Interview with Ambassador David Shinn

Source: by Ahmed Hirsi – Freelance Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2015

David H. Shinn is an American diplomat and professor. He is an Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Ahmed Hirsi:  Mr Ambassador is it technically possible that free and fair elections could be implemented in Somalia given that Somalia is a fragmented and feudal society, with no voter’s register in existence, there are no institutions to both plan, manage and the constitution that does exist today is both ambiguous and provisional and to make things worse there is no official or credible census that could be used during elections?

David Shinn:  It is possible for Somalia to experience free and fair elections.  Somalia had a history of reasonably good elections in the 1960s before the takeover of the government by Siad Barre.  As you suggest, it will take a long time to create the institutions, census, and registration of voters that permit free and fair elections.  But it is possible.

AH: If the International Community is serious and committed about the Al-Shabaab menace how come, the Somali armed forces are not trained and equipped in large numbers apart from  the few thousands from one or two regions in Somalia,  that have been trained in neighbouring countries ?

DSH: The problem in creating a Somali national army has less to do with the international community and more to do with clan and regional loyalties of Somalis. Too many Somalis still give their loyalty to a clan or region and not to the national government.  Until this situation changes, it will be difficult to create a large and effective national army.

AH : There have been so many scandals involving various small or new companies that have singed various oil explorations deals with either regional or the central government. Do you think any deals entered with a weak government are legally binding?

DSH: I don’t know the details of the agreements reached between foreign energy companies and Somali authorities. My impression is that some of these deals have been signed with regional authorities. This raises serious questions about their validity.  Even those signed with the federal government are highly suspect because of the manner in which they were negotiated.  Once there is a functional national government, all of these agreements will need to be reviewed.

AH: What is your take on the notion of federalism that is taking root in Somalia, well knowing that Somalia is clan-ridden society .Do you think federalism could prevent misuse of power by few people and those who argue federalism will bring services and the government closer to the people are they right ?

DSH:  Over the short-term, federalism in Somalia seems to be a fact of life.  I doubt there is a viable alternative.  Once confidence is established in a national government, however, it might be possible to shift more responsibility to the national level.  Federalism can play a useful role.  Ultimately, it is up to the Somali people to determine how much federalism it wants and how and when to transfer more authority to the national government.

AH: You have worked in Ethiopia for many years and you seem to be an expert on that country. As we all know Ethiopia has made great developmental strides and its economy is booming. Could you please share with us the secrets behind the Ethiopian economic success story?

DSH: The Ethiopian economy has functioned well because the government has an intelligent plan (largely established by Meles Zenawi) that it has pursued vigorously.  It has an educated and committed leadership.  It has managed to minimize corruption.  It has attracted a great deal of financial support from the outside: China, EU, US, India, Turkey, World Bank, etc. In recent years, it has managed to avoid serious internal conflict and, except for Eritrea, has had cordial relations with its neighbors.  There are, however, some clouds on the horizon.  Individual freedoms have been suppressed and most of the growth has been led by the state.  At some point soon, Ethiopia must do  more to open political space and allow the private sector to thrive.

AH: How long do you think the International Community is prepared to fund the AMISOM operations in Somalia?

DSH: The international community is prepared to fund AMISOM for the foreseeable future.  There is no alternative.  If AMISOM sustains significant setbacks and/or the Somali federal government fails to make significant progress in implementing a government acceptable to most Somalis, there may be pressure to reduce support for AMISOM.

AH : Finally what do you think could be done to revive the Somali economy , since no big investors will risk investing their money in  Somalia and  the few that come to Somalia main aim is to take advantage of the  weak structures that are in place ?

DSH: The only thing that will truly revive the Somali economy beyond building of structures or establishment of services that make a fast dollar is the establishment of security throughout the country and a widely accepted government that is capable of delivering services either at the national or federal level.  Anything short of this will fail to revive the economy.

Thank you very much for your time Mr Ambassador.