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02/11/2013

All inclusive sunny Somalia

Don't try this at home - or rather, please don't leave home to try this.

The U.K.'s Daily Mail published a story this weekend about cousins Andy Drury, 47, and Nigel Green, 50, who are "disaster tourists."

Forget such old school amenities like beachfront, pool, WiFi in your hotel room, these guys are seeking war zones, dictatorships or natural disasters. Their vacations have included Afghanistan, Chechnya, Sudan, and recently, a 48-hour weekend in Mogadishu, or as they call it, "The Mog."

The men may have benefited from first reading the 2006 New York Times story by Jeffrey Gettleman about the "Black Hawk Down" lady and her "tourist" site, before claiming they discovered a piece of the downed Black Hawk from the disastrous 1993 U.S. mission.

But leaving aside the debate about the wisdom of their travels, the article once again raises the question about Somalia's recovery. A recent piece in the Guardian - "Mogadishu is like Manhattan" - reported on the construction boom in the capital. If you want inspiration, watch TedXMogadishu, titled "Rebirth."

Somalia-on-the-mend stories are such welcome news. The battle scarred country and its people have seen enough - have had enough - and there his hope that 2013 is the year that Somalia gives up the number one spot on Foreign Policy Magazine's Failed States Index.

But after two decades of war, rebuilding a capital and a country is going to take time. The Al Qaeda group, Al Shabab, is weak and lost much of its territory and almost all of its support, but still poses a threat and is reportedly regrouping in a "Tora Bora-like" mountaineous region. The high-profile conviction of a woman who alleges she was raped by security forces, and the journalist who wrote about her case, raises serious questions about sexual violence and press freedom. And Jan. 29, at lease two people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the prime minister's office.There were early reports of a car bombing in central Somalia today.

There is much to celebrate, genuine hope, and the good news is finally outweighing the bad. But Somalia continues to be a complicated country in a complicated region and it may be some time before Mogadishu migrates from Foreign Policy's index to Lonely Planet's "Best in Travel." Unless of course you're Andy and Nigel, that is.

Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm

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