Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed is the newly elected president of the Transitional Federal Republic of Somalia. His election on October 10th and inauguration in Nairobi on October 14th marks a new phase in Somali’s break with its 14-year civil strife, bloodshed and suffering. However, Somalia’s transition is still fragile, as the new president prepares to move into Mogadishu, the beleaguered capital that commands the loyalty of different warlords. In the meantime, the role of the international community in the country’s security and reconstruction is more critical at this stage.
Pageantry, song, dance and ululations marked Somali’s rebirth. The scene was at the gymnasium of Kenya’s Moi Sports Complex, Kasarani, a suburb 10 km from the Nairobi city centre. The gymnasium was decorated with banners bearing Messages such as ‘A great day for Africa’, ‘Viva Africa’ and ‘God Bless Somalia’. The route leading to the complex, showed all signs reminiscent of independence-like celebrations. Indeed, Somali was laying the bricks for its return to a sovereign state.
Somali nationals stood atop pick-ups and lorries, and rode in several buses and vans carrying small flags of Somali’s ocean blue and middle white star national symbol. Their joy was clearly evident as they exchanged all manner of pleasantries with non-Somali’s attending the event. “We are very happy, and we are glad that your are sharing in our joy”, said Habiba Rashid a Somali middle-aged woman attending the function.
At the stadium, there was heavy security with policemen on horseback on patrol at strategic positions of the venue. There was also a large contingent of General Service Unit security personnel, and hordes of regular police. Intense security vetting at the entrances to the gymnasium ensured that there was no breach of either security or protocol.
For close to three hours, there was anxiety as the packed gymnasium waited the arrival of several dignitaries from across Africa and beyond. By midday, more than a dozen African Heads of State and government, led by their host President Mwai Kibaki majestically strode into the gymnasium signaling the start of the day-long event. The Kenyan National Anthem was then played and the dignitaries acknowledged by Kenya’s Foreign Minister, Ali Chirau Mwakwere.
The presidents included Nigeria president and current African Union (AU) Chairman, Olusegun Obasanjo, Uganda president and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Summit, Yoweri Museveni, Yemeni President Abdallah Saleh, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Burundi’s Domitien Ndayizeye, and Ismael Omar Guelleh of Djibouti.
Galaxy of dignitaries
Other dignitaries were South African Deputy-President Jacob Zuma, Tanzanian Prime Minister Fredrick Sumaye, Sudan First Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General Mohammed Sahoun, and Hilda Johnson, the Norwegian Minister for Foreign Co-operation. Also in attendance was Abdul Kassim Sallat, the former interim president of Somalia, Eritrean minister and Ali Said Abdalla, the Executive Secretary of IGAD, Attalla Bashir.
The Speaker of Somalia’s Federal Parliament, Hassan Sheikh Aden, Kenya’s Ambassador to Somalia, Mohammed Affey and Mwakwere led Ahmed in a procession to a raised podium from which he took his oath of office in Somali led by Hassan. Soon after, the Somali blue and star flag was hoisted to cheers and free-flowing tears of joy of the Somalis. Simultaneously, the old Somali national anthem, which was almost forgotten, was being played by the Kenya Army Band.
But the trappings of the presidency became more significant when a cannon-thundered 21-gun salute by the Kenyan Navy gave a heart beat reverberation across the gymnasium. Outside the gym, thick clouds of smoke billowed. Quickly in tow was a series of speeches by the leaders as the occasion gathered momentum.
President Ahmed’s acceptance speech focused on economic and security integration, peace building, reconciliation and reconstruction. In a well received speech, he called on the international community and the African Union to immediately send a peace-keeping force to monitor security and stability in Somalia until lasting peace is guaranteed. “Peace and security are the priority of the transitional government. I appeal for a peace keeping force”, noted Ahmed. He hailed the IGAD facilitation committee for leading the reconciliation process to its conclusion and also commended the International Peace Federation, international donor organizations and Kofi Annan’s special envoy for their crucial role in the peace process.
“Since I have whole heartedly abandoned the war, I likewise, appeal to other factional leaders to put down their weapons and join me in the difficult task of Somalia’s restoration and reconstruction. All the militia should stop fighting and instead join the reconstruction agenda. Somalia will no longer be a centre for terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering”, said Ahmed.
