Mogadishu, Asharq Al-Awsat—Abdikarim Hussein Guled is the Somalian minister of the Interior and of National Security. Born in 1966 in Hiran, a region in central Somalia, he went on to graduate from the Department of Management at the University of Science and Technology in Yemen. Since the early 1990’s he worked in the field of humanitarian services, and became the chairman of the Somalian office of the Kuwait based Africa Muslims Agency. Along with the Somalian president, he founded the Peace and Development Party, and became a senior leader.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Guled talked about the security situation in Somalia and the capital; Mogadishu; the war against Al-Qaeda and related groups; and the Somalian government’s effors to build a national security infrastructure. Guled revealed that Somalia is coordinating closely with the United States and a number of Arab countries on matters of security.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Tell us about the security situation in Somalia in general.
Abdikarim Hussein Guled: We are in an ongoing battle to restore the Somalian state, in various ways, both internally and externally. Regarding the current security situation, the government has begun to rebuild the military and to establish various security agencies such as the police and the intelligence service. We have succeeded in reasserting control over most provinces and cities in the country, particularly in urban areas. The next stage is to secure border crossings. This is a long and difficult process, but is necessary in order to stabilize Somalia.
Q: What about Mogadishu itself?
All the illegal checkpoints in the capital—more than 60 in total—have been removed. These checkpoints provided the armed tribal militias with a monthly income of more than USD 1.5 million. This dismantling was accomplished in a short timeframe, and without bloodshed. Bearing arms in the capital is now restricted to government forces and the supporting African Union troops.
Q: What is the truth surrounding the foreign security firms operating in Mogadishu?
The government forces consist of four sectors: the army, the police, the intelligence services and the Department of Prisons. Aside from these, there are no other governmental forces in Mogadishu. There are security firms that specialize in providing protection. Only six of these are licensed—four are foreign and two are local. These companies provide specialist security services that are authorized and legal. All their operations are registered, from the types of weapons and vehicles they use to the limits of the services they provide.
Q: What about the merging of security forces in the capital, which is currently being discussed?
These troops fall under a project to consolidate security in the capital, and do not consist of forces from outside the government. In total, there are 1,000 members of a select unit from governmental security organizations. They are highly trained and do not include foreign elements.
Q: Mogadishu recently witnessed the execution of Al-Shaba’ab members after they had been detained by the security authorities. What is the truth about these executions?
The executions did occur, and the bodies were stumbled upon. The important question that needs to be asked is who committed these incidents. Who were these people and how were they killed? All this is currently being investigated. We are also looking into whether the deceased had indeed been apprehended by the government authorities. Were they tried or not? Who killed them, and when? An investigation is taking place to clarify the circumstances of the case, and the findings will be officially announced.
Q: How are Al-Shaba’ab members dealt with once they are detained by the government authorities?
Those arrested that are affiliated with Al-Shab’ab are divided into two categories. The first consists of those that are arrested during combat. They are interrogated and investigated, then presented to the judiciary so that justice can be done openly and through public measures. Those who turn themselves in are dealt with in various ways. If, for instance, they pose a major danger to society and national security, they will be treated as a combatant and subsequently referred to court. However, if they do not pose a threat to society, they will be sent to the government’s rehabilitation centers, where Al-Shaba’ab members spend between six months and a year. During this period, Shari’a scholars and psychologists engage them in an ideological debate and correct the warped religious beliefs they embraced [when joining Al-Shaba’ab]. In addition, they are given the option of choosing a vocation. After they become proficient in this vocation, they are reintegrated in society. Their actions continue to be monitored until they turn into ordinary citizens.
Q: What is the truth behind the expected changes in the command of the government security organs?
These changes are taking place both in the structure of the security organs and at the level of command. At this stage, their needs and priorities are assessed and their elements are given good training. The purpose is to be in step with the many challenges awaiting these organs. Security is the government’s top priority. We should keep in mind that Somalia has emerged from a civil war that destroyed everything. Thus, building efficient and capable security organs requires good planning and a long time.
Q: How big is the security cooperation between Somalia and the United States in the war against Al-Qaeda?
