Goobjoog TV special correspondent Mohamed Bishar spoke with the British ambassador to Somalia Kate Foster on a wide range on issues including elections, COVID-19 and security.
On elections, could you shed light on your country’s contribution in ensuring a credible poll in Somalia?
Yeah, so it is not for us as the UK to take a position on the elections, uh, that is very much a sovereign people, a sovereign issue for the people of Somalia. I think one of the things that we do care deeply about is protecting the progress that has been made in Somalia over the last 10 years. So particularly things like achieving debt relief and the progress that has made on attracting new international financing into the health and education sector, and Somalia is on the pathway to realizing those benefits from debt relief. So I think one of the things that is important to us through the selection process is that it happens in a stable way. And looking back at previous transitions, I think one of the things that has underpinned stability of transition has been the consensus-based inclusive nature of political agreements.
And then progressively in time, the Somali security forces and government taking on that ownership, it isn’t something where there is going to be a binary on this date, Amisom will be leaving that’s, that’s not quite how the process will play out
So for us, it’s very important that that underpins, um, the election process and political leadership moving forward. So that’s why in particular, we’re very supportive of, um, the agreements that were made on the September the 17th and on the 27th of May and the leadership of the prime minister that, that is respecting the consensus that underpin those two documents. I think us as the UK is a donor more specifically, um, we have contributed into, uh, along with other donors, a set of funds that the UN have made available to the government. So that’s about $7.2 million. Um, and that has an agreement was signed with the government about a week ago. And within that we have, um, contributed also specific funds as the UK to support the Goodwill ambassadors’ work. So that is the women 13 women and one man who are promoting, um, sort of inclusivity and the role of women through the election process, which is something that we believe is really important in terms of ensuring that women’s views and wider perspectives are reflected through this process.
While several FMS have started the process of selecting members of the Upper House Parliament, there are very strong allegations of intimidation, bribery and blockage of certain candidates. Are you concerned about these incidents and lack of transparency can have devastating effects on the entire electoral process of Somalia? What is your assessment to the current political situation given that the current electoral process might see additional delays?
So firstly, I think it’s important that the, uh, election process has started, uh, so we welcome the progress of the Upper House elections. I think it’s really important now as attention moves towards the Lower House process, but that process is sufficiently credible. That delegates selection process happens in a way that is seen as fair and transparent. The voice of civil society is heard and that as elections are happening, that there are observers who are able to watch what is going on. Um, and I know just down the road from us in Mogadishu uh, the prime minister and the regional presidents are having a discussion exactly about that process now. And I look forward to talking to them about that in the coming days. Uh, part of the reason that donors have provided funding into the election is to ensure that, uh, appropriate security is provided around those, uh, election sites to help prevent some that intimidation on the, on the day of voting itself.
Over the years al-Shabaab has trodden a thin line between galvanising local support and tapping into the rhetoric of global jihadism, including through allegiance to al-Qaeda – a strategy that has seen it grow in prominence amid a governance vacuum. There is a strong indication that al-Shabaab have embedded themselves in the dynamics of Somali politics – particularly through the clan system. Also, there are reports that al-Shabaab is possibly manipulating the current electoral process. Are you worried that there could be an al-Shabaab government in Somalia?
Yeah, I mean it is, it is a concern. I think what is important is that to come back to the delegate selection process, I think how that process happens matters and makes a quite significant difference. The credibility of the process ahead of us. I think once we’re through this election, there will be a conversation. I hope that will very much be led by, um, the people of Somalia about how we move to a voting system that really is very accountable to the people of Somalia in a way that perhaps doesn’t entirely exist with the current process. And, uh, the UK previously has advocated strongly for moving towards a one person, one vote process. And that is a process which I think would help address some of these concerns in the future. It’s interesting up in Puntland at district level, um, one person, one vote, um, has been trialled and district council elections, and it’s, the feedback is really positive. It seems to be really appealing to the population and people are enjoying having the opportunity to express directly that individual view and preference for our candidates. So I think that’s a conversation that we’re really keen to have following the completion of their selection.
On the planned exit of AMISOM, are you concerned that what befell Afghanistan recently might replicate in in Somalia? Do you think Somali Security Forces are ready to take over from AMISOM?
