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Chatting with Farmajo
Former Prime Minister Speaks to SR About Mahiga and Plans for the Future
Former Prime Minister Mohamed Farmajo
Former Prime Minister Mohamed Farmajo
On February 28, Somalia Report interviewed the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, in his Mogadishu office. In his comments Mr. Mahiga referred Somali members of parliament as future war criminals, accused former Transitional Federal Government (TFG) prime minister Mohamed Farmajo of clawing his way back into power, and referred to the TFG Islamist faction Ala Sheikh as al-Shabaab militants without the arms. The remarks drew intense criticism from TFG President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed—who described Mr. Mahiga's clothes as having "fallen off" (in other words, that he had embarrassed himself)—as well as the Somali press.

In an open letter to the Somali people on March 9, the SRSG indirectly addressed the remarks he had made in our interview:

"I remain deeply concerned by the conscious efforts by groups and individuals to derail the Roadmap, engineer another extension of the transition and to obstruct inclusiveness which the Roadmap and the Garowe process seek to accomplish.

I regret that my comments have been interpreted in some quarters as anti-religious and counter to freedom of political expression as well as a criticism of the Executive Branch of government. I apologize for any misunderstanding. On the contrary, my goal was to highlight the dangers inherent in any one group exerting undue political influence due to their proximity to political power. Over the past week, I have had a series of productive and enlightening discussions with religious leaders, elders and statesmen concerning the Al-Sheikh group and their interpretation of Islam. In these discussions, my interlocutors confirmed their support to the Roadmap process and, for my part, I reaffirmed my enduring commitment to the overall success of the Somali peace process. I encourage and welcome political pluralism in the runup to ending the transition in electing the next leadership as well as of the post-August dispensation."

This week, Somalia Report interviewed former PM Mohamed Farmajo, with the aim of giving him a chance to respond to Mr. Mahiga's allegations, as well as discuss his political aspirations for the August national elections.

Mr. Farmajo, are you intending to run for the TFG presidency in August?

I haven’t come to that decision yet. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Hopefully what we can do first is come together and organize, after which we will decide as an organization what we will do next as far as taking part in the election process.

Can you tell us more about the political party you have recently created, Tayo?

We call ourselves Tayo, a nickname that means “quality.” When I was prime minister, I assembled a very technocratic cabinet. We did everything in a different way: established a budget, started paying civil servants and soldiers, even established a veterans’ center.

We created a center for 400 orphans who had lost their parents in the war. We brought back SNTV (Somali National Television) for the first time in 20 years. We repaired roads, schools, hospitals. We showed ourselves to be workers.

We ended the culture of impunity, established that people who commit crimes should be punished, and that someone who kills should be executed. As a result, soldier-on-soldier killings went way down.

We increased morale by paying salaries, which is why were able to defeat the extremists. When I first came, they were one kilometer away. Their bullets reached my window.

All of this was unorthodox, something people had not seen before. People thought we were “quality” - that we were professionals and technocrats. By using this name we don’t have to explain who we are — it’s self-evident.

What we are planning to do is to announce our platform on March 31st in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when we will share with the public what we are planning to do and what the organization stands for.

We came to the conclusion that it’s time to have an organization, so we can take part in the election process this August.

In his interview with Somalia Report SRSG Augustine Mahiga suggested that you were "fighting tooth and nail" to stage a comeback, and were orchestrating a takeover of parliament. How do you respond?

I was shocked to read that, and it was unexpected, because usually you’d expect someone in that high caliber position to employ diplomatic language. Of course we expect of him to be more neutral. The language he used was not healthy, to tell you the truth.

And I’m sure his colleagues at the UN may not be proud of someone who makes such high level decisions speculating on what’s not true.

The SRSG seemed to suggest that you had a hand in the recent formation of the Islamist party Daljir, which comprises, amongst others, the Ala Sheikh faction. Is he correct?

Ala-Sheikh has been part of the government. They have members in parliament, they are close to the president, and they are not a violent group. And anyone who is not violent should express their views in a democratic way — that’s what democracy is all about. People will decide who they vote for, and who they can elect — maybe based on religious beliefs, maybe secular beliefs, maybe character. But that’s is not the decision of Mahiga or anybody else — that is up to the Somali people.

As far as my involvement, there is none. I’m not a member of that. At same time, I would welcome anyone who would start an organization who wants to participate in the Somali democratic process peacefully. That excludes Shabaab, or any other organization that promotes violence.

To answer, I was not expecting these sorts of comments. I would expect that kind of language from someone who’s part of Somali political activities — even though I’ve never been affiliated with any religious organization — but certainly not from anyone representing the Secretary General.

Do you feel that the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) unfairly took sides against you during the horse trading that led to the Kampala Accord?

Mahiga played a very active role. That’s how I would like to end this specific question. Because I don’t want to be part of a war of words in the media. I don’t want to discuss it any more.

But he played a very, very active role, and a time will come that I will publish a book that will explain step-by-step what happened, but I don’t want to discuss it further now. I want to take the high road.

Are you worried that the SRSG might try to impede your potential presidential bid?

Any future Somali leader should be decided by the Somali people. We need to have a government by the people and for the people, not to be decided by the foreign agents. In order to have peace and stability in the country the Somali people have to decide what type of leader they want to have.