Al-Qaeda is a transcontinental terrorist organization; it poses a threat to many countries, including our own. Thus it is logical for the threatened countries to cooperate in fighting it. We and the United States are threatened by Al-Qaeda. So, we cooperate with it in the war against this terrorist organization. We also cooperate closely on the security level with several Arab countries with which we have joint security concerns, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Yemen.
Q: When you arrest Al-Qaeda members, do you hand them over to their respective countries?
The handover is linked to our relations with the countries to which they belong. If there are prisoner exchange agreements, it is normal to hand them over to their own countries. In other cases, they will be punished based on Somalian law, just like those who hold Somalian citizenship. Convicted felons serve the sentences passed against them in the countries where they committed the crime.
Q: What is the relationship between Al-Qaeda elements and the pirates who attack ships off the coast of Somalia?
They both commit criminal acts inside Somalia. We do not have firm proof of an organizational relationship between them. However, there is some evidence indicating some sort of relationship. For instance, the pirates are active in areas under the control of the Al-Shaba’ab movement, which is loyal to Al-Qaeda, and they move in these areas freely. In some areas, the pirates find safe passage when they put out to sea. There is evidence that their actions are deliberately overlooked by the Al-Shaba’ab movement.
Q: It is said that a three-man axis monopolizes authority in the current government, consisting of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, Presidential Affairs Minister Farah Sheikh Abdulkader and yourself. How true are such reports?
This is mere political propaganda. The president is the head of state; I am in charge of the interior ministry, and the brother you mentioned is in charge of another ministry. However, I can assure you there is no three- or four-man axis governing the country. Each one has a special responsibility. The only special relationship among the three men you mentioned is that they are members of the cabinet.
Q: You recently participated in the Arab interior ministers’ conference in Saudi Arabia. What took place during this conference pertaining to Somalia?
First of all, I wish to take this opportunity to thank Prince Muhammad bin Naif of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the hospitality he accorded to the Arab delegations to the conference. Prince Muhammad is a pioneering figure in Arab security; he has excellent ideas in this domain. The meeting focused on combating terrorism and piracy, and an agreement was reached to help the Somalian government in combating terrorism and piracy. During my stay in Saudi Arabia, I also visited the Prince Naif University for Security Sciences and I was impressed with the thinking of the officials in charge of this university. I believe it can act as a model to the entire Arab world. Security in its broad sense comprises other important economic, development and cultural topics that have not been raised in the past.
Q: What is the status of the government’s efforts to impose its authority on the whole country?
There are three phases in the process of imposing government control. The first phase is forming temporary local departments in the areas that are under government control. This phase will last six months. The second phase is formulating a mechanism to select permanent elected departments in these areas; the central government should not impose these departments. The third phase is enforcing the federal system stipulated in the new constitution.
Q: How is this controversial federal system enforced?
The new constitution stipulates the federal system; however, it is the parliament that makes decisions on the detailed laws relating to the federal system. Most important of these laws are related to the number of federal districts, the area and borders of each district, and the wishes of the inhabitants of a district and whether they wish to join this or that district. There are also laws related to the relationship between the federal government and the local governments and the distribution of powers and resources. All this is codified by parliament. We want the system of government in the country to be governed by codified consensus and not the wishes of a ruler or an authority or a specific tribe.
Q: What is the position of the government on Somaliland and Puntland?
Regarding Puntland [a disputed territory in the northeast], I believe that it is qualified to be one of the Somalian federal districts in accordance with the new constitution. I personally visited this district and I value the stability that has been established there in the past few years. Moreover, the central government is determined to uphold this stability. As for the relationship with Somaliland, it too is in our opinion an indivisible part of Somalia. However, I admit that the people there have grievances, demands and complaints related to authority, development and political representation in the successive Somalian governments that were formed between independence and the early 1990s. Since the reason for these problems disappeared 20 years ago, I believe that the federal system is the most suitable solution to guarantee that the mistakes of the past would not recur. These days, we are engaged in negotiations and dialogues that were started by the government that preceded us. We are continuing these negotiations and we have agreed on many points. I have great hope that with the political maturity of the leaders and the people that we have accomplished over the past two decades, we will together restore the Somalian state that holds all citizens as equal.