IN a few days time I'm off to Africa, Somalia to be precise.

Whenever I mention the name of that country to friends or colleagues their face takes on a pained expression that suggests: "Nae luck."

Somalia for most people conjures up images of marauding pirates, famine, terrorism and the high-octane war film Blackhawk Down.

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Just a few days ago Somalia's dubious reputation made the headlines yet again when it emerged that Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men held on suspicion of killing soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, was arrested during 2010 in Kenya, en-route for Somalia to join the Islamist militant group al-Shabab that has links to al Qaeda.

Before the Syrian conflict, there was little doubt that Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, lived up to its description as the most dangerous place in the world.

When I first went there it was Mad Max country with droves of militiamen roaring through the streets in converted pick-up trucks known as "technicals" with a heavy machine gun bolted down in the back.

Most were mad enough to do the bidding of their respective warlords and clan leaders. In Mogadishu I'll never forget the stifling air heavy with faecal dust, the smell of the sea and rubbish baking in the hot sun.

It was a place that epitomised the term "failed state" and provided a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic society where only the vicious survived.

That Somalia had ended up that way was an arch lesson about what happens when sane voices within civil society are not listened too, resulting in years of international neglect.

In those days Somalia made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Likewise today, it is only newsworthy if it reverts to so-called type and a car bomb explodes in a Mogadishu street killing and wounding scores as it did a few weeks ago.

Admittedly, Somalia as a whole is far from out of trouble. As I write, al-Shabab militants still pose a threat. Their attack on a Kenyan border police base that left six dead over the last few days is a case in point.

But it's not all bad news out of Somalia. It might seem like a small thing, but a project funded by the British and Norwegian governments has brought fantastically bright solar-powered streetlights to Mogadishu. Where once in the relentless dark clan militias or Islamist militants held sway controlling roadblocks, night-time shop traders are open for business and children play football in the cool of night.

That al-Shabab have been forced from the city in the first place is also in great part a result of the efforts made by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Ugandans, Kenyans, as well as troops from Djibouti, Burundi and Sierra Leone, have all contributed to stabilising Somalia, many giving their lives in the process.

Such things rarely make the headlines, especially if it amounts to Africans doing things for themselves. Despite my friends' concerns about my forthcoming visit to Somalia, I'm looking forward to going. They say that Mogadishu is rising from the ashes. That in itself makes it well worth the trip.