In DepthSoapbox

Thu,23Nov2017

Soapbox

Interview: John Evans Atta Mills, President of Ghana

 

The Africa Report: What does the National Democratic Congress stand for today?

 

?President John Atta Mills: We are all social democrats, and we believe it is the responsibility of the state to provide for the marginalised and that selfless service to the people should be our immediate objective.?

 

What role should former President Jerry Rawlings play in the NDC??

 

He is with us. There is really no problem. If there is any argument – and of course it’s fuelled by our opponents – it’s in respect to what role President Rawlings should play in our party. That is an internal matter; we have to decide how to tap his obvious strengths. They should not tell us what role President Rawlings should play.?

 

You have promised a cut in fuel tax for everyone, rich and poor – would it be better to target assistance??

 

People are suffering; we can make it up with better tax collection. You go to the police and they will tell you how many people are evading customs duties, the number of people who are getting exemptions from tax.?

 

What are your policies for promoting economic growth?

 

?Agriculture will be our absolute number one priority, to make sure our dams are working, our irrigation plans are in place. We have to make sure that rice will be one of the crash projects, maize another and vegetables another. We have to encourage local industry, like poultry – it’s collapsed because we are allowing cheap imports.

 

?How would you fight corruption?

 

?You have to give protection to those who initiate the crusade against corruption. You have to give them political support.?

 

Is drug money getting into the political system??

 

Yes, clearly it is. I made a statement that I’m not going to allow drug barons to take over this country. It’s getting into our political system. I think you must lead by example. You must not only bark, you must bite, and you must let the law take its course. Just stamp out the trade. We have to do it.

 

Back to Ghana, The harsh realities after the closest vote

Interview: Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone

The Africa Report: Have you delivered the new style of government and economic improvements you promised last year?

 PRESIDENT ERNEST BAI KOROMA: I centred my campaign on changing how government was run in the country. Taking over government, I inherited an economy that was very weak. The donor community was putting on hold almost all support for the country and the electricity situation was deplorable. We had then just 5 MW power generation capacity and launched the emergency power programme. We increased it during our first 90-100 days to a level of 25 MW. We are limited to 25 MW because of our restricted distribution capacity. We also want to complete the Bumbuna hydro-electric programme. I had a meeting with the donors and the $42m that was outstanding has been pledged. We are now on track in terms of completing the hydro project and the transmission lines.

What do Sierra Leoneans and foreigners say about your performance?

We have regained the confidence of the donor community and we are on track in terms of budgetary support. The World Bank and the IMF are now reviewing our poverty reduction programme. These are all signs of progress within the short period we have been in office. Now, we have not succeeded yet in terms of creating as many jobs as we had hoped, but this is as a result of the circumstances we inherited.??

 Struggling to rebuild

 

A healthcare system not
yet recovered. Read more. 

How are you dealing with the urgent need for jobs?

We are looking at the agricultural sector, improving the road infrastructure, ensuring that farmers have access to inputs and encouraging the private sector to go into farming and to commercialise it. We are also reviewing the mining laws to ensure the mining companies will work in a manner that will increase overall economic activity and jobs. We’re restarting all the road building programmes that were on hold. So in early 2009 the construction of these major roads will start and this will help us create employment for our young people.

In 2009 growth is forecast to slow to 4.8% and tax revenues are falling. How worried are you about the world financial crisis?

We are trying to become more efficient in revenue collection. We are trying to close leakages. Our plan is get the economy moving faster, adding value to our agricultural exports, trying to get mining projects working as quickly as possible, developing tourism, an area where there’s a huge potential.

Our economy wasn’t too integrated with the international economy, so the direct impact was limited, but of course we’ll be affected indirectly – some of our development partners may have to review their stance to take account of what has happened internationally.

Recent reports point to the poor state of health and education, and the lack of jobs. Do you worry that the country hasn’t moved on and war could break out again? ?

