Remarks by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Marius Fransman, at the Knowledge Sharing Workshop on Somalia, themed: “South Africa’s Role in Peace-Building and Reconstruction of Somalia”, 19 September 2012, Cape Town.
Your Excellency, Ambassador Sheikh Sharif, Somalia’s Ambassador-designate to South Africa,
Mr Vasu Gouden, Chief Executive of ACCORD,
Friends from SOMCORD,
Members of the Academia,
Distinguished Guests, and
Ladies and gentlemen
One of the most famous Somali poems is called “Tree of bad counsel” and I want to use the opposite of this and call our gathering to share knowledge, experience, networks and resources here today “The Tree of good counsel”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our gathering here today under the tree of good counsel is built on the recognition of a number of fundamental principles. The first and foremost is the recognition that Africa’s woes has its roots in the negative consequences of centuries of imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. In this regard, Somalia is no exception and our collective efforts to overcome the remaining vestiges of this evil in whatever form and guise is essential to Africa’s progress and development.
Today, we can look back and reflect on the opening Speech by Oliver Tambo at the International Solidarity Conference, on the theme "From Apartheid to Peace, Democracy and Development" on the 19 February 1993 in Johannesburg when he said and I quote: “The regression of Somalia to the most primitive levels of conflict in which societies are reduced to a collection of mutually hostile clans, each with its own quota of gunmen, says that we still have some work to do.”
Today, nearly two decades later, I can state without fear of contradiction that it is a tribute to the resilience and commitment of the Somali people and all who support the cause of peace, stability and freedom that much work has been done. This gathering is evidence of our commitment as a collective including the South African government, the Somali community in diaspora and the non-governmental sector.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to express our gratitude to ACCORD for hosting this very important initiative. I have no doubt that through our deliberations over the next two days this collective will contribute towards putting in place a compass through which South Africa’s engagement with Somalia will be informed and directed. This is the first ever initiative to be convened by Government, Non- Governmental Organizations and the Somali Diaspora in South Africa.
The event comes at an opportune time, just days after Somalia held successful Presidential elections. The resolve and desire for peace and Somalia’s recovery shown by Somalis from all walks of life is commendable. There are crucial lessons to be learnt from Somalia’s past as we seek to engage on how best we can collaborate as international partners in assisting Somalia shed itself off all the vestiges of civil strife and hardship.
It is my sincere hope that out of this workshop, both the South African Government and Somalis in South Africa will be in a position to work closely together in making meaningful contributions at various levels in Somalia particularly in the wake of the new political dispensation.
As we go forward, it is important to recall and highlight that South Africa’s foreign policy is based on, and our conduct in international relations is informed by, the fundamental values and principles enshrined in our Constitution, notably human dignity, the achievement of equity, the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and a respect for the rule of law.
It is with these values that South Africa has always maintained in its engagement of the Somali question that peace cannot be imposed on Somalis. It is Somalis themselves who will find the way to peace and prosperity, and as friends, we will be by their side. In so doing, it is therefore expected that they will have to play a leading role in steering processes that seek to culminate with the unification of all Somalis in their resolve to re-build their nation in an environment that is peaceful and secure. Be that as it may, the international community still does have a huge role to play. But it has to do so without any form of imposition.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is certainly not our intention as members of the international community, as Africans, to remain idle when Somalia cries out for help during one of the most trying moments in its history. It is therefore imperative for us to take the lead from Somalis as we carve our own input in that country. In this regard, we hope that the new Somali leadership will attach value to the lessons of the past when they carve the strategy for the new political dispensation.
It is crucial to stress that the relevance of Somali history remains critical especially at this juncture when the country and the leadership seek to embark on a mammoth task of nation-building and reconstruction. These are very encouraging, critical and achievable goals that will require every Somali to commit to if the country is to move forward and closer to lasting peace.
These goals were set by Somalia’s new President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, moments after he was elected into Office. In a television interview, the President spoke of reconciliation, nation-building and dialogue amongst all Somalis as the way forward. We as South Africans are particularly encouraged by the tone and willingness of the new leadership to engage with its opponents with the hope of finding a middle ground on which they can agree on issues of controversy.
President Mohamoud’s willingness to engage with all Somalis is a very positive development right at the beginning of the new era. It is critical for Somalis to understand and appreciate what President Mohamoud seeks to achieve. South Africa that has always maintained that lasting peace in Somalia will require a negotiated solution that will include all Somalis particularly those that see violence as the only viable option or tool at their disposal in an attempt to achieve their goals. The attempted assassination of the President shortly after his election is indicative of the deep divisions that still exist and the presence of elements that seek to derail the progress made thus far.
The issue is a very sensitive one, as we all know. It does not only have internal implications, but international as well. It however remains a Somali problem; therefore, it is up to Somalis themselves to decide how best to address the challenge. This will most certainly inadvertently require Somalis to begin engaging on and interrogating the issue of political reconciliation. South Africa has already expressed its readiness to share its experience in this regard.
Our own historical experience dictates that for lasting peace to be achieved and for a country that had in the past been torn by conflict, reconciliation is an essential pre-requisite to nation-building as a goal. Somalia’s successful adoption of a provisional Constitution is a step in the right direction, which ought to continue to form part of future priority areas that must be identified as the process remains an on-going exercise.
We need to direct focus on the constitution reform process in order to ensure that the institutions of government operate within a clearly defined and solid legal foundation. Important work has already been done by other partners in this regard. There is room for development, and countries should be encouraged to continuously engage with their Somali counterparts on this matter with a view to ensuring that the process becomes refined and responsive to the evolving situation on the ground. Such sharing will mitigate against corruption and introduce best practices to Somalia at this opportune moment. This will in turn and in part address the very critical question of stabilization of various parts of Somalia and the re-building of the state authority.
