Rebuilding Somalia: Whose role and responsibility? Interview with Mohamed Aden Sheikh

Interview with Dr. Mohamed Aden Sheikh, former representative of the Somali government (1970 - 1982) and active member of the Somali Diaspora in Italy.


The Somali Diaspora

Q: In respect to the worsening of the crisis in both the political and humanitarian fields, are the efforts of the diaspora growing? Or do you think that the motivations are bringing pessimism rather than a positive solution?

A: I don't think, as things stand now, the two states of minds are contradictory. In general, the Somali diaspora has not diminished emotionally and informatively. Somalis, wherever they are, communicate with each other using all possible means (just think there are over 3000 websites in Somali!) to exchange information, opinions and possible short-term strategies. There are those who put forward viable solutions and propose less painful interventions and there are those who contribute to deepening the ongoing fratricide. Many activists belonging to the diaspora believe that Somalia is a stage where some actors are fronting for other less visible players who are experimenting or trying out new forms of limited warfare. The aim of soliciting Somalis in the territory, including those called upon taking governmental responsibility, who can't untangle themselves from tribal, religious, personal and group nets, has not given significant results so far. Coordinators, who were nominated in an intercontinental assembly meeting in London, have dispersed with some ending up in local political debates (distributed in terms of clan affiliation — formula used: 4.5 -, or religious sect). But pessimism slithers on, especially among the youth who cannot understand the reasons behind this permanent conflict between brothers.

Q: Does a shared cultural background still exist or is the Somali diaspora losing its roots? In regards to this, what is your perception of the aforementioned cultural background among the younger generation, also known as the 'lost generation', within the country and abroad?

A: Thanks to the introduction of writing in 1973 (in Latin letters), the Somali language has allowed many to continue cultivating culture and national aspirations. Wherever two Somalis meet, they converse in Somali, telling Somali stories and especially stories about the failings. What is defined as 'the lost generation' is almost never composed of the first generation which still receives residual inspirations from their conservative parent's background. A worrying aspect is actually the introduction of teaching Arabic, the official language of the Muslim religion, because a religious alibi could bring many young people in the country as well as those of the diaspora, to change from Somali to Arabic, a more profitable language here and beyond! We are probably on the brink of a forced acculturation here.

Q: In the case of Somalia, what do you think of the attention paid by international organizations, governmental and non, to the Diaspora as a propeller to development in the country of origin?

A: The diaspora can obviously be used as a means of development, including returning peace to the country. But two conditions must be met: 1) some windows must be open for a non-suicidal entrance to the country; 2) that investments be made on these people. Let me explain: many of these of people, I would say the most significant part of the diaspora, are busy with their own survival and that of their relatives. They are academics, workers in various sectors such as doctors, medical assistants, janitors and much more. They have children in different grades and they definitely cannot leave everything without any resources for long-term objectives. Therefore, if the international community wants to help Somalia to rebuild itself, many people need to be hired for specific projects with adequate compensation.

Future scenarios

Q: In your view, which are the most macroscopic internal and external political responsibilities of the Somali crisis?

A: Apart from the fact that the so-called responsibilities are not quantifiable, I'm leaning towards a greater Somali responsibility. After Siyad Barre's fall, Somalis have not been able to forget for a moment the ancestral clanic 'ridda' — clan conflicts, so as to take charge of the re-founding of their institutions. Perhaps the notion of a 'nation state' was too recent, to comprehend how precious the institutions, which were holding it, were.

The macroscopic responsibility of the so-called 'international community' has deep and long-running roots. In my opinion, if the military expeditions in 1992 (imagine over 30,000 military men coming from about 30 nations!) had been utilized in a more meaningful way while carrying out peace-making strategies, destruction could have been prevented and thus the people's flight avoided! Ambassador Oakley, the American diplomat responsible for the first expedition, literally said during an interview with Paris-based 'Afrique-Asie' that the mission was not expected to disarm any group in the conflict. Their mission was to have humanitarian aid reach those in dire need and avoid having it intercepted by warlords, who had just organized themselves as such. That was an opportunity to re-establish order and institutions. Another crucial opportunity, that many consider marginal, was to teach the belligerent parts to resolve problems by the method of 'majority' and prevent actors on stage from using consent as a veto.

In fact, from that point on, Somalia was abandoned to its fate, except those times when a fragile government, which wasn't able to govern outside its perimeter walls, was put up.

Q: Do you think there is a political road that could be followed in order to stabilize the country? If so, what is or should be the role of the international community on it? What do you think the probable scenario will be in Somalia in the next 10, 20 years?

A: I believe the most convenient and most convincing road to take is to stabilize the present government, without taking closer looks of its origin or origins (to use the clanic method is the worst!); without using it for vested interest and especially with a strong control over resources for security and reconstruction. Without transparency and accuracy of the resources, there will always be an opportunity to call the government a thief and accuse it of ëkleptocracyí where all will work to get their share without care.

If the international community will recognize and sustain with its own weight and presence, welcoming plenipotentiaries of the government which is being organized; if it will strongly lead and direct resources in the right direction, I believe it will have done a worthy job. The people of Somalia have not come from the other side of the moon, and in spite of their 20-year conflict, they will know how to adjust to serious stimuli which could come from external forces, even though it seems tougher to achieve with the new arrivals such as Al Shabaab (the young integralist rebels, born from an Islamic spine). I want to deceive myself in imagining that within 5-7 years, Somalia will be able to reform and resume its place among nations.

Q: Referring to the recent disembarkations of irregular migrants in Lampedusa and its colonial past, is it reasonable to believe Italy as an important and reliable interlocutor to overcome the Somali crisis? If so, what do you think would be the right strategy?

A: The disembarkations in Lampedusa and the difficulties refugees face in Italy, a country with whom they have shared two centuries worth of experiences, are not elements which bring solace to a privileged relationship in respect to other countries pertaining to the international community. Even many western countries (and others) saw Italy as the closest and most sensitive country to the Horn of Africa, the base of its former empire. As a matter or fact, when Gianni De Michelis became Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italian politicians, perhaps driven by pressures put on by companies and businessmen, successively lost interest in those countries and preferred to establish economic and political relationships with other African countries (as well as Latin-American countries) who were thought to give more beneficial and larger market opportunities and raw materials. Successive governments did not change their policies (except a brief initiative taken by former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patrizia Sentinelli, who only lasted for a season). Italy sent a political representative to Nairobi (including some ambassadors living in Nairobi, and usually at the end of their career!), whose only credential on record, among Somalis, was to have contributed to the election as Head of State one of the most ferocious and near-sighted warlords.

Italy will have a rather vital role, which will be to reunite the energies surrounding this problem from the Somali community. There have been several attempts to do this in the past, but always with the clear intention to favour this or that clan faction, or female grouping, relatives or friendships, which as we can see, have left no traces. Something more serious and more durable must be done now with a few investments backing those who decide to return to their country of origin, but following structured projects and with the objective of sustaining the reconstruction of institutions.

The task of guiding that country towards independence and the formation of a democratic and righteous State was in fact entrusted to Italy with A.F.I.S (Italian Administration of Somalia, 1950-1960). Its role today would be of no lesser importance, and such a commitment would be greatly appreciated on an international level and by Somalis themselves. It would also be more gratifying for Italy.

Dowload pdf version in Italian

Interview by Flaminia Vola

Translation from Italian to English: Chiara Doris Moriconi and Arthur Muliro

Mohamed Aden Sheikh (Dr.) is former representative of the Somali government (1970 - 1982) and active member of the Somali Diaspora in Italy.


Photo Credit: whiteafrican/flickr