On April 1, 2009, the Brookings Doha Center hosted a luncheon with the recently-appointed foreign minister of the Republic of Somalia, His Excellency Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar, to discuss the new unity government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, brokered by the Djibouti peace process, and the prospects for reconciliation, security, and reconstruction in the country. Foreign Minister Omaar opened by providing a background of conflicts that have beset Somalia since independence and instigated deep-rooted fragmentation in Somali society. He highlighted the democratic elections held throughout the 60s, Siyaad Barre’s military coup of 1969, and the Ogaden war of 1977. Foreign Minister Omaar explained that the Barre regime wrought a culture of instability and violence on the country, which eventually lead to the complete disintegration of the state and a 20-year civil conflict.
Foreign Minister Omaar referred to the election of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and the appointment of his cabinet, as a new beginning for Somalia built on the principles of inclusivity in political participation, fair representation for all sectors of society in all branches of government, and peaceful reconciliation. The new cabinet consists of previous government officials as well as members of the Somali diaspora, including the Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister. Foreign Minister Omaar iterated that the diversity of the cabinet reflects Somalia’s commitment to engaging all Somalis in national politics. In addition, he stressed the importance of the new government ending hostilities and achieving peace in the sub-region of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti and Sudan a top priority of the Somali government. Foreign Minister Omaar maintained that political understanding and economic cooperation with these neighbors is vital; 50 to 60 years of conflict in the Horn of Africa has had a limitless impact on the region in the form of wasted talent and resources.
The Foreign Minister also emphasized the significant role of the international community vis-à-vis the reconstruction process in Somalia. In Doha for the Arab Summit, Foreign Minister Omaar confirmed financial, material and political support from various Arab countries, particularly the GCC. He also discussed the most urgent issue for the international community: piracy. Foreign Minister Omaar firmly stated that piracy must be brought to an end because of its impact on global commerce and security. He added that, in an effort to tackle it, 500 Somali troops have been deployed in strategic localities in addition to the NATO and other counter-piracy forces in Somali waters.
Following the Foreign Minister’s remarks, he fielded questions on security, extremism and legitimacy. He explained that the reconstruction of basic infrastructure, capacity-building, and the reinstatement of civil service would not be feasible unless the police force and army were effective on the ground to enforce the rule of law, specifically in the southern region of the country. On a question regarding legitimacy, Foreign Minister Omaar stressed that an allegiance to non-violence sets this government apart from others in recent Somali history. When probed about current extremist threats, Foreign Minister Omaar upheld that the current government engages radical elements of Somali society such as the armed groups in Kismaayo and Baidoa so as to integrate into them into the political process. Foreign Minister Omaar was optimistic that policies such as this would usher in a new period of peace, security and stability.