19 May 2007 04:24


  • Title: [SW Country](Jumhuuriya) Interview with Robert Oakley, former US Ambassador to Somalia. 
  • Posted by/on:[AMJ][29 July, 2000]

Interview with Robert Oakley, former US Ambassador to Somalia. 

Ambassador gave the following exclusive interview to the editors of Jamhuuriya and The Republican                          [Waraysiga oo Af-Soomaali ah Ė Guji halkan]

Q- After what happened in Mogadisho during the UNOSOM a great number of American officials still keep holding grudges against all Somalis regardless of who took part in the bloody incidents of 1993-1994 or not.  Isnít it time for the US to look at those incidents differently and now begin to know more about the Somalis instead of associating everybody including Somalilanders with what had happened in Mogadisho more than six years ago? 

A- I think that is a very good question and comment both, I agree with you. But I would say itís not Somalia that the United States needs to learn more about. We infact need to learn more about much of the world. Right now we seem to be lecturing to the rest of the world, telling them What to do in our way.  Part of the problem that emerged in Somalia somewhere in 1993 was the fact that we were trying to impose a US style government upon Somalis.  Some of Ďem didnít like it. Rather work things out together, which is what we were doing in the beginning, we seemed to be saying ďthis is the way it has to be doneí. That produced resentment which in turn produced full little conflict which developed to full military conflict. It wasnít all one side. You are right the Americans donít seem to understand that very well. But it was a great embarrassment obviously to President Clinton early in his administration. However our elections are coming in November. President Clinton will be retiring and I think at that stage there is gonna be a lot of  rethinking not just about Somalia but about the entire world.

We have to think about it much more carefully than we have been doing recently. So not only Somaliland was involved but most Somalis were not involved in what happened by accident if you will; by a series of mistakes on both sides which ended up with the United States and the UN fighting against not just one group of Somalis.

Somalis have a reputation that if they are attacked from the outside they all come together. While I was here as Ambassador from  1982 to 1984, Ethiopians made a mistake. They thought Siyad Barre was weak when they as you might recall they invaded some parts of Somalia (areas in central Somalia and further to the south). But then everybody come together behind Siyad Barre. It is something again we can not understand. So Eideed was popular but when he was attacked by the US and the UN he became much more popular.

Q- Though democracy is thriving in Somaliland, however people may not be able to practise it fully due to institutional constraints. Is there a possibility for American organizations to provide support to Somaliland government institutions and civil society groups in terms of capacity building to enable them play a more effective role in deepening democratic practices in this country?

A- Yes, one can do that. At the same time you have to remember the United States is going to be very careful about the opinion of the OAU. We are not going to, as a government, to promote the independence of Somaliland.

But yet the internal process in Somaliland is important and I think there is room for help and I promised the President when I got back Iím gonna see what I can do to get some assistance for you in those areas. Because if you put assistance in those areas to the same sort of good use you already put in other areas, it wonít take much.

May be you will be able to find some people who come out to give you some help. But I think what you are doing on your own is much more important.

It will be your process not some one elseís process. During the early days of UNITAF I would always say to local leaders Ďwe need to have some authority that we can work with on humanitarian as well as security affairs.

You decide what you want and do it any way you want, be it the traditional way or by vote---you can do it by consulting the Islamic or Clan leaders-- any way you want except you canít do it by guns any more. I had a big fight with Eideed when he complained that at certain places his governors no longer have any respect (unless they use guns). I said to him the only reason they had any respect was because of the guns and as they became unable to use their guns any more, people had thrown them (the governors) out. I reminded him that guns can no longer be used to impose political will; and that he had to find another way. I pointed out that some of other governors were still there because they were working with the people while those who had been working against the people were gone. And I think what you have here in Somaliland is clearly the outcome of a Somali style meetings that lasted 4-6 months that produced a natural consesus. Sometimes I wish we had something like that in the United States.

Q- As a long time observer of Somali affairs how would you assess the current Djibouti conference which is being held in a backdrop of previous failed attempts to resolve the Somalia crises?

A- I donít know what is going on in Djibouti but seeing so many of the same old people, I would be surprised if you get any thing but the same old solutions.

 And even if you have something on paper, that doesnít mean it is going to happen. Though itís true to some degree in the US as well but I noticed in Somalia over the many years that something on paper doesnít necessarily mean it is actually going to happen.

We had this big conference in Lusaka about the Congo, a year ago. They signed all sort of things but nothing has happened. But in Somaliland you can see a lot of progress because things are not talked or written about but you see them happen. That makes it very impressive. If we can see something like that in the South I think everybody will be happy.

I would be surprised but I will be happy if this came out of the conference in Djibouti.

