The UK ambassador to Somalia Kate Foster is completing her tour of duty in Somalia having served since February 2021. Goobjoog Media Group Director Hassan Mohamud had an exclusive interview with her on a wide range of issues.
Could you speak about the relations between Somalia and the UK?
So, the UK and Somalia are a long-term partnership, and that’s really important to us as UK. So going back to the first Somalia conference backing 2012, since then the second conference in 2017, the UK has taken on the role of championing Somalia in the international community around the debt relief process and also has the privilege of holding the pen on Somalia in the US and Security Council. So for us, really, this relationship is about supporting Somalia and Somalis to thrive, to develop, so become more resilient to things like climate change or the threat from terrorists, to support your population, to become well educated, especially girls, have improved health, and to support the development of more productive and higher quality jobs for its population.
As you end your tenure in Somalia, what can you say have been the major achievements during your duty here?
So, there are probably three things that I would highlight. I think that the country came out of the back of that very contested national election process and had still hit the key timing milestones on the IMF program was really important, not my achievement, the achievement of Somalia, but it meant that the door was still open for Somalia to be able to access really transformational levels of financing for its health and education sector. Secondly, that Somalia was able to avert a famine in 2022, and I think that’s down to the collective effort of the leadership of the government here, but also the support and response of international partners. But that fight isn’t over, and the challenge may be even bigger in 2023 as we head into a failed rainy season. So, it’s going to be an area where we will need to encourage the same level of focus, attention and international support. And then the Third area it was really nice for me and a real privilege actually, to be able to do my farewell meetings with the president while he was working out of Baidoa and to take him to see some of the training that we have been doing down there since 2019 and had the opportunity to show him around that facility.
What can you say have been the biggest challenges in Somalia’s recovery process during your term?
I think the really big challenge at that period, that election process, ran, I think probably in total for around two years and that meant that Somalia’s leaders were looking internally at issues here within the country and between the political elite and there were many challenges affecting the lives of Somalis and those probably for the majority of people, were not the key issues. So it meant that it was very difficult for the country to continue to progress on its pathway towards development around some of that economic progress, around responding to the humanitarian situation, to the needs of the population, to the challenges of climate change. So I think it is good that we are now through that process and an opportunity to look forward and I really want to commend, actually, Somalia’s leaders, even at the most difficult moments. I learned and experienced how much that even when people disagree, they tend to find channels to talk to one another. And I think those sort of traditional mechanisms around dialogue and seeking a pathway to consensus are really important.
The 2021/22 electoral process in Somalia was marred by several challenges. What lessons do you think we can learn from this process?
Yeah, so I think I really hear the desire from a lot of Somalis that they want to move towards a process that is more rules-based, more transparent, more open and more democratic. And I think the focus over the coming years should be continuing a move towards a more democratic, one person, one vote elections. And there are some things that we can learn from the pilot district council elections that was experienced in Puntland. I think the levels of turnout and registration in those first three pilot districts, the fact that women really engaged in that process and voted in higher proportions, I think to men shows that they see an important role for their voice in the future of Somalia. And I think for us, we would also mention that I think we would be keen to see a process where it is possible for women to compete more openly and more fairly.
Somalia is currently involved in a military offensive against Al-Shabaab. What is your take on the progress so far and how is your country supporting it?
So I really want to commend the leadership that we’ve seen from the federal government as well as from Federal Member State presidents down to district governors, right down to the community level, in really stepping up and committing to the fight against Al Shabaab, as well as the efforts of those of Somalia’s security forces who are on the front line and at community levels, really taking that fight to Al Shabaab. As a security partner here, as the UK, we provide support across a range of areas, so that includes training of the Somali National Army, so basic inventory training that we provide support and training and stipends to the Somali police who are probably going to be part of the sort of future of holding territory. We provide logistical support, things like medical evacuation, and casualty evacuation to around 10,000 Somali security forces that are working through the UN Trust Fund, which provides that logistical support and food and ration. But we’re also part of working very closely with the government as they continue to develop things like the national security architecture. So to work through what the institutions of government also look like, how these structures work in the medium term, what is the right size of the security forces, how are they commanded and governed, and how are they affordable as well?
