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New Somali Government Faces Daunting Challenges

Somalia's new cabinet has been in office for just over a week, and already it is facing tough demands to end violence, establish rule of law and raise the war-weary population out of poverty. The government, which came together after two-years of peace talks, is currently working out of Nairobi, and its first priority will be to relocate to Somalia.

When Somali human rights activist Nura Abdulahi Hagi talks about her home country, she speaks of mass killings, rapes, executions, and, in her words, everything that can be against the human being.

Her country has been in a state of anarchy ever since civil war broke out in 1991 following the overthrow of then-leader Siad Barre.

For more than a decade, warlords and their militias loyal to specific clans and sub-clans have been battling each other and civilians for control over certain areas, with no central authority to stop them or to provide basic services, such as health care and education.

But now that a new government is in place following two-year peace talks that were held in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, people like Ms. Abdulahi are saying it is time for change. "What we are recommending [to] the new government is to respect the rights of all the civilians in Somalia in [an] equal way - no discrimination, no violation - and to respect all the international documents that Somali government have already signed," she says.

Somalia is a signatory to several international human rights conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ms. Abdulahi and fellow activists told reporters in Nairobi Friday that they urge the new government to put an immediate end to human rights abuses and violence in Somalia.

Pressure on the new government is not only coming from activists, but also from within its ranks. Earlier this week, a minister of state in the office of the prime minister and several assistant ministers resigned from the Cabinet, saying it was too large to be effective or sustainable. They said that, when ministers of state and assistant ministers were factored in, the 34-minister Cabinet swelled to almost 80 members.

Former Assistant Minister Abdalla Ali Ahmed explained that Somalia simply cannot afford a Cabinet larger than about 25 members. "We feel that the current Council of Ministers is too big for a small nation that has been in war for a long time. We believe that it is not financially and economically feasible to have one-third of the parliament appointed. It is financially and economically burdensome, and it is inefficient, in terms of administration, and in terms of actual effectiveness," he said.

Money is a big problem for the new administration, which, among other things, must set up offices and services virtually from scratch. The government is still located in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, but is expected to return to Somalia soon.

Early this month, the United Nations and a group of aid agencies launched a funding appeal to raise $164 million to pay for emergency assistance, health care, education, food reserves, support for good governance, human rights promotion and other services.

According to the United Nations, most of Somalia's almost seven-million people live in poverty, with an estimated 400,000 internally displaced and another 400,000 Somalis living as refugees, mostly in the region.

Probably the biggest challenge to the new government is the bloodletting that continues to tear the population apart.

The medical aid agency, Doctors Without Borders, reported that, since December first, at least 42 people were killed, more than 100 wounded, and hundreds displaced when rival militias clashed in the central region of Galgudud.

Somalia's first deputy prime minster, Mohamud Jama, told VOA his government is committed to stopping the fighting and abiding by all the human rights conventions Somalia is party to.

But, he says, after more than a decade of civil war, the new administration needs to lay a lot of groundwork to bring about sustainable peace. "As to what can we do immediately, I think that you cannot just protect human rights. The first thing is to establish all the rule of law institutions: the police, the judicial system. And, of course, we're not even in a position to violate anybody's rights, because we don't have any weapons and forces. We are counting on the Somali people's readiness and desire for peace," he says.

The deputy prime minister said the Cabinet is relatively large, because the government wants it to be as representative as possible of Somalia's many groups. He said this is an important way of bringing about reconciliation in the country.