Somalia's newly appointed prime minister said on Monday that fighting corruption and defeating al-Qaida-linked militants will be top priorities during his term.
A recent attempt to clean up Somalia's weak government and fight militants suffered a set back after a U.N.-backed deal allowed the country's president and parliament speaker to oust a popular prime minister who was pushing for reforms.
Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a Harvard-educated Somali-American, was recently put in office as the new transitional prime minister. He will help appoint a transitional government that will operate until elections next year.
In an interview with The Associated Press Monday, Ali said that his upcoming government would be "small but efficient," and that he would build functioning institutions in the chaotic, war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation.
"I cannot promise that Mogadishu will be the way it was 20 years ago in 12 months. That will be unrealistic," he said during the interview at his office in the capital city. "But what I will try to do is to get rid of militants who made Mogadishu what it is today...(so) its inhabitants who are now (displaced) can come back peacefully to their homes."
Ali took office last month after his popular, reform-minded predecessor was ousted in a deal between President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden. The two men, who argued for months, agreed on June 9 to remove Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, extend the government's term by a year and postpone elections until next year.
Mohamed's government was credited with attacking corruption and paying government employees regularly, something that won him accolades among the public. After his resignation, hundreds of ordinary Somalis, including soldiers, took to the streets in protests that killed at least a soldier and a teenager.
Ali, who previously taught economics at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, said he would continue Mohamed's security achievements and try to build strong institutions that can withstand changes.
During Mohamed's seven months in office, the government had also wrested large swaths of territory from the al-Qaida-linked militants of al-Shabab. The government once controlled only a couple square miles (kilometers) of Mogadishu. But al-Shabab militants have been losing ground since government forces backed by the firepower of the African Union peacekeepers launched an offensive in the capital in February.
Officials say pro-Somali troops now control half the city after a major offensive launched against al-Shabab this year. Pro-government militiamen have also succeeded in clawing back some territories from the militants in southern towns bordering Kenya and Ethiopia.
"Institutions that encourage production, that discourage banditry _ this is what I am all trying to do," said Ali.
Ali promised to name a "small but efficient government," saying his government would reach out to insurgents who now control large swaths of the country's south and central regions, including portions of Mogadishu. He said the government will not shy away from using force whenever necessary to defeat die-hard militants.
"One thing we have to understand is, this is a reconciliation government," and so reconciliation strategies will need to be used, he said, blasting Islamists for imposing extreme interpretations of Islam on the usually moderate Somalis.
Ali said his graduate degrees in public administration from Harvard and in economics from Vanderbilt University would be helpful in reviving an economy and institutions destroyed by the country's two decades of violence, which allowed militancy and piracy to flourish in the country.