Transcript

Rebuilding Somalia with Issa Farah


issa-farah-thumb Issa Farah
Minister for Oil and Minerals, Puntland

 




Introduction

Welcome to the La Trobe  University podcast. My name is Ernest Raetz.  We have with us today Issa Farah, a La Trobe University student in history who  was appointed in January this year as the Minister for Oil and Minerals of the  State of Puntland in Somalia. Puntland is currently going through a  process of change following an election in the country in January during which  a new president was elected who is also a La Trobe University graduate.  Issa Farah, will you briefly tell us a little  about this process of change that Somalia is going through at the  moment, and the role of both yourself and the president in this process?

Issa Farah

I’ll start from who we  are first. I’m Somalian and lived in Australia for over 20 years. I came  here as a refugee. Abdirahman Farole, who is the president of Puntland, also  has a background as a refugee, but has gone back time and time again because he  has been called by the community in Somalia to participate in the peace  and reconciliation process. I started at La Trobe University in 1997 with Bachelor  of Arts and then continuing Bachelor of Arts and Law. I did not complete my Bachelor  of Law, but instead went to do a PhD. We became the head of the State Puntland (after  Abdirahman Farole was elected as the President of the State of Puntland) where he won  75 per cent of the votes. Puntland is located in north eastern Somalia. Mainly  it’s a very dry part of Somalia;  it’s not lush and green like the south, but it’s got something that is quite  different from the rest of Somalia,  which is peace. It’s very peaceful. The Puntland state has been put together by  the community in 1998. We are the third government that came to power. And Abdirahman  happens to be one of the luckiest guy who now heads Somalia. I say luckiest guy,  because he’s got an opportunity to bring around peace to the whole of Somalia. He  will be able to, if he works hard with cool heads and good politics, not only  bring peace to Puntland and develop Puntland, but bring peace to all Somalia.

Ernest Raetz

You worked with him at La  Trobe University?  Can you tell us a bit  about what it was like to set up a government, to set up your posts there?

Issa Farah

Well, when he appointed  me to be General Director of the Puntland Petroleum and Minerals Agency. I  actually turned up at my office; it’s a bit bizarre, two days later someone  turned up and said, ‘look I know you are the guy who has been appointed to head  this, but I want to tell you that the furniture in the office belongs to me and  I haven’t been paid’. And then another guy turned up and said, ‘I haven’t been  paid for nine months the rent of the office’. We are in that kind of situation.  I  inherited one of the portfolios that  had an enormous amount of money went thorough through because there were a lot  of foreign companies coming into Somalia for oil and exploration, but none of  that went into my department. So Abdirahman, when I came back to him a few days  later and told him all this, he said, ‘are you sure this is the case?’ And I  said, ‘yes, we have to pay, we are in debt. The furniture, the seats that I  use; the tables, the board room, the whole lot belongs to someone else.

Ernest Raetz

So you spent six months, and  you’ve had some success there so far?

Issa Farah

Yes, we have had started  organising meetings between oil companies, we have started becoming more  transparent, we want to deal with the oil companies more vigorously, more  robust; and this robust and vigorous way will help us to at least understand more  about who these people are, what their plans are. So we are working very hard,  trying to not only to build the ministries, but also we want to work hard  dealing with companies that have been working in Somalia doing some exploration.

Ernest Raetz

So you will be talking to oil companies also while you are here in Australia?

Issa Farah

At the moment I’m talking to one of our partners by the name of Range Resources. It’s a company that has  been working in Somalia  from 2007 and then brought another company called African Oil. This company,  both of them, are our partners in oil exploration and in minerals in Puntland.

Ernest Raetz

Any other countries interested in exploring in your part of the world?

Issa Farah

Well, it would be great if more Australian companies were involved.   It would be more diverse; so we’ve got one Australian and one Canadian, maybe  one American will do. But at the moment we’ve got Australian and Canadian  companies working for us in Somalia.

Ernest Raetz

How does this situation  with piracy that’s often in the news, how do you think this will affect the  sort of programs you are trying to put into place in terms of oil exploration?