Well that is the assessment given out. But I believe the people know there’s a lot a difference with conditions in the past. The government is more transparent, it is more accountable, there is a lot of goodwill, it is a process that is gradual. This is appreciated by the Sierra Leonean people. We are trying to run an inclusive government, we are trying to be open in what we do. For us to get through the food and fuel price hikes without any trouble is an indication that the people still have trust and confidence. 

You live in a dangerous region – there have been civil wars in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, and there are political ructions in Guinea. That must make your job harder. ?

What happens beyond the borders of the country, we don’t have much control over. That’s why we are strong in our engagement with the countries in the region, the Mano River Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] – this is the most we can do to ensure that we stay together as a region and maintain good relations with our neighbours. We know that anything that happens in one country will affect another. We are asking for everyone to take measures that will consolidate a peace around the issues of the youth, education and jobs. We have natural resources that we want to develop at a national and a subregional level. Of course, we are not yet out of the woods. In another 36 months, there will be some visible signs of an effective change.

Do you have any clear targets to achieve such as free healthcare??

 No, I cannot deliver free healthcare. I can only say that the terrible indicators that we have had – the worst in the UN Human Development Index – will improve. We will not be anywhere near the bottom five countries in the Index at the end of my first five years in power.

There is free primary education, there is free education for girls… We are going to lay emphasis on the quality of education. We are going to ensure that by the time I finish my first five-year term we will have universities in all the regions of the country.

Your government launched a commission of inquiry into your predecessor, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s government. What are its conclusions? ?

Bai Koroma timeline
1953 Born in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone??
1978 Began work for the Sierra Leone National
Insurance Company and worked in insurance
until getting into politics??
2002 Chosen as leader of the opposition
All People’s Congress
2007 Elected president after a run-off
against Solomon Berewa

 They are still working. They have just looked at the support given to the Ministry of Education for a $42m programme from the World Bank and other institutions to support the revitalisation of education, providing support for children in primary schools. The object is to examine the use to which public funds are put – we are of the view that we had support for the period but there is hardly anything to show for it. We want the commission to look into how the funds were managed and to come out with recommendations, not only punitive ones but reforms for the better management of funds.

Your country has spent tens of millions of dollars on trials and reconciliation efforts after the war – has it been worth it?

 We have taken the position that we need to consolidate peace and that we must implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We are adopting practical methods to ensure that everybody feels part of this country and that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. There will be economic development. When there is growth in the country, people feel engaged and happier.

What about the value of the trial of former Liberian warlord and president Charles Taylor which is currently taking place in the Hague?

I’d say it ensures the cycle of impunity comes to an end, that no one can just get up and shoot his way to power, because there are consequences. That’s the deterrent value that it will have with regard to people who want to acquire power through undemocratic means.

Interview: Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria

 

The Africa Report: Several African capitals were torn up by food riots earlier this year. Do you think African leaders got the message??

 

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: I believe they did. What I cannot say for sure is whether they then employed the right policy to deal with the challenge. For instance, the first reaction of Nigeria’s government was to make N80bn ($590m) available for the importation of rice. That is a short-sighted policy. I believe some went for quick short-term solutions, which is no solution to me. And I can honestly say that the reaction time for some of them was rather slow. They are making progress, not fast enough, but they are making progress. Later on, my country said that they had no crisis. And Nigeria really shouldn’t have a crisis.?

 

Nigeria has so much natural gas – why is there no fertiliser factory in Nigeria??

 

We had a national one. It was run down. And I am a strong believer now that government is not a good producer. So government should provide a conducive environment for the private sector to thrive and invest and, if they consider it necessary, the government should help move the market.?

 

So do you think there is a role for the state in, for example, helping agricultural banks??

 

What we did in Nigeria worked. We have an agricultural bank – but how far does it go? We have a country with 150m people, a surface area of 1m km². What we did was ask the commercial banks to provide agricultural credit and the central bank guaranteed it. They then gave a ceiling to the rate of interest on borrowing. And whatever they think they lose on that capped rate of interest, the central bank makes adjustments for them, either in their tax payments or whatever. And it worked.?

