Matt Baugh

Ambassador to Somalia

Part of UK in Somalia

22nd August 2011 Nairobi, Kenya

Somalia: Guest Blog by James Hooley – Letter from Mogadishu

My name is James Hooley and I’m currently part of the British Office for Somalia team in Nairobi.  My boss, Matt Baugh, has very kindly lent me his blog so I can tell you a little bit more about our trip to Mogadishu on Wednesday with Andrew Mitchell, the UK Secretary of State for International Development – the first Cabinet Minister to visit Mogadishu since Douglas Hurd in 1992.  You can read more about Mr Mitchell’s trip in DFID’s press release here, and in the BBC’s report here.

I have been working on Somalia from Nairobi for 2 years now, and yet this is only my 4th visit to Mogadishu and to Somalia – the 1st of which took place in April this year.  Until then the security situation had prevented regular visits.  My work, like my FCO colleagues around the world, is to monitor political developments, report on key events and advise on UK policy.  The challenges of doing this from a neighbouring country are huge and so the opportunity to start meeting my Somali counterparts in their own country is a significant and welcome development.  It reflects not only an improving security situation in Mogadishu, but also the importance of Somalia for the UK.  To make a difference we need to understand better the situation on the ground and that involves talking to people on a regular basis – and not just when they pass through Nairobi.

The Development Secretary’s visit gave me the opportunity to leave the confines of the secure airport compound and travel along the war-ravaged streets of Mogadishu to the Prime Minister’s office at Villa Somalia for the first time.  We did so in a convoy of large armoured ‘Casspir’ vehicles which are specially designed to withstand land-mines and road-side bombs.  They are operated by African Union peace-keeping troops from Uganda and Burundi (AMISOM).  Their dedication to this operation and the sacrifices they have made (particularly over the last few months) is deeply moving and I cannot begin to commend them enough for the professionalism and bravery which they continue to show – and in particular for the protection they provided to our group on Wednesday.  The Somali people and the international community owe AMISOM a huge debt of gratitude.

As we left the airport (body armour and helmet on, sun beating down on our reinforced metal ride…the experience already slightly uncomfortable!) two Ugandan soldiers stood up out of the top of the vehicle and manned the guns attached to the roof.  The long, narrow windows sit low down in the Casspirs and so I crouched with my colleagues from the office, the BBC, and The Times to get a glimpse of the streets of what is nearly always condemned as “the most dangerous city in the world” – and where no British diplomat has walked since our Embassy closed in 1990.

It is perhaps predictable to say that the first thing you notice is the scale of the destruction.  This once beautiful coastal city has been reduced to rubble; nothing has been spared, save the magnificent Mosque, rebuilt by President Sheikh Sharif 2 years ago, which seemed practically untouched.  But other buildings, shops, cars – all are shot-up, many are just shells.  This was the main road to Villa Somalia, used daily by AMISOM and government ministers.  Sand- bags rest in doorways and occupy the space where windows once stood in their frames; until 18 months ago this road was a gauntlet targeted by insurgents from the Islamist al-Shabaab group.

But now it is a different story.  Thanks to AMISOM and troops aligned to the Transitional Federal Government, this route is now relatively safe.  And you begin to realise that this isn’t just a city at war, it is a living city with people trying to reclaim some sense of normality.  The streets are full of parked cars, taxis and mini- buses.  Businesses are open all the way, including chemists, mechanics, restaurants and tea houses.  As we approach the junction at Kilometre 4 (an empty plinth in the middle of the square, once the site of a statue of Ahmed Gurey, a 16th century Somali war hero) a shop is painted in the orange colours of Fly540 (a Kenyan airline), with a sign advertising tickets for sale.  In fact, all of the shops along this corridor to Villa Somalia are painted in vibrant colours, which give much needed respite from the bullet holes and crumbling structures that they hide.  They are all the more prominent for the sandy backdrop of the coast and the bright blue waters of the Indian Ocean which are periodically visible from the road.

These colourful buildings are matched by the brightly coloured cloths and clothes worn by the Somali men and women we passed.  The presence of so many Mogadishans going about their business was, I think, one of the most interesting and encouraging sights.  One assumes that in a war-torn city, the residents retreat to their homes, they flee, or they perish.  Sadly this has been the case for many – but some stayed and some have returned.  Life goes on in Mogadishu.  I only hope that in time we are able to travel more freely in the city to meet these people, hear their stories and to understand their determination in the face of 21 years of conflict.

Somalia is often referred to as the world’s only “failed state”.  This is an unfortunate term.  It doesn’t reflect the hopes and aspirations of a nation – and its homesick diaspora who left during the 1990s for the safety of Kenya, Europe, the Americas, Australia and many other countries.  The challenges facing Somalia are huge, and Mogadishu remains a city at war.  The current famine is dire, and is set to turn in to a disaster of catastrophic proportions if more assistance is not provided.  The pressure on the Transitional Federal Government and its new Prime Minister Abdiweli has never been greater – Somalia expects.  But our trip to Mogadishu showed us how the Somali people are beginning to reclaim their country and show the world that theirs is a story of hope – and not just of despair.

