The United States government officially recognized the new Somali government Thursday. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is visiting Washington, met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama and other U.S. officials. Before the meetings, President Mohamud exclusively spoke with VOA’s Somali Service. Below are excerpts of the translated interview.
Re-establishing government relations
Question: In a few hours the U.S. Secretary of State will announce recognition of your government. What’s your feeling?
President Mohamud: It has been a long time since the United States government treated us as an existing and recognized government; this is happening for the first since. There are two main reason that led to this recognition: The first one is ending the transitional period in Somalia; the second one is the enormous work we have done during the four months’ time we have been in office, in which time we have done all the basics required for government to function. Therefore, I am very delighted [with the recognition]; it is a step forward and a diplomatic achievement for the government I lead and for the Somali people in general. This recognition will pave the way for us to rejoin international bodies and other places that we have been absent for so long, and this [recognition] will facilitate in rebuilding the country.
Question: You mentioned that the work you have done in the past four months helped bring this recognition. Can you mention one or two of what you have done?
President Mohamud: There have been talks between us and the United States government towards making sure the United States understands our view as a government on governing, and our work on re-organizing the Somali government. There were certain issues that the international community was measuring against us including security, justice system, on managing finances, on building governance and expanding authority to the country and respecting previous agreements. That was one side.
On the other side, there are United States assets in Somalia; likewise we own assets in the United States. There have been changes to these over the years; we discussed what to do with them. There were agreements between the two countries [signed] when the previous government collapsed ; these were economic, security, culture and education. Some of these agreements are subject automatic renewal unless changes are made to them.
Having discussed and agreed all of these, the United States government was convinced that we are a responsible government which is working towards the good and the progress of its people and is committed to protecting and respect of international norms and laws. This is what convinced the United States government to recognize us and, from now on, to treat us as a formal government.
Question: Having been recognized, do you expect to meet with President Obama?
President Mohamud: There are government systems and procedures to follow here, we are following these procedures. We came here as a government to legally enter this agreement. I’m going to the White House, and of course I hope to see the President. But the task that brought us here is not related to meeting the President.
Question: Is it possible that you may exchange diplomatic representations with the U.S.?
President Mohamud: That is automatic, it comes with the recognition. We hope the United States embassy in Mogadishu will be reopened in March this year. Likewise we will soon nominate our ambassador to the United States, we will open our embassy. It is only a matter time and planning.
Question: The French government has conducted an operation in an attempt to release its hostage held by Al-Shabab. Have you been informed of this operation?
President Mohamud: No. We were not informed. I believe things would not have happened the way it happened had they told us; it would have been less trouble. We have discussed this with France.
Question: While in Washington DC, you have met with various organizations, what did you discuss with them?
President Mohamud: I met with USAID; I also met with the president of the World Bank. We have discussed cooperation between these agencies and Somalia. We have told them the cooperation has to be different from the past and we have started negotiations on that front and we are working towards a new partnership framework. Things will not be the same as before, the new partnership shall be different.
Priorities for the Somali government
Question: When you were elected you emphasized tackling security issues - what did you achieve on this front?
President Mohamud: We have introduced a six-point plan which we call “pillars of the new beginning”. Three of these points stand out and are urgent: Security, judiciary system and public finance management. That is why we gave first priority to improving security. The fight against AL-Shabab was already underway, but we focused on improving security of individual citizens. When our government came there were 60 roadblocks in Mogadishu which restricted movement of the citizens and caused injuries and the death of people on a daily basis – we have removed those roadblocks without being injured or killed anyone. We have achieved this because of people’s wishes, and the collaboration between authorities and the boys who run these roadblocks.
Second, when we came to office there was a [chaotic] situation where you cannot differentiate between a government soldier, an Al-Shabab member and a bandit because all are wearing government uniforms, all are carrying guns. For the first time in 22 years we have built military barracks in Mogadishu which will serve as a base for government soldiers. Government soldiers in the area will exit these barracks only when conducting an operation, otherwise they will have to leave their guns inside when exiting the base. So the only armed people in the streets will be either a soldier who is conducting an operation or armed bandits. We have built this using Somali people’s money; it’s going to cost us $6 million and no external help. These are three military barracks and a fourth training base for the soldiers. We are also creating a special security force for Mogadishu.
Question: But problems are still happening; there are people wearing government uniforms and are shooting and committing rape – what are the weaknesses?
President Mohamud: These incidents have been happening and they are not going to stop at once but they have declined significantly. The government’s fight against bandits is reflected in the sentence passed by our courts in which someone who committed a rape and another who committed murder was sentenced to death and executed. We cannot tolerate rape against a Somali woman as well as the murder of an innocent Somali person. The government is working on removing roadblocks and increasing awareness and the fight against criminality, but it’s not like a wire you cut, the problem is not going to end [overnight]. This will continue to happen, but we are very confident it will end soon.
Question: You have been quoted as saying that you’re open to talks with Al-Shabab if they are ready to do so, can you explain this?
President Mohamud: Very much so. There are two groups within Al-Shabab: The foreigners and the local Somalis. We are not going to deal with foreigners. But with regard to the Somali boys who are in AL-Shabab, we share the same country. Each one of them who renounces the Al-Shabab principles which says, ‘Somalia belongs to Muslims’ ...... Somalia belongs to Muslims but it belongs to Somali Muslims not all Muslims in the world. Those who renounce this, I would say to them: this is their country; we would welcome them as citizens if they are willing to participate in developing and rebuilding the country. Every Al-Shabab member who renounces violence is welcomed.
Question: What about the Al-Shabab leadership?
