By Lul Araweelo Kulmiye
On January 12, 2019, I had the honor to meet Ahmed Ali Dahir, Somalia’s Attorney General, in his office in Mogadishu. He was kind enough to let me interview him and ask him some pressing issues about the judiciary, condition of prisons, fighting corruption, and the day-to-day work of his office. To watch the interview in Somali click this link.
Question: Somalia has provisional constitution, but what has been done about establishing an independent judicial branch in the country?
Dahir: True, we have provisional constitution that needs to be completed. There are flaws in this constitution regarding the judicial branch that need to be addressed. There is still work going on the provisional constitution. The Ministry of the Constitution, the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution and independent commissions are all putting so much efforts in the completion of this undertaking. We hope our office’s feedback and the ones from civil society, religious scholars, women, and the youth have been collected and a new constitution, complete and accurate, were taken into account. It will be submitted to the federal parliament and later a referendum will be called for its ratification. A complete constitution in which the role of the judicial branch is explained and delineated is expected soon.
Question: How can the federal courts and state courts be reconciled in Somalia’s federal system?
Dahir: This is a very important question that ought to be clarified for many people. Somalia had unitary system before the civil war, then it adopted federalism. In the process, regional governments were formed without first establishing well-defined laws separating, not only the administration, but also the court system. Normally, laws are made before regional states are formed. This odd development created a delay in the work that needs to be done, but now there are attempts to install “Justice Model” for both federal and regional states like the “Police Model.” We have been working on this project since 2014, and hopefully we will have an agreed-upon laws that will define what is for the federal government and what is for the regional governments. Issues like, what kind of cases will be federal or state cases. The same thing for the police; what cases are federal crimes or state crimes. This is the “Justice Model” that we have working with regional governments. The federal Minister of Justice and regional justice ministers have signed the agreement and now the proposal is before the Council of Ministers. Currently though, we are working under the unitary system of justice. Some states like Puntland has its own justice system because it has been in existence for a long time.
Question: What are the main accomplishments of your office during your term and the challenges you have faced?
Dahir: There are many challenges with the issue of security being the most pressing. There are other challenges, such as the working relationship between the Office of the Attorney General and state attorneys; delineating federal crimes and state crimes as we discussed; limited resources such as transportation, funds, and infrastructure. For instance, the office building of the Attorney General is in ruins and it has to be demolished and rebuilt. Currently, we are using an office provided by the Regional Courts of Mogadishu. There are other challenges that also need to be addressed.
However, we are not staying idle because of these challenges. When we talk about institutional building, we have got the necessary things we need. When I was appointed, there were 25 staff, but today that number is 125; the annual budget was $300,000 but today it is $1,1 million or $1.2 million; the prosecutors were seven, but today there are 28. For the first time in Somali history, we have six female prosecutors, who are in key positions of our office. We have made progress in equipping our offices. Prosecutors have undergone a minimum of 30 professional trainings inside and outside the country as part of capacity building. We are doing, for the first time, international cases such as the maritime dispute between Somalia and Kenya, or other cases that involve piracy, illegal fishing in high seas, and cases between Somalia and Mauritius, and Somalia vs. Maldives. We have made a lot of progress, but there are also challenges.
Question: Somalia is recovering from many years of civil war. What is the situation of its prisons, particularly the Central Jail in Mogadishu? There are have been complaints about overcrowding and delays in hearing cases on a timely manner. What do you say about that?
Dahir: Somalia does not have many prisons. The pre-1991 government had a prison in every district. Today, the number of national prisons in the country is small; there is the Baidoa Prison, Garowe and Bossasso prisons in Puntland, Mogadishu’s Central Prison, and two other prisons in Beledweyne and Kismayo that need maintenance. There is a new prison on Kilometer 7 in Mogadishu under construction, which meets international standards. Its Phase 1-A has been completed.
Regarding Mogadishu’s Central Prison, it is located in the capital, which has a population between 2.5 to 3 million people. You can expect, with such high population, there will be crimes committed. The country has not had a culture of law and order for many years due to the civil war. Four years ago, the conditions in this main prison were bleak. A great deal of progress has been made since then and you can see it yourself by visiting. There were times four years ago when 90 inmates were in a cell designed for only 10 people; three liters of water per inmate; shortage of food, no school or job trainings. I want to thank Moalim Nur Foundation in which, when I appealed to it, built four halls for the inmates with a capacity of 400 inmates per hall. New mosques and restrooms were built. Today, every inmate has a bed; TV sets are installed in the cells. There are separate prison holdings for adults and juveniles. Also built are schools, worship places, and factories that make aluminum, chairs, office furniture, and equipment for the army. The inmates make all these products. All kinds of equipment are used for construction, welding, and bricklaying. Recently, there was a show in Mogadishu in which the products made by inmates were displayed. A special well was dug for the prison for clean water. There is a hospital inside the prison. The appearance of the prison from outside may look old and derelict—it was built in 1830—but inside the prison, it is in better condition and the inmates’ lot has improved significantly.
