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Your Excellency, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, Mr. Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar
Your Excellency, Ambassador Nur Hassan Hussein, former Prime Minister of Somalia
Mayor of Mogadishu and Governor of Benadir, Mr. Mohamoud Ahmed Nur,
other distinguished guests and friends of Somalia.
Welcome to Norway and to Oslo.
It is a great pleasure to be here at the opening of this important and very timely conference on the current situation in Somalia and the difficult issue of combating the problem of radicalization. I would like to congratulate the organizers – the “Nordic Union of Somali Peace and Development Organizations” – for this initiative, and for standing up to face the challenges this involves. I think it is particularly important that these issues can be discussed also in a broader Nordic context, and for this reason I would like especially to welcome our friends from the Somali Diaspora in the other Nordic countries.
When we talk about the problems in Somalia, we often forget the great “hidden” resources the country has in its large Diaspora around the world. But we know there are regular and close contacts between the Diaspora and people on the ground in Somalia. The Diaspora therefore has a unique potential to influence what is happening back home, and for this reason the Somali Diaspora has to be part of any lasting solution to Somalia’s problems. This means that you and all your Diaspora friends both have opportunities, but also responsibilities. I therefore strongly hope the Somali Diaspora in all the Nordic countries will use their influence in a positive and responsible manner; to renounce violence and terrorism, and instead to support peace, stability and development of Somalia.
Even if many people in this country may think that Somalia is far away from Norway and the Nordic region, we all know that geographical distances are of less importance in the global community we live in today. Air travel, instant tele-communications and internet have brought us all together in a way that was unthinkable just a few generations ago. This means that what happen in a seemingly far away country like Somalia also affect us in our part of the world, whether we are of Somali origin or not.
We therefore cannot ignore it when innocent people in Mogadishu, or in other parts of Somalia, are killed because of violent clashes between different armed groups, or die from hunger and malnutrition, or are forced to flee from their homes with their families to save their own lives. In such cases we all have a responsibility to help in the way that we possibly can; both with humanitarian assistance to those people who are suffering and in dire need, and also through whatever measures we may be able to take in order to stop the bloodshed and encourage mediation and peace.
In the same way we also have a responsibility to speak out when governments or people in positions of power are severely violating basic human rights, and to take action to prevent criminals - or some self-styled activists with distorted ideas – from creating mayhem and destruction to other people’s lives. All this is part of the international standards for human rights, the protection of civilians and the humanitarian principles that we subscribe to and believe in.
Most of Somalia has been in a situation of crises and lawlessness - and without any effective central government - for the major part of the last twenty years. It is first and foremost the ordinary people of Somalia who have had to pay the price for this situation; suffering from violence and war, from starvation and death, and from suppression of freedom and opportunities, while large parts of the country have been devastated and ravaged.
As a consequence Somalia has often been seen as a continuous hotbed of political and humanitarian chaos and crises, and has in the rest of the world mostly been associated with violence, with refugees and IDPs, and with militias, terrorists and piracy; making the country something of an international villain. And this has also been causing a lot of problems and prejudices for Somalis living in the Diaspora, who in spite of the fact that they have fled their country to get away from these problems, still often are identified by what is going on in their country of origin.
This becomes particularly acute with the growing concern in many countries about Islamic radicalization, extremism and terrorism, as “al-Shabaab” seem to be actively following the lead by “al-Qaida”, and through their internet propaganda and otherwise are recruiting young and vulnerable people for so-called “jihadist” operations both inside Somalia and abroad. We have already seen examples of this activity also in the Nordic countries, and it is important that the Somali communities here are aware of this, and also through this conference show their willingness and determination to combat the problem.
But at the same time it is also important that we in the Western countries do not confuse Islam as such with terrorism. We should steadily remind ourselves that throughout history - and in many parts of the world - we have seen examples of extremist groups that in the name of religion have resorted to violence in an effort to achieve some stated political or other objectives, or to enforce their own views on other people. The point is that such activities cannot be tolerated in any orderly society, and therefore have to be curtailed by political or other means.
