Somalia: Better security paves way for important road repairs

Monday, January 28, 2013
[PHOTO: UNifeed]
Lower Shabelle, Somalia: The sun is at full blast and the dry "jilaal" winds that mark this time of year are picking up in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia.

It's not just the heat and dust that make the journey hard for commuters on the main road from Mogadishu to the trading town of Afgooye - which is about 25 kilometres west of the capital. The road has taken a beating over the years and its current deplorable condition makes the trip to Afgooye's market extremely uncomfortable.

It is for this reason that members of the combat engineering unit of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are filling in potholes and carrying out other repairs on the worst stretches.

The Afgooye corridor was under the control of the al Shabaab Islamist militants up until May 2012 when the Somali National Army - with support from the Ugandan contingent of the  African Union (AU) peacekeeping force - pushed them out and secured the corridor in what was known as operation "Free Shebelle".

Since then, al Shabaab - which has links to al Qaeda - has lost most of the major towns and cities they controlled, paving way for Somalia first democratically elected president and government in decades.

With graders and other road construction equipment provided by the UN Mission to Somalia, the AMISOM engineers hope to soon make movement smoother, not just for Somali and AMISOM troops, but for Somali traders and normal travellers as well.

Brigadier Michael Ondoga, AMISOM Uganda Contingent Commander says, "We do not have development partners to come and do this kind of project in the liberated areas and this is just one of the projects that we do to let the population know that we are not only here for fighting, but also to help them to open the humanitarian space and also empower them, so that they can live a better life than they have experienced in the last three or so decades."

Members of communities living along the corridor often join in the work. Some of the volunteers are former al Shabaab sympathizers. The engineers have also employed about 20 of the more-skilled workers.

"This road was impassable and it was hard for our families to visit each other. It used to take a long time and there were a lot of potholes. This will all change when the road is fixed. It is also a way of developing our country and making some money to provide for my family," says Musa Xaaji Hassan, one of the Somali road worker.

Once the combat engineers are done with this 4.2 kilometre stretch, they plan to provide their expertise to other towns and highways.

Projects like these are a great start on the road to rebuilding Somalia's infrastructure and institutions, but much more support is needed from other developmental partners and the international community in order to sustain the country's recovery and growth. -UNifeed
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