Monday, March 23, 2009

Interview with the Toronto Star on new Somali PM

I spoke with Michelle Shephard, a national security reporter at the Toronto Star, for her story on Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke. Sharmarke told Shephard that his country currently has "almost no economic life," and so many of its weapons are in the hands of its citizens. "The challenges are huge, but I think there's light at the end of the tunnel," he said. Shephard quoted Lt.-Gen. Michael Maples' warning to the Senate Armed Services Committee that al Qaeda was gaining "a stronghold in the Horn of Africa through Somalia's insurgent group, al Shabaab ('the Youth'), and a merger was 'forthcoming.'" But I disagreed and stressed the risk of over-stating al Shabaab's popularity in Somalia or its al Qaeda connections.
"While there are clearly ties between the two organizations, it is important not to overstate their significance," writes David Shinn, a former U.S. diplomat and respected analyst on Somalia, in West Point's Combating Terrorism Centre magazine. "The overwhelming objective of U.S. policy in Somalia should not be confronting international terrorist activity. Instead, the United States should contribute to creating a moderate government of national unity in Somalia, which offers the best hope of minimizing Somali links to international terrorism."
And further:
In an interview with the Star, Shinn said Sharmarke’s career (he was the United Nations political advisor with posts in Sierra Leone and Sudan) is one asset but he’ll have to work hard to make a name for himself. "He will shore up support in the international community," said Shinn. "But that's not really the problem is it? The struggle is to get support from Somalis." He praised Sharmarke's return to Mogadishu along with the president and nearly 200 ministers and members of parliament, in the face of warnings that the government should stay put in neighbouring Djibouti until Somalia’s capital could be secured. Days before the ministers arrived two al Shabaab suicide bombers killed 11 African Union peacekeepers from Burundi.
You can read the entire Toronto Star article here. Image: Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, a dual Canadian and Somali national, was endorsed on February 14, 2008 as the new Somali prime minister by Somalia's parliament-in-exile in Nairobi. (AFP/Getty Images) Via Epoch Times.

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