So I think the situation in Afghanistan is very much on lots of people’s minds. And certainly, as I’ve talked to senior Somalis this week, it’s been something that we have discussed a lot. And while I think there are some lessons that we should be learning and looking at, there are some similarities and differences. I think firstly, to reassure people, um, uh, that I don’t think there is any plan for Amisom to leave in the short term, but what is set out in the UN security mandate is a progressive transition of, uh, security leadership from Amisom to the Somali government, really welcomed discussions that happened this week between the African Union and the federal government of Somalia that set out the pathway for how the next mandate will we’ll see that transition working. So in essence, that’s one that sees Amisom taking on a greater role for mentoring and training of the Somali security forces. And then progressively in time, the Somali security forces and government taking on that ownership, it isn’t something where there is going to be a binary on this date, Amisom will be leaving that’s, that’s not quite how the process will play out.
The UN has warned of a developing humanitarian crisis in Somalia owing to minimal contributions to the Humanitarian Response Plan 2021. What is your take on this? Could you highlight your government’s interventions in addressing this crucial matter?
Of course. So, um, I mean we’re deeply concerned about the situation as well. So I think the UN places about 6 million people in Somalia in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, about a third of the population. So on the UK side, we actually have a long-term humanitarian program here. So between 2018 and 2022, we’re providing in the region of 325 million pounds. Um, and that supports immediate, um, uh, assistance, uh, to crisis. So things like feeding, helping provide nutritional support to over 63,000 children under the age of five helping, uh, 225,000 people access health services and clean water. I think what’s really important though, is Somalia is one of the countries in the world that is most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Um, and later this year and Glasgow in the UK, um, the big COP26 summit is going to look at that. And climate change is an issue that people are being affected by already in Somalia.
Now I know as a British person, we talk a lot about the weather, um, but we’re already seeing here changing rainfall patterns. We’re seeing big flash floods across the country. So climate change isn’t something which is their reticle. It’s something that people are experiencing already. So a lot of the work that we’re doing, the conversations we’re having with the government are about how do we also adjust our work to make sure that we’re doing things like putting in place more sustainable flood defense mechanisms or providing water in a way that is sustainable, even when there is a drought. So as well as providing immediate humanitarian assistance, our programs also look at some of that adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
UK has been on the forefront in championing media freedom and is among partners of the Media Freedom Coalition. But in Somalia journalists are targeted and media freedom censored by various groups including the federal government and the regional states and there is a criticism that many of the international community including UK remained silent on these violations and even provided support to the security forces committing these violations. What would you respond to this?
So, I think supporting media freedom is absolutely a priority for us as a government. And for me as an ambassador here in Somalia, um, I’ve had the fortune of speaking, uh, a number of times in my time here to groups of journalists, to understand and hear directly from them about some of the issues that are affecting their day-to-day work. Um, it, they are issues that I have raised directly with the government. We’ve, we’ve lobbied personally on a couple of issues of where journalists have been detained. Um, and I think that point you raise about security forces is an important one. I think part of this is with developing security forces. I think that also unsure as to how they should be interacting with the major. And that’s probably also true of parts of government. And that’s one of the things that we’re going to be looking at in the coming months, actually looking at providing some financing, to provide some training to the security forces, to help them understand what is the appropriate way to work with the media. But, you know, you’re, you’re right to challenge us. There is more that countries like the UK should be doing. And as I say, I can assure you that it’s, it’s going to be a priority for my time here as British ambassador.
A section of the local media reported in late July that the UK embassy in Mogadishu halted the Galkaayo-Hobyo Road project despite support from the community and other donors. Could you set the record straight on this matter?
So firstly, I mean, we provide an extensive amount of support to Galmudug state and to, uh, populations across the state. So that’s in a huge range of areas ranging from health to education, to water, to, uh, emergency response in the face of conflict and crisis. So one of our projects, the Somalia Stability Fund had been in discussion with the Galmudug state presidency over a number of months about potentially supporting that road project that you mentioned. Um, but our project is due to finish in the coming months and there just isn’t possible for that program to fund infrastructure activity that will run beyond the end of it. Um, I know that’s very disappointing and I also wanna acknowledge the efforts that have taken place by the local community to raise funds and support that work. Um, and as I understand it in the UK has been talking to other donors and as I understand that there is another donor that has, uh, well-placed and has agreed to come in and finance that work. So I’m really happy that that will happen. It is an important project.
Your country has been through one of the toughest moments in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. What lessons can you share and what do you think Somalia can pick from your country on tackling the pandemic
Yeah, I mean, I think COVID 19 has been a, sort of a stark warning for the UK as it has for many countries around the world. Um, and I think it has probably reminded us of two things. So one quite how interconnected we all are as a, as a, as a globe, as our people move around our businesses interact. Um, and when we experience things such as COVID so fast, moving new threats, um, that they will quickly affect all of us. So it is not, they’re not situations that one country alone can tackle, but we need to tackle together. So I think, um, while it is early days, because the pandemic is still affecting many people around the world, there are lessons that are starting to be drawn. So for example, the World Health Organization is now in the process of developing a global surveillance network that will in future allow all countries around the world to more rapidly identify these kinds of new threats, uh, in a way that took a bit of time with COVID. Also as the UK, um, we’re chair of the G7 group of countries this year and in Cornwell, um, in the G7 seven meeting earlier in June, my prime minister talked very clearly about the importance that we’re placing on tackling global health threats during our presidency.
