Editorial Note: WardheerNews is delighted to share with you an in-depth conversation that Faisal Roble had with the newly appointed Somali Ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdikarim Farah (Laqanyo). Mr. Roble was in Addis Ababa from April 14 - May 12, 2006. In the coming weeks, he would be writing several articles about his impressions on topics spanning from the uncontrolled spur of growth in Addis Ababa, the politics of the region (including Somalia as well as Somali National Regional government of Ethiopia) to the daily trials and tribulation (life) of thousands of Somalis who stay there as permanent refugees.
Bearing typical Somali features (a man with a small frame, curly hair, a somewhat straight nose, and a chocolate-brown skin color), the Ambassador dresses elegantly and is well spoken. Unlike previous Somali politicians, Ambassador Abdikarim Farah Laqanyo represents a new breed of Somalis. Staunchly patriotic with deep feelings for the Somali people, he promises to serve his country aggressively. Despite his limited resources, the Ambassador is magnanimous and does not shy away from sharing with the rest the little that he has. He helps the sick and tries his best to facilitate for them access to the already overcrowded healthcare system in Addis Ababa.
Ambassador Abdikarim Farah is propelled into office as a result of the clan-based Embagathi reconciliation conference, which produced the yet-to-be-functional Transitional Federal Government (TFG). In TFG, the spoils of national offices are carefully, albeit ferociously, shared to satisfy the delicate but greedy clan balance, or clan appetite, if you will. He is less tribal than the average Somali and as such, his many years of residence in London give him an unmatched urbane edge, a trait that he involuntarily exhibited during this interview. It is much more clear when he addresses his wife as “my colleague” and/or “my other half.”
The Ambassador kindly received me at the reception area of the Ghion hotel – an immaculate landmark whose modern architecture, its human scale, a unique and generous planned landscaped, accentuated by a touch of expansive open space, makes it a rarity building in the country. It is here where the Ambassador and his family are taking a temporary residence
WardheerNew (WDN): When did you reopen this embassy and can you describe to our readers the general mood of the day?
Ambassador Abdikarim Farah (Laqanyo) : Let me first take a moment and acknowledge WardheerNews’ superior effort in correctly informing our people and all those who care about Somalia. I have been personally watching the meteoric growth and maturity of your website. Without exaggeration, your articles and the orientation of your website deserves all the praises. In particular, my family and I are honored to be interviewed and carry our message to our people.
The embassy was officially reopened on April 4, 2006. I am very glad and humbled to share with you and with your readers that the opening ceremony was well organized and had attracted a large crowd of Somalis residing in Addis Ababa. As you know, Addis Ababa has a large Somali population, mainly refugees who had gotten sanctuary in the city. Besides Djibouti Somalis, the day was marked by the presence of a larger Somali speaking population from the Somali National Regional State of Ethiopia.
Former Somalia singers and members of the erstwhile Waaberi stars entertained the crowd with patriotic songs. In addition to our national anthem, “Soomaaliyey toosoo,” they sang a touchy song, which the late Mahamuud Tukale of Waaberi band composed before his pre-mature death in Jigjiga, Ethiopia.
But the import of the day lies in the presence of large international and regional governments and their ambassadors who all expressed explicitly their unwavering support for our ailing nation state. Most prominently was Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Mr. Seyoum Mesfin, who said in his speech that the reopening of the Somalia Embassy in Addis Ababa (quoting from a local magazine in his hand) “symbolizes the closing of the dark chapter in the history of the people of Somalia.” Mr. Mesfin also expressed his conviction that the reopening of the Somalia embassy in Addis Ababa “plays a vital role in bringing Somalia back into the sub-regional, regional and international community and will strengthen and develop existing ties between the two countries, the AU and other partners.” In addition, the EU, many European ambassadors as well as our Arab brothers showed their support and enjoyed the day with us in Addis Ababa.
WDN:How many foreign embassies or agencies participated in this eventful day?
WDN: We will come back to the diplomatic aspects of your embassy and its functions in Addis Ababa. But let me ask you several logistical questions. When did you first come here and from where?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah : Both my partner or wife (Marian) and I came from London where we have established residence since the Somalia civil war. I came to Addis Ababa in August 2005. When we came here, nothing was available to us in terms of office, transportation or other logistical aspects that an ambassador needs to do the job right. But that did neither deter nor discourage us from carrying our solemn duty. To the contrary, we try to defy, whenever possible, some of the limitations brought on us by the reality that surrounds our country.
For a period of time, we took residence at the Sheraton Hotel. But, at present we are temporarily staying at the Ghion hotel that the Federal government of Ethiopia owns. The suite that the Ethiopian government provided us serves us both as a residence and office. I often receive Somalis either at my suite or at the open reception of Ghion. In many cases, I go to other embassies or their residences to conduct more serious businesses.
