On the 15th of May, the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS) hosted Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, the former Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Somalia. Held at CHS, the lecture was focused on the modern history of Somalia and the challenges it is facing in realizing peace. It was moderated by Dr. Ghassan Elkhalout, Director of CHS. This event arises from CHS' commitment to promoting dialogue and collective engagement in all stages of conflict and transition processes. The lecture saw the attendance of various diplomats, scholars and experts, students, and members of the Somali diaspora.
Following a brief introduction to the event, Dr. Ali Gaas began his lecture by noting the relevance of the lecture in light of the ongoing presidential elections in Mogadishu. Dr. Ali Gaas outlined key characteristics of Somalia's geography, highlighting the abundance of natural resources in the country ranging from bauxite, copper, gold, natural gas, oil, and uranium, among others. He maintained throughout his lecture that this feature is both a blessing and a curse, noting that the least developed countries in the world – many of them in Africa – have the most natural resources, meaning that resource management is a better determinant of prosperity. Dr. Ali Gaas then provided an overview of Somalian politics and society, contextualizing it against in the aftermath of the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century and leading up to its independence in 1960 when the first Republic of Somalia was formed. He described the period between Somalia's independence and the 1969 military coup as "years of democracy," whereby people enjoyed many civil liberties, including the right to a fair court trial and freedom from unwarranted searches of homes and properties. This situation was reversed with the military coup led by General Barre, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 21 years. His government was overthrown in 1991 by clan-based opposition groups, and the country descended into a civil war that saw the complete destruction of state institutions and public infrastructure. Dr. Ali Gaas then moved to detail key milestones in Somalia's transitional period from the civil war to peace, including: the formation of the first transitional government in 2000; the emergence of the Islamic Court Union and their final defeat by the Transitional Federal Government in 2008; the convening of the national reconciliation conference in Djibouti in 2009; the first presidential elections in 2012 and their failure to bring about effective change; and the last presidential elections in 2017, which saw the election of populist leader Mohamed Abdullahi Farhmaji. Dr. Ali Gaas concluded his lecture by highlighting seven key challenges to stability and progress, including society's unrealistic expectations of the rate of change and progress, the overwhelming power of clans in the country, and the fear of al-Shabab's growth should Somalia's problems continue to go unaddressed.
In a lively question-and-answer session after his public address, Dr. Ali Gaas entertained questions from the live audience, shedding important insight on: the influence of GCC countries on the ongoing elections in Mogadishu; fostering democracy in Somalia; the issue of Somaliland; the role of the Arab League and Western nations in bringing stability to Somalia; Somalia's relations with its neighbors; and the seemingly elusive search for benevolent leadership in the country.
Overall, the lecture affirmed the importance of creating strong, stable, democratic institutions for national stability and progress – a process that must be led, first and foremost, by Somalis themselves, not foreign states or international organizations. It also underlined the necessity of taking a long-term perspective on reconciliation, recovery, and development, as opposed to unrealistic expectations of overnight change.