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Facing Down the Warlords

 

The new world order was born in Somalia, and quickly died there. After dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, rival warlords vied for power. Bandits and militiamen robbed everything of value, down to the copper electrical wire.


INTERNATIONAL FORCES intervened to restore order and provide food to the starving, but the warlords again prevailed. After a 1993 fire fight in which 18 U.S. soldiers were killed, foreign forces withdrew.

Now, for the first time in a decade, a provisional Somali government is trying to extend its authority across the country. Somali Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galaydh, a former professor of publicadministration at Syracuse University, was in New York recently to solicit support from the United Nations. Over breakfast at his hotel, he spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Jeffrey Bartholet.


NEWSWEEK: You’re alive. Is that a measure of success?

Ali Khalif Galaydh: Well, you don’t take anything for granted in my neck of the woods, so staying alive is a measure of success, yes.


How many legislators or government officials have been assassinated?

Two.


What happened in the recent ambush [by militiamen] of the Parliament speaker?

The speaker of the Parliament decided to go to his hometown. He went there in consultation with the elders of the town, and they greeted him and they assured him that everything would be fine. But a splinter group from the faction that the speaker belongs to deceived the elders.
We want you elders to bring us together and mediate,” they said. And they came with 10 technicals [gun-mounted trucks], and they started shooting. Unfortunately, about nine of the town’s citizens got killed.


Can you describe for me your office in Mogadishu?

At the moment, it is a number of rooms in a hotel.


What do they look like?

Very small, not much. I mean, at least we have computers and fax machines and printers. Even a shredder [ laughs ]. Next month we’ll be moving to proper offices. There were not very many usable structures in the city, so we had to wait until these were rehabilitated.


How much of Mogadishu is under your control?

Mogadishu is very much under our control. Now, the [warlords] don’t have clan support; they are fish without water. They might throw some bombs here and there; they might assassinate an individual. But we don’t want to engage them. We want to honor this commitment we made to the Somali people to use peaceful means. Individually or as a group, they don’t pose a military threat to us.


But you can’t open the port or the airport.

Purely for technical reasons. What we are worried about is that the port itself has barges and tugboats that are submerged. The airport is totally mined and nobody has a map of where the mines are.


Critics say your government is composed mainly of “war criminals” who served the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre.

As far as we’re concerned, that is to be left to the courts. We have nothing to hide. If the human-rights groups will show us evidence of crimes, genocide, whatever, we will definitely take steps.


Other critics are worried that your government is too strongly dependent on Islamic fundamentalists for your authority.

Somalis have been Muslims for over a thousand years. It is a tolerant Islam. Not only myself but a good number of people in the cabinet are people who studied in the West, in the U.S., in Western Europe. The type of movements people are talking about are threats to a good number of people in the cabinet and in the Parliament.


According to one estimate, there are 75,000 militiamen in your country. What are your plans to demobilize them?

We have about 6,000 of them in [training] camps. These are young people who are using their guns and weapons to make a living.


If they are given hope that they will have gainful employment in the future, they will disband, as they have done. We want to buy the weapons from them. We want to destroy these weapons. We want to give some training to these individuals, as mechanics, electricians, drivers—even togive them computer-literacy programs. Otherwise, these guys have nothing to lose.


Seven aid workers were killed in Somalia last year. Are you having trouble persuading international agencies to return?

We’re worried about that and we are dealing with some, I must say, political thugs who have no reverence for human life. We will do everything possible to work closely with the U.N., its agencies and with the NGOs. We will make sure that we deliver to some of these [warlords] the message that if they do this, they are going to be international criminals and they will be pursued wherever they go in the world.

 





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