New Somali leader will need support, says Djibouti

January 29th, 2009 | by addis portal |

DJIBOUTI (Reuters) – Somalia’s new president will need a stronger mandate and international financial backing to stand a chance of bringing stability to the Horn of African nation, the president of neighboring Djibouti said.

President Ismail Omar Guelleh, whose nation is hosting Somali reconciliation talks and a presidential election this week, said the international community must stump up money to build a viable local police force.

“He can do it, provided he is given some support … If there are some changes to the constitutional charter, and if he’s given the financial resources, he can stabilize the country.”

The 61-year-old president, who has ruled the country of some 800,000 people since 1999, was speaking to Reuters late on Wednesday in the colonial-era presidential palace that overlooks the city’s port, the mainstay of its economy.

The two frontrunners at the moment for Friday’s Somali presidential election are Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the moderate Islamist leader from the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS).

The new president’s first challenge will be to bring security to Somalia after 18 years of fighting between feuding clans, warlords, Islamist insurgents, government troops, African peacekeepers and the Ethiopian army.

A force of 3,500 African peacekeepers controls part of the capital Mogadishu, but elsewhere in Somalia militias and Islamist fighters hold sway.

The biggest threat to the government since the Ethiopians pulled out this week is a hardline group of Islamist fighters known as al Shabaab that wants to impose a strict version of Islamic law throughout the country.

But Guelleh said many in al Shabaab were just clan-driven bandits with no ideology other than to steal or kill — not warriors for a hardline Islamist cause as often portrayed.

“They know nothing about religion, just how to kill,” he said. “Now, they are hiding behind al Shabaab.”

STRONG MANDATE

Some diplomats have been pushing for a 10,000-strong local police force, and Guelleh said many young militia fighters would probably join up if given the chance.

“Once they have an institution that tells them ‘you are going to be paid, you are going to have a salary, you will be able to get married’, most of them — except the most hardline who will need to be fought — will join with the government.”

He said it made no sense for donors to pay a fortune for peacekeeping troops when plenty of Somali policemen could be hired for $100 a month: a much cheaper option than the forces sent to Sudan’s Darfur region or Democratic Republic of Congo.

Guelleh also said it would be better to concentrate power with the president and make the prime minister more of an assistant, like the vice president in the United States. 

“He has to be given a mandate and they should put an end to the state with three heads,” Guelleh said, referring to the roles of president, prime minister and parliament speaker. “The president must be given the chance to turn things around.”

The previous government was hamstrung by constant feuding between former President Abdullahi Yusuf and the prime minister. Yusuf was accused of blocking peace efforts and quit in December, triggering the election process.

Somalia now has 550 members of parliament, a number some politicians feel is simply too unwieldy for a country of 10 million people that has lacked central government since 1991.

Guelleh’s country, like Somalia’s other neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia, has taken in thousands of Somali refugees from the anarchy and conflict of the last 18 years.

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