The UK trains Somali forces in Baidoa. Can you clarify the leadership structure of those forces” do they come under the UK or the Somali government command?
We just happen to be training them out in the Southwest State in Baidoa. So ultimately, we see responsibility for those troops sits with the chief of the Defense Force and the Minister of Defense here at the federal government level.
Somalia has been pushing for the lifting of the arms embargo but the UK as a member of the UN Security Council has been against it. What’s your response to this?
Yeah, so I think the sanctions resolution in the Security Council is relatively poorly understood, actually. So, it is a sanctions resolution that focuses on reducing Al Shabaab’s ability to access weapons, ammunition and capability. There is not an armed embargo on the government of Somalia, and the government of Somalia is able to access the support it needs in the fight against Al Shabaab. And actually, the changes, the updates that were made to the resolution that passed through the Security Council in November were the biggest changes in reducing the complexity for the Federal Government in being able to access weapons and ammunition through partners, and the biggest tightening of sanctions and targets on Al Shabaab that we have seen, I think, in about ten years. What we’re really committed to as the UK is continuing to work with the government, particularly to work through and build some of the capabilities around weapons and ammunition management in particular, both at Federal Government and member state level, which has been one of the requests of the UN Security Council and the panel of experts where they are keen to see the structures and processes around those improve and be enhanced.
What is your assessment of Somalia’s efforts towards debt relief?
It is one of the biggest successes of Somalia and been an almost transformational change in terms of economic reform, processes and commitments. So I think I really want to recognize the work that’s happened to date. 2023 is a big year as Somalia potentially moves towards completion point and I think we’d continue to encourage the government to stick and adhere to that pathway of economic reforms, of transparency, of good governance and finance. And we remain really committed to working with the government, with the World Bank, with the IMF another partner to raise the profile of the work that Somalia is doing in this area and to ensure that there continues to be coordinated international support.
Somalia is currently awarding oil contracts as it anticipates to start oil drilling. What advice can you give especially for the government on this process?
I think UK has been through a bit of an oil and gas transformation of its own, having explored oil and gas off the North Sea coast of the UK and there were probably two areas that we have particularly learnt from that, and where we would encourage the government and other partners to think about as this process moves forward. So firstly, I think that’s about getting the best for the people out of Somalia, out of contracts and awards. So there are some really strong processes that have been established by the Federal Government Ministry of Finance and with partners such as the World Bank around commercial procurement contracts. And I’d really continue to encourage the government, as it’s working through awarding oil and gas contracts, to use those procedures because they provide degree of transparency and also ensure that contracts are commercially competitive. So that’s about how Somalia gets the best out of any deal for its people and how those resources are used to support the development of the country. And then the second point is that oil and gas exploration is really a long-term business, so even when a contract is signed, in practical terms, it’s going to take years, possibly ten to 15, before the company that’s done the exploration has recovered its costs and before the government starts to see revenues come into its coffers. So, I’d also say think about the other options. And this is where in particular is the UK that we are really keen to support development in a wider range of energy sectors. So, in particular, Somalia is lucky enough to have an almost untapped potential to solar power and of course, exploring that and using that potential is greener. It’s better for the planet and where an area which can be relatively low cost and transformational.
Somalia is in the process of joining the East African Community. What’s your take on this endevour?
So we absolutely see that as a really positive thing and a recognition of the progress and steps that the government has taken over the past years. I think building trading relationships with neighbours only be a good thing both in terms of increasing the trading opportunities and income and revenue for Somalia. But the stronger your trading relationships, the stronger your political and diplomatic relationships between countries, which means that countries tend to be more stable because you have a shared set of interests. So it’s something that we absolutely support. We’ve been in close contact with the federal government’s special envoy for the EAC and are working closely to ensure that we can provide support where it’s needed. So particularly one of our programs which is working on customs reform and harmonization and processes and transparency around ports in Kismayo, Mogadishu and Bosaso and that’s one of the verification areas that this mission will be looking at. So, it’s through targeted programming and support that we seek to help ensure that we can help the government to meet the benchmarks and standards that are going to be required for accession.