Any UN representative or member of the international community should play a neutral role in the Somali political process. To help Somalia stand on its own feet again, but not engage in political activities, otherwise they will lose focus and their mission. Their mission is to bring peace and stability, and to bring the different groups together so they can negotiate.

So I think they should facilitate that, but if you take one side against the other, you will lose the essence of neutrality and credibility, and I don’t want that to happen to Mahiga or anyone else.

What is your view on the outcome of the London conference

The London conference was a success. Over 50 countries gathered to discuss issues. Great Britain is finally using its prestige to end the crisis in Somalia.

However, you can bring a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink. The Somali people should take advantage of this opportunity to pull together and find solutions for our country. Vulnerable women and children have suffered for over two decades. It is time to say “enough is enough” and to act together and do what we can in order to help our nation.

I’ll ask you the same question I asked the SRSG: do you think August will bring an end to the “transition,” or will it go on indefinitely?

I think we have been in this transitional period for over 10 years, and during that time we've had about nine prime ministers, so that we’ve had roller coaster governments, with no continuity.

I believe that the international community has clearly articulated its demand to end the transitional government by this August, and I hope that comes to fruition because we need a permanent and stable government that will not change every year. The way it’s been is that every year there’s been a new prime minister, and that means a new government that starts from scratch. It causes stagnation.

That’s not a way to build a stable nation. To build a stable nation you need continuity, something to build on.

I believe the transition should end, as the US Secretary of State Madame Hillary Clinton has sufficiently talked about. As well, every leader has articulated that the transitional government should end, and I hope it does. I hope there will be a new beginning.

Now that al-Shabaab is being pushed back in many regions, who will fill the power vacuum?

One thing I’m always in favor is recruit and train the Somali national army, so they will effectively fight their enemies. That is something that should be worked on in the long term.

The short term is what you hear going on—these skirmishes taking place near the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders.

That’s the short term. The long term is to increase the quality of the TFG forces so they will be able to fight effectively against al-Shabaab.

Thank you, Mr. Farmajo.

Somalia Report also spoke to Somali transitional member of parliament Awad Ahmed Ashareh, who requested the opportunity to respond to SRSG Mahiga’s comments. Ashareh has served as an MP for seven years, and currently chairs the Parliamentary Committee for Information, Culture, and Heritage.

Thank you for granting me this chance to respond to your article, “Chatting With Mahiga.”

Mr. Mahiga’s statements were offensive, lacking in diplomatic awareness and also reflects his not knowing why he’s there. He’s in Somalia to facilitate the conflict resolution and try to bring together those who are having conflicts.

So his statement is absolutely against that mission, number one.

Number two, he accused some parliamentarians of being warlords, others spoilers. We want Mr. Mahiga to clarify these statements, and we want to tell him that we have the right to oppose any statements or programs or intrigues that are against the sovereignty of Somalia, and the well-being of the Somali people.

I was disappointed also with the statement of the president, who said that “the clothes fell from Mahiga.” That was not the right approach. He could have used a better way: his foreign minister could have summoned Mahiga to his office and asked him to clarify whether he said these statements or not. And then, if he confessed, they could have declared him a persona non grata. He has damaged the image of the Somali state, since Villa Somalia represents the Somali state, which he accused of harbouring "unarmed Shabaab" groups. So we feel that labeling of the president as a harborer of al-Shabaab damages both the integrity of the president and the state of Somalia.

And it's also an insult to AMISOM (African Union peacekeepers), who are fighting against al-Shabaab. AMISOM's mission is to fight al-Shabaab, and Mahiga is implying that they are protecting them, since they are defending the president.

So if Mahiga admitted to these statements, he should have been declared persona non grata by the president?

No, not by the president, by the government.

I was also astonished that the government has not taken measures to address these labeling and abusive statements. So I’m urging the foreign minister to take the necessary measures to safeguard the dignity and the integrity of Somali citizens.

What measures, exactly?

I recommend that he calls Mr. Mahiga, and if he fails to respond, he could write a letter to the Secretary General, stating that his representative failed to comply with the Charter of the United Nations. As we are a member of the United Nations, we deserve respect and mutual cooperation.

Mr. Mahiga also expressed strong views that the parliamentary impeachment of the House Speaker Sharif Hassan Aden was illegitimate. What is your response?

He has no right, because parliament works according to the (Transitional Federal) Charter as well as the rules of procedures.

The ousted speaker (Sharif Hassan Aden) has created conflict in the parliament by instigating and sending some MPs to fight within the parliament. So he has to take responsibility for damaging the image of the parliament as well as being involved in the confrontation that occurred...

The situation is very critical, and it was embarrassing how Mr. Mahiga was taking sides. He met four days ago with the current speaker (Madobe Nunow Mohamed) and the deputy speaker, and asked them to hand over the program of the parliament for the coming months.

He has met several times with the current speaker, telling them confusing statements.

What sort of statements?

That I will reveal later.

Some people think that these statement are coming from the United Nations, because Mahiga is working for the United Nations. And there’s a hidden agenda in place.

Mahiga always says that parliament doesn’t back the Roadmap (to end the transition), that’s not true. We just want to legalize it, make sure it goes through the government.

The way Mahiga is handling the constitution is illegal. The process is half-cooked, because they’re not taking the input of the parliament. The public has not had any input.

Thank you, Mr. Ashareh.