Violence in Somalia scares investors, aid workers


A spate of attacks by Islamic insurgents in Somalia’s capital is forcing investors, businessmen and aid workers to have second thoughts about expanding operations in Mogadishu.

African Union and Somali troops pushed al-Shabab insurgents out of the capital in August 2011, fostering a relatively secure peace that Mogadishu hasn’t seen in years. Somalis living overseas are returning, bringing new foreign investment capital with them. The last 18 months have been Mogadishu’s best in years, say residents.

But a recent spate of attacks is threatening those gains.

The Turkish Red Crescent is reviewing its Somalia operations, a Somali official said, because of security concerns after a series of attacks. One such attack struck a car carrying Turkish aid workers on a day when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 35 people at the nation’s court complex.

“What I know is that they are reviewing their activities because of the security situation,” said Abdirahman Omar Osman, Somalia’s government spokesman, said by phone. “Because of the security, it’s difficult. They have every right to be upset, but what we say to them is that their assistance and help has changed the landscape.”

Turkey is playing a big role in Somalia’s reconstruction. Turkish Airline is the first international airline to fly direct to Mogadishu. Turkish Red Crescent aid workers have been undertaking development projects, including street renovations and the construction of schools. Turkish aid workers are also rebuilding one of Somalia’s biggest hospitals.

A Western diplomat based in Nairobi who works on Somalia said Turkey has become wary of the capital’s violent attacks but has also come to learn that making progress in Mogadishu can be frustratingly difficult, given the inexperience and inefficiencies of the new government. The diplomat insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

Omer Tasli, the director general of the Turkish Red Crescent, said that security can be a concern in Mogadishu but that there would be no pull-out.

“From time to time, we have to stop what we are doing if there is a security concern, but we are not suspending operations,” Tasli told The Associated Press.

The al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab often accuses Turkish aid workers of importing secularism into the largely conservative Muslim nation and has threatened attacks against its workers. The militants have attacked restaurants and hotels in Mogadishu, making businessmen wary of investing money.

Ahmed Jama is the owner of a popular restaurant in the city that has been attacked by militants. “There’s no security left here. The violence is also denying us any reasonable profits,” Jama said. “We receive few customers these days. It’s discouraging. I wish I could leave here soon.”

Another hotel owner echoed the sentiment: “It’s not easy doing business here. It’s a real sacrifice,” said Ali Hassan. “It has changed from a year ago.”

The deterioration in security has increased demand for protection, leading some businessmen to set up unregulated private security companies.

“They have no permits from the government whatsoever, their work is worrying,” said Dahir Amin Jesow, a Somali parliamentarian who heads a security committee. “We shall put the issue before the parliament soon. We don’t want to see any other forces other than our armed forces or AMISOM here,” he said, referring to the African Union forces in Somalia.

In the latest security operation, Somali security forces this week began rounding up hundreds of suspects in an effort to smoke out militants in Mogadishu. Col. Ali Hamud Mahad, the spokesman of the African Union force in Somalia, said that troops were conducting house-to-house searches to find militants posing as civilians.

“The operation will be carried on until we ensure that no militants are in hiding in Mogadishu to carry out attacks,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The mass arrests have some in the city concerned. “They arrested anyone they could see, that’s wrong,” said Mohamed Abdullahi, a university student who said he spent hours in a prison before being released on Tuesday night. “Only criminals deserve such mistreatments.”