The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, Bintou Keita, today concluded her five-day working visit to Somalia with a tour of Kismayo, the interim capital of Jubaland, to familiarise herself with developments taking place in the federal member state.
Ms. Keita held a closed-door meeting with the Second Vice President of Jubaland, Abdulkadir Haji Mohamed Yusuf, and state ministers Mursal Khalif and Ismail Ahmed Garas.
The trip marked Ms. Keita’s first visit to Somalia since she was appointed Assistant Secretary-General at the beginning of this year.
“I started as Assistant Secretary General for Africa on January 1 as part of the implementation of the reforms of the Secretary-General, and now I am dealing with all the countries in Africa,” said ASG Keita during her stay in Kismayo. “One of them is Somalia.”
“I wanted to find out what are the dynamics in Mogadishu and I also wanted to see what are the dynamics in one of the member states, so this is why I came to Kismayo,” she added, following her meeting with senior Jubaland State officials.
Ms. Keita’s visit to Jubaland State came at a time when the federal member state is preparing for legislative and presidential elections scheduled for July and August, respectively. The UN and the African Union Mission in Somalia are aiding with preparations to ensure that the voting is free, fair and peaceful.
Prior to her visit to Kismayo, Ms. Keita arrived in Somalia last Wednesday and met Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and other top federal government officials on 15 June. The discussions focused on the participation of women in the country’s political process and economic reforms, and the relations between the UN and the federal government.
“We discussed the vision around where the country has to be in the medium term, and it has a lot to do with political governance, the establishment of federalism as well as the economic situation, particularly the decision point for debt relief,” the ASG noted.
Somalia is lobbying international creditors to cancel its foreign debt, most of which was accumulated prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 1991. The federal government maintains that debt relief will help the country invest its resources into reviving the economy and creating more jobs for its youthful population.
Ms. Keita expressed satisfaction with the state of relations between the UN and the federal government and said that cooperation will be further bolstered by the arrival of the recently designated Special Representative of the UN Secretary- General for Somalia, James Swan.
In her meeting with Somali women leaders, ASG Keita urged women to fight for their rights and vote for female candidates who vie for positions of leadership in order to increase their participation in the country’s decision-making process.
In thanking Ms. Keita for her visit, the chairperson of the Somali Women’s Leadership Initiative, Asha Abdulle Siyad, appealed to the international community to continue supporting the women of Somalia in their quest for gender parity.
“We need to have an article (in the constitution) that specifically says the minimum 30 percent (of parliamentary seats) should be (reserved for) women,” observed Ms. Siyad, who also warned that implementation of such a principle will present another challenge for Somali women.
Somali women activists have been lobbying members of the federal parliament to approve a pending electoral reform bill that would enshrine the 30 percent gender quota in the country’s future legislatures.
As a result of the 2016 electoral process, female representation in Somalia’s federal parliament rose from 14 percent in the outgoing legislature to 24 percent, but it still fell short of the 30 percent quota goal.
Ms. Keita also held discussions with representatives of youth groups, whom she urged to initiate a process that would help the UN and the broader international community to engage more effectively with young people on various issues concerning them.
“The youth are the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow,” said the ASG. “You are part of (Somalia), which means that the engagement, the participation and the political participation are all part of that path for leadership.”