Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud says his country is making a comeback. As today, Somalia celebrates the independence it gained 55 years ago, the President speaks candidly with Ventures Africa about how far Somalia has come, its current political situation, the country’s ability to hold national elections in 2016 and the state of the economy.
Ventures Africa (VA): Somalia’s Independence Day is around the corner. This year is significant because the country is looking to turn to a new page in 2016. Can you please share with us your thoughts about the progress the country has made to date:
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (PM): I must say the difficult area in Somalia was politics. How politics can progress in Somalia. Civil war ended long time ago. The insecurity due to anarchy has already subsided. We have one security issue, which is fighting against Al Shabaab. It was the decision of the government to establish interim administrations while on the other hand building a legal framework for the federation. The interim administration has emerged; the Somali government has facilitated bringing people together, making reconciliation happen and opening the dialogue space for discussing formation of the administrations. I am very glad most of the country now has politicians, leaders that are not national, leaders that are sub-national entity of the state. The remaining ones are getting shape, so that was a very difficult process, very time consuming, but the Somali people and the government have learnt from that process. Today we have established interim administrations and others are being established.
VA: What progress have you made on the constitutional review process and the constitution of the Independent Electoral Review Commission?
PM: Vision 2016, which is the end of the term of this current government, has three tracks. One is the review of the constitution; two is the formation of boundaries and federation commission which will determine the boundaries of the regional states and the democratization which is the electoral system, followed by other legislation like the Political Party Law, Electoral Management System and others. Already, the laws establishing the commissions have been passed by parliament, the cabinet has selected commissioners, now it is parliament to endorse the commissioners. The Constitution Review Commission has already been passed and it is already functioning. But the Boundaries and Federation Commission and the Electoral Commission will be passed in the next few weeks. The Constitution Review Commission is already working, the parliament oversight committee has handed over four chapters of the constitution to the Constitution Review Commission to do their work. So, the Constitution Review Commission, the parliament oversight committee and the Ministry of Constitution are working together to deliver the permanent Constitution of Somalia.
VA: Would you say Somalia will definitely hold elections come 2016?
PM: This is a tricky question. It all depends on the definition of elections we have in our mind. I will not rule out but I will say, it might be difficult for Somalia to have one person, one vote, and ballot boxes all over the country that might be difficult. But, in Vision 2016 we set two principles and we are going to develop policies and procedures and programs on the basis of these principles. One is, we have a parliament right now, and this parliament is based on the nomination of 135 elders from all Somali clans and sub clans. That is the basis of legitimacy of our parliament right now, because the legislators have not been elected through universal suffrage. This parliament assumes the responsibility of any normal parliament and it is functioning. Now, what we are saying is that in the next parliament, can we enhance the legitimacy, can we make more citizens participate in the parliamentary elections, to allow it much broader legitimacy than the current one. That’s once principle, enhancing the legitimacy of the current parliament. The other principle is, if Somalia today cannot reach full democracy, can we transition to full democracy? There is space in between, from where we are right now, to full democracy. So can we jump half the way and then the next time we jump the next half? So, transitioning to full democracy is the other principle. Any process, any type of election that can helps us to transition to full democracy, but if we can get full democracy, that’s well and good, if we cannot make full democracy we have to move forward so that next time we can enjoy the full democracy. So based on these two principles we will make programs and implement Vision 2016.
VA: I know that you are experiencing challenges with the state formations. How are you handling the challenges arising from the federalization process?
PM: It is not easy; there are a lot of challenges. One of the challenge is, our people have been in conflict for a long time. Our institutional memory for a functioning State institution is very limited. Those who can remember 25 years ago or who were running institutions 25 years ago have retired. Young people manage most of our institutions with no experience in running state institutions. We have been in conflict for a long time so we are carrying the baggage of the past. We have a lot of scars. This is the kind of environment we are operating in. But, so far, so good. We are moving in the right direction. One of the tools that we are using is the recently established forum for national leaders, which I chair with interim administration Presidents. We discuss about the national issues, cross cutting issues that affect all member states at the national level. Once the interim administration parliaments are formed, we are going to establish similar platforms for the speakers, led and chaired by the Speaker of the Federal Parliament. The Prime Minister has worked with extensively on linking the federal ministries their counterparts in the regional states. The Minister of Health working with the ministers of health of the federal units. Same for Sports, Finance, Security, so we have established a set of networks to deliberate on national issues and build relationship between the Centre and the periphery, so that we can harmoniously move forward.
VA: In general, what challenges are you facing in the pursuit of Vision 2016?
PM: The challenges are too many and the list is endless. Recently, I had a side meeting with the Heads of State of the Troop Contributing Countries in Johannesburg, South Africa. The subject of our discussion was mainly AMISOM, and how it can best support Somali government in a timeframe that is acceptable for the political progress to happen on the ground. The Heads of State of the Troop Contributing Countries agreed with me on the necessity of AMISOM troops to do certain things. The main aim was to accelerate the pace of liberation. This is because soon the interim administrations will go down with the federal governments to establish the local administrations at the district level. So, those remaining districts have to be liberated. Number two: accessibility of these states. They have to be accessible and reachable by both humanitarian, Somali Government, Civil Society, International Community because a lot of movement is involved in the implementation of Vision 2016. The third is the issue of management of the Forces — improving Command and Control and relationships in the sectors, which is purely military. I think they got the point and all of them were very positive. They appreciate the efforts of the Somali Government in trying to build a political base for the future of Somalia.
