By Richard Evans, Editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre
After 14 years without a functioning government, Somalia now has a Parliament, a cabinet, and a President. However many Parliamentarians are concerned that neighbouring Ethiopia is trying to stifle development of the new institutions. They further claim that Addis Ababa is arming various factions in a bid to maintain instability. What do you believe is really occurring here?
In my view, Ethiopia does not want a functioning government in Somalia and I want to see that the world knows this. Even if Ethiopia does want a government here, it wants a fiefdom government - multiple governments which are all weak.
Some people believe Ethiopia is supporting specific groups, but really it’s not supporting anyone [specifically]; you can supply weapons to one group, but you know that often they don’t even have, for example, fuel for themselves - so they sell some of their guns to other groups. Then everyone has them. They [Ethiopia] know the weapons are going to the other groups and producing instability. So all sides are arming themselves. This is my personal view regarding the behaviour of Ethiopia.
The Somali parliament is now installed in Mogadishu, yet the President and the Executive have yet to take their places there, citing security concerns. What is the security situation in the capital at present?
There are four main groups holding weapons in Mogadishu; warlords, businessmen, Islamic courts, and freelance individual clans.
If the business community and the warlords give up their arms then no-one who is left will be able to keep theirs. The warlords, businessman, half the Islamic courts and the freelancers will be willing to go wherever they might be paid. The other Islamic courts are saying that they want to see other parties give up their guns first.
I can’t say that Mogadishu is secure - it’s somewhere that for the last 14 years has had no functioning police or security service. But no-one seems to be reflecting the current reality there. In February I visited Mogadishu and met with all sections of the community there - they told me that the wanted peace and security. They also told me they were willing to have peace [keeping] troops - but not if they were from front-line states.
I visited again in May and we reached an agreement to remove many of the militias and military technicals [flat-bed trucks fitted with crew-served weapons]. By the end of May, they [warlords and businessmen in Mogadishu] said they had moved more than 2,500 militia and 140 technicals [outside the city]. They have removed a lot of the illegal roadblocks. This was done with no assistance from the international community.
So do you feel that conditions now exist for the President and the Executive to relocate to the capital?
The parliament is now seated in Mogadishu to face the challenges ahead and to try to implement some reform in the country. But unless they [the President and Executive] are present we cannot do anything. If they return, the people of Somalia can start to trust them.
If the current political crisis cannot be resolved, do you believe there is a risk of a return to civil war?
I think something can be done to avoid bloodshed. I see that the mandate of the UN Special Representative Francois Fall is something which we should support. If he is given support for his mission then something can be done to avoid it. Somalia is fed up of war; we need a peace plan, not a war plan.
What is the situation regarding the Somali economy?
The situation remains serious. All our financial institutions have collapsed. We have appealed to the international community for assistance, but they need to know where the money is going. We need Parliament to be independent of the Government and for it [Parliament] to provide oversight of the accounts.
We need a proper system of remittance for Members of Parliament. Every member of Parliament needs to be able to operate independently and be able to take [financial] decisions themselves. The Parliament has been established for more than a year now and they [Parliamentarians] have not received any pay.
How would you respond to the fears expressed by some in the international community that a country like Somalia is providing a haven for international Jihadist groups?
I do believe that a lot of this [discussion of the harbouring or terrorists] is propaganda put about by some elements with a political agenda. But it’s difficult for us to provide some clarity on this - we have been without security or intelligence services for a very long time. I think that they [international jihadist groups] are not in Somalia for the time being - but if they are there, then the only way we can trace them is when there is a functioning intelligence system, instead of us just thinking about whether or not such groups might be present. The international community must focus on helping us to establish a fully functioning government if we are to effectively deal with this sort of danger, especially in Mogadishu.
The International Maritime Bureau has again expressed concern about the rise in piracy off the coast of Somalia. What are your views on this problem and how it should be addressed?
This situation is unacceptable and I hope that something can be done about it. It is the Somali people who are suffering. There is also a problem with heavy shipping dumping toxic waste [off Somalia] and we are facing serious environmental damage. Our coastline is being used as a dumping ground ….and we don’t have the ability to control out own coastline. I would appeal to the international community - especially the UK and the US - to help us protect this coastline until we are able to do so ourselves.
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