No going back

Only recently, we were the world’s worst failed state. Look at us today.

In recent days a court case in Mogadishu has attracted attention all over the world. The details of the case are not for me to comment upon here - it is sub judice as an appeal is under way – but what surprised me was that the commentary did not include any reference to the most remarkable thing about it: that the case was happening at all. Only several years ago, justice in Mogadishu meant a Kalashnikov. Today it is delivered in courts.

Somalis are encouraged by the re-emergence of an independent judiciary, whatever its faults at present. They have responded positively to the government’s refusal to interfere. It is important to respect the new institutions of a fledgling democracy, not ride roughshod over them. Justice must be allowed to take its course. If we find due process has been abused in any way, then appropriate action must be taken.

I start with this example to illustrate the important point that justice in Somalia is, like most other things here, a work in progress. It is unrealistic to expect a fully functioning, transparent judiciary to emerge in the immediate aftermath of Africa’s longest civil war. I have been quite clear that reform of the judiciary and police is at the heart of my government’s programme. We have already started this task and our direction of travel is positive.

As my government approaches its 100th day in office, I would like to share some of our recent achievements and the challenges we face.

To begin with the most dramatic development, security is our people’s greatest concern, our number one priority and our number one success. Only recently Mogadishu was close to being completely overrun by the foreign-led, Al Qaeda-allied Al Shabaab. Thanks to our brave fighters and those of Amisom, the insurgency is on its knees, our city has been liberated and, to quote a recent report, “the sound of hammers has replaced that of guns” as Somalis return to rebuild homes and businesses, lives and careers.

In December we removed 60 illegal checkpoints that were extorting more than $1m a month in bribes from innocent civilians in Mogadishu, replacing them with police and security forces. The story doesn’t end in the capital. Since the end of last year, we have liberated the towns of Kismayo, Marca, Jowhar, Wanlaweyn, Janale and Awdeghle towns, where we are working hard to develop representative local authorities and deliver local services.

Talking of representative government, our political institutions, like other organisations in Somalia, are in their infancy. How could this be otherwise in a country eviscerated by more than two decades of conflict? Yet after eight years of difficult transitional authority, we managed the move to a fully-fledged government smoothly and entirely peacefully, after what a recent UN report on Somalia called “the most transparent and representative” election in more than 20 years, the first held in Somalia during that period.

We now have a lean, effective Cabinet – how many countries in the world can boast of having 10 ministries? Then there is a robust and lively legislature, which has already made its mark under the excellent leadership of Speaker Jawari, who presided over 46 sessions in the first four months of the parliament’s life. Fifteen sub-committees will be holding the government to account in the spirit of parliamentary democracy. A permanent Human Rights Commission will address the troubling record of human rights abuses, especially the killing of journalists and sexual violence against women.

To judicial reform, security turnaround and political development, we must add the beginnings of economic recovery. Poverty and unemployment, the natural legacy of war, are widespread in Somalia. We are making progress by creating a conducive environment for economic recovery. We have instituted strict public finance management rules and are steadily establishing transparent and accountable public finances. Tax collection is a priority that will lay the foundations of a normal, functioning economy. We have energised the Central Bank.

Economic growth will come from a combination of the public and private sectors. By creating the conditions for peace and stability, we have enabled growing numbers of Somalis from the diaspora to return home. They are voting with their feet, taking up positions in government, starting new businesses with the resilience and commercial acumen for which Somalis are world famous, investing in new opportunities, employing their fellow citizens. All these are steps in the right direction.

There is no sense of complacency in this assessment of our achievements. We know the challenges we face are formidable. We need time to build institutions, time for economic recovery, time for reconciliation and time to create lasting peace and prosperity. We have planted a sapling and must now allow it to grow, with the ongoing support of our international partners, for which we remain deeply grateful.

I am optimistic because I recognise how far we have come in such a short time. Only recently, we were the world’s worst failed state, with the most dangerous city in the world, home to a rampant Al-Qaeda led insurgency. Look at us today. We are on the right path. Somalia has turned a corner, and there is no going back.

About the author

Abdi Farah Shirdon was appointed the new Prime Minister of Somalia in October 2012. The Federal Parliament approved his appointment by a large majority. In November 2012, Shirdon named a new ten-member Cabinet after extensive consultations with local stakeholders. You can follow him @SomaliPM.

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