Nairobi — A months-long public dispute between interim Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and his former Prime Minister, Prof. Ali Mohamed Gedi, started with disagreement over a proposed Petroleum Law, Gedi told Voice of America's Somali Service program yesterday.
"The biggest issues that started the dispute [with President Yusuf] included the Petroleum Law, the path to reconciliation and constitutional disagreements," the former prime minister said during the Thursday interview.
Gedi said he and President Yusuf agreed before on petroleum issues, adding: "I do not know what changed the president's mind."
The former premier introduced a controversial Petroleum Law in the Somali parliament earlier this year, but the debate over the law was postponed in September as the rift between Gedi and Yusuf grew wider.
If passed, a clause in the proposed Petroleum Law would automatically disqualify any exploration contract issued to foreign companies in Somalia after 1990.
That particular clause in Gedi's proposed Petroleum Law attracted criticism and opposition from many corners, including from an Australian company that signed an agreement in 2005 to explore for oil and minerals in the northern region of Puntland.
Gedi refused to accept the exploration deal Puntland signed with Range Resources, Ltd., on grounds that only the federal government has the constitutional authority to enter into agreements with foreign entities.
His refusal placed him in an odd position, with the Puntland leader Gen. Mohamud "Adde" Muse repeatedly threatening to withdraw support from the Gedi government if the federal parliament ratified the Petroleum Law.
Many believe that Gen. Muse enjoyed silent backing from President Yusuf, who ruled Puntland for six years before being elected the president of Somalia in 2004.
There are no proven oil reserves in Somalia, but exploration data collected by American and European firms during the 1980s show indicators towards the possibility of discovering oil in the country, especially in the Puntland regions.
Another key issue that surrounded the Gedi-Yusuf dispute was government finances, with the former prime minister being accused of mismanaging donor funds.
"The government's finances were managed by the ministry of finance," Gedi said during the VOA interview, adding that "90% of funds donated by the Saudi [Arabian] government were managed by the president."
He called on the Somali transitional federal government to pursue reconciliation with various opposition groups, but categorically rejected talking with individuals linked to terrorism.
"I do not believe in negotiating with terrorists, but I believe it is important to welcome Somali groups who have political issues with the government," Gedi said.
The former premier defended his track record on the reconciliation effort, stating that he met with Islamic Courts figures in Djibouti, and former Somali President Abdiqassim Salat Hassan and key clan figures in the war-torn capital Mogadishu.
Gedi was mildly optimistic about the future of the TFG. The government's transitional mandate expires in 2009, when its expected to hold nation-wide elections for a new government.
"A lot of effort is needed so that if at least 50% of the agenda is complete [by 2009], the international community and the Somali people will be satisfied that the TFG will complete the task ahead."