Norway has for many years been actively involved in the East Africa/Horn of Africa region both with humanitarian and development assistance, and in supporting peace and reconciliation efforts. Our total assistance to Somalia has in recent years been around 35 – 40 million USD, of which almost 2/3 have been various forms of humanitarian assistance and emergency aid.
But even if humanitarian aid may relieve some of the immediate pain, it cannot resolve the underlying problems that are causing the crises. We have therefore also over the years been trying to assist and support a number of Somalia peace and reconciliation efforts; from Arta in 2000, through the IGAD conference in Kenya (2002 – 2004), that lead to the Charter and the Transitional Federal Institutions, as well as the Khartoum initiative in 2006 for talks between TFG and the ICU.
We were also one of the co-founders of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Somalia aiming at a better coordination of the international efforts to assist Somalia towards achieving peace, security and stability. And we were working very actively together with UNPOS and the former UN SRSG to support the Djibouti-process in order to broaden the basis of the TFG through reconciliation with the then ARS.
At the time we were hopeful that the Djibouti agreements might create the basis for a more viable and sustainable process of reconciliation and peace in Somalia. We were therefore deeply disappointed when the extremist groups turned their weapons on the new President, and continued the arms struggle in an effort to topple also the new and more broad based political institutions. This showed clearly that there was another agenda behind these groups than to rebuild the country and improve the lives of the Somali people. And the consequences have been just more destruction, suffering and displacements for Somalia and its people.
For this reason security has become an overriding concern in the last two years, not least in Mogadishu, which also has hampered the ability of the TFG to make any progress on what should have been their main transitional policy objectives. We should certainly all be thankful to AMISOM, and to Uganda and Burundi, for the great efforts and sacrifices they have made to defend and to protect the Somali institutions. This has been vital to prevent the extremists from attaining their goals, but security and stability in the long run cannot be achieved through military means alone, and certainly not by foreign troops, no matter how many may be brought into the country.
Lasting peace and stability can only be built through a political process, and this is why we believe it is now essential that the TFG address the transitional tasks before the end of its mandate in August this year; like finalizing the work on the draft constitution, and providing the basis for a new legitimacy beyond the present transitional period. This could - and should – also be used actively in an effort to expand the reconciliation process by bringing wider groups into the political process, and thus undermining those extremists who are trying to force their own ideology on the people. There is a battle going on also about the hearts and minds of the Somali people, and if the TFG shall win this battle it has to prove to the ordinary Somalis that it can perform; that it matters, and that it has a program to improve the lives and the future of the people.
The international community has so far stood solidly behind the TFG, even if there have been lots of challenges and problems. Recently some major donors have indicated that they may now be starting a second track by also supporting some of the regional regional administistons which seem to be functioning reasonably well - like Somaliland and Puntland - and also Galmudug and Benadir have been mentioned. We believe the TFG should take this “Dual-Track Approach” both as positive gesture and as a warning. A positive gesture because this may be assisting the TFG in reaching out to areas of Somalia where the government is not able to do so. But also as a warning, that unless the TFG itself is making far greater efforts to deliver some basic services - and thereby to gain the trust and support of the people - it may gradually make itself less relevant to the population.
We welcome the new TFG that was approved by Parliament just a few weeks ago. It is indeed a very new and much leaner government than we have seen before, where most of the ministers have a Diaspora background. But they will certainly face some tremendous challenges in the months ahead in trying to steer Somalia safely through the rest of the transition period. I shall therefore be listening with great interest to what the Foreign and Deputy Prime Minister may be telling us about the new government’s plans and priorities, and the way in which they plan to tackle the challenges before them.
I also hope that the Diaspora representatives here may speak out their mind, and that the minister before he returns to Mogadishu may get some valuable views and advice from the Diaspora groups also here in the Nordic countries.