Fostering fruitful dynamics beyond the confines of the Afgoye Corridor is a challenge for Somalia's transitional government, contends Gamal Nkrumah
It might seem an odd moment to discuss property development in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. The two-million city is booming, at least the scenic seaside stretch. Mogadishu was renowned for its white-washed walls and crashing waves, historic mosques and colonial architectural gems. Seychelles, Islamic-style.
Somali President Sherif Sheikh Ahmed on Tuesday escaped an assassination attempt. The country's militant Islamist group, the Al-Qaeda-associated Al-Shabab (Youth in Arabic) ambushed the presidential motorcade as it approached the Afogye Corridor, Africa and the world's largest concentration of displaced people.
Amid the brouhaha, a photographic exhibition entitled "Pictorial Tribute to Africa's Most Wounded City" was staged in Nairobi, neighbouring Kenya's capital. "The memory of the past offers hope for the future," the shows curator Mahmoud Diriye, former head of Mogadishu's museums poetically extrapolated.
Expatriates are trickling back to the Somali capital, the tense political situation notwithstanding. Fudged statistics are a nuisance but Somalia does not have crippling external obligations other than to put its house in order.
Turkish Airlines is now operating weekly flights to the newly refurbished Mogadishu International Airport, and Istanbul is emerging as the gateway for Somali émigrés returning from Europe and North America to invest in their capital city's unprecedented property boom. Somalis returning from the Gulf Arab states similarly do not have the temerity to question too closely the secular nature of the Somali state in the making.
Now, all is change. The Islamist investors are collaborating closely with Gulf Arab financial institutions and Somali property developers and estate agencies to transform the once sleepy backwater, that ended up as a dilapidated war zone, and now aspires to become the new Dubai of the East African coastline.
Mogadishu's airport is short of parking space for private jets, and soon at this rate of reconstruction the war-torn Somali capital will no longer be a hardship post.
The Islamists are expected to defend their in real estate oligarchies, and their shopping malls and supermarkets just like other less ideologically-inclined Somali capitalists.
Yet the intrepid investors are descending on Mogadishu with an avaricious eagerness. This is what the Somali president, he himself with a cat's nine lives, would call a courageous decision. He is likely to gratify the fat cats in the month ahead, assuming he survives the artillery fire and anti-aircraft guns of his adversaries, Al-Shabab.
Somali President Sherif Ahmed has demonstrated at least that he is sensitive to the concerns of the local and expatriate entrepreneurs, nearly all of whom support him for their selfish interests. Al-Shabab militants, on the other hand, are viewed suspiciously as troublemakers.
To make matters worse for Mogadishu's poor and disadvantaged, berthing charges for the luxury yachts of the rich are ridiculously low, while Somali fishermen are chased and hounded in Somalia's own territorial waters. Some innocent fishermen are dismissed s pirates. Nine warships of European Union powers -- France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal patrol the waters around Mogadishu.
Over the past decade some Somali businessmen have done well out of the war. Now most conclude that peace is best for business.
Kenya's navy also patrols the adjacent coastal areas of southern Somalia. There has been heavy fighting in recent weeks between the Kenyan troops stationed along the border with Somalia Al-Shabab.
The Kenyan authorities are collaborating closely with neighboring Ethiopia and the African Union (AU). Cooperating with Ethiopia and the AU has given Kenya access to Somalia. Like Ethiopia, Kenya has a sizeable ethnic Somali population. The Somalis of Kenya are focusing on the challenges ahead in Somalia especially regarding Al-Shabab.
The political chaos in Somalia has forced the military intervention of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with the full backing of Western powers.
Al-Shabab fighters have fired anti-aircraft shots on two foreign warships. This is widely seen as their swan song. Indeed the most important military event in Somalia this week has been the joint AU and Somali government troops overrunning the Afgoye Corridor,
Hailed as an unprecedented military breakthrough, the triumph of AMISOM spells the beginning of the end for Al-Shabab. The movement's days as a military force to be reckoned with are numbered.
With peace comes a new sense of nationalism and harking back to the good old days. The Somali capital is fast becoming a plutocrat's paradise. Five-star hotels and skyscrapers are transforming the Mogadishu skyline. Yes, income differentials are fast widening. Al-Shabab insurgents are regrouping and they want to wreck the city.
"Al-Shabab are on the run," observed Lieutenant General Andrew Gutti commander of the 11,000-strong AMISOM peacekeeping contingency in Somalia.
"There was some resistance but we have crushed it," Somali army commander-in-chief Mohamed Abdullah said, praising his troops this week after re-taking Afogye.
The Afgoye Corridor is an Islamist stronghold. Afogye, 30 km northwest of Mogadishu, is of tremendous strategic importance. The joint AMISOM-Somali forces crossed the River Shabelle, another critical strategic and productive agricultural area.
Five journalists were reported dead in Somalia during the joint AU-Somali government troops bid to rid Afgoye of Islamist forces.
"It is truly a great gain... the operation was very successful and we are now very close to Afgoye," Somali Defence Minister Hussein Arab Isse told reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
"The plan for the next 48 hours is not only to capture Afgoye, but to go further," Somalia's defence minister expounded. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Somalis have set up makeshift shelters and shacks in Afgoye. More than 400,000 people, a third of displaced Somalis, live in temporary accommodation in the Afgoye Corridor. Somalia has until August to set up a permanent government, but the transitional government of the country has consistently failed to meet key deadlines.
Somalia, a predominantly Muslim nation, celebrates the holy fasting month of Ramadan which this year commences in mid-July.