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While some African countries have made huge strides in terms of peace and security, others are still struggling to find their footing, a U.N. official who monitors development in the region said.

Ayaka Suzuki, 42, deputy director of the Africa I Division of the Department of Political Affairs at the United Nations Secretariat in New York, said of the 26 countries her division monitors, Somalia is drawing extra attention as it emerges from 21 years of anarchy and conflict.

“There is a gleam of hope in Somalia,” Suzuki told The Japan Times during her recent trip to Japan to lecture on peace building at Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center.

“For the first time in 21 years, the transition formally ended with the selection of what everybody feels is a legitimate government,” Suzuki said.

“Somalia is the test case of the international community to support the new legitimate government to craft its peace and to form a federal state,” she added.

When civil war broke out in 1991 following the collapse of the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia became trapped in a cycle of continuous conflict.

After 21 years of anarchy, Somalia finally held a presidential election in September 2012, won by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a former academic, and a new internationally backed government was installed.

Suzuki, whose department advises the U.N. secretary-general on conflict prevention and supports special political missions mandated by the Security Council, said that the U.N. has accompanied the new federal government every step of the way.

The new leadership has received help to address very difficult questions related to constitutional review and support to increase security and the rule of law, she said.

Even so, security remains a huge concern as many rural areas are still under the control of al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants, she said.

“Security is the biggest concern for us in Somalia,” she said.

Last June, al-Shabab gunmen stormed the main office of the U.N. Development Program in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing 22 people. In February, seven Somalis were killed when a bomb targeted at a U.N. convoy went off near the international airport, media reported.

“We are putting a lot of our colleagues’ lives at risk, but this very much felt that if we don’t do this now, the opportunity for Somalia could be lost again for another decade or generation. But right now there is a fighting chance that Somalia can come out of this terrible period,” she said. “Even though it’s a difficult prospect, it’s much more promising now than it was three years ago or many years before.”

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