EXCLUSIVE: We do not dictate but share our global experience to rebuild Somalia-Keating

We are not telling Somalis what to do or how to do it but we are trying to bring our global experience; our 50-60 years of experience working in Somalia and support the strengthening of Somali capacities to get things done but we are not dictating.

UN chief to Somalia Michael Keating during an interview with Goobjoog News February 10, 2018. Photo: Goobjoog News

In evaluating President Mohamed Farmaajo’s one year in office this past week, Goobjoog FM chief Editor Ahmedweli Mohamud sought the views of the UN Special Representative to Somalia Amb. Michael Keating. The interview also explored a number of issues ranging from security, constitutional review process and the role of the UN in Somalia.

Goobjoog News: It is now one year since Somalia experienced a peaceful transition of power which saw President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo assume office as the 9th President. One year on, what is your evaluation of President Farmaajo’s government?

Ambassador Keating: A number of important things have happened, first of all, a government was appointed in April and the partnership between the prime minister and the president is strong. So that is good. Secondly a famine was averted in 2017. A year ago we were worried that the hundreds of thousands of people would die of hunger and that did not happened and that is partly because of national ownership and leadership. I think the president take a lot of credit for that. He declared a state of natural disaster soon after he became a president and that helped us raise the money and provide the support that was needed.

The third thing is that the national development plan was launched, the first one that Somalia had for many decades. Also his government signed off the national security architecture which of course still needs to be implemented but there was a very good development.  So there have been lots of very positive things that have happened in that one year period.

In your security report, you said and I quote “Somali politics remain turbulent. In December, tensions were sharply raised in Mogadishu by the violent arrest by the National Intelligence and Security Agency of a prominent opposition politician and the raid on the house of a leading parliamentarian. The recent replacement of the City Mayor has also created waves.” Do you think this statement will affect your relations with the Somali government?

I hope not. You know I have very honest relationship with the government which they tell me what they think. I am trying to do my best to support Somalia and I think having an open and frank relationship is important.

In terms of those remarks, I’d make two points. One, if you read what I said in the Security Council, it drew a lot of attention to the things that the government has achieved and the challenges it faces. Secondly, after those comments I said this speaks to a bigger agenda. Whenever there is a problem like this, you have to understand what is causing them and try to address them. So for example, the government is committed and president Farmaajo said in Addis Ababa just a couple of weeks ago that there needs to be an anti-corruption strategy.

I think there is an appetite to reduce the role of money in politics. That is really tough thing to do but you know I think that’s great. I think the government also committed to the National Security Architecture which means among other things looking at the respective roles of the army, the police, the intelligence services, maritime and figuring out who does what and how they relate to each other. Partly this is a story about some confusion which is understandable but needs to be sorted out.

Somali security forces are not yet ready to resume full responsibility for security but the government is working hard with the African Union and that’s very a important relationship as well as the with the international community to implement the National Security Architecture.

Then there is a commitment to political parties which I think will also help stabilize politics. I don’t think Somalia needs given its very important agenda to improve livelihoods of the population. What it does not need is politicians acting in ways that undermine the ability of the intentional community to support Somalia. We are not taking sides with politicians. We want Somalia to achieve its own destiny. I guess in my responsibility is to encourage positive things that will help that happen but also be frank about those things that are really damaging my efforts to mobilize international political and financial support for Somalia. That’s what I do day in day out. That’s my job. So it’s more difficult for me to do these things if we are not honest about what’s going on.

The raid on the homes of prominent opposition politicians in the last two months has been described as a violation of basic human and civil rights. Have you had any discussions with the Somali government on the violent acts against these members of the society?

The Somali government has told me that they are committed to peaceful resolution of conflicts. In fact in the last couple of months, there have been very positive developments. The signature of the agreement between Sunnah wal Jaama’ah and Galmudug administration, very positive developments in Galkaayo and of course there are many differences among Somalis and I think the government is very clear that it wants non-violent solutions and we applaud that and we want to support it. So the government said it’s going to look into these instances and draw the lessons and turn into a positive agenda and I think that is great

AMISOM has started its withdrawal from Somalia starting last December. Do you think Somali security forces are ready to fill the gap left by AMISOM?

