President Ismail Omar Guelleh leads a resource-poor country struggling with energy and food shortages. In an interview with IRIN, he explained how these and other pressing issues are being dealt with. Excerpts:
IRIN: What is your government doing to contain and mitigate the combined effects of the high food prices and drought?
GUELLEH: We have begun to sign agreements with friendly countries, with more opportunities in terms of agriculture, like Ethiopia and Sudan. We are going to start a 3,000ha wheat farm in Ethiopia. In Sudan we have 7,000ha and the first crop of sorghum and vegetables to produce oil has already arrived.
We have also signed an agreement with our Arab partners to develop agriculture. They are building greenhouses to produce vegetables across the country. They are also helping us in producing animal feed. We have large programmes of water conservation and are building small dams. We are putting a lot of effort into tackling the food security problem. We also have a donor conference in Paris next month and we will present all these projects.
This land [in Sudan and Ethiopia] is leased by Djibouti and will be used to produce crops for Djibouti?
Have you had the support and aid you need from your partners?
Yes, we have had some support from Arab brothers who mitigated the burden of high oil prices last year. It is very important for us because we could not have survived without that help.
There is a lot of economic activity, such as construction. Where is Djibouti going?
We are not moving as fast as I would like. There are a lot of projects here and a lot of people coming to invest, but I blame myself or my people for the bureaucratic delays. I would like us to move much faster so that you see much more development and growth three years later.
Is economic growth reaching all the population and do they have the necessary skills to take advantage of it?
We have started vocational training centres in almost all towns in the country. We have sent many young people to train in India, Cuba, France, Morocco and many other countries. Still we lack a skilled workforce, which is why you see foreigners working here. I favour more skilled foreigners, so our people can obtain and gain the necessary training and experience to assume these jobs, but right now the percentage is low.
What is the border situation with Eritrea?
We have our troops there and they [Eritrean troops] are occupying Djiboutian territory. They are trying to drag us into conflict. But we have other ideas - development, poverty alleviation and many other challenges - so we have gone to the UN Security Council to resolve the issue. The Security Council has issued a resolution giving Eritrea five weeks to leave our territory. Two weeks have passed already and we are still trying to resolve things through the UN.
Is the border problem simply a quarrel between Eritrea and Djibouti, which can be solved by the two sides? Have you tried to solve it bilaterally?
We have tried through Qatar, with Iran and with all his [Eritrean President, Isaias Afewerki] friends to resolve this. I don’t know what he wants. He is linking this problem with the Ethiopian border problem.
How would you then describe relations, in general, with Eritrea?
Very bad. The leader there has problems not only with us but with all the neighbours.
Are you concerned that the situation, if not resolved properly, may get out of control?
Yes, I am concerned but we shall avoid it and we will do everything to make sure we are not obliged to go to war, because it is not in our interest.
You have just hosted another Somalia reconciliation conference where a new president was elected. How optimistic are you that this time Somalia will have an effective and functioning government able to deal with the current crisis?
It is the third time we have hosted a conference and I hope that this time the Somali people have reached a limit and that [the] population is ready to accept peace.
I think this time compromise is possible, consensus is possible and stabilisation of the country is possible. But all that will depend on whether the security situation is resolved. This will require assistance, support and solidarity from the friends of Somalia. So, to answer your question, I am more hopeful and optimistic than I have been in the past.
In your opinion what does the new president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed need to do to succeed?
First is security and forming an effective security force. He also must continue with the reconciliation process to bring in everyone. He also must tackle the problem of youth unemployment which is a big part of the problem.
Do you think that neighbouring countries will give the new government the space it needs to operate or will they interfere?
Somalia has three neighbours - Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. We had an IGAD [Inter-governmental Authority on Development] summit in Addis Ababa [in early February]. The new president [of Somalia] had direct talks with Ethiopian leaders. He also had direct talks with Kenyan authorities. He is going directly from Mogadishu to Kenya. He is willing to launch a policy of good neighbourliness and cooperation with his neighbours. That is a sign of leadership which should be praised and supported. The neighbours said they would support [him] and I have no reason to doubt [them].
How serious do you think the international community is in finding a lasting solution to the Somali crisis?
The positions of most of the international community, Europeans, Americans, Arab league and Islamic conference, are that all are willing to see Somalia on the international stage. They are ready to support it if the leadership is serious and showing willingness and ability to manage the country’s problems. It is not just lip service; I am confident that financial support will come.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions