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What has changed in Somalia?

For the first time in twenty-two years the United States of America recognized the new government of Somalia on the 17 Jan 2013.

Amal Ahmed
10 February 2013

Five months ago, before the new Somali government was elected, Mogadishu was known as one of the poorest, most dangerous and lawless cities in the world and one of the most deadly places for journalists to be in. Last year Somalia had the second highest death toll in the world after Syria in killing eighteen media workers in one year. In 2011, a survey by the TrustLaw also found Somalia one of the top five worse places in world for a woman to be in as the country has a high record in maternal mortality, rape, female genital mutilation and limited access to education and healthcare. So what could have possibly changed for the world and its media to react so strongly to a rape case when rape has been common in Somalia for decades?  

Last Tuesday, February 5, a woman was raped by a man wearing a government uniform and the freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim who interviewed her, in early January, were both sentenced to a year in jail. The 27 year old was accused of making false claims and insulting a government body as the medical evidence showed that she was not raped and Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim was also charged with insulting state institutions. 

To be honest the situation in Somalia hasn’t improved much since the new government came to power. Sexual violence is still a significant problem. Maryan Qasim Ahmed, back then a minister for women, said when the survey was released in 2011, that Somalia was "a living hell” for women. Women who lost their families or women who did not have the protection of a man were in high risk of rape, tragically either inside refugee camps or trying to escape form one due to the presence of militia at illegal roadblocks. 

Meanwhile, al-Shabab are also continuing their threats aimed at the new government by regularly carrying out bomb attacks in the capital of Mogadishu: the new President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud  was lucky to escape an assassination attempt on the second day of his presidency last September. And suicide bombing is still continuing  - the last bomb blast happened on Monday 4 Feb 2013 - killing one African Union soldier.  

So the main factor that has changed the situation in Somalia is nothing to do with its internal affairs, but is accompanying the strong international support and aid that the new government is receiving. For the first time in twenty-two years the United States of America has recognized the new government of Somalia on the 17 Jan 2013. Two weeks later the president went for his first visit to Europe to discuss the ways the EU could assist Somalia on its path to a stable political future. The president of Somalia won the support of the European Union officials on the first day of a two-day stop in Brussels. 

In my opinion because of the support the international community and the key donors are giving to Somalia, the last thing that they want is to contribute to violence against human rights abuse and silence rape victims. This has turned the spotlight onto the rape story which is common in Somalia, forgetting that this country is still wounded form decades of war, corruption and bribery. (Some Somali journalists were victims of precisely these syndromes arising either from clan loyalties or how much money they can get in publishing a story.) 

The five months’ old government is trying to stand on its own two feet without the stable foundation of real established institutions. Nor do they have a proper justice system or healthcare that they can rely on. It’s a country that is going to have to be built from scratch and it will take time for justice to come back to a country that was lawless for a decade.

The government’s main priority at the moment is to command the loyalty of the militias who are working with government to fight al-Shabab, to stop the piracy activity and to bring peace back to the country. I’m not justifying the decision that the court made for sentencing the victim and the journalist who interviewed her nor undermining the truth in their story. I'm just highlighting the point that people forgot that this was Somalia and that they shouldn't expect much better yet from a country that has experienced years of violence. 

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