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Interview With Newly Elected President Hassan

UN Integrated Regional Information Network, interview, 29 August 2000

Arta, Djibouti—Somalia’s newly elected president Abdiqassim Salad Hassan talked to IRIN in Arta, Djibouti, where he is staying temporarily in a government villa. Elected on 25 August—Somalia’s first head of state in 10 years—Hassan said he would appoint a prime minister and begin to put together a government of national unity. In the first interview since being sworn in as president on Sunday, he told IRIN he would return home to the capital, Mogadishu, this week.

QUESTION: Now that you have been elected and sworn in, what is the next step?

ANSWER: Well, I think the next step is to form the government. We will nominate the prime minister and then we will form the government.

Q: And what sort of dilemmas are there in choosing a prime minister?

A: As in all the affairs of Somalia today, the dilemmas are many. On this question we have to consult different parliamentary groups and we have to see who is the right man. In a parliamentary democracy the prime minister should have the majority of the parliament and its confidence.

Q: How are you going to deal with the warlords?

A: Well, I’m not going to deal with the warlords actually, I’ll be dealing with the people. I have every confidence in our people. From what I know, there are demonstrations of support in many parts of Somalia, especially in the south. There is no basis of support for certain warlords in the south. In the north, the case is different. So for the warlords, I think some will be ignored and others we will have a dialogue with. Ultimately it will be the people who will force them to change course—they cannot stand against the will of the people, their own clan. Everybody is here (in Arta, Djibouti)—including the sub-tribes, certain elements, certain warlords in the south and their supporters. So I’m very optimistic that it won’t be a problem. And I am going to Mogadishu. Mogadishu is the capital of Somalia and I am the president of Somalia.

Q: Will you go soon, or do the threats by the warlords concern you?

A: No, I don’t think there is any serious threat. We have been under constant threat for the last ten years; but not because of the warlords but because of the proliferation of weapons and youngsters on the streets of Mogadishu. I don’t see any special threat and I will go to Mogadishu as soon as possible.

Q: When?

A: When depends on certain arrangements, like transportation.

Q: Your critics say you are too closely allied to Islamic fundamentalists.

A: I have no such alliance, and I don’t know them. I am Muslim by faith; I have respect for other faiths, like Judaism and Christianity. This is personal business. State affairs are state affairs. Personal beliefs are personal beliefs. They are separate elements. As for fundamentalism, I never support extremists. This is what fundamentalism means. I am against extremism, whether it is religious or ideological.

Q: You had a high profile in Mohamed Siad Barre’s government. What was your relationship with him like?

A: I was a member of Siad Barre’s government. Let me state there are, right now in Somalia, three generations. The first generation of independence are largely dead or of a very old age. The second generation is my generation, and practically everyone of my generation had a role in twenty years of government. That was not Siad’s government, it was the nation’s government. Siad was the president, the man who was leading Somalia for 20 years. Everyone who was in Somalia—intellectual or otherwise—served in one or other capacity in that administration. Not necessarily as a minister, but in any other capacity. So that generation is the generation who can run the government now. And because of that they have been chosen to be members of parliament; they have been chosen to be leaders of parliament; and I have been chosen to be president. The third generation is the generation of the 10 years (of civil war), who are not in a position to lead. So, Mohamed Siad Barre’s era is in the history of Somalia. I was part of that history—I was a minister and involved in that. But one has to distinguish between those who committed crimes and those who were against the crimes that were committed. If the people of Somalia, through their representatives, knew that I was a criminal, or misbehaved or misappropriated funds, they would not have chosen me as president. So I am confident it is not a black spot, either for me or anybody else who served when Mohamed Siad Barre was there. But if there were some who committed crimes, they have to face justice.

Q: How?

A: I am the president of Somalia. There is a law, there is a charter. The law of the charter will apply to everybody who committed a crime under Siad Barre or after.

Q: What do you think the biggest obstacle is now to forming a government of national unity?

A: I don’t see any such big obstacle. We have to consult with different groups, parliamentary groups, so that we come to a decision over who is the best to serve as prime minister. Of course we have to look at the country in its different geographical positions and clan composition, and what will best compliment the government—who should be hired, or at least participate in it.

Q: What role do you see the donors and international aid agencies taking now?

A: I think the new government of Somalia will establish certain principles and rules for the donors and international agencies. And according to this, everyone who wants to help Somalia will follow those rules. In the last 10 years in the country, there was, according to my knowledge and understanding, a lot of chaos in this international assistance. We have to maximise the usefulness of that assistance to the Somali people. In order to do that, we have to have a mechanism.

Q: After you were elected on Friday night, when you were finally alone, what was most on your mind?

A: (pause) The heavy responsibility on my shoulders, was on my mind. The practically nearly impossible task in front of me was on my mind. The cooperation of the Somali people everywhere—whom I need in order to succeed—was on my mind. These, and other considerations, were on my mind. They still are.