Egypt sent 15 teachers to Somalia this past week in what it terms as efforts to support Somalia in rebuilding its education sector and improving the quality of educations. Goobjoog News editor Abdi Aziz Gurbiye sat with Egyptian consular general Taamir Safwat El-Mahdy and discussed a range of issues including Egypt’s strategic relations with Somalia.
Goobjoog News (GN): Somalia and Egypt have a long history but the civil war in Somalia destroyed structures of the state in Somalia and opportunities for enhanced relations with Egypt. What is the relationship between the two countries now?
Taamir Safwat El-Mahdy: The relations between the two nations is historic. It is far reaching and deep one. The relations between two nations existed even before the colonial times. Kamal El Din Salah (UN appointed delegate to Somalia during trusteeship period) sacrificed his life for the independence of Somalia.
At the time of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt supported Somalia in different sectors. Among others Azhar educational mission which contributed the education system in the country. Unfortunately, because of civil war our mission ended.
Currently, the two countries, have entered into trade agreement. In August, Egyptian business delegation and Somali business men met in Jazeera Hotel Mogadishu where they signed a number of mutual trade agreements.
Researchers from the Energy ministry of Egypt are due to come to Somalia soon. They will conduct a feasibility study on where to install electricity power stations in Mogadishu. Also, in the agricultural sector Egypt helps Somalia especially in the drought hit areas where we will sink boreholes and wells.
When Somali trade minister Abdirashid Mohamed Ahmed visited Cairo, Egypt, the two nations signed fisheries, livestock and agricultural agreements.
GN: Egypt has sent 15 teachers to Somalia. Give us some details concerning their expected work in Somalia
El-Mahdy: We are going to start classes in two schools. The first is 15 MAY School and Hassan Barsane School. Later, Jamal Abdinasir School will be repaired when the IDPs who are living there now get alternative accommodation.
Elementary and middle classes will be started at the first phase and later secondary school classes. We would like to help Somalia in fight against ignorance, illiteracy and tribalism and restore the level of education and literacy to the times of former president Mohamed Siad Barre and even better.
GN: Egypt has been giving scholarships to Somali students but it is not clear how the numbers are distributed. Would you shed some light on this?
El-Mahdy: Yes indeed Egypt gives scholarships to Somali students every year. In total we give 200 scholarships annually covering various faculties. The first 110 goes to the Ministry of Education while another 50 is given to Somali embassy in Cairo which in turn distributes to Somali students. The remaining 40 is handed to the Egyptian embassy in Somalia which also distributes to students from across Somalia.
GN: Your country and Ethiopia have not had good understanding regarding the construction og the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by Ethiopia. How is the relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa now?
El-Mahdy: Very good. As you may know, Egypt president (Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) visited Ethiopia last year. He addressed the Ethiopian parliament and emphasized the historic relations between the two countries.
On the question of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the two countries have reached an understanding. We now have independent commission assessing the impact of the dam and then diplomatic negotiations will be held to resolve any emerging issues.
GN: Could we attribute Egypt’s presence in Somalia as strategic in pressuring Ethiopia to go slow on its ambitions on pursuing the construction of the dam?
El-Mahdy: No we were here before that. If we just started our help to Somalia then, you may say that, but as you know our support to Somalia is older than the question.
GN: Your return to Somalia and efforts in rebuilding the country could be seen as a move to tame the influence of Turkey in Somalia. Is this strategic along that line?
El-Mahdy: Turkey came to Somali in 2013 and they also participated in reconstruction conference organized by Arab countries. It’s good that Arab and Muslim countries come to help Somalia.
GN: Finally, does Egypt have any collaboration with Somalia on the security front?
El-Mahdy: Yes, we train Somali soldiers and we also have students who graduate from police and military academy in Egypt. We also provide military vehicles to Somali military in support against terrorism. We also train officers from the intelligence agency, NISA. We are doing this as brothers and for fellow Muslims. When we are here we feel like we are at home just like you would when you’re in Egypt.