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Don’t pull out just yet, Somalia PM Abdi Farah Shirdon pleads with Kenya Defence Forces

Somalia' s Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

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In the wake of the Westgate attack, a visibly enraged President Uhuru told the Government of Somalia to ‘put their house in order’. Standard on Sunday’s senior political writer, OSCAR OBONYO sought Somalia Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon’s response and reaction to a host of other issues, including the al-Shabaab threat, the presence of Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia and Mogadishu’s stand on the ongoing Uhuru/Ruto cases at the ICC. Below are excerpts of the interview:

STANDARD ON SUNDAY: Let us begin with President Kenyatta’s remarks. He was clearly angered by the involvement of some Somali nationals in the attack and the porous Kenya/Somalia border. What is your reaction?

PM SHIRDON: Our house is not outrightly disorderly. However, I understand your president’s pain and concern. Al-Shabaab is a common threat and their actions are a source of pain to all of us in this region. When Westgate happened, I personally called President Kenyatta to condole with him and the Kenyan people.

Is Somalia in any way to blame for the rising insecurity in Kenya?

Cases of terror attacks in Kenya are indeed regrettable. Terror neither knows colour nor race, and no nation willingly abets such a global crime. Besides Kenyans, citizens of other nations, including Somalia, perished in the Westgate tragedy. Having lived near Westgate for over a decade, I am personally touched by this tragedy.  

Kenyans feel they are being deliberately targeted because of their government’s decision to enter Somalia to pursue al-Shabaab. Comment.

The attacks are not necessarily because Kenya entered Somalia to pursue al-Shabaab. Terror threats by al Shabaab, which operates alongside al-Qaeda, have always been there. This can be demonstrated by the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam way before KDF entered Somalia.

But al-Qaeda, not al-Shabaab, executed the 1998 attacks. In fact al-Shabaab was not even in existence then.

Correct. But al-Shabaab is a networked international terror group that currently operates under the wings of al-Qaeda. Separately, I want to appeal to our Kenyan brothers and sisters not to regret the decision of pursuing terror gangs in Somalia or even contemplate pulling out just yet. We are in this together and we will continue to cooperate by sharing intelligence reports and securing our border.

Some still view your citizens living in Kenya with suspicion, and there have been proposals that refugee camps holding Somalis be closed down.

I can only appeal to the Kenyan Government and people to first cool down. The Somali, like other Kenyans, share the same destiny and values. And remember that those who died in Westgate have no uniform colour or nationality.

Revisiting President Kenyatta’s sentiments, are you putting your house in order?

Somalia has witnessed many challenges over the last 22 years including conflict, war, poverty, drought, famine and now the terrorist threat. We are just emerging from an otherwise failed state to a country with law and order, peaceful and secure. We now have an operational public service and have also established an investment law. In summary we have put in place a recovery plan and recently signed a related pact with the European Union (EU) in Brussels (Belgium) worth $ 2.4 billion.

What about gross violation of human rights including rampant killing of journalists?

My government has made incredible progress with regard to human rights, following the setting up of a human rights task force. To date 19 pieces of legislation on investment, media and touching on other areas have been developed. Five legislations have so far been passed by Parliament.  

The sight of old and collapsing buildings with bullet holes and cracked walls is a common feature in Mogadishu. Are there plans to reconstruct and beautify the city?

Somalia’s was a socialist government and it is not the policy of my government to take away or re-allocate private property to new individuals. When we are ready we shall take over buildings and renovate them.

From observation, my guess is that security is your government’s priority.

Precisely. Security is top priority and we have secured salaries and allowances for the forces for the first time after 22 years. Equally, my government has intensively lobbied the United Nations and for the first time an embargo on purchase of arms has been lifted.

Our focus, meanwhile, is to enhance the capacity of the Somalia National Force in terms of training and efficient weaponry. It is imperative that we also win support from the international community in order to execute our recovery plan.

The presence of KDF in Kismayu, on the other hand, has particularly been received with mixed reactions. Do you support the view that they should withdraw from Somalia?  

We are very thankful to the efforts and sacrifice of the Kenyan forces in helping us smoke out Al Shabaab and we still need them here. Through them we have made crucial strides in this war and secured a number of towns including Kismayu, Marka and Baidowa. The Somali people will have the final say on this matter and about their country.

And how would you describe your relations with the Kenyan Government?

My government has strong brotherly relations with Kenya and even at a personal level with the President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. We intend to keep it this way.

Finally, Mr Prime Minister, what is your take on President Kenyatta and his deputy’s on-going trials at The Hague?  

Somalia is a member of the AU (African Union) and we accordingly support the position of AU on the ICC matter. 


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