Sabahi (Washington, DC)

Somalia: Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Sort, Modernise Archives

Mogadishu — The Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced plans to organise and modernise its archives, which escaped numerous attempts of being looted or destroyed over the past two decades.

Sheikh Ahmed Nur, director of the ministry's administrative and finance department, said the ministry is planning to assess the entirety of its confidential documents, including treaties and agreements that are related to industrial, military, scientific and technological co-operation.

"The Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation is looking into reviving diplomatic relations with the international community in a manner that differs from the previous transitional governments that successively governed the country after the collapse of the central military government 22 years ago," Nur told Sabahi.

"Our national archives can offer us information and guidance on previous agreements and Somalia's outstanding debt, not to mention Somali foreign bank accounts and fortunes, which include commercial complexes and embassy and consulate buildings," he said. "This will offer very important information for decision-makers at the ministry as well as researchers and scholars in several fields, especially international relations."

Nur said the re-organisation of the archives would coincide with a large restructuring of the ministry, including a modernisation project to equip its offices with computers, internet access, surveillance cameras, identification scanners for the ministry's employees, education materials on languages and diplomatic studies, and power generators.

Retired diplomat Abubakar Adow, an adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the new project would help the ministry as it prepares to restructure its staff in Somalia and at diplomatic missions abroad.

"We have a genuine opportunity," he told Sabahi. "[With financial help from] friendly governments and development agencies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation can have a comprehensive archive based on the latest international standards and benchmarks, thereby guaranteeing the preservation of documents from damage or loss."

Adow said the ministry seeks to create a central archives department to organise and digitise historical papers and to hire and train staff to manage the records.

Policeman Abdi Mohamed Samatar, who is in charge of the unit that guards the ministry, said that he and two other soldiers have worked since the 1980s to protect the archives.

"Militias would fire at us using their machine guns," he told Sabahi. "During such an incident in April 1995, I was shot and had to stay at Medina Hospital, which is close to the ministry, for 25 days before I could leave."

Samatar's small unit also clashed several times with tribal militias trying to take over the ministry building to turn it into apartments or commercial shops. "We have been very cautious about such deals that are not in the public interest," he said.

Samatar said the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took over the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and tried to burn the archives and partition the ministry buildings. Activists thwarted the mission, however, by convincing the ICU that the archives offered a historical record for future generations.

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