Issa Farah

Piracy usually, their  problems are on the high seas. We are going to do something called seismic  operations along the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.  We think it might affect in terms of security, but because they are Somalis,  the pirates, and we are Somalis so they don’t usually go and chase or hijack  ships or operations that are for Somalis. They usually hijack ships travelling  along that path because they think it’s easy catch; it doesn’t belong to the  Somalis. they’ll get the money they want because the foreign companies that own  these ships, or the owners of these companies or the insurance, don’t want to  risk the lives of the crews.

People think that it’s  Somalis who – yes it’s Somalis who actually perform this hijacking and pirates  – but it’s the west that actually contributes greatly, because they are giving  them money.

Ernest Raetz

You’re fairly confident  that with a good oil and mineral exploration program initially you may be able  to rebuild the country’s wealth?

Issa Farah

Yes, I think so. The oil  prospect in Somalia  looks very good. The Somalis at the moment are tired of civil war. There is  this perception among the Somali that twenty years of fighting did not produce  anything for Somalia.  It’s time for all of us to get together and say, look, let’s try to sort our  differences because there are differences. I’m very optimistic that oil and the  oil industry in Somalia will  flourish in the near future, especially in Puntland because Puntland is more  peaceful than the rest of Somalia.

The people who are currently  in position that are the government are mainly from the diaspora community,  highly educated Somalis with a real blend of western ideology and Somali  traditional values and Islamic values. Islam is the back bone, but we have a  lot to learn from the west. I see myself as a western Somali who can go back to  Somalia,  who wants to do the best that he can, with the rest of the team led by this President  who happens to be from La Trobe as well, that I share fully with, so we can do  a better a job for our country.

Ernest Raetz

Now is this happening  also within some of the other states as well, or is Puntland ahead of the game  in that respect?

Issa Farah

Puntland is ahead of the  game because it’s the only state that actually says we are an autonomous state.  We want to be part of a Somalia  that is going to be a federal system, so we pass new constitutions, we develop  a multi-party system. We are the only state, and we are embryonic of the Somali  new political system.

Ernest Raetz

How can Australia help  in that process?

Issa Farah

We want the Australian  government to play a role for rebuilding Somalia  again, and especially in Puntland because we are Somali Australians, and I  think Australia can play a  huge role in either influencing the international community, regional states,  or Australia itself becoming  a partner in Puntland, so we can solve the major problems of Somalia.  I think Australia can play a fantastic role  and - and one of them is by at least sending delegations, or maybe inviting the  President of Puntland here.

You know the piracy in Somalia, it’s not only Somalia’s  problem. It’s a global problem, and Australia  is part of the world, and the more that Australia  involves Puntland, and actually talks to us, that will help both Somalia and Australia. And I would love to  stress that Australia  must take a role, must play a role and do the best that we can.

Ernest Raetz

And La Trobe University?

Issa Farah

Because I’m a graduate from  La Trobe University, and the President is also from La Trobe University, we  want to see some kind of partnership, friendship between La Trobe University  and Puntland state, because conferences can be held at La Trobe University about  Somali development, about Somali programs. That would be really important for  the peace and reconciliation of Somalia.  La Trobe University  can play a huge role where they can probably put together some kind of  symposium about Africa, particularly Somalia. So I think La Trobe can also  play a role in that sense.

Ernest Raetz

So you were here for the  recent La Trobe University Islamic Banking and Finance Conference, and the new course  we have here in that respect; how is that able to assist in your plans?

Issa Farah

One of the things that I  would like to stress is that the school, that is the Master of Islamic Banking  and Finance degree, is the first of its kind in Australia, and it started from La  Trobe University.  And because the President  of the State of Puntland Abdirahman    Farole is a banker, I want to take quite a bit of  material from the conference, and quite a bit of information from the head of  the school, (Dr) Ishaq (Bhatti). And it was useful simply because we are a new  government and a new state, and we want to develop a banking system and Abdirahman  when he was here, at La Trobe University, he was doing his PhD on the banking  system, and I think it would be great for him to learn from this University  again on issues relating to the banking system, Islamic banking system; and if  La Trobe University can provide that kind of information it would be great. And  I’m sure when he comes here we will be visiting here, and talking to the head  of the school and the department.

Ernest Raetz

Thank you very much Issa Farah  for speaking with us today.

Issa Farah

You’re welcome.