GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs hosts conversation with Somali prime minister on prospects for peace and prosperity in the African nation.
By B.L. Wilson
For decades the people of Somalia have endured military strife and suffered manmade and natural disasters of drought and flooding that led to a breakdown in the country’s social, economic and political infrastructure, uprooting nearly 1 million Somalians to refugee camps in nearby countries, Europe and the United States.
The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs hosted a luncheon at Alumni House Tuesday in honor of the recently appointed Prime Minister of Somalia Hassan Ali Khaire. Introducing him, Elliott School Dean Reuben Brigety II said that in addition to a brief turn at the airport in Mogadishu during his time as assistant secretary of state for refugees, he spent a good deal of time in Somali refugee camps, noting that he’d also visited Minnesota, a reference to one of the largest Somali communities in the United States.
In all those places, Dr. Brigety said, refugees repeatedly implored, “Just bring peace to our country so that we can go home.”
For the first time in a generation, Dr. Brigety said, Somalia had turned pages in a way that will allow the next generation of Somalis to know nothing but a country at peace with itself.
Mr. Khaire recalled the history of a country that was an elder in the 1960 emergence of African independence, ultimately overshadowed by stories of despair and destruction. The country was placed on a path to re-establishing democratic institutions in February 2017 when Somalia’s parliament elected a new president.
“The resilient people of Somalia have charted a new path away from violence, poverty and instability toward a brighter future,” he said.
There is a general consensus in the Somali administration, he said, to focus on improving security, strengthening the rule of law, ending corruption, ensuring public service delivery and responding to the needs of drought-affected populations. This is guided by principles of inclusivity and participation for all, including women and young people.
Until recently, Somalia most often made headlines for the pirates operating off its coasts and terrorist group Al Shabaab’s attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries.
“In tackling the security situation in Somalia,” the prime minister said, "we all know, as proven elsewhere, that a military approach should be combined with an effective political strategy if we are to sustain gains made in Somalia. . . and assure that the trust of the people lies with the government.”
In addition to a peaceful transfer of power, he said, the country has already started implementing a comprehensive development plan to rebuild its economy, which focuses on agriculture, fishing and livestock and is expanding into areas of telecommunications.
Already underway, he said, is a project aimed at employing thousands of young people to give them hope and a sense of purpose in life.
Dr. Brigety led the conversation with the prime minister and a room full of mainly Elliott School students and faculty by asking for concrete evidence that Somalia just three years out of civil war had finally turned the page.
The prime minister laid out several indicators of the ongoing transformation that is taking place in Somalia, the first being the resilience of its people who survived without a functioning government and managed to still conduct thriving businesses. Another element, he said, is the weakening of Al Shabaab, which is not just because of military actions.
“We are winning the war on ideology, on terrorism simply because we are providing good governance,” he said, “promoting accountability and trust.”
The confidence in the government is a factor in the growing number of defections among Al Shabaab terrorists, including top leaders, he explained, which was not happening five years ago.
He expressed gratitude for the support of the United States, European countries, NATO forces and AMISOM, the African peacekeeping force, for helping to maintain peace in Somalia and control pirates who operated in the area. But, he said, it also pointed to the need for a strong Somalia national army as a way forward.
He said it is important for the rest of the world to see Somalia as Somalians see themselves.
“We understand Somalia for what it is, a country with vast resources, with a lot of potential, with a strategic geographic location and linkages of religion and cultures across the world which has a lot to offer the world,” Mr. Khaire said. “We are no longer a nation that thinks we need a handout.”