“Bombing Somalia would not be a solution,” says Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who doubles as administrator for Somalia.
“On the contrary it would only breed more terrorists,” he adds. “I ask the political leaders in the West to give up this idea and use other means to fight terrorism.”
The Vatican agency Fides recently interviewed the bishop, who was in Rome for a meeting of Caritas Internationalis.
–Q: Somalia could be the next target in the war against terrorism. What is your opinion of a possible military intervention? Are fundamentalist Muslim groups in Somalia a problem?
–Bishop Bertin: Since 1985, but more so in recent years, in the absence of the state, when the secular state failed, certain Islamic groups began to propose an Islamic state.
Some of these groups are armed. They are active mainly in areas of Ethiopia where there are Somali residents. This has led to confusion between Somali irredentism and Islamism. The people of Somalia do not deserve to be bombed, first of all because the Islamic groups are no threat to the West.
Ethiopia has been fighting them for years and they are hardly in a condition to undertake any major action.
Second, these extremists are isolated from the rest of society: Most Somalis do not recognize them. A military intervention would only push the people to side with the fundamentalists, making things worse. Therefore, I would urge Western leaders to reflect carefully and find other methods to fight terrorism.
–Q: What is the situation of the Catholic community in Somalia?
–Bishop Bertin: There is no Catholic community, as such. There are a number of individual Catholics and a few women religious. Most Catholics are foreigners working for humanitarian organizations. There is a small group of young Catholics in Mogadishu [the capital] who, with the present situation of chaos in Somalia, live virtually underground.
I myself cannot meet them as a group for security reasons. So I meet two or three at a time. The return of state authorities is important to guarantee security for the few individual Christians and for the Church to continue her pastoral and charitable activity.
Caritas Somalia exists, but not as an independent structure; it supports initiatives of other humanitarian organizations.
–Q: Since 1991 the country has no central state. What is the present political situation?
–Bishop Bertin: Somalia is divided into a least three parts. In the north there is the Somaliland Republic, which declared its independence 10 years ago, but was never recognized by the international community. Here there is some stability, particularly in the central western area.
[There is] northeast Somalia, a zone of relative peace in the last three or four years, which has led to the establishment of Puntland, a temporary local administration that does not aim at independence. In the last two months, however, the situation has become serious with a struggle between two executives.
Central-southern Somalia, the most populated part and potentially the richest, is the zone which has never succeeded in setting up a stable administration. A transition government, formed a year ago at the Djibouti
Conference and installed in the capital Mogadishu, does not control the rest of the territory. However, this government still retains credibility with the international community.
Recently, Hasan Abshir Farah formed a new executive, which initiated relations with Ethiopia. Mogadishu and Addis Ababa decided to convoke a conference in the coming months in Nairobi for all parts of Somalia. This is an important development because Ethiopia has always sought to weaken the government of Mogadishu, and the latter, up to now, has not been supported by the different local components.
–Q: What is the cause of Somalia´s instability?
–Bishop Bertin: The Somali have no culture of state. They are peoples who are tied to a clan and the nomadic life. We must not forget that in 1960, after independence, the leaders of the nation devoured the country´s resources.
In recent times the different clan leaders have worked only for their own interests. This weakens the sense of community: The logic of the clan prevails over that of the common good.