But perhaps a bit more personally so back in 2014 and 2015, um, I worked out in Sierra Leone working with the government there in support of their fight against the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. And I think one of the big learnings for me actually was about communication and how you communicate and the importance of communicating to people in different parts of the country and helping them to understand why it is important for them to protect themselves. Um, and that you need to do that in a way that’s very different from someone who might be sat in a capital city like in Freetown or someone who lives in a very rural community, say on the border with Liberia. Um, and I think in the UK, that is something that our government has sort of evolved how it communicates with the population, working out how it does it to perhaps, uh, you know, groups who are at school or university, where the risks are slightly different or perhaps the older, more vulnerable population, uh, who are vulnerable in a different way. And I think those lessons are also things that have stayed with me and I think are very relevant also to, um, to the situation here in Somalia. How do we communicate in a way that helps people understand the risks that help people understand how they protect themselves and also dispels some of the sorts of myths and misinformation that circulates around things like the vaccine.
The WHO has raised the red flag on ‘vaccine apartheid’ given the disproportionate distribution and access of the Covid-19 vaccines globally. Could you speak on your government’s efforts in supporting Somalia’s fight against the pandemic with reference to drugs donations and other forms of support?
Yeah, of course. So, um, there’s been a mechanism that has been developed, um, called Covax, which is a mechanism that, uh, is focused on providing and ensuring more vulnerable countries, developing countries to access the COVID vaccine. So the UK government has put into that about 550 million pounds. So one of the largest donors globally, and earlier this year, in addition to that financing, our government has committed a pledge, an additional hundred million vaccines into that mechanism that will flow through to developing countries like Somalia and others around the world. And particularly across Africa. Um, obviously we talk about the AstraZeneca vaccine, um, and that is the type of vaccine that has already arrived here in Somalia through the Covax mechanism. So I think the first 300,000 of those arrived in, I think it was March this year, um, and, and that vaccine was developed in Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Um, so I think we’re, you know, we’re very thrilled that sort of academics in the UK were able to contribute towards a vaccine that is now having effect to protecting people around the world. Um, I think in Somalia, in addition to supporting those vaccines to come through that system, we’ve also provided direct financial support, um, to respond to the crisis here. So, uh, in, in the, in the last year, that’s about an additional 14 million pounds of support, and that’s been really targeted at getting down to areas like at health facility level. So helping clinics put in place better infection control systems. So if someone goes into a clinic and they have got COVID that there are systems in place that they’re not going to infect other people who might be in that clinic for other reasons. Um, and in some areas, fairly simple interventions, but really important, such as, uh, provision of, soap, um, of masks of hand sanitizers. Um, and we continue to work really closely with the government and who and UNICEF on the rollout, of the vaccines as they continue to come in Somalia.
The Chevening Scholarship has attracted interest among Somali students with several benefiting. What is the breakdown on the number of those who have benefitted from the programme to date? In your assessment, how is this programme contributing to Somalia’s human resources development and nation-building?
Yeah, so the achievement scholarship program is one that, um, I’m really proud of as ambassador. And I know that one that, whereas the British government’s really excited about and gives, um, Somalis an opportunity to go, uh, on a full scholarship and study a masters program in the UK. So since 2016, I think about 46 Somalis have completed that program in the UK. And, uh, the next batch of students are about to travel to the UK. I think in the coming weeks, that’s about 14 students will go this year. And about five of those, a third are women, which is brilliant. So one of the criteria actually, when we are interviewing people and going through assessments, as that, we ask people exactly that question. How would you intend to use what you learned through your masters and how will that benefit, um, Somali society more widely?
So it’s something that’s very much at the forefront of our mind is as we are selecting candidates. Um, and I think it’s really great to see that, um, there are sort of senior figures in Somali public life, um, such as the deputy prime minister, Mahdi Guled, or chief justice, Bashir Ahmed who, who were previous Chevening scholars, who, who are got going on and, and how countries continuing to contribute smiley public life. So I think we’re really excited about, uh, um, it’s something that we’re really keen to promote and to ensure that people are aware of it and the opportunity that exists, uh, and really encourage anyone who’s interested to apply it as open for the next couple of months. I think the closing date is in November.