|The Somaliland Times||Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
|ISSUE 57, February 22, 2003||
Interview With Kenyan Bethwel Kiplagat
"It Is Implied That Somaliland Is Included In Somalia"
Nairobi, February 17, 2003 (The East African): Retired Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat took over from Elijah Mwangale as Kenya's Special Envoy to Somalia on January 18. He comes in just as Phase II of the Somali Reconciliation Conference is winding up. He spoke to Special Correspondent Cathy Majtenyi on the challenges and progress at the talks.
What have been the major challenges of the peace talks?
The major challenges have been related to the number of delegates. Initially, 400 delegates were invited but more than 1,000 turned up. That put pressure on finances. The budget was blown out of its ceiling. We now have a bill of Ksh385 million ($5 million), which we have to clear before we can reorganize ourselves.
The other issue is representation. We have civil society, women, the diaspora, and intellectuals. They all want to be represented. There is also the leaders' committee, which was initiated by Elijah Mwangale but has been contested. The major issue is identity and representation.
How will you deal with these problems?
We have decided to limit the numbers. The figure we are working on now is 361 delegates, but there will be an extra 20 or 30 positions for those looking after some of the leaders or resource persons.
Second, we are reorganizing the secretariat. We also plan to move from Eldoret to Nairobi because the costs are higher here. We have found a place that we think will be much more conducive and cheaper.
We also plan to take up the issue of finances with the donors. We have discussed the problems with them, and they seem to be forthcoming. There is now an independent unit that will manage our finances. It was set up by the European Union and is working with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
You've been quoted as saying that you wouldn't allow Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, or even Igad to take the peace process hostage. What role does the technical committee play in the talks and to what extent do it and the individual players influence the outcome of the talks?
The technical committee acts as a facilitator for the process. Our work is to make sure all the various groups are there. The committee decided, in consultation with the Somalis and the other partners, to establish the six committees to examine aspects of building a stable Somalia. The technical committee will receive reports from these groups and then we will see how to take the process forward. In my experience of dealing with conflicts in Africa, one of the fundamental things is to ensure inclusivity of all interested parties because if you leave any out, they will jeopardize the process.
The interest and voice of the regional partners are important because they have also been involved in Somalia over the years. But we must make sure that their concerns and suggestions do not hold the process hostage so that only their interests are considered. We want a win-win situation for all those involved, mainly Somalia itself and the region. There are also other partners like the African Union, European Union, Arab League, US, and Egypt, whose interests matter.
Col Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad (disputed president of Puntland) and the leaders' committee itself have requested that Somaliland be given representation at the conference. However, Somaliland has repeatedly said it is a sovereign state and doesn't need or want to be involved in the talks. What is your stance on Somaliland representation?
The Council of Ministers of the Frontline States have not recognized Somaliland. Hence, you could say they are for territorial integrity and the unity of Somalia. It is implied that Somaliland is included in Somalia. Secondly, they had a request from the delegation here that Somaliland should be invited. A delegation was earlier sent to Somaliland to ask them to come.
As far as we are concerned, we will carry on with the conference and come to some arrangement, have a government, hopefully, in Mogadishu, and then that government together with the international community will take up that issue. If, during the course of these discussions, there is a window of opportunity that opens up, I think the conference is not going to say no to that possibility.
There have been some unfortunate incidents that have occurred at the conference over the past few weeks, namely the assault of Prof. Muhammad Abdi Ghandi [a prominent member of civil society]. How do you explain the incidents of violence that have occurred at the conference in the past few weeks and how do you plan to prevent this from happening again?
Given what Somalis have gone through over the years, I am amazed that there hasn't been too much violence. The Somali people have been killed, they have lost their mothers, and they have been raped. We should all put that in perspective. We will strive to create the right atmosphere so that these kinds of things do not happen. Security is in place, but that's not enough.
I'm urging all the delegates, starting with the civil society, to be reconcilers. When they see tension, they should come in immediately and sort out the problem in a peaceful way. If another incident of violence occurs, then we will deal with it according to the laws of Kenya and maybe also according to the Somali traditional method of reconciliation.
Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka said recently at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that the frontline states had agreed to set up a committee to monitor violations of the ceasefire that the factions and others signed last October. Can you tell us more about this?
The ministers have decided to establish a committee consisting of members from the Arab League, the African Union, the United Nations, and the European Union. I will soon call a meeting of that group to work out a plan of action to ensure that there is no violation of that agreement. Also, we have been trying to work out the mechanism of sanctions against the violators.
When do you think the conference will conclude?
We will continue until we have an agreement, depending on finances and the progress we make. We need another three weeks or a month. I will have to go to the donors, or rather to the Council of Ministers, and brief them on the progress and perhaps appeal for further financial assistance.