 

You say it is a question of political will for improvements in agriculture, that we already have the solutions and it’s now a question of making it happen. You managed to create a space for your reform team to operate. How did you do that?

 

?To me, the first responsibility of a leader is to pick the right collaborators. The second responsibility of a leader is to lead. That’s why you are called a leader. If you are not going to lead, you have no business being called a leader. And that will mean that you have to take certain positions. At times you have to be the one to actually explain to people where you want them to go. I always say that a leader should not lead people to where they want to go, but should lead them to where they should go.?

 

The large rise in protein consumption in Asia is one of the reasons why food prices have been going up around the world. Do you think Africa should be dreaming of feeding Asia??

 

Africa has the landmass to do it. And the soil is not particularly bad. It should be able to conveniently feed itself and conveniently feed a substantial part of Asia. What we would need to do that, we already have: the research results are there. The Indian ‘green revolution’ began in the 1960s. The products are there, but where we always go wrong is in getting all the other necessary elements to come together, like infrastructure, finance and policy.

 

?It’s like trying to make a good pot of soup. You want it to be tasty and so on. There are certain ingredients that must go into it. And if those ingredients don’t go into it at the right quantity, or at the time that they should go, you will have a pot of soup that is not palatable, or the ingredients don’t go together well. If you have six months of rainfall, and you have to import fertiliser, your fertiliser must be in place at least one month before the rain starts. But if after four months of rain your fertiliser is still being cleared from the port, the farmer has lost that year. ?

 

So you need to have all those things in place, and the CGIAR [Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research] have the right products to help us get there. But we just don’t have that mix of inputs we need. And when you have that it can work. In Nigeria over the last five years, there is no key crop that we did not increase by a minimum of 30%, including rice. Cocoa was increased by over 100%

Interview: Don 'Smokey' Gold, a former Niger Delta militant

 

The Africa Report: Is the government doing anything to address the underlying causes of the crisis?

 

?Don ‘Smokey’ Gold: The government and leaders of Niger Delta are working superficially and paying lip service to the Delta’s problems. There is no geniuneness in the pursuit of the problems to a logical conclusion. Their self-interest and gains are greater than the interest they might have in solving the problems.?The Ministry [for the Niger Delta] they set up recently is fattening their pockets and [is] not for the development of the region.

 

?Is the government serious about tackling oil bunkering??

 

The adage says when the head is rotten the other parts of the body cannot function well or not at all. This adage goes a long way to explaining the bunkering situation in the country. The seriousness should start from the top. There is no problem that cannot be tackled if there is seriousness of purpose from the government.?Government officials are the main bunkerers. They hide under the civilians and even when these civilians are eventually arrested, they will bring out their ugly heads to free them with huge sums of money. In fact, this generation has a long, long way to go to tackle the bunkering due to the high level of corruption. I see no seriousness.?

 

Are the oil companies doing anything to improve the lives of people in the Delta?

 

?The oil companies are not the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They are here purely for profit maximisation. The extent of their help should be spelt out in the memorandums of understanding (MOUs) signed by them and host communities.?The oil companies tried initially to [live up to] their MOUs but the so-called office-holders and royal majesties from various oil-producing communities killed the efforts of the companies. Because of this, the companies are deviating from their MOUs.?Office-holders and royal majesties have conspired with companies’ representatives to enrich themselves, because the companies’ representatives have seen that representatives from various oil-producing communities are so corrupt. So they all work together. That is the reason why you hear people from various oil-producing communities complaining. But they fail to understand that it is a game of conspiracy.

 

Back to Niger Delta, A dangerous masquerade

Interview: Nuruddin Farah, Somali author and journalist

 

Somalia’s best-known novelist, Nuruddin Farah, explains his often controversial themes in the context of his relationship with ?the troubled country of his birth

 

“It is preferable to be the hand above than the one below,” says Nuruddin Farah, quoting the Koran to me as we meet during a break between his scheduled readings and dialogues with other writers at the Berlin Literature Festival. Earlier, the Somali author of Links, Gifts and Knots, and winner of the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, had cut a lonesome figure on stage as he surveyed the crowd at this year’s Africa-focused festival. Facing an audience fed on endless horror-images of his country, Somalia’s ‘voice’ looked as if he knew there was little he could do in the allocated half-hour reading slot to alter the perspectives of a young European crowd.

