Graft Hinders Somalia's Transitional Government

Wracked by civil war for 20 years, Somalia is in the throes of the worst famine in six decades. Prime Minister Abdiweli Ali, an American-educated Somalian, tells David Greene that corruption is a big problem in the country. He says a lot of aid money has disappeared.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

The country of Somalia has been wracked by civil war for 20 years and is now in the throes of the worst famine in six decades. The country faces the added burden of an extreme Islamist group al-Shabab, which has banned Western aid groups from entering the country. Amid all of these challenges, Abdiweli Ali, an American-educated Somalian, chose to take on the role of prime minister of his country. And he stopped by our studio to talk about the challenges.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the program.

PRIME MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: It had to be a bit of culture shock. You were in a classroom teaching economics at Niagara University in New York State, and now suddenly in this chaotic environment.

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Sure, but that's my country. That's where I grew up. That's where my family is. So although it's a difficult circumstance, it's a generation of responsibility to do something about it.

GREENE: You have the title of prime minister. There are some who say there is no government in Somalia right now, it's total anarchy. Do they have an argument?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Actually that's not the case. We don't have a government like the U.S. government. But we are a government. We are a sovereign country, and surely but slowly, we are moving up.

GREENE: And we should say the al-Shabab has been retreating. And a lot of people say that because of that this is the moment of opportunity for your government to prove something. How much pressure is on you right now?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: For sure, Somali has been failure there for a while. But we are recovering and now I have a one year mandate to take the country from where it's now to, whereby we secure the country, and then we're trying to draft a constitution for the country. Then, by August 2012, we will have an election whereby Somalis have the opportunity to vote.

GREENE: That sounds like a lovely mandate in theory. Given your country's difficult past, what can you say to convince people that this time you'll be able to fulfill that kind of mandate?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: You know, the Somalis are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We have been in this situation for the last 20 years. And I think Somalia is getting into a new era, whereby people want to move on.

GREENE: Are you facing the same problem with international donors and outside countries who might be sick and tired of being asked to help Somalia?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Yes, but you have to understand is we are in this together. Somalia is the frontline of defense against extremism. So the world needs Somalia to be a safe and secure, and a stable country.

GREENE: Corruption has been a problem in the transitional government, so much so that when the president introduced you he made very sure to say that you have a clean record.

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Yeah.

GREENE: How bad is the problem of corruption?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: You know, this mantra of becoming, the government being corrupt, corrupt, the Somali government budget monthly is a million and a half.

GREENE: The entire federal budget?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: The entire ? the government budget is million and a half...

GREENE: U.S. dollars.

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: U.S. dollars a month. On the other hand, billions of dollars are given in the name of Somalia and nothing tangible has taken place in Somalia.

GREENE: Where is that money...

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: No schools...

GREENE: Where is that money going?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: That's what I'm asking. No schools are built. No roads are constructed. So, where all this money is going?

GREENE: You're basically saying the international community has given a billion dollars to Somalia in the name of helping, and we have no idea where that money is.

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: No, that goes to the government ? that they get into, for example, international NGOs to United Nations agencies, and so and so forth. So...

GREENE: And you're saying that money has not helped your country.

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Here and there. But think about billion dollars, how much can you do with a billion dollars? You can build schools. You can build roads. You can build hospitals. And that's not taking place in Somalia.

GREENE: And you can say, at this point, you could tell the international community that your transitional government could get the job done better?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Absolutely. (Unintelligible)

GREENE: And that you're saying aid money should go directly to the government. What can you tell international donors that would give them a new level confidence in this transitional government?

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: Actually, I'm not saying that they have to give us money. They should not even give us a dime. But we want this money to go to Somalis. For example, if Americans are given money, let them even manage the money. Let them build the schools. Let them build the roads. Let them build the hospitals. But I want the few dollars from the poor American taxpayers to reach those Somalis they were intended for.

GREENE: We've been speaking to Abdiweli Ali, who is prime minister of Somali. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.

MINISTER ABDIWELI ALI: It's a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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