In conversation with the prime minister of Somalia

19/06/2015

This month, we speak to Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke about learning from past mistakes, historical fears and recognising growth.

1. What is your biggest challenge?

In Somalia there is no bigger challenge than the propensity, by most, to conveniently forget where we came from. Imagine this: we are operating on a patient inside an ambulance, rattling on a rugged terrain. Isn’t it enough to appreciate that Somalia is coming together against overwhelming odds.

I want to ask Somalis: must we be Syrians, Iraqis or Yemenis to appreciate life in Somalia?

The progress we are making has not been served to us on a silver platter; it is a tireless effort by all involved.

2. Ugus are still a security threat. How can they be fully dismantled?

To say Al-Shabaab still poses a security and socioeconomic threat is to state the obvious. Since 2008, the danger of Al-Shabaab has passed through various levels of severity. Over the years, the campaign to dismantle them has been a bloody one. Despite a four-year rearguard action, and desperate attempts to make headlines, they are dejected and all but defeated.

It is a credit to our ill-equipped and under-remunerated security forces, as well as Amisom, who have sacrificed lives and limbs for the Somali people. Their continued selfless service, though largely unappreciated, averts countless attacks. We will forever be indebted to them. You can refer to them as “Ugus” (the Group that Massacres the Somali People) without fear of consequence; that speaks volumes. But I will continue calling them by their official name—Al-Shabaab.

There’s no point of engaging in word play. They have to know we are serious about what we are doing. Our emphasis is reconciliation and offering amnesty to those willing to renounce violence, give up extremist ideology and return to normal civilian life.

One of my advisers once told me: a government will always be tarnished if security is not 100 percent, whereas terrorists make quick-wins for just one percent. We must stop glorifying Al-Shabaab by indulging and engaging in their cheap publicity-seeking. Despite resource constraints, we are constantly developing the capacity of our security forces and law enforcement agencies to stay ahead of the terrorist’s game plan. We are doing everything we can to support and protect our people from Al-Shabaab.

3. What can Somalia learn from its past mistakes? What will you do differently?

Somalia is always learning from the past. That is why we are now coming together when others are breaking apart. This time, during my term, I will be more ears, less mouth; more walk, less talk. Building consensus will be the hallmark of my administration.

And, so far, we are doing reasonably well. Of course it’s a team effort, from the federal government to interim regional administrations. Step-by-step we will take on every challenge, no matter how steep.

4. Will federalism unify or divide Somalis? Will it make them strong or weak?

Only time will tell. But federalism can be the catalyst that brings Somalis together. The onus is on the country’s current and future leadership to show the way to its people and constituents. We must not settle for defeatism.

Striving for unity is a difficult path, but falling back to clanism and sectarianism is the defeatists’ path. So long as my compatriots resist the temptations to equate federalism with clanism then we will succeed as a country.

Will federalism make us stronger or weaker? So long as it unifies us, it must make us stronger. My administration is working hard to strike a healthy balance between historical fears of a highly centralized and authoritarian central government and the risk of fragmentation.

5. Do you see a time in Somalia’s future when government and politics will transcend clan?

A big yes, of course. Even in my lifetime; we are already beginning to see it. For a political party to hold sway in Somalia or not, it must be supported or rejected through each clan.

You may ask, why would anyone even think of expecting Somalia to attain a clan-less political system? Here in Africa, and beyond, clans and tribes are often a major base or springboard for political parties.

Is Somalia any different? That said, if you look back at Somalia’s history, you will find instances where political alliances transcend clan boundaries. In fact, if you look at the pattern of parliamentary votes on issues of high politics, including how my government was overwhelmingly voted in, it proves that you cannot always analyse Somali politics through the lens of clanism.

6. Somalia is rich in resources. How can oil and gas be a cure rather than a curse?

I am sorry to say that either outcome is possible. But with responsible leadership, the discovery and extraction of oil and gas can help us. As a country learning from its past mistakes, we will also observe and learn from other countries.

We will put in place the necessary legal framework to regulate the extractives industry and protect the nation’s natural resources legacy. Some of our international partners have already highlighted some of the risks and opportunities, which we will not ignore.

7. How will you make sure everyone - not just the Diaspora - has the opportunity build the nation?

It is true that the Diaspora has and will continue to play a significant part in rebuilding the nation. Much of this work has been done from government, but businesses have also played a major part.

However, we must make every effort to engage people from diverse backgrounds in the state building process. As we work to rebuild our education system and our economy, more and more people who can proudly say they were born, raised and educated in Somalia will be joining the endeavor to build a safe and prosperous country for generations to come.

8. What can we do to make aid work better for Somalis?

If you look at countries that use aid effectively, such as Rwanda, a key principle of engagement is the ownership of aid programming by the Government. A solid aid management framework, backed with credible and capable state institutions is a prerequisite for mutual trust.

In addition to an efficient and effective aid coordination unit, which has creating platforms such as Somalia Development and Reconstruction Forum, we have already constituted a financial governance council to foster the implementation of a credible public financial management system.

9. If you could urge donors and development organizations to do one thing, what would it be?

We must insist on transparency and results. Everyone asks us to be transparent, which we are. Now we want the same transparency principles to be applied to aid agencies so donor countries know if, where and how their taxpayers’ hard-earned money is being spent.

10. So much has been written about Somalia. What are people ignoring or forgetting?

People are ignoring that there is progress and great room for optimism. We need to celebrate our achievements, whilst we continue to work together to overcome our challenges.