 

?When the host asked why he had stirred such controversy in Somalia with his writings, Farah replied with an anecdote. “A mother longs for a child; at last one is born to her and the mother soon wishes it to speak. The child grows and reaches the age of three but still it doesn’t talk. The mother implores everything, making sacrifices so that her child will speak. But still the child at six years old is mute. The mother carries on praying and finally, when the child is ten, he speaks, saying: ‘Mother, I want to make love to you’.” The audience sat up, electrified. His point was that a nation cannot choose its voice, nor a voice its nation. ?

 

Farah has lived out of Somalia since 1976, when he went into exile having made an enemy of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. His first novel, From a Crooked Rib, which narrated the story of a young girl challenging traditional beliefs about women in Somali society, and his first of two trilogies, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, earned him a reputation as a controversial voice in his homeland. Since then, Somalia has suffered the misfortunes of a fluctuating and often ravaged 30-year history of dictatorship, civil war, foreign intervention and, most recently, the ongoing violent struggle between the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopian forces. Farah himself is no stranger to this political turmoil, having mediated between the parties involved. ?

 

Tea with the courts

 

?“It’s something that I hadn’t in mind to do, but I did it first of all because one of the Islamic Courts people approached me and said, ‘We know that you are not a religionist, an Islamist, in that sense, we know that you are more of a secularist than a religionist. And for that reason, we would appreciate it if you came to Mogadishu, became our guest, and then spoke to the two parties, since we are both, the two of us, preparing for war.’”

 

?Farah, who lives in Cape Town, promptly returned to Somalia in August 2006, carrying messages between the UIC representatives in the capital and the leader of the TFG in Baidoa, President Abdullahi Yusuf. Farah’s trips, he recounts, engaged him endlessly in trying to encourage all parties to pursue national priorities and put aside personal hatreds and goals. However, the author of Gifts – the second novel in the Blood in the Sun trilogy – redrafted the criteria of his own ‘intervention’.

 

?“I did not want to accept the hospitality of the Islamic Courts, basically because I knew that once you are given a gift, you become vulnerable; you are in the pocket of the giver.” What initially seemed a gift turned out to be a stalemate. “I don’t know if there was much success, but at least there was the initial belief that a truce was starting to crop. In the end it didn’t work because I had no endorsement, national endorsement, from anyone nor was Ethiopia interested in there being peace in Somalia.”

 

?In Gifts, the author leads his readers behind the material gift to explore the identity of the giver. Farah skillfully breaks down the dichotomy between giver and receiver: from the gift of a woman’s body to a man, to the gift of American aid to Somalia or the gift of an orphaned child found in the street. “A basic theme of the novel is that there is no gift that is pure. Every gift has something attached to it,” says Farah, who subtly ridicules the hypocrisy of gifts of aid by European states to African nations, which are strangled by debt owed to the very same givers. Gifts are presented as a symbol of power between giver and receiver, the former having the ability to dictate the process.?

 

A win/lose situation for the receiver and the faceless shadow of the giver seem to be the key elements in Farah’s thesis. “The big difference between an institution like the EU and a person-to-person relationship is you never meet the giver when you are dealing with an institution.” Farah chooses his words carefully, a soft-spoken man with powerful delivery. “If you give me a cup of tea, I can say ‘thank you’ to you,” he continues. “But if you order a cup of tea or a glass of wine for me, and just after you order, you vanish, then the waiter comes and offers me the glass or cup of tea and I say ‘Where is this from?’ and he says ‘Oh, some gentleman came and gave it to you and left’, you may still drink it but you would feel a little uncomfortable. So it is also that distance comes as a result of continuously receiving gifts.” ?

 

When I counter that institutions might retort that aid is often lost in corruption scandals and that accusations have been made regarding a ‘culture of bribes’, Farah is quick to respond: “You know, there is nothing clean about Western European institutions. What I mean is that they are no less corrupt than any other. The big difference is that the majority of Africans, when they are corrupt, we put a moral tag to corruption. A moral tag in the sense that we say it’s like taking food out of a child’s mouth.” Pointing to an article about $300m payouts to CEOs of collapsing banks in America he adds: “The corruption in Africa is just peanuts compared to this kind of sum.” ?

 

Poisoned chalice?

 

Yet ‘American gifts’ are something Farah sees as a two-edged sword. When Somalia and the US are even mentioned in the same breath, the macabre media spectacles of US marines being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu or, more recently, the sensationalist media approaches to Islamic extremism, seem engraved throughout Africa and the West. Farah challenges that singleness of imagery in his novel Links, which carries its reader, through its returning Somali protagonist Jeebleh, and traversing the war-ravaged and clan-divided streets of Mogadishu, deconstructing the myth of a ‘clan’ or ‘blood war’. Jeebleh has returned to pay respect to his mother’s grave and to assist his old friend, Bile, in resolving the kidnapping of a family member. Soon, however, Caloosha, a general in ‘StrongMan’s South’ sector and Bile’s half-brother, resurrects old feuds from the past between Jeebleh, Bile and himself in an intricate web of connections.?

 

Farah presents a world in which militants raised in hate and driven by murder have led astray a generation of young, uneducated and disenfranchised teenagers, who are both victims and perpetrators of the clan ideology. Links denounces a nation where role models and tradition have gone astray. Farah has spoken of Somalia as an ‘orphaned nation’ before, and his recent novels Knots and Links echo a desire for reconciliation and greater knowledge of self vis-à-vis nationhood. ?

 

“One of the reasons why I wrote Links, which is about a particular incident that took place with American corpses being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, is because I thought I should show the other side of the story that happened in contrast to Black Hawk Down, both the book and the film.”?

 

Farah, the author of ten novels, several plays and the editor of an anthology of Somali diaspora writing (he has also written journalism), is getting older, his voice fading. Yet his appetite – to silence the dominant image of Somalia as a violent backwater of the world and for his nation to write back through his words – is unabated. “People can do anything they like when it comes to Africa, in the belief that they will not be challenged by the people about whom they are writing,” says Farah with some sarcasm and a certain melancholy. “Quite often my friends ring me or send me emails, or electronic articles, and then they say: ‘This is the interesting article we want you to read about Somalia.’ And I might find an entire page written and yet I may not be able to find a single paragraph that makes sense. And the reason is because the majority of people write from a distance and they also write from a position of ignorance… It is different when you say: ‘It’s wrong, it’s full of violence, and these are the reasons.’” ?

 

Farah is no stranger to violence himself and has endured several threats to his life. However, it is the endless misconceptions about Somalia that continue to haunt him. “Many of the journalists [writing about Somalia] are foreign journalists that haven’t got the courage or the knowledge to write about Somalia and go beyond the cliché. The majority of things that are being said about Somalia and Somalis are clichés. Somalis then repeat those clichés like ‘everything to do with the Somali civil war is clan-based’ and such lies. It’s a lot more complicated than this. I would say it is personality-based.”?

 

While Farah admits he sees little prospect of peace in the near future (“conflict is part and parcel of this century”), he remains Somalia’s most accomplished and distinguished modern novelist, a voice “that writes to keep my country alive”.

Interview: Ato Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia

In power since 1991, Ato Meles Zenawi speaks of an Ethiopian renaissance as the economy and social indicators improve substantially, but national politics remain fraught and the government faces an array of deadly foes in the Horn of Africa, led by arch-enemies in Eritrea and Islamist militants in Somalia

 

The Africa Report: How will the financial crisis affect the global economic hierarchy – do you think it will accelerate the shift of economic power towards Asia?

