15 JUNE 2010


A recent conference on Somalia's "Reconstruction," held in Turkey, produced the same result as a similar gathering in Cairo a month earlier. Except for posturing by U.N. Envoy Ould Abdallah, who started publicly bad-mouthing all Somalia factions, including his own "friends," the situation on the ground deteriorated even further.

According to U.N. figures, 1.4 million Somalis are displaced in their own country, including 200,000 dispersed over the first five months of this year. Additionally, 580,000 are living in destitute circumstances in neighbouring countries.

After taking over in January 2007, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon surprised the international community by volunteering optimistic statements on Somalia. As was well known, a complex and bloody situation over more than a decade had propelled the withdrawal of U.S. troops by President Clinton after the famous Black Hawk Down tragedy, and required utmost care and sobering patience to handle. So, when further violence erupted again with its additional human misery and political turmoil, further statements by our distinguished new Secretary General wavered between regrets, sorrow and hope as his newly appointed "Envoy," Ould Abdallah, plunged the U.N. into unpredictable territory. It was not the Envoy's credibility that suffered, but that of the U.N. and its badly advised Secretary General.

The only welcome news is finally the termination of the Ould Abdallah assignment. In fact, the wily Mauritian with close connections to some influential people in Washington and Paris, never really stayed in Mogadishu. He went round and round in circles, mostly using an office in Nairobi, though "inspecting" the amenities of the Kempinski in Djibouti and -- whenever visits to New York permit -- the menu of Downtown Cipriani on West Broadway. One silver lining is that he managed to unite the Somalis in loathing him. Not a single word of regret was mentioned at his departure, announced officially the second week of June.

The new Special Representative, Augustine Mahiga of Tanzania, could only improve on a very bad situation. For a while, another Tanzanian was mentioned: Salim Salim, former Secretary General of the defunct Organization of African Unity, who also served for a while on Darfur. Mr. Mahiga is from a younger generation and carries less political baggage. Tanzanians usually have a very good standing in Africa, having practically helped all the liberation movements. "Muallimu" Julius Nyrere, its first President after independence, has injected an enlightened and liberating spirit in the country's international -- and regional -- relations.

Certainly, Augustine P. Mahiga has a very challenging task, including regaining the credibility of a U.N. role and negotiating with all sides for a fair consensus. He certainly has the experience and the goodwill. He needs every help he can get. And the U.N. these days needs at least one peacemaking success story.