreck the process to select supporters to staff the new parliament as lawmakers.

After years of infighting and minimal progress, Somalis are sceptical that their venal leaders are up to the task, and fear the process will see rampant bribery and the current crop of corruption-tainted officials returned to power.

Many believe the political merry-go-round will change nothing for the ordinary people, struggling for survival in grim conditions.

"Initially, the hope was that a change of government would rotate out some of the less desirable politicians and help create a truly representative and more effective 'permanent' government," said EJ Hogendoorn, from the International Crisis Group thinktank.

"This will most likely not occur, as a small group of politicians have hijacked the roadmap process."

One of those who has been tipped to remain in power is current President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, along with parliament speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan.

Both are linked to corrupt deals by a leaked UN report.

President Sharif has denied the accusations, saying those behind them are opposed to Somalia's recovery, and claims progress -- however small -- has been made in the more than three years he has been in charge.

"We've started the rebuilding of government institutions, and today you can go to any ministry and visit them in their own offices," Sharif told journalists at a recent press conference, an expensive-looking watch glinting on his wrist.

Whoever ends up in charge -- and the likelihood appears that the August 20 deadline will not be met -- the job of cementing Somalia's rocky peace remains a mammoth task.

Despite the collapse of earlier efforts -- plus the fact a new government will remain just as weak, unable to deliver even the most basic of services to most of the country -- UN officials have optimism.

"The biggest strength is the people of Somalia, they are tired of violence, and they have tasted peace and stability," added Mahiga.

Waiting in the departure lounge of Mogadishu airport for his flight back to his family in Uganda's capital Kampala, Muhamud Hassan turns to watch another plane cross the runway.

"The diaspora, so many are coming back to have a look and see what the situation is like," he says, clucking with sympathy as he catches sight of a TV screen showing news footage of the latest fighting in Syria.

"Look at Damascus, that is what Mogadishu used to be like, but now it is beautiful here, it is peace."

Hassan, who fled Somalia to Uganda some five years ago, is one of those who came back to check how things are progressing, spending three months here looking into setting up a fruit and vegetable business.

He is praying that disputes over jobs among the political elite will not tip the city back into conflict, but is not yet certain enough to bring his wife and 10 children back to their home city.

"Sheikh Sharif or a new president, I just hope that peace stays," he said.

"For my family, maybe I wait another year, then if it is still ok it may be possible for them to come back too."


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