After a decade as the world's only country without a government, and its people
terrorized by bloodthirsty warlords, Somalia at last has a parliament, a president
and some hope.
of the fighting, looting and chaos, clan leaders from across Somalia gathered
in neighboring Djibouti in May to work out a plan to restore some sort of order
to the fractured Horn of Africa nation.
Leaving the warlords behind, the elders gathered in a huge tent in the quiet town
of Arta on the Red Sea coast and, with the help of the mild, chewable narcotic
"qat," got on with Somalia's favorite pastime -- talking. Progress was slow, but
three months later, the results were impressive.
A 245-member parliament was created with representatives from all of Somalia's
clans and sub-clans.
were promised after a three-year transition period. Last Saturday, the assembly-in-exile
elected 58-year-old Abdiquassim Salad Hassan as the first president of Somalia
since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 and the country descended
"The process in Arta has been a tremendous success, probably beyond the expectations
of anyone," said Babafemi Badejo, the United Nations' senior political adviser
on Somalia. "We are seeing a rebirth of a new Somalia under new leadership and
a new sense of optimism."
doubts that the Somali people would not accept their new leader were assuaged
Wednesday when Salad flew into the capital, Mogadishu.
than 100,000 cheering residents -- the largest crowd the city has seen since the
government collapsed -- turned out to welcome home Salad, who served as deputy
prime minister in Siad Barre's time.
promised an end to violence and said his priority was to tackle issues such as
health, education and the economy. Somalia is one of the world's poorest nations
-- a quarter of its children die before reaching their fifth birthdays.
Education systems have collapsed and the country's roads and bridges have been
left to crumble. More than 1 million of Somalia's 9 million residents fled overseas,
while hundreds of thousands went to neighboring Kenya.
are hopes that many of Somalia's large, educated diaspora will return to help
to fill government positions and rebuild the shattered nation. Kenyan Foreign
Minister Bonaya Godana said Friday he hoped that those refugees -- many stuck
in barren refugee camps in Kenya's arid north -- could now return home. "We are
very optimistic about the future of Somalia," he told reporters.
Somali population had a yearning for peace and they have chosen to call bygones
bygones." The new government also has the support of Mogadishu's Islamic courts,
which with funding from Mogadishu's business community, have their own militia
that already serves as an unofficial police force.
COULD STILL SPOIL THE PARTY
But Somalia's warlords, who humiliated a U.S.-led peacekeeping force deployed
in the early 1990s to ensure relief organizations could reach starving Somalis,
could still undermine the fledging government, observers say. "This is Somalia
we're talking about. Anything could happen.
few people with a few guns could spoil everything." said one Western aid worker
with years of experience in Somalia.
Powerful warlord Hussein Aideed and others have refused to recognize the new president,
dismissing him as a relic of the brutal Siad Barre government, and said they would
prevent his return to Mogadishu.
But since Salad's rapturous welcome, observers say the warlords' stance has softened
and some may even be hoping for positions in the new administration.
said Thursday he was committed to working for "reconciliation and peace" in Somalia
and called for a government of national unity.