For most Somalis, the only answer is flee

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iol pic afr Somalia Explosion~6 AP Somalia's new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

United Nations -

Half of Somalia's population wants out of the impoverished, conflict-stricken nation even as it takes the first steps to shed its reputation as the world's most failed state, a new UN report says.

The United Nations sent a small army of surveyors across the vast East African nation - some risking their lives in militant zones now under attack from African Union troops - to get the views of its long-suffering 9.5 million people for a development survey.

Their report, released to coincide with a mini-summit on Somalia at the UN General Assembly last week, must have made sobering reading for the international leaders who welcomed the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and warned him he still has a lot of work to do.

Seventy percent of Somalis are aged under 30 and the UN's Somalia Human Development Report said more than two thirds of those young people want to flee.

The reasons are clear. After two decades of conflict and corrupt, chaotic governance, more than half of the population aged over 15 has no jobs. And Somalia may have the world's worst unemployment rate, the UN report said.

The dearth of jobs makes unemployed, disillusioned youths a prey to the recruiters for Shebab fighters now battling AU forces for their last bastion at Kismayo and the pirates who have become a scourge of the Indian Ocean.

Mogadishu man Jamac Said told surveyors how he tried to get to Europe with four other boys and two girls through Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya and Italy.

They were stopped by South Sudan rebels who raped the girls. They went on but were detained by the Sudanese army for 19 months before being sent back to Somalia.

Said tried to get through Kenya a second time. He got as far as the Kenyan border town of Garissa, was beaten in prison for two months and only released after paying a ransom.

The UN estimates that between 450 000 and 1.5 million people have died in the country because of conflict and famine since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

There are more than 600 000 Somalis in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. The UN estimates that 53 000 people tried to cross the Gulf of Aden to get into Yemen last year, and that hundreds, if not thousands, died.

“Somalia, not surprisingly, remains at the bottom of the list of the world's failed states,” said the report.

But it stressed that the relative calm in the autonomous northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland proved there is hope for even this desperate case.

While the report said the rest of the world has spent $55 billion on Somalia's troubles in over the past two decades, it called on donors to invest in helping the country's desperate youth.

The international community is pinning its hopes on the new president and the African Union troops who hope taking Kismayo will be a major step to bolstering the fledgling government.

Outgoing African Union chairman Jean Ping highlighted the “myriad, complex and daunting challenges” facing Hassan, the target of an assassination attempt two days after his election, and his international backers.

The AU force, officially known as AMISOM and mainly made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Djibouti, has almost doubled to 17 000 in the past year but Ping said it needs new finance and equipment.

Speaking to the mini-summit on Somalia, Hassan vowed to confront what the UN report called “Somalia's legacy of corrupt and abusive political leadership.”

“Somalia has been through about 15 peace processes and plans since 1991. With the backing now on offer, this president has a better chance than all the others who have tried,” said one African minister who was at the UN meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“It will need a long time and a miracle to beat all the enemies and obstacles he faces.” - Sapa-AFP


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