Mogadishu (AFP) – Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, made a surprise visit to Somalia on Wednesday, conferring with leaders on its security problems and a devastating drought ahead of a conference in London.
Johnson met the new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, in the centre of the capital Mogadishu, Somali sources and the British foreign office said separately.
He also saw a demonstration of training provided by the British military to the Somali army and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) force, the British statement said.
Johnson also visited an operations centre coordinating action to combat Somalia’s drought, met regional leaders and lawmakers and joined training aimed at improving the Somali justice system, it added.
Aid agencies say the drought has left about three million people in crisis, adding to the problems of a country battling jihadist insurgents.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in February that Somalia risks facing its third famine in 25 years. The last one, in 2011, killed an estimated 260,000 people.
More than 6.2 million people — half the population — need urgent humanitarian aid, according to the WHO.
Somalia, which declared a “national disaster” over the drought on February 28, is among three nations on the verge of famine, along with Yemen and Nigeria. In South Sudan, 100,000 people are already in famine conditions. Overall, more than 20 million people face starvation in the four countries.
Johnson’s visit to Somalia had not been announced for security reasons.
It started a tour of East Africa and after Mogadishu he headed to Uganda.
He will then visit Ethiopia and Kenya, “where he will be discussing regional security, prosperity and the upcoming London Somalia Conference on May 11, 2017 and the Commonwealth Summit in April 2018,” his office said.
An AFP journalist in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, said Johnson met President Yoweri Museveni, and thanked him for Uganda’s support for AMISOM.
AMISOM has been deployed to back Somalia’s internationally-backed administration in fighting the Shabaab jihadist militia.
The force has 22,000 troops, of whom 6,200 are Ugandan, the largest single contribution. The country last June announced it intended to pull out its troops in December 2017.