Somali security forces are not yet ready to resume full responsibility for security but the government is working hard with the African Union and that’s very a important relationship as well as the with the international community to implement the National Security Architecture and to develop a plan for transitioning the security forces in Somalia so that there is a political understanding and practical capacity as to how Somalis will take full responsibility but we are not there yet.

There has been an important National Security Council meeting in the last few days and I understand important progress has been made but Amisom gradual drawdown should be linked to the gradual increase in Somali capacity for security. So that ha s to be the focus. How can we work together to ensure that Somalis can take full responsibility for their own security but in a nutshell, to answer your question, we are not there yet.

You said in your address to the UNSC late January ‘AMISOM cannot stay indefinitely. 2018 will require dedicated effort by the Somali leadership, the African Union and the international partners to build political acceptability and operational capability of the Somali security sector. Are seeing this kind of efforts being put in place to realise a full withdrawal?

In terms of Amisom not being up to stay forever, this is the message that I have been given by some of the very senior figures in the countries which provides the troops through Amisom. I mean they want some kind of horizon. They also want a partnership with Somali security forces so that Amisom can do its role in clearing towns and main supply routes of Al-Shabaab. Its only Somali forces and its government can hold these places. That is not the role of the African Union and Amisom. Your question is whether the international community is willing to support this. I think definitely.

The government has announced its inclusive political agenda which includes constitutional review, the electoral process and I think they are very serious about going down both these tracks. For these processes to be successful, they really do have to approach inclusively so that everybody who feels to be consulted is consulted.

What the international community would like to see is a Somali plan for assuming full responsibility for security. One that is designed with the African Union and Amisom because they are in many, not all. They are not in Puntland or Galmudug but in most of the federal member states as well as in Mogadishu. They want to see a plan that is both practical; takes into account that security is not just about having troops on the ground but is also about institutions that can support the troops. It’s also about having non-lethal support, things like rations, logistics and a lot of work is needed if the Somali army, the police and the justice system are going to be fully functional so that Somalia can take full responsibility for its own security.

The international community is eager to support this process but the most important thing is for there to be a plan that the Somali government drives and is happy with and Amisom and funders of security in Somalia can support.

What Amisom’s phased exit, is there a possibility UN peace keepers could step in as is the case in other African countries with UN forces?

You know this is decision that needs to be taken by the Security Council. It is not my decision. I might be invited to contribute to the thinking but I think what the international community would much prefer is not a UN peacekeeping force but Somalis taking full responsibilities for their own security. That will much better than relying upon foreigners to do it and that said, it requires both a clear plan and that needs an agreement among Somalis in the Somali government including the federal member states on how this will be done.

If that could be put in place and if implementation can be accelerated, I think that’s what the international community would most like to support but as I said this must be done in partnership between federal government of Somalia and the African Union with the federal government making sure the federal member states are on board and African Union making sure the troops contributing countries are on board too and everyone can get behind it

You urged the leaders of Puntland and Somaliland to declare a cessation of hostilities, withdraw their forces, and open channels of communication. So far we see an armed stand-off in Sool. What is your take on this conflict?

My take on it is that violent conflict between Puntland and Somaliland would be really bad news for both Somaliland and Puntland and for the people who live in that area who already feel they have not received as much attention and support as other parts have. Unfortunately if you look at the areas which are most affected by drought and humanitarian needs, that’s one of the worst affected areas. I think many international partners supporting both Puntland and Somaliland are not doing this in view for them to fight each other. They are doing it with the view of containing and defeating Al-Shabaab, with a view to increasing the jobs and livelihood prospects of the people for promoting peace and instability.

I am actually optimistic that for example, the 2020 elections will see a much larger number of people voting than in 2016 which is already an increase on the number who voted in 2012. But the question is whether the plans now put in place both on the constitutional review and the electoral process can be implemented in time to allow these things to be completed in the life of this government

Clearly there are political issues around the status of Somaliland and they need to be resolved through dialogue and what I think is encouraging is president Farmaajo is saying he wants dialogue to resolve this. The new Somaliland president is saying the same thing. The challenges is how can that dialogue get going in a productive way. Conflict between Puntland and Somaliland is not going to help. It will not necessarily move things forward but it could set them back and it will be really bad news for the security and welfare of the people living in that region.

