Editor’s Note: Besides the array of news and analysis covered on a daily basis by WardheerNews, getting to know the views and ideas of Somali diplomats, distinguished figures, erudite scholars and academicians, political doyens, and individuals and organizations having the desire to make effective changes to the beleaguered, impoverished, and war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation of Somalia has been WardheerNews’ burning desire for close to a decade. The following is an exclusive interview conducted by our own Adan Makina covering wide-ranging and fascinating topics with Ambassador Dr. Ali Said Faqi, Somalia’s Ambassador to the Benelux and the European Union.
WardheerNews (WDN): Ambassador Ali Said Faqi, Somalia’s new Ambassador to the EU and Belgium, first welcome to WardheerNews. You hold one of the biggest ambassadorial responsibilities for the Somali nation. Did your appointment to these two positions come to you as a surprise?
Amb. Ali Said Faqi: Yes, indeed it was a complete surprise, unexpected and out of nowhere. However, I should admit that I had interest to join politics one day in my life time, but I have never dreamed of becoming a diplomat; it was something that never crossed my mind. Having said that, I am honored to be the Ambassador of Somalia to the Benelux and the European Union.
WDN: Could you share with us your background?
Amb. Ali: I have a PhD in Toxicology and my research interest is on preclinical drug development with specialty on reproduction and birth defects. Here are some of my highlights:
I am a Senior Director at a private research institute. I also hold an adjunct associate professor at Wayne State University, School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
I am a Diplomate of American Board of Toxicology (DABT) and a Fellow of the Academy Toxicological Sciences (ATS). Currently I am an Associate Editor of Reproductive Toxicology Journal and a member of Editorial Board of Open Access Journal of Science and Technology and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI). Moreover, I served on the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) Computational Toxicology at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) from September 2009 to September 2010.
I am an ad hoc scientific reviewer for several scientific journals including Regulatory Pharmacology and Toxicology, Toxicology Journal, System Biology in Reproductive Medicine, Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology, PLoS ONE and Birth Defects Research Part B: Developmental & Reproductive Toxicology, and Drug and Chemical Toxicology. Other positions held include a past president of Michigan Society of Toxicology and a past president of Toxicologists of African origin.
I have published over 100 scientific papers and reports. I am an editor of a text book “A Comprehensive Guide to Toxicology in Preclinical Drug Development”, a book published by Elsevier in December 2012 and an author/co-author of 10 book chapters.
WDN: What led you to be involved in politics since you have a science academic background?
Amb Ali: Let us not forget that since early 2000 shortly after I came to the USA, I was an active member of the Somali Diaspora. I joined Pan-Somali Council for Peace and Democracy (Israaca). Here I met several brilliant Somali intellectuals who still remain as my true fiends. In principle Israaca was a great political organization aimed at defending the noble cause of Somalia. Unfortunately, our deeply rooted mistrust and lack of experience has led to the demise of Israaca. Afterwards it is not a secret that I became a strong advocate of the plight of the people in Benadir, Lower Shebelle and Jubba. It is in my blood that I detest human right abuses. My activism has helped shape my political views and I strongly believe Somali unity is the only way forward. Therefore, politics was something I always had in my heart.
Nevertheless, I am much concerned about the current state of the Somali affairs because it is almost impossible to reverse the trend. Besides political wrestling that has constantly paralyzed our nation, there is completely lack of capacity in all institutions. It is not that we don’t have educated people in these institutions; it is the mentality of the people that is devoid of accountability and work ethics.
WDN: WardheerNews has learned that the Somali diplomatic mission residency located in Brussels was in such a great mess since the main administrative building was in a dilapidated condition. Were you able to reverse the ramshackle state of the said building in Brussels, Belgium?
Amb. Ali: First and foremost please allow me to deeply thank the military regime of Somalia for acquiring these two buildings (the Chancery and the Ambassador’s residence) in Brussels, Belgium. These two properties have not been taken care of for the past 23 years. This has resulted in structural damage of large proportion. We initiated renovating the Chancery with loan money and in a few months the Embassy will have few office spaces and a meeting room. The residence is still occupied by a Belgian family, but I expect them to move out before the end of this month. It looks like, however, the damage of the residence building is so deep that it would require demolishing the entire building and replacing it with a newer one. It is in my priority list to rehabilitate these buildings before my tenure time expires.
WDN: As the Somali ambassador to the EU, what are your main responsibilities? And do you oversee other Somali missions within the EU?
Amb. Ali: My responsibility as an ambassador is to represent the government of Somalia in all meetings at EU, ACP, African Union, Arab league, IGAD, and in one-on-one government settings; involve in diplomacy, oversee all of the other diplomats and local staff, enhance the exposure of Somalia, defend the interest of Somalia, and help Somali citizens in need.
No, I don’t oversee other Somali missions in EU besides the ones that I am accredited to.
WDN: The Somali nation is experiencing turbulent times. How do you see European involvement in resuscitating Somalia politically, socially, and economically?
