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Somali PM on Tour to Mend Divisions in Government


Ali Mohamed Gedi
Somalia's prime minister is in the capital, Mogadishu, this week, trying to mend deep divisions in his government over when it will be safe enough to return to Somalia from its current base in Kenya.

Hundreds of cheering, undulating Somalis, many waving guns, greeted Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi at a rally held at the beginning of this week at Villa Somalia, the bullet-ridden, bombed-out former presidential residence in Mogadishu.

Representatives of the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, that mediated the recently concluded two-year peace process, and the United Nations accompanied Prime Minister Gedi to the rally and other events at different times during his tour.

The officer in charge of the U.N. Political Office for Somalia, Babafemi Badejo, says the early part of the tour indicates that Somalis are eager to have their government return to Somalia from Kenya.

"I will say very, very clearly that I am impressed: one, the demonstration of public support for the prime minister," Mr. Badejo said. "I was not here when he arrived, but everybody has been talking about so many people came out, lined up the streets to welcome him. It showed a very clear desire on the part of the people to have their government back."

But when the government will return to Somalia from its current base in the Kenyan capital Nairobi is very much up in the air, especially after an explosion at another rally one day after the Villa Somalia visit.

The May 3 explosion, which some say was an accident and others say was an assassination attempt against Mr. Gedi, killed and injured several dozen people.

Ever since 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country. Factional leaders, elders, civil society representatives and others came together in Kenya for two years to work out ways of ending the lawlessness.

A new 275-member Somali government was formed in Kenya near the end of last year and was supposed to return to Somalia by April.

More than 70 members of parliament, including ministers, are already in Mogadishu, while the rest, including the prime minister and President Abdullahi Yusuf, are still in Nairobi, citing security concerns.

Over the past few months, parliamentarians have held bitter debates about temporarily relocating the capital to more stable towns and bringing in troops from neighboring African countries to stabilize Mogadishu and other places.

In the middle of March, parliament came up with a 29-point security plan to demobilize an estimated 53,000 militiamen across the country, 15,000 of whom are in Mogadishu. The group of parliament members then went to Mogadishu to work on the plan.

The prime minister and president now want the government members to return to Nairobi to participate in a key meeting on when and where to return to Somalia.

But some members of parliament say they will not return. Trade minister Musa Sudi Yalahow explains why.

Mr. Musa Sudi says he and his colleagues came to Mogadishu to work for their people and country. He says they have no business being in Kenya and, in his words, "we do not want to be going back to Kenya as refugees."

The Member of Parliament for Kismayo, Ali Basha, says he and his colleagues have already completed nine of the actions outlined in the security plan, which, among other things, aims to integrate militiamen into a yet-to-be-formed national army.

"We brought the militias themselves from different former warlords together and they had a workshop for about three days. We were informing them that there is a demobilization," Mr. Basha said. "Some of them were enemies before; they could not even greet or see each other. But they are now together, talking, how they can secure the plan, how they can clear the checkpoints of the city. We explained that we have a better life for them than staying in a checkpoint. The militias and all other sectors of the Somali society are really ready to welcome the government."

Mr. Ali also says he and his colleagues are not willing to go back to Nairobi.

Officials expressed concern that the government members in Mogadishu seem to be carrying out the security plan on their own, without the involvement of the rest of the government.

Mr. Badejo of the United Nations urged that this apparent split be mended.

"There has to be unity of purpose within parliament and in government before there can be support from the international community for such an effort," Mr. Badejo said. "And I am sure that if the international community sees a serious effort that is not just a reaction of a splinter group but a united governmental effort, that the international community would be very, very excited about disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration."

Presidential spokesman Yusuf Baribari denies that there could be a split in his government, both in the security plan and in the issue of returning to Somalia.

"The prime minister is now in Mogadishu, and the reason why he is in Mogadishu, it is first of all to talk to the people, secondly, to make another appeal, a direct one to the MPs (parliament members) and cabinet ministers who are in Mogadishu," Mr. Baribari said. "As far as we know, most of them are willing to come back to Nairobi in order to take part to the final session of the cabinet."

Mr. Baribari says those who will not return to Nairobi are excluding themselves from the government, and the government can do nothing about this.

He says the security plan that the government members have been carrying out in Mogadishu is a national plan that Prime Minister Gedi will take over soon.

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