Q- Siyad Barreís former military officers have been assigned by the Djibouti conference to formulate and implement a disarmament of Somaliís armed militia.   Do you think is it a realistic move and what is the chances of its success?

A- Very frankly I canít imagine a commission for disarmament run by Gaani. Itís an impossible task. Certainly no one in this part of the country would like to have any thing to do with it. This is not a diplomatic answer but that is what I feel very strongly.


Q- After your visit here, do you think Somaliland deserves to receive much more assistance from other countries such as the US?

A. I think Somaliland deserves more assistance from the US and others because it puts the very small amount of assistance it is getting today to a very very good use. That is what impressed me. The IRC has small business projects such as providing loans through revolving funds and giving small business training. And you see people trained going to work and making a living for themselves and no longer relying on assistance. I have seen what you have done in rebuilding the city of Hargeisa in the last 2 years have been astonishing.  Bearing in mind that it is only 3 years since you have achieved true peace following the Hargeisa conference of 1996-1997, however what has happened since that time with limited assistance is amazing. You compare that to other countries in Africa and even other places in Somalia you got a huge amount of assistance and nothing has come out of it. So I think that Somaliland certainly deserves more assistance.

Q. In that case  are you going to increase the IRC budget for activities in Somaliland?

A. I canít make that decision but I think they would be sympathetic toward doing more. At the same time we will do what we can, to convince others to do more. I think the successes so far achieved in Somaliland would justify our applying to the US government and charity institutions for more grants. So there is a good chance for more activities here. But the executives back in New-York will have to make the decisions.

 Q- A lot of people in Somaliland are worried that the growing interventionist nature of the Djibouti-led conference on Somalia will destabilize Somaliland. What is your opinion about this conference? 

A- I think the objective of this conference is not to make trouble for Somaliland. And I donít think from what I have seen in my talks with President Egal, his vice-president and his foreign Minister and others last night that they would be able to make trouble for Somaliland. Even if they tried I think that Somaliland has its own self-identity. I think it has learned the difficulties that arise from getting involved in other peoples affairs.  So I believe Somaliland will be very very resistant to other becoming involved in their affairs. Now what is going to happen in the south I donít know. I havenít participated in the conference and didnít come for that reason. But I saw some of the old politicians in the lobby of an expensive hotel. We were staying in a cheaper hotel. But it seemed to me that nothing has changed. So I would be surprised to myself if something came out of the conference. I think President Egal has a very correct opinion about how to deal with the situation; let us see if they can sort it out at which point we can sit down and talk to them. It sounds to me like Puntland has a similar approach. Maybe there they will catch up with Somaliland. You are setting a good example for them and for other African countries as well, I think there is going to be more autonomy in other African countries like the Congo which I visited last year. The same thing for Sudan if they stop fighting.

I think the example set by Somaliland in this case need to be assisted and studied.  Any way what I have been told by people who attended the Djibouti conference, I will be amazed if something came out of it like you have your conferences in Borama and elsewhere. I think this one is not going to be like that. It is like the usual conferences where people go to hotels and have a wonderful time and then itís over. One hopes it is not that. One hopes that there is something coming out of it because that will be good for everybody. But I donŪt think from your point of view you have anything to worry about.

Q. Going back a bit to the role you played in the UNITAF (International task force), thereny way what I have been told by people who attended the Djibouti conference, I will be amazed if something came out of it like you have your conferences in Borama and elsewhere. I think this one is not going to be like that. It is like the usual conferences where people go to hotels and have a wonderful time and then itís over. One hopes it is not that. One hopes that there is something coming out of it because that will be good for everybody. But I donŪt think from your point of view you have anything to worry about.

Q. Going back a bit to the role you played in the UNITAF (International task force), there are those who still criticize you for not taking the decision to forcibly disarm Somaliaís armed militia then while there are those who commend you for opting to seek voluntary disarmament. Do you have any regrets over your decision? 

A. What I Regret about disarmament is that the UN refused the proposal which we in UNITAF together with all the faction leaders made to them with a signed agreement for a voluntary disarmament. It wouldnít have been easy or fast but we met together at the first conference in Adis. We worked out a very detailed plan for voluntary disarmament.

I donít think that any Somali would accept the idea of someone coming in from another country and forcibly taking his weapon away. That is not the way the Somalis behave. So the idea which some had like Butros Ghali saying go there and by force of arms take their weapons away from them wouldnít have worked. What we said was we would get the process of disarmament started with the assumption that the UN would soon bring in command.

Therefore we could start the disarmament only if the UN agreed to continue the process. But the answer that came back from New-York was no. So the programme never got started. It wouldnít have been easy. Some factions would have tried to cheat. But at least we could have gotten it started on voluntary basis. That  is the thing I regret most about the disarmament.


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