By Mick Krever and Claire Calzonetti, CNN
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has a pitch.
“There is no investment without risk,” the president of Somalia – a country nearly synonymous with “failed state” – told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour, on Tuesday.
“In Somalia, the level of risk right now we have – some people may claim that it's high, but it's not. It's a security situation that is improving. It is a state-building program that is improving. And there is a very bright future for Somalia and for the partners in Somalia.”
Optimism may as well be a job requirement for the leader of Somalia – especially for one who is pitching his country to investors at the first-ever U.S.-Africa summit in Washington.
When Mohamud was elected president in 2012, it was the first election the country had held on home soil in several decades.
Large swaths of the country are still ruled by Islamist militants, al-Shabaab, who have recently stepped up their attacks in the capital, Mogadishu. The country’s long coastline on the Indian Ocean remains a launching point for the modern-day pirates that wreak havoc on popular shipping lanes.
Just last Friday, Shabaab militants shot a Somali parliamentarian dead in a brazen attack in Mogadishu. And in July, militants breached Mohamud’s own presidential compound; Mohamud was not present at the time.
“We do not deny that there are challenges in Somalia. Somalia has been … without a functioning state for over two decades now.”
“We are not anymore the Somalia of the piracy, the Somalia of terrorists, the Somalia of famine. Somalia has a great future. This is a very rich country.”
As with a penny stock, Mohamud pitch to investors seems to be: Get in now or regret it later.
“In two years' time, we reversed the whole thing, the whole situation in Somalia. We have financial institutions that we are now building in collaboration with the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF.”
Nonetheless, the country was still rated 175th out of 177 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year.
“We want Somalia to go high up in the index of the transparency international. There was no institutions in the past. Now we have the institutions back in place and functioning.”
Only a decade ago, a U.S.-Africa summit would probably have centered mostly around aid deliveries to impoverished nations. But Africa has since developed into one of the fastest growing regions on earth, so the summit now going on in Washington is focused mostly on deepening trade ties between Africa and America.
“What we are looking [for] right now is investment,” Mohamud said. “It's not in a show of grants and donations only.”
The increasingly daring attacks by Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, are no doubt a worry for potential investors.
“This is a sign of defeat,” Mohamud said. “It's not sign of strength.”
“They cannot confront … the joint operation of Somalia national army and the African Union mission. So they changed the tactic and make it asymmetrical urban warfare.”
“Today as I'm speaking right now in the CNN they killed ten elders in one of the villages in the Bay region and they destroyed the water well. This is a desperation.”
“Shabaab is [an] ideology-based organization and ideology has no citizenship or has no boundaries at all.”
The only reason they use Somalia as their base, Mohamud said, was the longstanding political and security vacuum.
“This is not the challenge for the Somali nation only. It's challenge for the region, for the continent and the world at large.”
Overshadowing much of the Washington conference is the outbreak of Ebola on the opposite end of the African continent – the most-deadly ever spate of the deadly virus.
“Our hearts and minds are with” those countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and now Nigeria – affected by Ebola, Mohamud said.
“And in the meantime, we've been agreed that we take the necessary precautions … to make sure that the virus doesn't jump from the west to the east part, the eastern part of the continent.”