Here are some of my pictures:

13 comments on “Somalia: Guest Blog by James Hooley – Letter from Mogadishu

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  2. Good job Mr Matt and his team. its really inspiring to visit and show your strong solidarity to my people in Mogadishu, they have been suffering for along time, not only being neglected but also forgotten. please combine your strengths to allow Somalia to recover besides I am impressed the outcome of London Conference Its the most successful of its kind ever held for Somalia I am happy for you what you did so far. thank you so much.

    Mohamed Abdimalik
    From Bentiu- South Sudan

  3. Thanks James your bravery visit and letter from Mogadishu. This will mean a lot to Somali people, both Diaspora and others still live in Somalia; particularly in Mogadishu city.

    History told that several international and regional interventions toward Somalia were ended failure for wrong reasons.

    We, Somali people have failed; not only social fabric, but also cultural; educational; political and every sector of human developments.

    Equally the international community has played a major role in fuelling and exacerbating the deterioration of Somali nation and its people for the last two decades.

    To mention few:-

    1. The International community was divided 1993 US led intervention in Somalia – it had no clear intentions, strategy and long term objectives.
    The money spent US/UN intervention of the Restore Hope; if properly managed could have been disarmed; peacefully entire nation of Somalia.

    Not to mention the stock of massive weaponry and ammunition left by the US, gone into the hand of warring and tribal faction; hence engulfed thousands of innocent people.

    The fact international community have been carrying out humanitarian works on one hand and supplying arms on the other hand.

    Where are they (the international community) when illegal nuclear toxic wastes been dumping in Somalia shores; local fisher man killed by international illegal armed fishing boats.

    Hence no wonder why Somali people have no great faith in them.

    However, Somali people appreciate and understand that UK successive governments have little or no involvement in what was happening last 20 years.

    Therefore, UK coalition government; with help of its allies and Somali intellectuals across the globe can play a pivotal role; to restoring Somali governance; accountability and national bride.

    To have everlasting peace in the region; including the save guard of British interest including reducing the risk of piracy; eradicate Islamic extremism; safe guard oil routes and maritime shipping in Indian Ocean and gulf of Aden, following measures must be taken into account:-

    1. Setting up international tribunal for Somalia – Stopping crimes against humanity: –

    This should be the starting point to win back Somali trust and ultimately create good atmosphere for the international community to succeed the heart and mind of Somali people across the world. The court shouldn’t be located in neighbouring countries.

    2. The future Somali government must strictly be controlled and accountable to bringing law and order and humanitarian, justice and equality. prior to electorate acceptance members standing for election must be scrutinised their business; including crime and Islamic extremism history.

    3. The root cause of Somali problem is far from tribal conflicts but attributable to sharing natural resources; citizenship and justice; lack of good governance.

    4. it’s not Somali nature to rely on hand out by the central government; we are well renowned in entrepreneurship, creating business and helping one another.

    Therefore, all we are asking is to bring peace and stability in Somalia and hopefully the international community consider this opportunity seriously to resolving Somali crises.

    The World has shown us generosity during the collapse of Somali nation; likewise Somali are generous in default so will be willingly to sharing our natural resources as long as based on partnership and mutual respect.

  4. Thank you an amazing post, would examine your others posts. i appreciate your ideas with this, I experienced a bit thump by this short article. Thanks again! You make a good moment. Got some wonderful report here. I believe if more people thought of it like this, they’d have a very better moment in time obtain the hang ofing the situation.

  5. Thanks to your brief info of Mogadisho, the despair of Somalis is not the case, but what we are feeling is the absence of the role of International community that sometimes accelerates and encourages the conflict and statelessness of Our homeland. I am very sorry to say Somali leaders don’t deserve to lead a nation because the leaders we need are those who are committed to raise hero leaders but we don’t need hero leaders that block every prospective of our hope and dignity

  6. our so called leaders failed us, international community has failed us. But those ordinary Somalis going about their everyday business will rebuild Mogadishu and will make all of us gleam with pride.

  7. Thank you for seeing the capital of somalia what is lift and hope understand fully that the internaional community neglected somalia in the sense of not able to tell apart from the mofia somalia politicians who had that damage to country and good ones who have not been given the chance
    I would like to participate the conference as I am somali born british citizen , who can help.

