This is a very exciting time if you have links to Somalia. And it should be a hopeful time for those still living in Somalia, or who hope to return to their homeland. My husband has been very busy talking with friends and family about what's going on there, and watching the BBC for the latest news. Their foreign secretary, William Hague, was in Mogadishu last week and mentioned that they felt it was time to support Somalia, so they reopened the British embassy in Mogadishu, which was closed 22 years ago. For a place that has seen daily gunfire for the past 2 decades, this is quite a change. When I first met my husband he talked about how the Somalia was that he grew up in, but over the past 10 years, we've heard that it doesn't exist any more. The homes and buildings in his neighborhood were shelled with years of violence. He hasn't been back to see the devastation, and it's just recently that people outside the warfare have safely visited and can report their findings.
The population of Somalia is now 60% women. The UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, says it is one of the worst places in the world for women to live. She recently interviewed Somali women at refuge camps and those who have been displaced, and they all say they want to return home. Guns are a huge part of the culture, not just for the al shabaab, but for the local militias, so disarming everyone will be a priority. Until there truly is peace, it can't become a great country to live.
The focus of the conference being held in London next week seems to be all about gaining control again- police, justice, financial management. More than 50 partner countries and organizations have been invited, along with Somalia's 'friends and neighbors'. My husband is on the guest list and he's excited to hear what will be said, but stresses that there are many needs yet to be met like infrastructure development, job creation, making safe places for people to learn and worship. Unfortunately, I feel like in many of these instances when a government comes to help a country, they only have their own needs to meet- like who is going to use up Somalia's resources and make a profit? They have vast oil reserves, and the potential for crop development and seafood farming. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait and see what happens and it won't happen over night. I've already heard that there will be protesters outside the conference center.
Last year, we attended a diaspora conference where Hillary Clinton spoke about how people living away from their home countries can help rebuild. Like so many countries during unrest, there is a huge brain drain- those who have the means leave, so those left behind to do the fighting are often unskilled. It's important to bring people back who have necessary skills and are willing. Britain realizes this too and for that reason had a pre-conference working with disapora women who live in the UK.
For more information about the conference and to watch some videos about people who recently visited Somalia, go to this conference link.