These are the main challenges. On top of that, we need a very large number of people to be involved in the implementation of the electoral system. With this difficult environment, mobilizing a large number of people to do the work is in itself challenging.
The other is the issue of resources. Implementation of Vision 2016 needs a lot of resources, a lot of knowhow. So all these are just some of the challenges that exist, including putting in place the remaining legal framework. As Somalia, we have our part to do, and our international partners have also theirs to do. Finalizing the legal environment is the responsibility of Somali government and parliament, mobilizing society and making them understand what’s coming next is the responsibility of the Somali government. Providing a secure environment is another responsibility of the Somali government, but in terms of technical knowhow, support for technical knowhow, support for funding and support for security, all these have some international responsibility. The challenges are many but these are the key ones.
VA: Let’s turn to the economy; how is it performing?
PM: The economy of Somalia has been an informal economy for a long time. Economic institutions have been weak and this is the time we are re-establishing those institutions. We have serious public finance reform ongoing in the country. The banking system, everything else is improving. For the first time in 25 years, 2014 was the first time IMF produced an economic performance report on Somalia, in terms of balance of payments and how the economy is picking up.
The indicators were not bad, they were very encouraging; Somalia is making a lot of exports, agricultural products for export. In order for Somalia to have access to facilities for economic development, Somalia is working with the International Monetary Fund for arrears clearance. There is almost $5 billion of arrears that Somali owes its donors. Unless we clear those arrears, Somalia cannot access international financing from institutions. We are working with the International Monetary Fund to address this issue. Somalia has now closed the assessment chapter and we have moved forward to the monitoring stage now. IMF has already published on its website a report on Somalia. That report shows the progress we have made in the economic sector, reforms sector and the challenges we are facing.
There are a number of challenges affecting the Somali economy, particularly at the lowest level. The international pressure on remittances is one of them because Somalia receives more than $1.5billion in remittances per year. The flow of remittances has been restricted and that is proving to be an economic challenge to the country.
The scarcity of a currency, the Somali shilling, is a problem. This has made our economy dollarized and this is putting some restraints on the economy. Lack of infrastructure is another one, because movement of goods to different sections, accessibility to farming areas, accessibility to major markets, accessibility to export areas, these are restrictions for economic improvement in Somalia. But even with all these difficulties in place, the economy is improving. Last year alone, Somalia exported 5 million heads of livestock; the largest in recent times and it is one of the largest exporters of livestock, hides and skin, marine etc. So the country is gradually coming back despite all the challenges.
VA: What must Somalia do to clear the $5 billion debt and qualify for an economic stimulus programme?
PM: There are international procedures in arrears clearance. The issue of clearing the arrears itself is not difficult but what is difficult is how to make the country eligible to undergo that process. Our challenge is how to make Somalia fit in that category of arrears clearance. The challenge in Somalia is building institutions, putting in place necessary frameworks, improving transparency, the accountability of the institutions and putting the correct systems in place. Now the challenge is bringing back systems to a country that has been without systems for a long time. We are improving and the international community is witnessing this and certifying Somalia’s progress even though we have not reached the final destination.
VA: What is your message to world, especially to those who think Somalia has no hope of redeeming its image?
PM: The message is Somalia is a very rich country, in terms of all indicators. And there is a lot of opportunity. Every sector here in Somalia is an opportunity. With federalism, the country is becoming more market oriented. This country is full of resources and what we are trying to convince investors is that first come first serve. Those who come at this difficult time will have privileges and preferential treatment compared to those who will come when Somalia is stable. There are a lot of people who plan to come in the tourist, mining, marine industry, in the service industry. A lot of private hospitals, private universities, and schools are mushrooming here in Somalia. In the meantime we are building a regime that supports investment e.g. the Investment Law, Somali Petroleum and Minerals Law, you name it, we are building the necessary regimes for attracting investment. So we are building our public finance on one hand and building the legal framework for investment, we are securing the land and every other day, opportunities available in Somalia are becoming more and more clearer and attractive to investors. There are a set of international conferences for investment in Somalia which we are planning this year. We may have two conferences within the year. There is very good dialogue between Somalia and potential investors.
VA: Finally, what is your message to the Somali people and to the world, as the country marks its 55th anniversary?
PM: Somalia is now 55 years old, but practically and literary we can say we are 30 years old because the past 25 years was not good for the country’s independence. My message to my people and to the world is that we are engaged and vigorously working to bring back the Somali people back to Somalia to rebuild this country. We believe that it is the Somalis themselves who can rebuild this country. The world can play a supportive role, which they have played. I am very glad that the international community as a whole has played a major role here in Somalia. Of course millions of people have been saved because of international support and intervention and up till now the international community is still here to support Somalia. But that is their role, supportive role, and the real role of rebuilding this country, lies on the shoulders of Somalis. I would like to tell my fellow countrymen and women, those who are outside Somalia, to come back and work here. Yes the environment is difficult, there are a lot of challenges on the ground, but even then, this is the only country that we have. Those who are inside Somalia including the politicians, I say we don’t have the leisure to play around, we need to focus on priority areas, priority legislations, priority projects and programmes that would bring back Somalia. We should not waste our time with issues and cultures and practices that we have used in the past 25 years and that has put Somalia where it is today. We need to be very tolerant, we need to be very hard working, we need to be very open to dialogue and we need to be forgiving. Only then can we build the Somalia we dream about.