WDN: Who pays for your expenses? The Ethiopian government?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah : The Ethiopian government has been so kind to us and to the Somali people in more than one-way.
WDN: Do you intend to have a permanent office and a diplomatic residence so that your daily work could be carried out with ease?
Amb.Abdikarim Farah : Yes, we have just acquired a new residence and office and we are proud to share this with all of our supporters and friends, but mainly with our people who had been deprived of their national right to have a fully developed and staffed embassy here in Addis. You see Addis is a very important diplomatic center in that it is the seat of the AU and houses one of the largest EU missions and a significant and highly feasible US embassy. Equally important is that it houses one of the largest UN missions in Africa, most importantly the office of Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
We acquired and are bound to move soon into our new facility, hopefully by the end of May, or until minor repair is completed. It is the same premise where I had hosted the re-opening event on April 4, 2006.
WDN: How much did it cost you to acquire the property and who financed it?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah : Our new residence and embassy is purchased at 500,000 EthiopianBir, or the equivalent of US. $63,000. Of this, approximately 150,000 Ethiopian Bir is donated as a gift by the government of Ethiopia. The remaining 350,000 Ethiopian ($40,332) is a loan to TFG of Somalia. In addition, the Ethiopian government gave the land to the government of Somalia for free.
WDN: As the representative of the Somali people in Ethiopia, what are your official responsibilities?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah: This question can be answered in two ways. Or rather, let me say the job of serving my people is of two fold: One is serving all those Somalis who are traveling or those who are either residents of Addis Ababa or passing through. We have a large budding Somalia community in Addis Ababa in many other parts of this country. It is my job to help those citizens in everyway possible. Once our office resumes full operation, we believe we can be of tremendous help to our people. Whether it is to aggressively assist those families who are separated to realize family reunification, especially helping reunite those who are refugees with those who had successfully established residence in Western countries (USA, Canada and Europe), or facilitating communication and linkage, our job is cut out for us.
WDN: How many embassies are there in Addis Ababa?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah :Well, if you account for all the missions and UN offices, I believe there are 112 known and accredited diplomatic missions and over 1400 diplomats call Addis home. Addis is an old town and has a prestige in the world’s diplomatic community.
WDN: Many Somalis are not sure of Ethiopia’s stand on the territorial integrity of Somalia. Can you please share with us Ethiopia’s official stance on Somalia’s unity and its territorial integrity?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah :The prime minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Meles Zenawi, who has never made a secret for being a friend of the Somali people and the Somali nation, had repeatedly in the past as well as in recent occasions, emphasized the territorial integrity of Somalia. He repeatedly said that it is in the interest of Ethiopia to help Somalia go through its difficult period and maintain its unity and territorial integrity. As recent as weeks ago, Mr. Seyoum Mesfin, his foreign Minster, also reiterated the same message and said that Ethiopia will always observe the unity and territorial integrity of Somalia. As such, we as the representative of Somalia are satisfied with this unequivocal position of Ethiopia on our unity and territorial integrity.
WDN: The other day, I noticed here at Ghion a delegation of 9 that came from the autonomous regional government of Puntland. The delegation came here as a result of an official invitation by the Ethiopian government. Your office was not consulted on this matter. How do you assess this situation?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah: That is true. However, once my brothers arrived from Puntland and reached here, I warmly received them and did all that is possible within our power.
WDN: It is obvious that you are proud of your achievements so far. You seem to have the highest enthusiasm for your job. Can you please highlight some of the most important achievements?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah: The issue that tops our achievements is this: We succeeded to keep our diplomatic seniority in Addis Ababa. Before the civil war, which had almost consumed our nation, our diplomatic car plate number was 28, out of 77 embassies. The plate number of your diplomatic car reflects how much seniority you have in a given country. In the diplomatic world, the first thirty countries are usually considered to be seniors and that earns them a level of respect in the host country. We wanted to keep our seniority and for that matter our prestige.
WDN: How did this issue get raised by Ethiopia? Isn’t it the case that once a country is given a “CD” plate number, it is for the long range?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah: During the civil war, the issue of giving away our position “CD28” to another country was raised many times by Ethiopian officials. Because the Somali embassy was defunct for many years, Ethiopian government official wanted to nullify our position and give the “CD” number away. In which case, we would have been in line now for the 79th or so “CD” plate number. But we fought tooth and nail and finally we triumphed. I consider this a big success for it shows that Somalia never died. Of course we took a huge blow, but we have always remained alive. I cherished this gain.
WDN: What are the other diplomatic achievements you would highlight?
Amb. Abdikarim Farah : Here are the achievements I would like to highlight:
WDN: Anything else?
Amb.Abdikarim Farah : I would like to underline that our presence and the Somalia mission in
WDN: Thanks ambassador and good luck.
Amb. Abdikarim Farah: Thank you and on behalf of my family and myself I would like to extend my greetings and gratitude to WardheerNews and its hard working editorial board.
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