Prime minister to name new, leaner cabinet

Somalia's new prime minister Nur Hassan Hussein has dismissed his government just three weeks after its formation in favour of a “small but effective cabinet”.

Government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon told IRIN from the southwestern town of Baidao, the temporary seat of parliament, that the new cabinet would consist of 18 ministers and five deputy ministers, compared to the 73 ministers and their deputies in the previous government.

"The prime minister recognised the need for a small but effective cabinet that will win over the confidence of both the Somali people and the international community," he said.

At least nine of the ministers, Gobdon added, would come from outside parliament following a recent constitutional change that allows Hussein, better known as "Nur Ade", to bring in more experienced people to his cabinet.

Hussein's appointment in late November was seen as an opportunity to reinvent a weak and fractured government, paralysed by infighting since its formation in 2004, and push forward for reconciliation.

"This is a step in the right direction towards starting dialogue with the opposition; now he [Hussein] needs to appoint people who can speak with the opposition," said a local journalist, who requested anonymity.

"The biggest challenge facing the new government is to find a way to open dialogue with both the armed and unarmed opposition and to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the country," he added.

A civil society source in Mogadishu said the formation of a new smaller cabinet dominated by technocrats would be a positive step, but they “would have to find a way to deal with the growing insurgency”.

According to the UN, more than a million Somalis have been displaced by fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces since December 2006.

The local journalist said: "We have people who have been displaced three to four times. These are the people who would benefit if dialogue between the government and the opposition were to begin."

"There is fierce fighting going on at Industrial Road as we speak [17 December]," he added. "We were enjoying a couple of days of quiet but it has started again."

ah/sr