Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was recently elected President of Somalia at a parliamentary meeting in Djibouti. Before returning to Mogadishu where he will appoint a prime minister and form a government, Ahmed talked to IRIN about the challenges ahead. Below are excerpts:
IRIN: What are the biggest challenges facing your administration?
Ahmed: The biggest obstacle is trying to get people to believe and have hope again that things can and will get better. The people have suffered and are still suffering. They have been divided. Rebuilding the unity of our people and nation will be one of our biggest challenges. Every time they were hopeful, they were knocked back again. We must keep this hope alive.
We also face the task of building government institutions from scratch. We are basically broke and the country broken. All these in my opinion are obstacles we will have to deal with urgently.
What role do you expect donors to play?
In the past donors have put money into Somalia but unfortunately, it did not have [the] impact it should have had on the people for various reasons, including corruption. Often, aid did not reach the intended targets. We hope and expect that donors will increase their support. For our part, we have to change the way things are done and make sure that any money given will be used appropriately and in the manner intended, that it will reach the people. We will not allow corruption to take root and public money [to be] misused.
Do you think the international community is serious in its support and will give the necessary help to allow your government to function effectively?
It is too early for me to answer that question. Give it time and we may be able to answer it.
There are groups that do not support you, including the more radical Islamists. How do you intend to deal with them - negotiate or fight?
First, I don’t have any desire for more fighting. The Somali people do not want any more fighting. Those who think that more fighting will resolve things, I want to tell them it will not. Let us try to find a better way for them to accomplish what they are looking for. The best way is through dialogue and negotiations and we are open to talking. We will talk to anyone willing to talk. We will not engage in war. I am for a negotiated settlement to our differences.
You will need a security force. Where will you find them?
Security will come from a combination of the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] forces, our forces in Mogadishu and other supporters and of course the Somali people who want to see the government succeed and are ready to join the security forces. So, yes we are going to create security forces.
Do you need outside help in forming a security force?
Obviously outside help is necessary but then it must be done in a way that they can help without inflaming the situation and creating instability and animosity among the people. It will have to be an approach that is appropriate and will help without hurting us.
Does this help need to include military as well? Do you need arms, soldiers, maybe even blue helmets?
Because we are in a new situation we need to figure out what exactly we need. We need arms and security forces and of course we need the world to help us. However, we have to figure out the best form that help should take. Therefore, it will be the responsibility of the new cabinet to come up with the best way to ask for the help.
In the past two years, thousands have been killed and over a million displaced in Mogadishu due to the fighting. What plans do you have to alleviate the suffering of the people?
Photo: Ahmed Yusuf Mohamed/IRIN
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I am deeply saddened by the suffering of those people affected by the fighting. Taking care of them and resettling them is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing this government. We [will] do our part in assisting them … but we are also going to invite humanitarian agencies to come and help. We are putting in place plans to ensure the security of the city to enable people to return home. With this two-track approach, ensuring security and providing the necessary help, I am convinced there will be changes that will lead to the return of the displaced to their homes.
There is an enormous naval taskforce fighting piracy off the Somali coast. Do you think that is the best way to combat the problem?
I think the best way to fight piracy in Somalia is to have a strong and functioning government capable of taking charge of security both on land and at sea. But I also understand that while ships are being hijacked nations will not stand by and watch. That is why foreign forces at sea are taking action.
Some Islamist groups have been very rigid in their application of what they see as Islamic law. People are flogged and even stoned. What is your view of their interpretation of Islam?
I believe that the way they deal with people is not right and has nothing to do with Islamic Sharia law. Islam has a legal framework and courts. So for individuals to take their whip and flog people on the street is wrong.
The clan structure in Somalia has been a problem. Do you think it will pose a problem for you when it comes to naming your government?
I don’t think the problem has been the clan but the way it was used. It has been misused and I think we will find a different and positive way and whatever problem it presents, I am confident we will be able to deal with it without resorting to its negative side.
How do you plan to deal with Somaliland and Puntland?
Both are enjoying real, tangible peace and stability. Therefore, we must acknowledge the contributions of those who made this peace and stability possible. We are opposed to anything that will jeopardise the peace and stability enjoyed by those regions. We are determined to resolve any misunderstandings through dialogue and negotiations. I trust that we will succeed in finding common ground.