President Mohamud: [With exception] of those who committed crimes… even some of the lower rank members have committed crimes. Those members have no political agendas, those who dismembered or cut throats of people are criminals, they do not have political agendas. Those who caused havoc will be held accountable. There is no blanket amnesty. Some in the leadership have committed crimes beyond Somalia borders, so they will be held accountable. But the majority of Al-Shabab youngsters, if they are willing to withdraw from Al-Shabab, the government will work on that, will sit with them and is ready to bring them back.
Relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea
Question: You did visit Ethiopia, what is their position on creating a local administration for Lower Jubba?
President Mohamud: I visited Ethiopia recently, I also visited Djibouti and Kenya, and we have been welcomed warmly. We discussed [with Ethiopia] on bilateral issues and the challenges both countries face. We appointed a joint-ministerial level committee to work on the interest of the two countries in security, trade, economic integration and cooperation. Therefore our relation is on a good footing, and we are in agreement. Ethiopia stands by us in assisting expanding our government to the country; in creating local administrations, helping the local agendas of the government, and Ethiopia has shown its willingness towards this. We are in agreement on this with Ethiopia and Kenya both.
Question: Your government came at a time when Ethiopia was already having lots of influence in the previous government. It also came when Ethiopia itself was in transition following the death of the Prime Minister. Some may argue you could do without Ethiopia influence?
President Mohamud: No. Ethiopia was already there during the transitional period. Ethiopia is a major country with its system of government. Things don’t necessarily change with the disappearance or emergence of a new leader. During my inauguration, the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia led a large delegation including top ministers in Ethiopia government. Therefore, I don’t see it that way. Politics change regardless of who is in the charge of particular country. The current Ethiopian government and us have agreed on all points we have discussed, we will continue to discuss on outstanding issues, and we have mutual pledge to further improve our relations.
Question: What about Eretria, has there been any talks?
President Mohamud: No. There has been no contact between us and Eretria.
Question: Even though you have been praised during the four months you were in charge, nonetheless some others complained that you are being surrounded by friends of the same religious ideology and other friends who are from your political party, and they say you have shut the door to others.
President Mohamud: The Somali people are free to express their opinion; they can say whatever they wish to say. But I would like to state this: Somalis have negotiated and agreed under the [power sharing] 4.5 frameworks, they have not agreed to share [power] based on religious ideology or political parties. The government and the parliament are based on this 4.5 framework.
But the unfortunate thing is that someone wants to use measures that are not the same as those agreed upon among Somalis. People have the right to join Islamic movements or political parties and have the right to associate themselves with groups, I don’t control that. We are following on the principles that formed the government. I would also like to state that I, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, have never been a member of an Islamic movement, never been a member of Al-Islah, Al-Itihad, Qadiriyah or Salihiya. I am a Muslim, a Somali, who performs his Islamic duties. Anything else is propaganda, and I’m not bothered or troubled by that.
Piracy and employment
Question: The youth are vulnerable to be recruited by Al-Shabab or join piracy while others die in the high seas [in human trafficking]. What are you going to do about saving these youngsters?
President Mohamud: The way to save these youngsters is to create a living and hope for them. It is lack of hope that caused them to die in the seas or join Al-Shabab and piracy. The solution is to create a hope for them, but the hope is to find them employment, and employment cannot be created without restoring security. That is the reason security is imperative to this endeavor. If we attain security we can create jobs for them. Security will also give us the power to stop those who are trying to traffic and to stop them from dying in the sea and to stop them from joining Al-Shabab and piracy. There will be job opportunities given we succeed in the security sector. The government is busy on that front.
Question: Of course creating these job opportunities needs money. Based on your income resources from the port and airport and the external assistance, what is the size of your income?
President Mohamud: The revenues we generate at the moment and the revenues we are going to generate in the near future is not going to be enough to create jobs, but the little we generate and the assistance we receive can be used for one purpose – we can work on creating the environment or a space for job opportunities. The private sector can create jobs; the rebuilding of the country will create jobs, therefore our job is to create the atmosphere for this to happen. But the government cannot create itself 70% of the jobs that Somalis can survive on. Of course we can be part of the job creators as we continue creating local administrations, district and regional administrations. So the majority of job creation will come with rebuilding of the country.
Question: You have mentioned piracy, what is your government’s policy on piracy given that there are regional administrations that independently deal with foreign stakeholders in this?
President Mohamud: Our government policy is to stop piracy as a soon as possible. We have done a lot of efforts since we came to office. We do not have aircrafts and ships that fire missiles to fight against piracy. But we mobilized the Somali community. We mobilized Somalia such as the business people, elders and the civil society to talk to the boys [pirates] because they did not come out in the bush. We have received a positive response.
As you may be aware of recently we have secured the release of three hostages who were being held for three years. Six others were released [from pirates]. Up to 120 boys who were involved in piracy are ready to surrender to the government and at the moment we are working on arranging training and skills for them so that they will become useful citizens for the country. That is our approach to piracy. We don’t believe that a force at the sea is going to stop piracy. It may decline but then tomorrow they may return to piracy. The forces in the sea are not going to be there forever. But the Somali government effort is to address the culture that brought piracy.
Question: What can you tell us about the proposed London conference in May, we heard that you are jointly organizing this with the UK government?
President Mohamud: It is true; the British government is working on it. We have appointed a joint preparatory committee who are working on the agenda and invitations. I will be co-chairing the conference with the British prime minister. Dignitaries from the world are going to attend. But it's a Somali conference. The future and recovery of Somalia will be discussed.
Question: In the previous [London] conference Somaliland was part of the discussion; do you expect a similar approach?
President Mohamud: We recognize Somaliland as part of Somalia. There are certain circumstances that kept them where they are and we are discussing those issues. We are going to strengthen those talks. But the London conference is a conference for Somalia.