Building Somalia's government from scratch
Building Somalia's government from scratch
After a decade, the process begins with the prime minister ruling from a
By Mike Crawley
Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Being a member of the new Somali Parliament is currently high on the list
of the world's most dangerous jobs.
The 245 MPs were selected at a conference in neighboring Djibouti last
August. Government members have been arriving in the capital gradually and
in recent weeks, one MP was assassinated while two others survived
separate attacks in which 12 members of their convoys died.
Security is just one of the myriad obstacles faced by the government -
Somalia's first after nearly a decade. There are no functioning
ministries, no tax system; the international airport and seaport have been
closed for years. The national currency is being printed at will by a
consortium of businessmen. Virtually all government buildings lie in
ruins, and secessionist administrations rule in the north of the country.
If the new government fails to meet the challenges, Somalia could once
again crumble into the kind of anarchy it saw in the early 1990s after the
overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Rival militias shot it out for
control of the capital, and even the US military could not bring peace.
For now, the government has its headquarters at the Ramadan Hotel, in the
small sector of Mogadishu it controls. During an interview in the hotel
garden, Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galayd acknowledges the challenges but
puts on a brave face.
"What is really making us very self-confident is we have the support of
the majority of the Somali people," says Mr. Galayd, a former academic
who's spent considerable time in the US.
Asked to name his top priority, the prime minister says: "Everything is a
priority. It's a question of priorities of priorities. The first one for
us is the security issue. The second is the rehabilitation of the
The government needs money for both. It wants to make Mogadishu's streets
safe by paying militiamen to hand over their weapons and training them for
new jobs. Reconstruction will cost a fortune, as the capital - once a
pleasant seaside city - is a shambles. Destruction is found everywhere one
looks, with scraps of blown-up vehicles lining medians and piles of rubble
where buildings once stood.
But at the moment, there's nothing in the treasury. While Western nations
have welcomed the formation of the government, they're not rushing to dig
into their pockets. Galayd and President Abdiqassim Salad - both of whom
served as cabinet ministers in the Barre regime - spent much of November
traveling to capitals near and far looking for financial support.
Galayd says Somalia has received pledges from a few Arab nations, but for
now, key Mogadishu business leaders are footing the government's hotel
bills and feeding some 5,000 militiamen who've already accepted the
Business leaders say it's in their interest to support the government.
Although they've operated unfettered by taxes or regulations since the
former government collapsed, they now cry out for an administration.
"If the government establishes peace in this country, that will do a great
deal of good for the business community," says Abdi Sabriye, manufacturing
director for NationLink, a Mogadishu conglomerate that includes a pasta
factory, a phone company, an airline, and a TV station. "With the heavy
amounts of money we are paying for our own security, the costs of
generating our own electricity and water, we think we would be a lot
better off with than without a government."
Despite the support of the business community, the government has yet to
quell the significant opposition it faces from the warlords. Although one
former armed faction leader, Ali Mahdi, has joined the government and is
now an MP, others, like Hussein Aideed and Osman Ali Ato, still issue
"We hope [the government] will succeed, but it would be extremely arrogant
to make any predictions about the success of the process," says a senior
international aid official.
One strong element in the government's favor is support from the local
Islamic courts, whose militia are widely credited with reducing banditry
in Mogadishu and surrounding areas over the past two years. But this
support has led to concern that the government is too strongly tied to
Islamic fundamentalist elements within the courts.
Despite setbacks like the recent assassinations, Defense Minister
Abdullahi Boqor Muse, says it's all par for the course: "Without accepting
some sacrifices, we can't have the government stand on its own feet."
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