I am pleased to announce that South Africa had already embarked on this process in consultation with the former Transitional Federal Government when we pledged 100 million Rand towards projects that would help rebuild Somalia. In partnership with ACCORD we will soon commence work in Somalia in coordination with the new leadership, with specific focus on reconciliation.
South Africa believes that it is imperative for Somalia to have proper and functioning institutions of governance that will be able to focus on the immediate and long term priorities of the new government of Somalia. South Africa will work closely with local and international partners to ensure that Somalis are equipped to govern themselves.
We are also keen to start working directly with Somali enterprises to develop business relations, and learn from your business acumen. We see opportunities in opening those channels now that there is some level of stability and we believe that in supporting the rebuilding, recovery and development of Somalia, there will be opportunities for our private sectors to engage each other with long-term goals of that will seek to strengthen our relations as sisterly countries and enhance the confidence that South Africans could have in the Somali Diaspora, who would now be seen as partners for development.
While we recognize the importance of the role played by Diaspora both in the host country and their country of origin, we are of the view that our two peoples need to lay the foundations upon which the relationship of our two countries can blossom. The Somali Diaspora’s value to Somalia’s development is immense.
We are all witnesses to your entrepreneurship which you demonstrate through the various business or trade activities that you engage in, in South Africa. This has the potential not only to benefit you as Somali business people in the Diaspora, but also your country as your leadership strives to rebuild Somalia. The same can be said about the Somali Academia and skilled professionals that find themselves on our shores. You have all travelled so far from your homes, to find refuge in safer parts of the world and we welcome you as brother and sisters but we note that your departure from your home country has left a huge dent, which can only be repaired by either your eventual return or increased contact with your home country. Your absence and distance from Somalia is not necessarily a negative affair. South Africa stands privileged by your presence in this country.
We can all find benefit from your presence here if there exists structured engagement and exchanges between our two peoples that are aimed at tapping into the human and other capital that we both possess. There are amongst us Somalis that now have South African citizenship, and yet, their connection to Somalia remains as strong as ever. Their desire to contribute towards the recovery of that country remains solid. If we were to establish partnerships between South African entities and Somali Diaspora as well as strictly amongst yourselves, I have no doubt that through structured initiatives, South Africa and its Somali Diaspora can both contribute immensely towards bridging the gap between our two peoples. In this regard, it is imperative for the Somali Diaspora to fully appreciate their potential and varying expertise in order for you to be able to organize yourselves accordingly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is crucial in this regard for you to realize the importance of directing increased focus towards supporting various Somali institutions. In turn your contributions as private sector can advance development and support the entire notion of a properly functioning government enterprise.
I am aware that some of you have suffered in the townships and areas where many South Africans are unfamiliar with Somalis. Often these acts of violence arise out of ignorance or jealousy but I believe that together, we can change that. We both have a responsibility to ensure that they understand that you are not a threat to them. This we can achieve, again through education, structured engagements and communication. I also think that you have much to teach us and I believe that by sharing your knowledge and skills with fellow South Africans whom you live amongst, it will encourage integration and reduce suspicion. Our people need to know that they too can also benefit from your presence in this country and we have a responsibility to show you that people who seek refuge in our land are welcome.
One such important step is the establishment of a Somali Embassy, which will soon be officially opened. I am very pleased to have heard from His Excellency, the Ambassador-designate, that your valuable contributions have helped towards setting up an Embassy in Pretoria. I have also been told that he has already travelled to some of the most remote areas of South Africa to engage with his community. Whilst he may be the official Ambassador soon, I want to emphasise to all of you that you are real Ambassadors of your country, because you represent what it means to be Somali and you can carry that message to all South Africans.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to be so bold and go a step further and say that our efforts to demonstrate solidarity and support with Somalia must be tested here on home soil in the extent to which we succeed in getting ordinary women and men in Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Mfuleni and Mandalay and all over our country to embrace and support our efforts. This would be a real demonstration of what we mean when we talk of the unity and solidarity of the African continent, and international solidarity.
We have today an opportunity to make a difference in Somalia. Together, as a single unit united in purpose and goal, we can lend the much needed support to the new Somali leadership as they begin to engage in an effort to take the country forward. Let us seize this opportunity and make our contribution.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to reiterate what President Jacob Zuma said in welcoming the outcome of the recent elections in Somalia and I quote: “South Africa stands with the people of Somalia and is ready to work and share experiences with Somalia as they proceed with their project of nation-building, reconciliation, reconstruction and economic development.”
I want us to seriously reflect over the next two days on these four dimensions of the tasks that lie ahead as the roots of Somalia’s problems are deep and have been inflicted over a long and protracted period. We are and remain confident though that no challenge is insurmountable and that in the end the will of ordinary Somali men and women, young and old, those in Somalia and those in diaspora; their collective determination will prevail.
This will be the proudest moment in Africa’s recent history; the triumph of hope over despair; the victory of peace over war; the ascendancy of progress over poverty; the smile of happiness on the face of a once hunger-stricken child; the joy of laughter in a classroom where youth can learn once more of the proud history of Somalia and not just the flashes of gloom, sadness and despair on the airwaves.
We are under no illusion that the road ahead is long and filled with many perils and challenges. We want to assure you as the Somalia community in diaspora here in South Africa and in Somalia that we will stand by you all the way.
I thank you