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From piracy to al-Shabab, Somalia’s president addresses challenges to building democracy

August 11, 2014 at 6:24 PM EST
Somalia has been plagued by war, corruption and terrorism, but its leader says he wants to change its course. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud joins Judy Woodruff to discuss last week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, infiltration of al-Shabab militants into government, the media and beyond, as well as serious concerns that the president hasn’t achieved the stability his country has sought.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Mohamud, thank you for talking with us.

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as you prepare to leave Washington, have you found this week’s meetings to be helpful, useful to you?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: It was very useful.

The meeting was meant for the African continent, of course. And we learned a lot. And there was new injections from the United States government to push the economy and the life of the people of Africa. We are very much grateful for the level of support that has been shown to us.

And we already have moved and progressed in our cooperation between the United States government and Somalia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much aid would you say the United States is giving to Somalia? And how would you describe the relationship between the two countries?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: It’s only last year when the transition was ended in Somalia and the United States government recognized Somali government as a legitimate state to deal with, and then only started our cooperation.

We signed a number of cooperation agreements. And still we are at the beginning, but we moving in a very good pace and direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something that I know is of great concern to you. I assume you talked to the United States government about it. And that is the militant Islamist group Al-Shabab. They have wreaked death and destruction in your country for a long time. They have — just last week, they murdered a legislator in Mogadishu.

They have tried to assassinate you. You have said that you believe your government will defeat them, but how long will that take? How — how difficult a task are we talking about?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: Within the next few months, there might not be a territory controlled by Shabab in Somalia.

But that’s not the end of war. They melt down into society. And these suicide bomb, target assassinations will continue some time. But we strongly believe that it will end up soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they try to infiltrate your inner circle?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: They do try everywhere. They do try to infiltrate into security institutions. They do try to infiltrate into the politician — politics, if not the politicians, the staff that works with the politicians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you fear for your own safety?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: I was elected on September 10, 2012.

September 14, I was attacked, long before I went into the state house. So since then, they keep continue trying. But the security forces have aborted all these. And I have a very good confidence on my security staff.

They give me enough possibility to move around in Mogadishu and throughout Somalia. So, I’m not worried much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You brought up piracy. This is another terrible scourge. For a while, it was around the Horn of Africa. Ships going around were frequently attacked by pirates coming from Somalia. It does seem to have slowed down. Do you have that behind you now?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: Partly, this is addressed. International partners have made a strong military presence in the seas. And they pushed back the pirates.

And the Somali community leaders and elders also take a campaign of awareness raising among the young people, so they combat. But the issue is — the root causes is not yet fully addressed, so we are still — the challenge is still existing. And it’s — the government of Somalia is struggling with addressing those issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There have been serious concerns raised by the U.S. government and others over whether your government has achieved, since you came into office, sufficient stability, transparency, whether corruption has been dealt with, whether you’re on track to have a government of national unity, that you don’t just represent a part of the country.

How do you — what do you say to those who ask that?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: Imagine a country that has been without a functioning state over two decades. And we are in the office now for two years.

The problems that was existing more than two decades cannot be solved overnight. But we put in place all the necessary foundations to have a very democratic and strict institutions that serve the interests of all Somalis.

For the first time in 45 years, Somalia is going to experience elections in 2016. That’s the plan of this government, to make elections happen in 2016. And you know what? When the last time Somalia went into the polls? That was 1969, 45 years ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The news media. I understand from reading that there is one — at least one leading independent news media group in Somalia which had been honored internationally — the name of it was Shabelle Media — that was ordered to shut down, close down its offices.

How do you answer this? And does your country have a free media? How free is the media in Somalia?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: There are number of times when Shabab infiltration has been suspected in different organizations, not only the media, government offices, agencies, ministries.

And these security people, they go after that. If there is a suspect in a media house, it’s not immune from that type of thing. What we know is that 90 percent of the Shabab operations and — the Shabab operations are on the media, not in the field.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ninety percent?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: They have been given some of our media. I will not say all of them. Some of our media, they might not be — the capability and the capacity is very limited to understand between the neutrality and what to be and what not to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question. What do you want Americans to know about Somalia that they may not know?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: What we want to know, the Americans, is that Somalia is not the Somalia of 1970s and 1980s today and even 1990s.

Somalia is different now. We have — on the road to democratic institutions to be put in place. We say the United States, come to Somalia. Help us to invest in the future, so that no more Shabaab, no more terrorists, and no more piracy in Somalia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Mohamud, we thank you very much for talking with us.

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD: Thank you, Judy. Thank you very much.