Somali Prime Minister Pushes Unity Government

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Somalia's interim prime minister hopes to form a unity government, with participation from the nation's many competing clans. Ali Muhammad Ghedi says a first step will be a National Reconciliation Congress, modeled on previous "truth and reconciliation" commissions in Africa.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The interim prime minister of Somalia says he wants to unify a country that's anything but unified. The prime minister's name is Ali Mohamed Ghedi. He says he wants to bring together the nation's many clans. And to do that, he announced a National Reconciliation Congress. Ideally, it would be something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that promoted unity in South Africa.

That's the ideal, which now goes up against reality as NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports.

GWEN THOMPKINS: When Somalia's prime minister wants to make a statement for the world to hear, he comes to Nairobi, Kenya, or some other regional capital to speak directly to the international community. That's because it's become increasingly difficult for the international community to come to him.

Every day, firefights erupt in Mogadishu, rival clans are fighting and insurgency is apparently making itself known. And just the other day, Villa Somalia, the presidential palace in Mogadishu, was hit by mortar fire just hours after the interim president moved in.

If the situation there were represented on a chessboard, forces hostile to the transitional government would have every right to say check.

Prime Minister ALI MOHAMED GHEDI (Somalia): These terrorists or terrorist organizations are still trying to continue the destabilization of Somalia, but they will not succeed.

THOMPKINS: Ghedi was a model of optimism in Nairobi. That's no small feat for a man whose grave public demeanor can prompt a funeral director to tell a joke. He blamed outside terrorists and not Somalis for the mischief making in Mogadishu, saying the people of the city were uniformly opposed to the attacks on government.

He said Somali forces control 85 percent of the capital city. And Abduraman Abdi(ph) was equally positive. He is the chief organizer of Somalia's upcoming National Reconciliation Congress, the meeting to help promote unity. He says Somalis will control 100 percent of the agenda.

Mr. ABDURAMAN ABDI(ph) (Organizer, National Reconciliation Congress): Well, we think if we'll leave it to the Somalis, and we do believe it, that it's going to be - that we're going to have an open environment where we can talk and raise our issues without intervention from outside. There is so much intervention we still have in Somalia.

THOMPKINS: Somali leaders have spoken about hosting a National Reconciliation Congress since the Islamic Courts Union retreated from Mogadishu in December of last year. But European diplomats appeared pleased by the day's announcement and fanfare. They have supported Somalia's transitional government from its inception in 2004, and they have a stake in seeing the government succeed now. Mario Raffaelli is Italy's special envoy for Somalia.

Mr. MARIO RAFFAELLI (Special Envoy for Somalia, Italy): From the beginning, we were convinced that there is only military solution to the Somali problems. But there is a need also for a dialogue and negotiation, and so now we have to use this opportunity in the best possible way.

THOMPKINS: Somalia's National Reconciliation Congress will reportedly be held in April, and draw thousands of representatives from that nation's many clans and other groups. They will air their differences. But most importantly, the congress will encourage clans, sub-clans and sub-sub clans to forgive one another for past transgressions. At least that's what they hope will happen. Again, Abduraman Abdi.

Mr. ABDI: It's going to be a tribal basis, like our own culture, that we have to go back to talk to each other. In the past, Somalis, when they fought on each other, they used to sit down under the shade of a big tree and decide their own. And so it's going to be something like that, people who want to forgive each other and move forward.

THOMPKINS: Perhaps now is the time to look for that shady tree.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

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