Can Somalia Come Back From Years Of Lawlessness?

After decades of bloody warlords and lawlessness, there is new hope for political moves towards stability in Mogadishu. A parliament chosen by clan elders and vetted to keep out bad elements is to choose a new president. All Things Considered host Audie Cornish talks with the BBC's Somalia analyst Mary Harper about the latest developments.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Somalia is trying to change its image as a chaotic, failed state with a new bid for stability. Today marks the end of United Nations mandate intended to help Somalia create a new and lasting government. Hundreds of members of a new parliament are being sworn in and their first task is to choose a president.

Mary Harper is the Somalia analyst for the BBC. She recently returned from the capital, Mogadishu, and gave us a portrait of the city and its people.

MARY HARPER: The live in hovels made out of bits of stick and cloth and cardboard, and they've been living like that for more than 20 years. There's frequent gunfire. It is like going to the end of the world. But then you also see, in this dreadful situation, you see glimmers of hope. You see new tin roofs being hammered onto buildings.

CORNISH: Mary Harper also described the process of creating a new government. Somalia, she says, is too unstable for a democratic election, so the U.N. tried a different route.

HARPER: They got together traditional elders who, in the past, used to be the recognized authority. They got together a group of 135 of them. They then selected the members of Parliament from the different clans and then that group was vetted by a technical committee, which rather courageously eliminated dozens of people who have been associated with being warlords in the past. So it's a cleaner parliament then we've had before.

CORNISH: And the U.N. released a statement yesterday, saying that this new parliament, quote, "cuts its ties with warlordism." Is that a believable claim?

HARPER: I think that's a bit of an exaggeration. Definitely some of the more notorious warlords have been excluded. And that itself is problematic because they're very angry about the fact that they have been denied political power. So who knows what they're going to do. Obviously some of the rather suspect people have slipped through the net. And also, some members of the transitional government whose mandates has just ended, they're still very much front runners for things like the presidency.

CORNISH: Can you also give us an update on the al-Shabab group, the group linked to al-Qaida? It obviously controls much of the country still. But at this point, what is the status of this group in terms of this moving forward for the country?

HARPER: Yes, al-Shabab has been completely left out of the process, which some argue is actually rather dangerous because it could be suggested that by including al-Shabab or at least speaking to al-Shabab, that might be a way of de-radicalizing them. They have been largely chased out of the capital, Mogadishu, but they still occupy vast swaths of Somalia.

And also, because they've been on the back foot, militarily, they're now adopted a sort of policy of what they call asymmetrical warfare. So, instead of conventional frontlines, you have grenade attacks, suicide bombings, sort of random violence that they carry out.

CORNISH: Mary, you know, I read that the parliament held its first session at the airport because of security concerns. And it's been a good two decades since Somalia had a relatively stable central government. What are the chances for this parliament's success?

HARPER: I think there's so much will, both from within Somalia and also from the international community, which is thoroughly fed up with basically holding whatever Somalia administration exists, kind of holding it in its hands and financing it, and directing it and trying to influence it. And I think Somalis in Mogadishu, where I was recently, they're so fed up with violence. And you kind of get the feeling that there is a momentum building now, whereby people will have more to gain from peace than from war.

And if that balance can be kind of shifted, then I can imagine that the new political administration might have enough of a sort of energy for it to establish not peace and security that the rest of the world might understand, but, relatively speaking for Somalia, something that would enable that territory to advance economically and therefore, become less likely to fall back into this endless cycle of violence.

CORNISH: Mary Harper is BBC Somalia analyst. She joined us from London. Thank you, Mary.

HARPER: Thank you very much for having me.

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