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|Interview With Andrew B. Sisson, USAIDís Regional Director for east and southern Africa|
Below is the full text of an interview held by the Somaliland Times with Mr. Sisson shortly before his departure from Hargeisa on Tuesday Feb 10, 2004
SL Times: Are you going to raise the level of USAID assistance for Somaliland following this visit?
Andrew Sisson: Already as you know the US government is very active in Somaliland as well as in Somalia. Overall, we are providing 25 million dollars a year in humanitarian assistance through USAID and another 3 million dollars a year through the State Department. Most of that humanitarian assistance, food aid and support for communities that are in crisis, is provided throughout Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland. But we also provide development assistance, which is longer-term investment. And almost all our development assistance is in Somaliland exclusively because Somaliland is peaceful, stable and a very good place for us to make investment. So my colleagues and I have come here to visit Somaliland officials and leaders of the civil society and the private sector to learn about Somaliland, its current situation and its future, and also to review the progress of the several programs we have here.
In a month from now we will be going to Washington to present our findings and we will encourage our policymakers in Washington to take even more interest in development assistance in Somaliland. I cannot say if there would be an increase in our assistance that we are expected to continue but exactly at what level we cannot say. But based on what we have seen and heard from our friends here, we believe this is a good place for USAID to work and hope that we can do more in the future.
Q: It is widely-held now that poverty is one of the root causes of terrorism, particularly in Muslim societies. From this perspective, your current policy of providing substantial assistance to Djibouti is seen as a good step. Why your government doesnít take a similar step in support of Somalilandís efforts for poverty alleviation?
A: It is true that we are providing a significant economic assistance to Djibouti and a major reason for that is because the Djibouti government and people have become a major ally for the United States in the war on terror. Djibouti is the only location in Africa where the US has a military base. They have provided us with cooperation and that base is a valuable asset for the United States in combating terror throughout the region because of its strategic location.
So it is not focusing on terrorism in Djibouti but focusing on terrorism in the region at large. Part of the arrangement with the Djibouti government is that we [USAID] cooperate with them as partners and they are strong partners in the war against terrorism.
Coming to Somaliland, we appreciate any assistance that we can get from your government and your people in the war on terror; any assistance that you are already providing or going to provide in the future would be greatly appreciated. Such cooperation with the United States in the war on terror is clearly for us a very significant consideration in our relationship and friendship with you. Our assistance in Somaliland has been going on for along time. But now this war on terror is the top priority of the US government. So in any relationship we have with any country it is an important factor. It is now something considered significant and we would encourage your government to be a strong partner with us and it would be from our perspective, a valuable contribution to our cooperation with you.
Q: What are the impressions that you will take with you as you leave Somaliland?
A: We have excellent impressions. Flynn and I lived in Somalia in 1980s and at the time we traveled all over the country. So it is very nice to see the progress that has been made here in Somaliland. Your government and your people have a lot to be proud of. You have achieved a lot, particularly since the war, in rebuilding your infrastructure, your houses, your economy and in building democracy. We applaud all of these impressive achievements. You have done it very much on your own with little bit of assistance from here and there but basically something you have done on your own. We congratulate you for that and will take this message back with us to our colleagues in Washington: that your have achieved a lot and are committed to a free society, to a democracy and to a political form of participation. No democracy is ever perfect and yours is a young one. So it needs to grow and to flourish. We will take interest in your parliamentary elections so that your democracy becomes a very participatory and representative one. We hope you continue to make strong improvements in your rule of law. Your government has good intentions on all of this and is taking good steps. We encourage you to continue down that path. We leave Hargeisa today very encouraged and looking forward to coming back.
On the personal level we were very impressed by how welcoming and gracious your government was and also people in your civil society. We had excellent meetings, and excellent social events. People made us very welcome and I remember from many years ago that Somalis are warm and friendly people. Iím glad to see that again.