Somali government troops backed by African Union (AU) forces have captured a strategic town near the capital, Mogadishu, after fighters from the armed al-Shabab movement pulled out of it.
"If you talk to Somalis they will tell you this [political process] is coming from the foreigners, they are dictating what should happen to Somalis … ordinary Somalis don't believe in this. If you look at the constitution it is not a Somali one, it is written and prepared by Western-led people."
- Jamal Osman, an award-winning Somali journalist and filmmaker
The town of Afgoye was a major stronghold of the al-Qaeda-linked group, giving their fighters easy access to the capital.
Al-Shabab still controls much of the country but many analysts say Afgoye's loss after three days of fighting is a blow to the insurgents.
There are approximately 17,000 AU troops in Somalia.
More than 9,000 people have fled the latest fighting near Mogadishu. And according to the UN humanitarian agency at least 300,000 people fled from Somalia last year.
Two years ago, al-Shabab fighters expelled Western aid organisations but the capture of Afgoye has raised hopes that aid workers will again be allowed access to the country.
"There is one issue that has never happened before – the immediate region is engaged politically and militarily, and the rest of the international community is providing assistance to a predominantly Somali-owned and Somali-led process."
- Augustine Mahiga, the head of the UN political office for Somalia
On the political front, leaders from different Somali factions have agreed to a timetable to elect a new president by August 20. It ends the transition period of the UN-backed interim government.
Inside Story asks: With elections announced for later this year, could this failed state be finally turning a corner, after more than 20 years of war?
Joining presenter Hazem Sika to discuss this are guests: Augustine Mahiga, a former ambassador to the UN and head of the UN political office for Somalia; Jamal Osman, an award-winning Somali Journalist and filmmaker who has reported extensively from al-Shabab-controlled areas; and Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda, a spokesperson for the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia.
"In the coming days we should see a scaling up of operations against al-Shabab that should be able to anchor very properly into the political process that is ongoing .... We would like to see political objectives getting integrated into an overall military strategy. This will be the key."
Lt Colonel Paddy Ankunda, a spokesperson for the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia
WHO CONTROLS SOMALIA?
- Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, and has been racked by fighting ever since. It is a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.
- The country has essentially been divided into three distinct regions - the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, the semi-autonomous state of Puntland, and south and central Somalia which includes the capital, Mogadishu, where the Transitional Federal Government is based.
- In February, the UN Security Council authorised an increase in the troop ceiling for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) from 12,000 to 17,000 troops.
- This came after Kenya beefed up security along its border with Somalia by sending 5,000 troops.
- Ethiopian troops returned in force to Somalia last year after withdrawing in early 2009.
- Al-Shabab fighters control most of south and central Somalia.