Amb. Ali: Europe Union is pretty much determined in helping Somalia. It is actively involved in all projects aimed at reviving Somalia, whether it is in the security sector, fighting piracy, justice reform, constitutional revision, building federal states institutions, reconciliation, economic development, food security, etc. The European taxpayers are demanding concrete results; they want to see their money well spent for the wellbeing of the people of Somalia. We need to grasp this opportunity and benefit from it.
Unfortunately, any political, social and economical progress made in Somalia is always deterred by the pandemic political crisis that has afflicted our country for almost a quarter of century. In the history of every nation that went to civil war, it’s the political will of its citizens that revived those nations; Somalia will not be an exception. No matter how much money the world donates to Somalia, nothing can be attained until we strongly stand together and collectively rehabilitate our nation.
WDN: EU and other countries pledged 2.4 B Euro for the reconstruction of Somalia through the agreement of the New Deal on Sept 16, 2013. This fund has been suspended due to allegations of corruption and lack of transparency. What can you tell us about the status of the New Deal Funds?
Amb. Ali: The pledges have not been suspended but delayed due to lack of transparent public financial system in our country. The Somali government has committed itself to working with the World Bank to create a system of banking and financial institutions that have checks and balances. This is expected to be completed soon.
WDN: Many people believed members of the delegation from the Somali Federal government for the New Deal, led by President Hassan, were selected through corruption and nepotism and that many had no experience in government affairs. Since you were among those present at the meeting, what can you tell us about such allegations?
Amb. Ali: I disagree with this allegation. The delegation was composed of the President’s Staff, ministers, parliamentarians, regional leaders and members of the civil society. However, I am not surprised as negative rumors run Somalia and polarize our society and unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to contest it mainly because there is no effective journalism that can take the story and seek the real truth. I like to share a personal experience that I witnessed with the Somali media. During the New Deal summit one of the Somali websites ran a commentary accusing me of being a traitor simply because I happened to be an Ambassador of Somalia at the time while the commentator (he/she) was opposed to the New Deal. Do I take this serious? Absolutely no, but I wish to see any accusations against public figures thoroughly investigated; sadly I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.
WDN: The current Somali administration is said to be run by incompetent people with AID dependency mentality. Do you believe those who are in position of power are capable of moving Somalia forward?
Amb. Ali: Moving Somalia forward is not an easy mission, although many in the public may pretend so. Leadership is a daunting task particularly for countries like Somalia where anarchy and impunity have dominated the lives of the people for over two decades. There is a deep mistrust in our society which then feeds to a negative perception for any leadership. We need to understand that leaders come and go consequently the public does not need to waste time with individuals in the leadership, but they need to push pressure on the government in building strong institutions. Without strong institutions in place a president or a prime minister will not have any power to fulfill their public and political duties. As a result they will be seen as weak and incompetent. Regrettably, this is the scenario that is currently prevailing in Somalia. I am confident that President Hassan and his PM are good people; let us give them time and space to lead the country.
WDN: Al-Shabab still controls large parts of Southern Somalia such as the coastal town of Brava which serves as their main strategic base and headquarters. Why can’t the government with the support of AMISOM re-take such an important city?
Amb. Ali: Experience has shown that military solution is not always the right remedy because securing peace and delivering public services is not the task of the military. That is why I believe in the liberation plan of the Al-shabab controlled territories the government should include the immediate installation of a strong civil administration with a strong police force that should tackle the vacuum left by the defeat of Al-shabab. The government should also seek public support and funding to aid the transition to peace prior to launching a military campaign.
WDN: How do you perceive Somali political participation, acculturation or assimilation into European culture?
Amb. Ali: Somalia and Europe have different history, social and political culture; however, there is a lot to learn from Europe. The European Union is an economic and political union of 28 European countries. The EU has enhanced the social, cultural, economical and political integration of European countries. Europeans may share borders, but have different languages, cultures and traditions. Somalia with a homogenous population share the same language and religion and yet the acceptance and tolerance among its citizens is not something to be desired. In that regard Somalia can learn a lot from the European integration process.
WDN: Do you have any estimate figure of the number of Somalis in the EU and Belgium in particular?
Amb. Ali: I don’t have an estimate number of Somali migrants in EU, but they may exceed or equal a quarter of a million. In Belgium the estimate is about 2,000 people.
WDN: What were you able to accomplish for the duration you have been Somali ambassador to the EU and Belgium respectively?
Amb. Ali: I don’t know if I can say I have accomplished a lot during my short time in the office, but I have a clear objective which I would like to push hard. As someone who is representing Somalia at this critical period of its history, I have no space for failure. I am committed to changing the Somali image and perception by exhibiting integrity, accountability and strong work ethics.
WDN: How is your relationship with the Somali Diaspora in the EU?
Amb. Ali: I am towards building a good relationship with the Somali Diaspora in Belgium and the Netherlands. I have an open policy and my door is open to all, and I have nothing to hide. I like my fellow countrymen and women to conduct themselves kindly and be law abiding citizens in the countries they reside as they need to understand the consequences bad behavior will have for the image of Somalia.
WDN: Thanks for taking the time to share your views and ideas.
Amb. Ali: My pleasure.
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