The new Somali prime minister explains why 2011 is a window of opportunity that his country cannot afford to miss.
Things are changing in Somalia. If we seize it, this moment could be a turning point in our country's conflict.
New leadership in Mogadishu and a sharper focus from the international community is re-energizing the effort to bring peace and stability to Somalia. I took office in October at the request of Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, and the Somali parliament recently endorsed my plan to install a lean new cabinet of 18 ministers. Former President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings now serves as the African Union (AU) high representative for Somalia, bringing a widely respected African leader to the forefront of the AU efforts in our country. The African Union also recently expressed a firm intent to expand AMISOM's troop strength to 20,000 peacekeepers. In the short term, the U.N. Security Council is set, we trust, to authorize an immediate rise to 12,000. The Somali government, the African Union, and the international community more broadly are all committed to seeing our mission through together.
Meanwhile, the consequences for our military struggle have been clear. Earlier this year, our government controlled about a third of the capital, Mogadishu, to the insurgents' equal share. In recent months, however, our troops, in partnership with AU peacekeepers, have established control over territory that is home to more than 80 percent of the capital's population. Our forces have gone from fending off attacks against the presidential compound to actively taking ground from insurgents deep in their former strongholds, sending Islamist rebel-group al-Shabab and their foreign leaders into retreat and disarray.
Taken as a whole, these developments present an opportunity for us to break the cycle of chaos and violence that has gripped Somalia and the region for too many years. But this opportunity will not last for long. We as a government must act now to consolidate the gains of recent months. We must deliver the security and stability that the country craves. Above all, we must demonstrate to ordinary Somalis that we can make their lives better. Somalia has seen many false starts and missed opportunities, but this government is determined to succeed where others have failed. We simply cannot allow ourselves to fail, because the alternative is too dark to imagine.
Thousands of Somalis have fled from a reign of terror in the areas where al Shabab today holds sway. Perhaps no single incident reflects the horrors of al Shabab rule more than the recent murder of two teenage girls by militant henchmen, who executed the girls in the street after accusing them of spying. But al Shabab terrorizes Somalis every day. Mothers are forced on pain of death to give up their children to al Shabab recruiters. Any child resisting conscription risks the same fate as 17-year-old Ismael Khalif, whose hand and foot were cross amputated because he wanted to go to school rather than join the terrorist army.
Countless such atrocities have driven Somali public opinion to a tipping point. Our people are eager now to be rid of al-Shabab. In a recent poll, nearly three-quarters of Somalis questioned said they saw the Islamist group as a force of bad, rather than a force for good. Somalis are desperate for peace and a stable government, and we cannot let them down. Clearly the burden to deliver rests with us in the Somali government. We will not shy away from this responsibility.
But we cannot do it alone.
We all know what is at stake if we fail. Al Shabab confirmed its alliance with al Qaeda earlier this year. If al Shabab grows stronger, so will the influence of the international terror network, across the Horn of Africa and beyond. And al Shabab is already increasing its reach, as was shown in July when the group bombed World Cup spectators in Kampala, Uganda .
The world cannot afford to allow Somalia to become a haven -- or an inspiration -- for global terrorism. We are immensely grateful for the support we already receive from the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and other donors. It has enabled us to get to where we are now. Still, we need more international support if we hope to cement our gains against al Qaeda and its armed supporters in our country. At the same time, we understand that the international community needs a credible partner if it is to increase the already considerable support given to Somalia. Our new administration aims to prove that we are indeed worth the investment.
Our own plan for Somalia includes a few key points. Firstly, we will provide renewed leadership and professional focus in the executive branch. We will develop a constitutional framework built on respect for traditional Somali culture, religious values, and way of life. We will encourage this through both political leadership and grassroots activism. We recognize that our government is only a transitional one, intended to govern until peace can be established and the people of Somalia can decide for themselves how they want to be governed. We also know just how much the Somali people want that role in deciding their future. We therefore plan to propose a new democratic constitution that will pave the way for free and fair elections. To do so, we will undertake wide public consultation and hope to pass the new constitution through parliament before our current government mandate expires next year.
Second, we must strive to foster the security environment in which a democratic transition can take place. We will re-double our efforts to build a professional, trustworthy, and representative security force that will be accountable to the people whom they are meant to protect. This is an area where we need the particular help and expertise of the international community. We are already fortunate to have substantial support from donors, eager to see Somalia develop its own security forces. For example, 1,000 Somali soldiers completed military training in December as part of an ongoing program funded by the European Union in Uganda. They will soon join the fight in Mogadishu with EU-paid salaries. Still, the challenge we face is so enormous that more aid must be forthcoming if we hope to succeed. We need more resources to recruit, equip, train, and pay sufficient soldiers and policemen to take over the responsibilities currently held by AU peacekeepers. Restoring peace throughout Somalia is unlikely before August next year, but we will achieve it in Mogadishu. Security and stability in the nation's capital will be a major step forward and a demonstration of what can be achieved by a determined government supported by an equally determined international community.
Finally, we will work to revive the economy and provide jobs. Increasing economic opportunities through investment, training, health care, and education will be a key priority for my administration. Somalis are the same as people the world over. They want food on their table, a roof over their head, and a future for their children. Somalis are natural traders and entrepreneurs, and we must provide them the space for normal and legitimate commercial activity. We need them to create the businesses that will provide employment and the revenues that will drive the economy forward.
None of this will be easy. It will require the combined effort and energy of the whole Somali people in partnership with the international community. But it can be done. Success comes from hope, trust, and leadership. In Somalia, these have been illusive commodities for a long time. But there are now tangible reasons to be hopeful about the future. A definite momentum is moving things forward in Somalia. And we must not squander the opportunity. Peace and stability is possible in Somalia. It can be done, and the time is now.
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