Questions are being asked about UN mission in Somalia which include that you dictate what Somali government is doing. How far is this true?

I think that is a very extraordinary impression people have. It is true that the UN has been here for a very long time. I think we have been here since the foundation of the state through thick and thin. There have been times when governments have been very weak and very non-existent but that are not the case at the moment.

Right now you have a government that has a clear agenda which we support and agree with. One we want to make happen. I think as Somalia slowly rebuilds itself, it’s got to rebuild its own capacity to do the things it wants to do including in the civil service, the security forces. It needs to attract more money both from tax and customs but by also by getting debt relief and it needs to get to a point where Somalia is fully in charge of its own destiny and that’s our objective to support that agenda. I am certainly doing everything I can to tell the world that Somalia is coming together. It got still many challenges but these are challenges of a country that is trying to sort itself out. Not challenges of a country pulling itself apart. So in some way there are good problems not bad problems.

We are not telling Somalis what to do or how to do it but we are trying to bring our global experience; our 50-60 years of experience working in Somalia and support the strengthening of Somali capacities to get things done but we are not dictating. It is not our decision whether Somalia is a federal state or not. It is not our decision what kind of education curriculum. It’s not our decision what revenue or resource sharing is going to be between the federal government and the federal member states but we can help by providing examples from other parts of the world, by reminding Somali of their own history, by looking at what needs to be done and how much it will cost and help raise the money and support to get all things done.

Piracy remains a portend threat off the coast of Somalia despite sustained international naval missions which have significantly lessened its impact.  What is your view on sustainable ways to deal with these menace?

I mean piracy of course remains a threat which has been managed quite effectively in the last few years but it is not one that is getting away until people will have legitimate ways of making a living and until it is understood that pirates cannot get away with their activities. I think the irony is that success in dealing with piracy has made Somali waters safer and the next challenge is to make sure that fishing is legal and it is on the basis of fair agreements between Somalia and the companies and countries that want to fish in Somali waters and to make sure that this extraordinary resource namely very rich fish stock off the coast of Somalia are exploited in a sustainable way but also for the benefit of all Somalis whether in terms of revenues, jobs and so on.

A particular challenge for Somalia is it exports livestock but if we have more energy and business chains, Somalis could add value to raw products like fish and livestock. So instead of just selling the actual fish and livestock, you will be selling products. You need refrigerator chain or trade deals. The potential is enormous.

Going back to piracy, it is much better policed now than has been for a while but the threat has not gone away.

 Somalia has taken steps on constitutional review process and electoral process towards one-man- one-vote in 2020. Do you think the country is on the right track on these issues?

Well. The government has announced its inclusive political agenda which includes constitutional review, the electoral process and I think they are very serious about going down both these tracks. For these processes to be successful, they really do have to approach inclusively so that everybody who feels to be consulted is consulted and that’s quite an organizational challenge both in terms of sticking to the agreement about who is managing the process and frankly the process has been ensuring everybody is consulted. It is quite complicated and both these things are very important because they go to the heart of what Somalis want of what their state to be, what kind of political legitimacy, what kind of accountability it should have.

I am actually optimistic that for example, the 2020 elections will see a much larger number of people voting than in 2016 which is already an increase on the number who voted in 2012. But the question is whether the plans now put in place both on the constitutional review and the electoral process can be implemented in time to allow these things to be completed in the life of this government which takes us back earlier on one of your earlier questions is whether the politics in this country and politicians will focus on some of the results that need to be delivered to the population rather than themselves to be distracted by day to day politics and not looking at the things that the country needs.

I mean after all, over half the population in Somalia is very poor and living in very difficult circumstances and it seems to me that one of the responsibilities of the politicians is to bear that in mind and to demonstrate how they are going to behave in a way that will result real benefit for the population.

So I am very optimistic. I think we have to keep these big objectives in mind. I think the government is serious. We want to support them. So this year will be crucial in terms of getting real momentum behind the electoral model, electoral laws, agreements from voter registrations, and agreements of what kind of electoral model as well as the constitutional review process. So I am looking forward to the next constitutional review conference which the government plans to hold in a month or two. So that would be a real and important moment to see if progress is being made quickly as it needs to be.


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