The new president noted that almost all national institutions had been destroyed, hence the need to promptly start the task of rebuilding the institutions. Towards this end, President Ahmed signaled that a national classification process will begin, followed by a comprehensive national reconciliation programme based on equity, dialogue and trust. He acknowledged the problem of the breakaway Republic of Somaliland, saying he would engage its leaders on an open-minded dialogue process.
President Kibaki described the event a moment of joy for the Somali’s and the international community. “It is a day of victory of the Somali people who have participated in the entire peace process and is also a milestone in the political development of Somalia and the rest of Africa. It is the culmination of two years of sacrifices, resolve and determination”, noted Kibaki. Kibaki further paid tribute to IGAD and its partners programme, which groups western donor countries, for its support to the Somali Peace Process. He gave some statistics to illustrate the adverse consequences of the Somali civil strife.
“The cost of 14 years of war has been enormous. 500,000 people have died, 2 million been displaced, and 1.2 million rendered refugees. Only 17 percent of children enrolled in schools. 70 percent of Somalis live below the poverty line. Presently, 200,000 Somali refugees live in Kenya”, revealed the Kenyan leader.
International help sought
Kibaki called on Ahmed to spearhead and hasten the reconciliation process. “The challenge of Somalia’s reconstruction should invite the participation of the African Union and the international community. International efforts are required for the relocation of the transitional government from Nairobi to Mogadishu”, said Kibaki.
In congratulating the Somalis for concluding a long and treacherous peace process, Museveni observed that Somalia had been ‘a nation without a state’- with no organized authority. He stressed that apart from the presidency and parliament, there was need to urgently establish other arms or pillars of state such as the army, judiciary and the civil service. Museveni wondered why there had been a lot of infighting in Somalia yet it is made up of one people, tribe and religion. “Perhaps the reason for the infighting lies in underdevelopment. When societies are underdeveloped they fight for other interests and lose focus of their main priorities”, said the Ugandan leader.
“The Somali solution is African. This demonstrates that Africans can find their own solution to the continent’s problems”, stressed Museveni, adding that IGAD will not allow anybody to mess up with Somalia. Museveni also appealed to the international community to further assist in the remaining stages of Somali’s transition and particularly singled out African countries to provide some of the money needed to strengthen the peace building effort and reconstruction. He winded up by appealing to losers of the presidential election to put aside their personal interests and ambitions and support Abdullahi.
Nigeria’s Obasanjo noted that the event was a landmark in the history of Africa and assured Somalis that the AU will contribute significantly to efforts of Somali’s reconstruction. “Somali’s example reflects a new reality in Africa’s democratic dispensation where losers acknowledge defeat in elections and support the winner… The interests of the new Somali state should supercede personal and clan interests”.
President Kagame said Somalia can now look at the future with renewed hope and vigour as Somalis engage in the task of rebuilding their nation. Yemen’s Saleh called on the international community to consolidate its support to the Somali people since security remains a serious concern. He added that he envisions a recovered, secured and safer Somalia. South Africa’s Zuma gave accolades to Somali’s for putting aside party interests and instead focusing on the larger interest of the country.
Ms Johnson, the Norwegian minister, called on President Yusuf to establish a broad-based government built on the trust of the Somalis and manage and oversee the stability Somali had achieved. She called on the UN to release money from the UN Peace Building Fund to assist Somalia.
Somalia’s new government is for all practical purposes a ‘government in exile’. Granted, its 275-member Federal Parliament sits in Mbagathi, at the outskirts of Nairobi, and the president is yet to plant his pillars of authority in Somalia. Much as there is reason to hail Ahmed’s election as a milestone towards restoring stability in the country, the full sovereignty of the country lies in the new government settling in Mogadishu.
Ahmed’s pressing security challenge is to disarm militia and detonate landmines. He must also reconcile all warring factions and bring warlords on board. The warlords include Hawiye warlords, Ali Mahdi Mohammed and Mohammed Farah Aideed, Mohammed Qanyare Afrah, Mohammed Said Hersi (Gen. Morgan) and Mohammed Ahmed Adow.
The current stage of the peace talks presents optimism and is the culmination of a two-year effort – the 14th - to solve the Somali crisis. In September 2002, Kenya brought together Somalia’s warring factions for peace talks. On September 2, 2002 Somali’s transitional federal parliament was inaugurated in Nairobi. Then on October 10 Ahmed was elected president of Somalia.
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