Posted on Tuesday, 01 July 2014 16:53

Al-Shabaab is on the back foot - Somali Prime minister

By Elissa Jobson in Addis Ababa

Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed. Photo©WWW.MICHAELTSEGAYE.COMPrime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed talks to The Africa Report about the international fight against Somali-based Islamist rebels and the government's difficulties in re-establishing stability.


"The first thing is we need to have improved security for the citizens of Somalia," Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed says.

He sits erect and still in a straight-backed chair. He remains serious throughout the conversation, Abdiweli's first meeting with a member of the foreign press since he became prime minister of Somalia in December 2013.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appointed Abdiweli after his predecessor, Abdi Farah Shirdon, lost a vote of no confidence in parliament as a result of a dispute with the president over appointments to the cabinet.

We want the international community to speed up the process [of disbursing aid]

An economist by training, Abdiweli is a political neophyte, but he pipped two seasoned politicians – finance minister Hussein Abdi Halane and former transport minister Abdiwahid Elmi Gonjeh – to the job.

Citing his "impressive background in development and economics" – Abdiweli worked at the Islamic Development Bank and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa – Hassan Sheikh expressed confidence in his new prime minister, saying that he is "the man best equipped to lead the Somali government through the next stage of our country's recovery and reform programme".

Abdiweli considers the recent African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia offensive to have been "quite successful".

Since the beginning of March, Ethiopian troops – now part of the AU mission – and members of the Somali National Army (SNA) captured at least 10 towns from Al-Shabaab forces.

New injection of troops

"Al-Shabaab is on the back foot, running for their lives," Abdiweli insists. "They will soon be disbanded. We are not saying that they will disappear for entirety, indeed they are capable of posing threats, but we will not stop going after them until we've finished them."

He puts this success, which came after almost a year of stand- still, down to the new injection of troops into the AU force.

Economist to premier
1959 Born in Bardera, Gedo - southern Somalia
1998 Master's in economics - University of Ottawa
2010 Senior economist - Islamic Development Bank
12 December 2013 Appointed PM - Somalia
17 Jan. 2014 Gov't named a new and expanded cabinet

In January, an additional 4,000 Ethiopian soldiers joined the mission, bring- ing the total number of peace- keepers to more than 22,000.

"The fact that we have been able to recover those territories is a direct result of the increase in the number of troops decided by the United Nations (UN) Security Council," says Abdiweli.

"It was a good move, but maybe we still need to have some more [troops] so that we finish Al-Shabaab."

Maintaining the partial lifting of the UN arms embargo is also essential to the continued success of the campaign, he claims.

"We are building our army, and you cannot build an army without firearms. We are in the middle of a fierce war against an international terrorist group that is well trained and well financed and is posing a threat not only to Somalia but to the whole region and the whole world [...]. So the government must be allowed to defend itself," Abdiweli says.

He says that the SNA will one day be able to replace the AU troops. When pushed for a possible date, he tentatively suggests 2016 or 2017.

In the meantime, the government is receiving substantial support from a number of countries, including Ethiopia, which will provide intensive training and help restructure the SNA so that it becomes "a professional, ethical, non-clan-based national army".

Dismissing critics who characterise Ethiopia's increasing presence in the country as a new occupation, Abdiweli says: "That perception is fading away very quickly because Ethiopians are coming to help Somalis go free from Al-Shabaab. Now people understand the difference between someone who is coming to help them and someone who is killing them."

Rebels in desperation

A spate of attacks in and around Mogadishu followed the announcement of the renewed offensive, including the bombing of the presidential palace on 21 February, during which at least 14 people died, and the assassination of two members of parliament in April.

"As we increase the pressure on Al-Shabaab, desperately they try to do whatever they can to create publicity for themselves," says Abdiweli.

"They attack people in mosques at Friday prayers and other people in restaurants, so that shows how desperate they are. That should clearly indicate that they are a group that are dying."

There have been suggestions that the assaults, which were extremely well targeted, were conducted with assistance from within the Somali government.

Abdiweli does not dismiss these claims out of hand. "We cannot speculate at this moment, but we are seriously investigating it. If we find them [to be true], we will take action," he says.

Abdiweli is keen for stability to be brought to the newly controlled zones as soon as possible.

"As they [Al-Shabaab] were leaving, they destroyed the wells, they destroyed public places like the police stations and the hospitals [...]. So there is a critical need for these people to get food and medical supplies and to have access to clean water and health services," he says.

Reconstruction aid

"We are moving fast on this, but resources are really scarce in Somalia after all this destruction. So we are appealing to the international community to come to us very fast and help us address those critical needs," he explains.

At a conference in Brussels last September, donors pledged $1.8bn in reconstruction aid, but, according to Abdiweli, "not much" of this assistance has been disbursed.

"The bureaucracy is slow, and we would like the international community to honour their pledge and provide the funds that they have committed," he continues.

"We are not saying that they don't want to give, but we want them to speed up the process."

Abdiweli says that donors have legitimate concerns regarding corruption and the Somali government's ability to effectively and efficiently use the aid it receives.

"Let me put this in the perspective of 23 years of destruction [...]. We are not saying that there are no problems with the management, but we have been taking actions to deal with this," he says.

He points to the financial governance committee, which included experts from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as Somalian professionals.

"We still have to go a long way before we can have a full international standard system," Abdiweli admits, "but we are working towards that." ●


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