Regarding delayed court hearings, our job is to safeguard the right of the citizen. I have documents now before me in which courts are demanding that we produce supporting documents against defendants otherwise they will be released immediately. That’s good for the accused individuals so that their cases can be heard ahead of their hearings.
Question: What is the status of the maritime case between Somalia and Kenya?
Dahir: It is an international case before the International Court in Hague, in the Netherlands. Recently, Somalia submitted new legal documents in June, 2018. Kenya had six months to respond and it so in December, 2018. We are in the final stages of the case and, hence, we are all waiting a date for a hearing to be determined by the Court. Our team of lawyers and advisors is still intact and hopefully Somalia will win the case . Our argument is based on legality and ownership. We will win, God willing.
Question: Are there any educational institutions that prepare and train the country’s lawyers and judges?
Dahir: No. We do not have justice academy yet. The requirements for being a lawyer now is for someone to have legal and Sharia training and later the candidate is given further on-the-job training through a six-month internship. Then, candidates have to pass a test and evaluated. That is how we hire prosecutors. In the future, we hope to have justice academy. We have a few countries that promised to help us in establishing such an academy, like Turkey and Kuwait, which trained 15 Somali lawyers in their country. Egypt is also expected to help on this matter.
There are Somalis who are either lawyers or law professors who have also offered to help. Today, my professor at the National University 40 years ago visited me. The problem of hiring Somali attorneys in the diaspora is all economic as they may not accept local salaries. We have some who volunteer their expertise.
Question: You have been the Attorney General for over four years under two presidents and three prime ministers respectively. Every day, there are officials being appointed to this position or that, but yet you have not been changed. We know government appointments are based on the 4.5 power sharing system, but why are you different for keeping your position for so long?
Dahir: Many people have asked me that same question. I am a Somali citizen who was educated by Somalia’s tax payers when education was free. I came back to my country to help. Your question better suits to be posed before our national leaders because they are the ones who appoint or fire officials. Personally, I do my work professionally and honestly. I am not involved in any corruption. I have been key to the progress my office has made for the last several years and I am ready to transfer responsibilities if asked. I will help my country whether I am here or abroad.
Question: Somalia is always accused of being the most corrupt country in the world. What have you done about fighting corruption?
Dahir: I don’t agree with the assessment that we are the most corrupt nation in the world. We are not the most corrupt country in the world. I know that because I am privy to many things. Some of the countries that accuse us of being corrupt are themselves more corrupt than us. It is a perception prevalent in the world that we are the most corrupt because of the lack of government in Somalia for a long time due to the civil war. Is there corruption? Of course there is corruption. Are we the most corrupt country in the world? I doubt that. The fact that I am free from corruption in itself is an accomplishment. We have fought corruption in this office. There are elements of corruption of course because we are not 100 percent free from corruption.
There have been many changes in this office such as firing judges or prosecutors and hiring new ones; all are testaments that the fight against corruption is ongoing. The slogan of the current federal government is to fight corruption. A lot of work has been done and a lot remain to be done. This office case indicted six cases for corruption last month. Some were officers, directors, and managers. We have ongoing cases too. Fighting corruption can not be waged in one office; the whole system must fight it comprehensively. There is a need for anti-corruption commission, a watchdog to monitor judges and lawyers, professionalizing the attorney general and auditor general’s offices to increase quality and capacity in fighting corruption. The same with the agencies of criminal investigation, taxation, and immigration, to augment the legal training and education. I think both the government and the public have to do something about changing the perception that we are the most corrupt country in the world.
Question: Talking about corruption and the problem of perception: A Somali boy told me this week that he wants to study politics, but his classmates accuse him of wanting to be a thief because that is what politicians are. What would you advise this boy?
Dahir: Stay away from tribalism, the 4.5 clan system, and don’t support your leaders because of tribalism. If you do your part and improve yourself and every politician does the same, then we will have a clean society.
Question: What do you want to share with the Somali people now that we have concluded the interview?
Dahir: I will tell the Somali people what I said when I took over this office: Support the supremacy of the law. What destroyed our country was the breakdown of law and order. Building our country, fighting corruption, building institutions, strengthening trust, having independent judiciary, accountability, check and balance can all be achieved when we believe in the supremacy of law. Following the rule of law is now the most difficult thing to do; it is like carrying embers of fire. The law is politicized, tribalized, Let us all work on establishing the supremacy of law.
Lul Araweelo Kulmiye
Lul Araweelo Kulmiye is a writer, human rights activist, and the spokesperson of the Somali Gender Equity Movement. She can be contacted at: [email protected]
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