x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Somalia replaces extremism with a programme of reform

The seeds of recovery and stability have been planted in Somalia, the country's prime minister writes. But there is still much to be done.

When I stood in front of a large gathering in the city of Dusamareb last week to discuss the delivery of public services, I couldn't help thinking how important it is for a Somali leader to get out of Mogadishu and listen to people in the regions. To be discussing policing, tax collection and judicial reform in Galgadud, a region that only recently was a no-go area ravaged by extremists, gives you an indication of how far we have come. Only recently we could barely move safely inside our own capital.

Somalia's story now is that of a fledgling democracy taking the first steps of reconstruction and development. Somalis are returning from the diaspora in growing numbers to set up new businesses such as airlines, telecoms companies, banks, hotels and restaurants. They are rebuilding their homes and lives after decades of dislocation. No longer are we referred to as "the world's worst failed state", dominated by terrorism, piracy and humanitarian crisis. The seeds of economic recovery have been planted and must now be watered.

All this has been engendered by a transformation in security. Our brave forces in partnership with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) have driven Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and its foreign, Al Qaeda-inspired ideology has been comprehensively rejected by Somalis. We now control most of south central Somalia and are securing major roads between Mogadishu and important centres like Baidoa, Beledweyne and Kismayo. But although Al Shabaab is on its knees, it still poses a threat and the fight is not over. We must show that what replaces extremism is immeasurably better.

In newly liberated areas like Galgadud, we are assisting local communities to set up their administrations to deliver public services rapidly to secure their support. To call that a challenge in a country starved of government for two decades is an epic understatement.

Now that the war is largely over, the siren call in Mogadishu is for reform. How do you build a government from scratch? The answer is with great difficulty, but the progress we have already made is impressive.

Laws are the foundation of a functioning state. My Cabinet is sending a stream of new legislation to parliament for debate and approval. In the coming weeks, parliament will vote on laws covering human rights reform, judicial reform, and district and regional authorities reform. We will also be passing legislation restructuring the police and security forces, creating specialist anti-terrorism, anti-piracy and anti-trafficking institutions, governing the Central Bank, assisting refugees and providing legal aid.

Judicial reform is one of our greatest priorities. This is not just because we have had a court case in Mogadishu that attracted the word's attention recently. Nothing underlines the need to reform our police and judiciary more than the decision to send a rape victim and the journalist who interviewed her to prison. Yet that regrettable verdict was a symptom, not the cause, of the problem, a lack of the rule of law.

This cannot be established overnight. It will take time to develop. In the meantime, the most effective way to allow an independent judiciary to flourish is not to interfere when it gives unpopular verdicts. We are in the business of nurturing new institutions in Somalia, not throttling them at birth.

While there is no shortage of challenges for Somalia, there are some that the international community must also address. For years our international relations have been conducted on a one-way basis, invariably on a humanitarian level. That model is now an anachronism and must change.

We are a sovereign government, the first recognised by the US in more than 20 years, and the outside world needs to start treating us like one. It is no good criticising our lack of government capacity and then funding NGOs to execute projects while sidelining government institutions altogether. This merely perpetuates a cycle of dependence, denies us the learning experience and ensures government capacity remains limited. That may satisfy NGOs, but it is of limited service to us.

The outside world needs to adjust to new realities here. We are in the process of putting in place strict public finance management rules guided by the principles of transparency, accountability and credibility. These have been praised recently by the World Bank and USAID, among others. Parliament has approved a regular budget and we are reintroducing tax collection, which has been entirely absent since the civil war. These new systems will mitigate against corruption, that scourge of good governance in Somalia and the downfall of all too many governments in Mogadishu.

I am confident that the world will respond positively to the changing situation in Somalia because there are already signs to that effect. Villa Somalia, the presidential palace, has never been busier. In recent days we have hosted high-level visitors from the US, UK, Turkey and the EU. The need for partnerships with our international friends, which the world will see at the London Somalia Conference in May, has never been greater. We know that we cannot do it alone, but there is no turning back.


Abdi Farah Shirdon is the prime minister of Somalia

On Twitter: @SomaliPM