Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed spoke to The Independent’s Andrew Mwenda.
Mr. President, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to interview you. Now Mr. President you were the leader of the Islamic Courts Union. One of the things I have heard is that the Islamic Courts Union was the first Movement in Somalia to transcend the politics of the clan and establish a common identity of all Somalis around religion rather than around the clan. So why have you now retreated to the use of the clan, which is a very divisive instrument, rather than the use of religion, which is a very unifying instrument within Somali society?
The current political system within the continuous interim governments that we head is based on the formula 4.4 which is ultimately representative of the clan-base communities in the country. Now the idea is to complete this process and we will ultimately go to the process of one-man-one-vote. So we want to complete this process and then go to the next political stage.
Given the thinness of the TFG army in its ability to control the whole country, do you think it will be possible next year to achieve a one-man-one-vote?
I believe that we can do this within two years.
Given that the al-Shabaab were an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union which you used to lead, do you still have contacts with them; do you try to establish communication with them so that you can possibly bring them to the negotiating table?
I don’t think the al-Shabaab are at the moment open to the idea of negotiation because even during the time of the Islamic Courts Union, which they joined later, they never had the same objectives and since then it has have become even more radicalised and it’s not inclined to the Somalia objectives. So therefore I don’t think they are up for negotiations.
So what type of solution to the al-Shabaab do you envisage; an outright military confrontation until they are defeated and do you think that will create peace?
We want two processes going side by side. One is the military operations, and we want that to continue. But another one is to make sure that we rehabilitate the defectors from al-Shabaab and any al-Shabaab who are willing to participate in the peaceful process.
We have read reports from the donors complaining that 70% of the money they give to the government of Somalia and about 70% of your own revenues is always stolen by your officials. What do you have to say about that?
We think those are baseless rumours; there are no facts to it and the idea behind this is political, to damage the leadership of this country but also to make sure that it slows down the current process in terms of the political and security progress that has been done in this country.
Your critics say that you were the leader of the Islamic Courts Union and when you took power the Americans came and bombed you out of power and once they had chased you out of power, they found you in exile and compromised you and then brought back not to do the prophet’s bidding but to do the Americans’ bidding.
I want to tell you one thing, Americans didn’t make me president; the Somalis did. And I am the same man as I was yesterday. Yesterday I was looking for peace; today I am looking for peace. Today I am looking for peace, government, and religion and unity.
Now that you are running for president again, what is your vision of Somalia? What do you want to see happen? Let me begin with the economy. What do you want to do for Somalia? What are the plans to rebuild such a devastated economy?
This country has a lot of resources in terms of agriculture, livestock, fisheries, minerals and the idea is to develop these. We also want to encourage investments by Somalis and the international community.
And assuming you are elected president, what will be the first things you would like to do to reconcile a country?
We have already started this programme in the capital, a lot of people who left 20 years, are coming back now to the city and we want this to be a national policy to go countrywide. But we also want to build and strengthen public institutions and provide all the services that people need
Mr. President I am told that there is a lot of inter-clan mistrust and mutual suspicion. How many of your closest advisers and people who stay in your inner circle are from clans other than your own?
The interpreter is from a different tribe and the state minister here is from a different tribe from the president and the deputy protocol. And this is the face of the State House that represents the country and this is the president’s vision for the country.
Do you think many Somalis like the state minister there in his office would have the same diversity and mixture; is it something you are trying to enforce across all government offices?
Very much so because we have seen the benefits of it. Somalis prosper together when they walk together. So we want this to be a national policy; a policy that we carry forward.
What do you think of the work of AMISOM, specifically the Ugandan troops here?
AMISOM have done a tremendous job. First when they got here they played an important part and of course we are forever grateful and we thank them.
Are there any problems you have encountered with AMISOM?
Nothing, nothing at all. We have a very good relationship.
But no relationship can be perfect. Would you find any weakness you have seen in AMISOM or advice you would like to give them through this interview?
For me up until they have been absolutely great.