Somalis in Yemen are looking for a better future [Archives:2004/783/Reportage]

October 21 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Hope is running high among Somalis living in Yemen now that a new president has a chance to stabilize and rebuild the war-ravaged country.
“I have high expectations and I am very happy about our new president,” said Usman Omar, Vice President at Somali Community Center in Sana'a. “For 13 years we have experienced ongoing warfare, but now we have a president who has the qualities to lead a nation.”
Last Thursday, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was sworn in as Somalia's president in Nairobi, Kenya, after Inter-Governmental Authority on Development headed a two-year peace process and was elected by the country's interim parliament. Over the coming weeks, Ahmed will put together a cabinet, and a new government will move to Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, in the near future.
In a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recent report, around 80,000 Somali refugees and those seeking asylum reside in Yemen. Over 400,000 Somalis have fled their country as the country's civil war has continued since Mohamed Siad Barre's regime was ousted in 1991.
Many Somalis in Yemen have expressed confidence in the new president.
“The president is a good leader because I believe he has the power, the will and the ability to have authority,” said Abdul Rahman Jama, a Somali who has been living in Yemen for 11 years. “He is able to unify the country and bring everybody together.”
Ahmed has a military history being a colonel in the Somali army. He was jailed in 1969 by Barre for not backing a military coup, fought against Barre in the eighties and led Puntland as an independent region in northern Somalia.
The last attempt to bring peace to the country came after a conference carried out in Djibouti in 2000. Abdulkassim Sala Hassan was chosen as president, but he was unable to persuade tribal groups to lay down their arms and unify the country. He controlled only a small section of Mogadishu and a few areas outside the capital.
“The president is different than the previous one, so it is a good chance that he will do some good for the people,” said Abdirizak Dhilo. “I believe he will be the president to bring unity, peace and stability while the world stands behind Somalia.”
Along with their country becoming stable, Somalis are also looking for a growing economy and job opportunities to consider returning home.
“If the government creates a peaceful country, I will return,” said Jama. “But what I also want are job opportunities so that I can support myself.”
Many Somalis acknowledge that Ahmed has many challenges ahead. Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to The World Bank, 43% of the population lives in extreme poverty, living on $1 a day. Only 17% of the children are enrolled in primary school, and with limited healthcare, life expectancy is 47 years. This month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that Somalis are affected by high levels of malnutrition in a number of areas across the country.
Unifying the country will not be an easy task. Mogadishu, which has been divided between factions during the ongoing civil war, is home to an estimated 60,000 armed men belonging to clans that hold different parts of the capital. One powerful warlord in Mogadishu, Adbinur Ahmed Darman, is believed to not recognize Ahmed as president. Last week, some of his militiamen fired at journalists while trying to interview people at “Camp Bosnia” refugee camp in the capital.
During his inauguration, Ahmed asked the international community to send peacekeeping forces to help disarm the militias and secure Somalia. But due to a fight that left 17 US soldiers and hundreds of Somalis dead while US and UN forces supported international aid during a famine, countries might be reluctant to commit troops.
“It might be better if the Somali leaders and people created peace without outside help,” said one Somali in Yemen. “If it is done from within, there may be fewer problems.”
Some Somalis question the choice of Ahmed being the leader to take on the task of ending over a decade of warfare, however. Some are worried about Ahmed's record of being involved in the civil war.
“Some of us are worried having a president who participated in warfare,” said a Somali in Yemen. “We are not certain that the new government can bring us solutions, and it might have been better if the president came from civil society, not from a war background.”
Others are concerned that because of Ahmed's support from Ethiopia, there might be opposition in some areas of Somalia since there have been land disputes between the two countries in the past. “The president may not be liked in Mogadishu because he is close to Ethiopia. There might be armed clashes while he is trying to bring peace to the capital,” said a Somali.
But despite the challenges the president will face, many Somalis in Yemen hope that the steps taken will lead to a brighter future after over a decade of instability and ongoing fighting.
“I now have high hopes and expectations,” said Abu Bakr Abati. “We now have a government, a real government. I believe there will be peace, and all we want is peace. Most of my family lives in Somalia, so now that there will be changes, I want to go back.”