Abdallah Derow Isaak was secretary-general of the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA), based in the Bay and Bakool regions, until he was elected by cross-clan ballot as the Speaker of the new 245-strong Transitional National Assembly (TNA) meeting in Arta, in neighbouring Djibouti. The election was celebrated as the first successful vote by the TNA, and was taken to prove that the new assembly was an effective elective mechanism. IRIN spoke to Derow at his house in Arta.
QUESTION: Do you think that the government will be accepted at the national level?
ANSWER: I have a great deal of hope that it will be accepted. I am 100 percent sure it will. In fact, it has already been accepted by Somalis both inside and outside the country.
Q. Will the parliament go back to Mogadishu or Baidoa?
A. The delegates decided that the transitional government would be seated in Baidoa until the security of Mogadishu could be cleared and cleaned, and when that happened the Government could move to Mogadishu.
Q. How do you expect to clear Mogadishu?
A. I have high hopes for Mogadishu. Mogadishu is the capital of Somalia, and we have been getting a lot of calls from Mogadishu supporting the process, especially from the business community - which has the most weapons - and from the Islamic courts. We have also received support from ordinary Somalis. Somalis are tired of all this [chaos of the past]. We have matured, and I am confident Mogadishu will be cleaned and returm tp how it used to be.
Q. Will you use force if necessary?
A. Today Somalia does not need the use of force, and we are not prepared to use it. As I told you, we have matured and I don’t think we will need it. We will be able to convince them [those opposed to the new government] peacefully, and there will be no need to use force in Somalia again.
Q. Do you think there is going to be international scepticism and the conclusion that this is effectively just a government in exile?
A. The Somali people have been following this [Djibouti-hosted] conference day and night. They watched it on TV and followed it on radio. To them it was as if it was being held in Somalia. It is not like a conference held in a foreign country, and I don’t believe there is any lack of confidence on the part of the Somali people. Most of the people’s representatives are here. There are about 2,500 delegates representing every clan, district, and village, and there is no doubt [over the process]. I am sure you are aware that we are getting a lot of congratulatory messages. Somalis are no longer as you have known them in the last 10 years: this is a new Somalia, one wanting to rebuild itself.
Q. If it does not enjoy the support of the Puntland and Somaliland administrations, how can it be seen as national government?
A. In fact the people of Puntland and Somaliland are here, and those inside [those regions] do support this emerging government, and they are waiting for it. Somaliland, its elders, professionals and intellectuals are here at the conference in full force, and the same applies to Puntland. It is the leaders, such as Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf [Puntland] and Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal [Somaliland] who are the rejectionists. We are hopeful that they will also join us. We call on them to join their brothers, God willing.
Q. You don’t just have domestic problems but international ones, such as territorial violations, illegal fishing, and aid issues. What is the first step [towards finding solutions]?
A. In fact, there are a lot of problems because of the civil war. We hope we will resolve them all. Every point you have mentioned is important and we will strive to resolve them on a priority basis - but we will also try to solve them all at once. We will begin doing this as soon as we have set up our government. We will ask the international community to assist. If we don’t get the assistance of the international community we will have a great deal of difficulty in resolving all these problems.
Q. After you were elected, what was on your mind?
A. When I got home, two things loomed largest in my mind. Firstly, my connection with God, my Creator. Secondly, I remembered the Somalis who elected me, who elected me regardless of clan, and the confidence they vested in me. That was what I remembered. The fact that I had no money and had not given anyone any money, and yet they elected me - that gave me a lot of happiness. That night I decided I would serve my people and my nation faithfully - justly, cleanly, faithfully - without regard to clan. I will give my life for it [the nation]. I will die for them [the people].
Q: And what is on your mind now?
A: I would like to call on my Somali brothers, especially the faction leaders who have been leading us in the last 10 years. I want to tell them that what is going on in Arta is real. Somalis are ready to welcome you to join and to support us. You are welcome to recognise the government that has been set up here, to recognise the parliament, and to join it. I am a good example. I am the Somali who was previously the secretary-general of the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA), but I was elected not as [a member of the] RRA, not as [a member of the] Digil-Mirifle [clan], but I was elected by all Somalis, regardless of clan. I want to call on the other leaders to earn the confidence of their fellow Somalis. I urge you to return to your people, to come and seek the confidence of your people, the way I did during the last five months I have been here. I obtained their confidence and I was elected. So I implore my brothers not to isolate themselves from the people. Don’t sit under just one tree. Come and build with us and join the people.