Somalia Hosts Regional Summit for First Time in 40 Years


Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Nov. 17, 2015.

East African heads of state met in Mogadishu on Tuesday, marking the first time war-torn Somalia has hosted an international summit in more than 40 years.

Security was extra tight was for the one-day meeting to prevent attacks by Islamist militant group al-Shabab. Authorities put the city on virtual lockdown, with both vehicles and pedestrians blocked from using the major streets of the Somali capital.

Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hailed the meeting as proof the country is bouncing back from a quarter-century of anarchy.

“This summit is a clear sign and evidence that the international community and the regional leaders have realized the real progress Somalia is making on the security, the peace building and good governance,” he said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the progress is a success for regional states and the world.

“We see the progress made and it is a success for all of us in the region and the world in general,” he said. “We must support Somalia in its journey to full stability.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ethiopian Prime Minister Haliemariam Desalegn, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni attended the summit of the regional bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) along with high-level officials from Sudan and South Sudan.

Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh was expected to attend but his plane turned back mid-flight due to what Djibouti’s ambassador to Somalia described as “technical challenges.”

In a communique, IGAD leaders said they hope Somalia conducts free and fair elections on schedule this year. It condemned recent attacks by al-Shabab and called on the African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, to “immediately” recover areas still controlled by the al-Qaida-linked militants.

The leaders said they heard a report on the situation in South Sudan but took no action regarding the troubled country.

Somalia and Kenya announced several agreements after their presidents met on the sidelines of the summit, including the resumption of flights from Nairobi bringing in khat, a mild narcotic that is widely consumed in Somalia. The Somali government blocked the flights early this month ahead of the summit for what it said were national security reasons.

Mogadishu last hosted a major international summit in 1974, when leaders of the Organization of African Unity met there.

Somali Foreign Minister Abdisalam Omer Hadliye said Tuesday’s meeting was a historic event for Somalia.

“It is the first time Mogadishu or Somalia in general hosts such a high-level summit for more than [40] years. We see it as a historic signal and message to the world saying, ‘Somalia is coming back,’” Hadliye said.