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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Somalia: We Are Ready to Talk to Al-Shabaab


Somalia Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali spoke to The Independent's Andrew Mwenda

What is your biggest challenge as a Prime Minister?
When I came here as a Prime Minister I had two biggest challenges; one was the severe drought. As you may be aware the people here lack food because of the drought. The other challenge is insecurity-you know Al-shabaab have for a long period tried to control the biggest part of the country. So we have tried to take care of people who lost their livelihood because of the drought and at the same time helping the country to become peaceful by fighting the Al-shabaab.

How do you as a Prime Minister lead a country without institutions of government, revenues, the military might and other logistics?
It is tough but you have to do what you can. You have to first do the most important things and leave others because this is not a developed country like Germany, or America.What you have to do here is to first look after the people and then other things will follow later. What I mean is you provide public goods like security and protect civilians, give them education, health, food among others.

How problematic is the food issue?
Drought is one of the biggest problems here and that is why we lack food. When we came in June last year it was horrible many people had walked long distances to Mogadishu and were settling on the streets. They feared to lose their lives and also many had no food. They expected food and other services from us-of course as a transitional government it was our responsibility to look after these people and we have tried to do that. In fact it is an achievement of this government otherwise people would have perished.

How have you managed to achieve that?
Because of the instabilities, we had to put in place camps. The International Community has given us support. We have even created some jobs to the people. The International Community has actually managed to give us some money which we have passed onto some people who were once nomads and agriculturalists so they can go back to their former activity. We have a disaster management agency that deals with this issue.

There are critics of your government who say that your government is composed largely of former warlords; the very people who were involved in looting and killing?
Not in this government. There is no single warlord in my cabinet. Most of the people in this government are from the Diaspora probably 60% or 70% are from the Diaspora and all of them were approved before they entered office.

Some people are saying your government is very corrupt, about 70% of all the money that has been internally collected and donated cannot be accounted for?
But the question is where did that money come from and who is demanding accountability? Do we get bilateral aid? I do not know about that. We have the anticorruption coalition that deals with those issues. All our officials are accountable. But also the donors have to be accountable to the people of those countries where they get the money.

Why do you demand accountability from donors?
I am saying accountability from all sides is necessary. This money they bring is taxpayers' money from those countries and that is why they have to account for it. We could have diverted some money into other uses especially to providing livelihoods but we have been transparent.

Have you accounted to the people of Somalia regarding the money you collect from the airport, from ports...?
We have a budget on which we spend this money. You can go to the ministry of finance and ask them how much money government collects and what we spend. I am sure they will tell you. Remember we have to pay salaries and to meet other costs to run government.

I interacted with a soldier in the TFG force and he said he had not been paid for seven months...
That is not true. We pay all the soldiers and we have stayed with them without any problem.

What is the government's plan to reconcile, provide justice to those who murdered and tortured the people?
Punishing criminals is a good idea but we need to first bring them together, reconcile and exchange ideas.

How about Al-shabaab?
They already changed their name to Al-Qaeda; they are no longer Al-shaabab. We have no problem with talking to them as longer as they are ready. Those who want violence we will deal with them, those who want to reconcile we will sit with them and welcome them to our camp. What we want at the end of the day is to have all the people united.

Most of the fighting is being done by AMISOM and not TFG forces because they are young. When do you expect AMISOM to leave?
That is not the case... All of us are fighting. But letting AMISOM go will come later. We want to first build a strong national army and the police force before we can allow AMISOM to leave.

As a long term measure, if you stabilise the rest of Somalia what is the plan for the Puntland and Somaliland?
We want to train a military force together so that we strengthen our relationship. As far as Puntland is concerned we started negotiations with them and we are moving in the right direction. Punt people will not succeed if they want to secede but what we want is to have all sides united.

Do you have the plan to participate in the next government?
I have got capacity but I have not decided on that yet.