  8. Dear Matt Baugh
    We as a Somali Diaspora in UK consider this step a very responsive action taken the right moment. The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. Let’s be optimists without under estimating the reality on the ground. We must be aware of being over confident to hold the peace which just started in many parts of the country.
    Consulting the government of Great Britain, I consider myself a person who has a deep understanding of Somali society. A peculiar country compared the rest of Africa in many aspects.
    The Somalia of today is completely metamorphosed and most of the people are focused on politics, which they have wrong perception. This is not the Somali we knew based on nomadic life style, having well defined property of livestock mainly camel and goat. In fact we used to say that person is rich by counting the number of animal population he possesses. With their limited knowledge they were able to manage their life, and still you can see traces of that life in countryside, where people are famous with their hospitality, and loving each other. When they arrive big cities they are ignored and looked down, despite they have something to offer to the society mainly milk and meat. When they arrive to sell goats or camels they are taxed and they never ask where that taxation goes. The kind of government we used to have since the independence didn’t put enfaces rural development, and people started to migrate to the cities deserting rural area without proper skills
    The rural population of Somalia is the victim of a hostile environment – Semi arid land with frequent drought. Scarcity of water is their main problem. According to water engineering expert there is two types of scarcity: 1) Physical scarcity: Where there are no water sources 2)Economic scarcity: Where there is underground water but people cannot dig wells, because they can’t afford to buy rigs.
    In Somalia there is aquifer system but people are not aware of that, and may suffer continued droughts while they are standing on water. In fact drought resistant farming is possible in many parts of the country
    After I consulted with Petter Westewelt, below there is an email I received from him
    Dear Melmi,
    I tried to call you a few times but couldn’t reach you.
    Thank you very much for showing your interest. We believe as well that this could be a good solution for Somalia and many other countries. We would like to re-green desertified areas as fas as we can considering the capacity, resources and opportunity.
    The Naga Foundation is founded nearly a year ago to develop larger scale project and to ensure a sustainable exploitation of the trenched area. At the moment, Peter is very busy mapping targeted areas and with the start up of our projects in Burkina Faso and Kenya. (watch also the climate engineering film, part 1:

    Please, keep updated through our newsletter.

    Kind regards,

    Ruth van Wieren
    Naga Foundation
    Van: Mohamud Elmi []
    Verzonden: dinsdag 15 november 2011 16:12
    Onderwerp: Message
    Dear Friends of Earth
    I am very pleased the way your organization treated part of Africa, nevertheless it seems that the most crucial part has not been treated yet. That is Somalia which become normal to host many of the most deadly droughts that human witnessed.
    With the help of Peter Westrveld, I believe there are solutions for droughts in Somalia , and East Africa at large.
    I am from Somalia and I studied Geography . I believe strongly that Somalia is the ideal place to run a continuous contour trench projects. I say so because most of Somali land, specially the central and northern parts have more galleys and experienced a lot of soil erosion.
    Personally I would appreciate to see the greatest hero of the century who spotted out the danger of desertification in the future.
    Thank You
    Mohamud Haji Elmi
    Tel: 02074191898

  9. Good article. Currently working in Muscat. very keen to gain access to February conference in London if at all possible.

  10. January 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm
    yuor bos Matt Baugh hi is intelegent man , who has sence of humor, take care next time you travel to Mogadisho Somalia…thanks for that information, i hope Mogdisho will be better place than now. ,..

  11. Thanks James for updating us bout your trip in Mogdishu and this is a very positive and hope gving information for the Somali diaspra in the Uk and the rest of the world. I hope that Somali gets back its repuation and statehood that it had once in the international erana and Your office is doing great job to support Somali people and thanks for doing it and this will be remembered forever.

    Abdikayf Bashir Farah


    Leicester City NHS Health Trainer/ Community worker

  12. UK is doing good job to help somalia also i’m somalia based in DC and I want to participation somalia conference in london please send contact detail.

Comments are closed.

About Matt Baugh

Matt is married to Caroline, a GP from South London specialising in pre-hospital care and tropical medicine. They have 3 small children. Matt has been working on Somalia since May…

Matt is married to Caroline, a GP from South London
specialising in pre-hospital care and tropical medicine. They have 3
small children. Matt has been working on Somalia since May 2010, when he was appointed the UK’s Senior Representative and Head of the UK’s
Somalia Office. On 2 February 2012 he was accredited as the first
British Ambassador to Somalia for 21 years. Since taking up his Somalia
appointment, he has been able to travel to Mogadishu, Hargeisa and
Garowe, and has been deeply touched by the warmth of the welcome he has received, but also the scale of the challenges that Somali people face
every day.
Matt is a career civil servant and is currently on secondment to the
Foreign Office from the UK Department for International Development. Now 37, he has spent much of his career to date dealing with conflict,
security and humanitarian issues. Since 1999 he has worked in Iraq,
Sudan, Afghanistan and the Balkans, as well as a number of major relief
operations and protracted emergencies. He also helped to set up and lead
the UK’s Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit, now the UK Stabilisation
Unit. Matt is a graduate of the UK Joint Services Command and Staff
College’s Higher Command and Staff Course (2010) and was previously
Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for International
Development (2008-9).
Away from work, Matt is an avid England rugby fan (although he
refuses to admit his own playing days are long over). He is also a keen
mountaineer and skier and, together with Caroline, was part of a team
that raced to the Magnetic North Pole in 2005. These days he is more
likely to be found teaching his children how to swim and build