EDITORIAL | Six people died on Monday when a plane carrying humanitarian medical cargo from Mogadishu crashed after being hit by a mysterious object in Bardale, about 300 km northwest of Mogadishu.
Somalia has had a civilian accident at least once every year during the term of President Farmajoo. But this was the first major fatal civilian plane crash in Somalia since February 2016, reflecting the relative safety of Somalia’s skies despite the security challenges. But Somali authorities must not sit idly by and wish the incident away.
First, the accident involved a cargo plane with six people on board. Their families will demand answers that the authorities must be ready to give.
It was operated by African Express. Embraer-120, a twin-engine aircraft was a Kenyan registered aircraft 5Y-AXO. It was tasked with providing the necessary humanitarian assistance. Like most aid supplies in Somalia, air transport was the safest, fastest. Somalia currently either does not have a good road network to distribute aid or is filled with roadblocks installed by al-Shabaab.
Where an accident like this happens on Monday, an immediate investigation is needed to calm the nerves of humanitarian workers. Let’s find out if the plane actually fell from the sky due to a missile from the ground, or if a technical fault caused it.
Already, the Kenyan government has asked its local registered aircraft and humanitarian providers to be extra careful while flying over or into Somalia. It risks slowing down the supply of important medicines, especially at this time of Covid-19 and floods in Somalia.
We appreciate the promise of President Mohamed Farmaajo that there will be a full investigation that may involve joint teams with Kenya. This is important, especially when Somalia started running its airspace fully from last year in August.
Previously, aviation services were controlled in Nairobi through the local offices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) has been responsible since then and should be at the forefront of providing answers.
This will be important to remove rumors that are already in the air. Somali politician Abdurahman Adan Ibbi, who owns shares in the airline, claimed in an interview this week that the plane was hit as it approached the runway.
It could point to Al-Shabaab or Ethiopian forces routinely using the runway for their operations within the African Union mission in Somalia. Addis Ababa has already said it will leave it to the competent authorities of Somalia to investigate. But there is one thing to have competent authority and another thing to have that authority for his work.
Amisom said it welcomes the decision to allow investigation. Its troop contributors include Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda.
There are benefits to this common acceptance of a study. First, if Ethiopian forces mistakenly fired a missile to bring down a plane, it could give them a chance to do damage control by remedying the failure.
Second, a survey could boost confidence among Amisom troop contributors. There is an inherent risk of collaboration if members suspect each other of committing crimes. What’s more, a joint investigation could actually allow Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia; who have recently had lukewarm relations between them; to restart their relationship.
No one needs neighbors on speech more than Somalia. Of the three, it is the country most challenged by security. It is the most donor-dependent, has the most refugees residing in the territory of the other, and has demanded the support of neighbors for each and every one of its political programs.
Granted, not all of these ‘supports’ are accepted by everyone. But Somalia needs them peaceful than if they are planning some kind of struggle.
Third, a quick inquiry could actually bring Somalia to the table of men and make it clear that human life was not used for political reasons. The country expects to hold elections later this year, and Ethiopian forces had previously been accused of taking sides with the government.
These troops denied this accusation last year. Now they have another chance to get clean. A clean slate will leave al-Shabaab as the common enemy of all three countries while the suspicion is removed.
Finally, a successful study usually adds to aviation safety. This happens in two ways: The authorities may realize that a faulty instruction or communication may have led to the accident, which they can then change as recommended by ICAO.
They can also find fault lines in the aircraft itself. As a plane that has been operating between Kenya and Somalia for years, it will be important if officials can state with certainty that mechanical damage did not bring it down.
Somalia has not had a good image in almost every aspect of society. But a successful investigation could just turn heads.