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Transcript of interview with PM ahead of Somali conference

PM: "the commitment that Britain has to trying to lead the international community and help Somalia find its feet and increase its level of governance, stability and prosperity... is second to none."

BBC Somali Service

My first question is Somalia has been a failed state for more than 20 years. Why now a conference on Somalia?

Prime Minister

Well, it matters desperately for the Somalian people themselves that we make progress but it also matters for the rest of the world. And while the problems are very deep and the challenges are very great, I do see some signs of progress. I think we see that in terms of what AMISOM have achieved in Mogadishu, I think you see it in terms of the growth of these entities below the region of the Somalia state itself and I think the world is now focussed on this issue.  I think that al-Shabab, which has been extraordinarily destructive, is now on the back foot. So, I think for all these reasons there is some hope that we can chart a better way forward so that Somalia becomes more of a functioning state.

BBC Somali Service

How hopeful are you that one day conference will have a bearing on the situation on the ground?

Prime Minister

Well, I think what a conference does is it focuses people’s minds and it focuses them on some specific outcomes. You know, can we make sure that AMISOM is properly funded and properly staffed so that it can do a good job? Can we make sure that the whole of the world engages with Somalia in terms of its aid and its assistance on a consistent basis? Can we
make sure that we’re tackling the piracy problem properly, that we’re building the prisons that are needed to put the pirates away? Can we make sure that other countries are looking at protecting their shipping in the way they do in the UK? So there is a whole set of checklist actions that need to be taken. There is not one of them that will make a decisive difference, but taken together they can create some momentum so that we really start to tackle this problem. 

BBC Somali Service

You mentioned the piracy. What’s your position on arming the merchant ships?

Prime Minister

Well in the UK we have done that. We’ve said that it’s right for merchant ships to have armed guards on them.  That does seem to give them additional protection.  But you are only dealing, if you like, with the symptom rather than the cause. We’ve also got to make sure that when pirates are arrested, they can be tried and imprisoned. We’ll get some good outcomes from the conference on that I hope.  But the real cause is actually as you say that Somalia hasn’t been a functioning state, there hasn’t been the rule of law, there hasn’t been proper
governance, there hasn’t been proper livelihoods for people. And so we’ve got to put in place all of those building blocks.  Now, the Somali people themselves are starting to do that and the aim of this conference is to get behind them and help them to do just that.

BBC Somali Service

How real is the security threat from Somalia to the UK?

Prime Minister

I think the security threat is real, it is substantial. It is based on the fact that al-Shabab is an organisation that has now explicitly linked itself to al-Qaeda and it encourages violent jihad.  Not just in Somalia, but also outside Somalia and there’s a very real danger of young British Somalis having their minds poisoned by this organisation. So, there’s a terrorist threat that is current today and that, if we’re not careful, could get worse.

BBC Somali Service

Is there any scope of diplomacy towards al-Shabab?  After all, there has been talks or conversations with Taliban in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister

Well, I think al-Shabab has just taken the step of linking itself specifically with al-Qaeda and that is a desperately backward step. What I would say is that clearly there are young people who take up arms in Somalia and we need to say to those people, ‘Don’t do that, give up that path.  You’re joining an organisation that is now an international terrorist organisation.’  Instead let’s give this country and its young people the hope of a job and a voice. We can see all across north Africa the prospects of an Arab Spring where people actually start to
have more of a say in their country and how it’s run.  And that should be the case in Somalia as well as in the Arab world.

BBC Somali Service

The breakaway Republic of Somaliland is attending the conference and seeking independence.  Are you prepared to grant them independence?

Prime Minister

That is not what this conference is about. And I very much admire the progress that Somalilanders have made in terms of building their economy and building their society and putting in place some of the elements of governance that a country needs. I think that’s to be admired.  But this conference is not about recognising Somaliland, that’s not the British plan. The British plan is for there to be good and proper relations between all the various bits of Somalia and that’s the basis on which we go forward.

BBC Somali Service

Senior members of your government have been engaging with the Somali community in the UK including yourself. What do you see their role in rebuilding Somalia?

Prime Minister

Well first of all I think it’s right that the British government should acknowledge that the 200,000 or so Somalis in Britain, British people, they make a great contribution to our country and we should be doing much more to try and include and integrate and work with them here in the UK. But they also, I think, have an enormous role to play in the future of Somalia, not least because it’s actually international remittances from Somalis all over the world that has actually helped to keep the Somalia economy afloat.

Now, I think it’s vitally important that we work with the Somalia community here in the UK because they are quite influential players in what the politicians in Somalia themselves think.  So I want them to be included as part of this process.

BBC Somali Service

The Prime Minister of Turkey, when he went to Mogadishu he took a 200-strong delegation with him, most of them business people.  How many are you going to take with you when you go to Somalia?

Prime Minister

Well, that one day - what I would say is the British government clearly is very engaged; William Hague has been to Mogadishu - my Foreign Secretary.  Andrew Mitchell, the aid Minister, has been both to Mogadishu but also has visited Somaliland. Britain is the third largest contributor in terms of aid to Somalia after the US and the European Union, and of course we contribute to the European Union as well. 

I don’t have any travel plans right now but the commitment that Britain has to trying to lead the international community and help Somalia find its feet and increase its level of governance, stability and prosperity - our commitment is second to none.

BBC Somali Service

Do you have the support of the regional governments that have been engaged with Somalia for so long?

Prime Minister

I think we do in terms of Somalia’s neighbours. I’ve had meetings over the last few months with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, with the leaders of Tanzania, Kenya, others, also a lot of discussions with the Gulf states. And I think the important thing here is to try and encourage all of the world and also the neighbours in the Arab world and the Gulf world to engage with Somalia in the same way, on the same basis. If we all have different agendas, then that is going to make the process of trying to rebuild Somalia that much more difficult.

BBC Somali Service

Prime Minister thank you very much for talking to the BBC Somali Service once again.

Prime Minister

Thank you, pleasure.

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