 

?PRIME MINISTER MELES ZENAWI: Innovation in the financial sector appears to have gone way beyond the capacity to be effectively regulated and perhaps the capacity of the regulators themselves to understand the financial instruments that have been built. So I would not be very surprised if there were to be more effective regulation in the financial sector. I’m not sure whether there would be fundamental change in the other sectors of the economy. Asia has been doing very well in relative terms, [and] it is bound to increase its weight in global economic issues. I doubt whether this will be the result of the financial crisis, rather than the result of more structural change in the economies. ??

 

Although Ethiopia’s economy has been growing strongly, inflation is spiralling and there are serious foreign exchange shortages. How will you deal with this pressure??

 

The key strategy is to continue to increase exports at a much faster pace. In the past five years, exports have been growing at 25% per year; perhaps we can push it a little bit further. Oil prices accounted for much of the foreign exchange and balance of payments problem. If oil prices are coming down, the foreign exchange that we use to import oil will be reduced. And we are now passing the price through to the consumers directly and we hope to reduce consumption of oil. Reduction in prices and reduction in demand may improve our balance of payments situation.?In the past five years we have had very promising results. The most important structural change has happened in the rural areas. Most of the farmers are shifting from small-scale subsistence farming into small-scale commercial farming and that has created a very positive feedback loop. In the urban areas we have not made as much progress as in the rural areas, but the impact of the rural growth is beginning to filter down to the urban areas.??

 

You say you want to promote business, yet Ethiopia does not have a stock exchange. Do you plan to launch one??

 

We don’t think the securities market is as critical to Ethiopia’s development as a commodities market. That is why we have launched the commodity market first; nevertheless we understand that at some stage we have to develop the securities market, and that requires a lot of state capacity, among other things. We do not want to create a casino which is out of control. We need a properly regulated securities market and that requires capacity building, both on the part of the state, which should be doing the regulation, and on the part of the private sector actors.??

 

There are widespread complaints about telecommunications. Do you think more competition in the sector would improve services?

 

?We’re investing about $1.5bn in telecommunication infrastructure and we expect the subscribers of mobile phones to increase up to 15m over the next 18 months or so. More importantly we plan to expand our broadband optic-fibre network to well over 10,000 km, connecting all the major towns, universities, hospitals and so forth. After 18 months when we’ve completed our current programme of developing telecommunications infrastructure, we’ll see if there’s any need for institutional reform, but at the moment the focus is on investment in infrastructure.?

 

There are experiences elsewhere which prove that under certain circumstances competition might help and other circumstances there is no real competition, it’s an oligopoly. In the end therefore, it may depend on the quality of regulatory capacity… At this stage we have chosen to err on the side of caution.

 

??On coming to power, your government promised a revolutionary restructuring of the state. Do you think you’ve achieved that??

 1955 Born in Adwa, northern Ethiopia
 1974 Joined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)??
 1989 Became chairman of the TPLF and the
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front
 1991 With the overthrowing of the Derg military regime,
became the president of the transitional government??
 1995 Elected for the first time as prime minister
 1999 Border clashes with Eritrea led to full-scale war??
 2004 Earned a master’s degree in economics

 

We’ve gone a long way. States in reform are states facing a huge risk of disintegration. And as we moved away from centralised authoritarian political systems towards a de-centralised, federalised, democratic system, there was the risk that we could disintegrate like Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union, or other countries that have tried economic and political transition at the same time. Well, clearly, we have survived. And that – as one of the actors of the French Revolution is supposed to have said – was quite an achievement, to have survived turmoil. We have survived as a state, we have survived as a nation. I think we have gone a little bit beyond surviving. ??

 

How much of a challenge do the opposition parties represent to your government?

 

We have two extremes that are joined at the centre. There are those who feel that the transformation of the Ethiopian empire under Emperor Haile Selassie – and the other emperor who followed, Mengistu – that the federalism that we introduced, the independence of Eritrea that we recognised, there are those groups who feel that that is a crime against the very concept of Ethiopia. And there are those who feel that the reforms we have introduced – pre-empting secessionist pressure – have been a cynical attempt to preserve the empire rather than transform it. So you have two extremes: those who feel that the reforms of the empire have gone too far, and those who say that the reforms have been a cynical ploy to stem the tide of secessionism in Ethiopia. Those two are the main opposition groups in the country now. Sometimes they come together against a common enemy in the centre, sometimes they are at each others’ throats because they have very different agendas.??

 

Your government has faced armed resistance in the Oromo and Somali regions. What are the grievances and how do you intend to address them??

 

The armed entities in the Oromia region do not pose a very serious challenge to us. Over time, a broad consensus has emerged in the region. The key challenge is the Somali region. We have not done as well in terms of economic development in the Somali region as we have in the rest of our country. We have not done as well in the pastoralist regions as a whole, and in particular in the Somali region, so there is room for the opposition to capitalise on this fact. Nevertheless, we have done enough to show people in the Somali region that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, not very bright, not as bright as in the rest of the country, nevertheless there is some light, and we need to do more of that. The Somali people in Ethiopia for the first time in our history plan their own affairs locally, use their own language in schools and in local government entities, have their religion respected absolutely… and they see what the alternative is on the other side of the border. So, I don’t think the secessionist agenda in the Ogaden is as strong as it might have been 15 years ago, but we recognise it as a challenge and we need to do more.??

 

Almost six years after the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission announced its decision, there is still no agreement on demarcation. How dangerous is the current stand-off between Ethiopia and Eritrea??

 

The Eritrean government is trying to use indirect means to destabilise Ethiopia and the region but it is not as dangerous as some people think. We have said that we are not going to respond in kind unless there is a full-scale invasion. Eritrea is in no way ready to launch a full-scale invasion of Ethiopia. So militarily it is going to be stalemate for the foreseeable future. The only way forward is dialogue. We are prepared to engage the Eritrean government in dialogue any time, anywhere. And this is not an underhanded way of trying to change the boundary commission’s decision. We have made it clear in the note we gave to the Under-Secretary General of the UN that we unconditionally accept the de-limitation decision of the boundary commission. What we want dialogue on is the implementation of the decision. It is possible that there is going to be this tense situation for a long time; Ethiopia can live with it more or less indefinitely.??

 

What are the prospects of disengagement from Somalia? Do you think this would help end violence??

 

Our strategy is not a strategy of withdrawal, it’s a strategy of helping Somalia’s stability, so we are not dying to leave at the first possible opportunity. We don’t have an open-ended commitment to Somalia’s stability. We’ll stay on and help if two conditions are kept. First, the Somali leaders have to get their act together – reach out to moderate elements within Somali society, build consensus around the transitional government – so that we can win the hearts and minds of the Somali people, which would isolate the extremists and make it easier for us to hunt them down. Second, the international community will have to shoulder its responsibilities. If these two conditions are fulfilled we will stay on, but if these conditions are not met, then we will withdraw. ?

 

?If you withdraw, are you prepared for the consequences such as a return of the Islamic courts regime to power??

 

We are fully aware that our withdrawal would cause the withdrawal of the AU troops, and possibly the withdrawal of the Transitional Federal Government from Mogadishu, and possibly Somalia going back to civil war, where it was in 2002-2003. There won’t be an Islamic courts regime in Somalia so long as we are around. If the Al-Shabaab (Islamist militia) got control of Somalia, we would go in and remove them again. That’s non-negotiable.??

 

You’ve been in power for almost 18 years. When are you planning to retire and would you take a post with an international organisation?

 

?I have no plans with any international African organisations. My plans after retiring would be first to have some rest – I have not had enough rest since age 19 – and reflect on my life experiences, contributing perhaps, getting out some studies, research and writing, a light kind of schedule. I do not want to be involved in another full-time job, but I would want to be active and as helpful as I could be.

Page 38 of 39

THE QUESTION

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