A Divisive Authoritarian President, A Puppet PM, What Next for Somalia?
By Osman Hassan
As desperate and downtrodden people, blighted by decades of deprivation under a failed State, we the Somalis are understandably prone to instant euphoria and escapism the moment we sense relief from our predicament is over the horizon. Such was the occasion when a young, beguiling, little-known NGO activist, Mr Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, was unexpectedly elected president of Somalia out of the blue. This was not so much because of any outstanding qualities about him but because of his apparently untarnished image, (and to some extent vote buying) which earned him the protest vote against the return of the much detested former president, Sheikh Sheriif .
Having succeeded to have their candidate elected, the president’s faceless clannish cabal immediately sat down to burnish his image and extol what they claimed are his clean record and his dedication to serve Somalia unlike his unsavoury predecessors. Catapulted onto Somalia’s political centre stage, the president was immediately lionised and the whole nation went collectively wild with excitement adulating what they saw as their upcoming saviour. Human nature being what it is, it looks as though all this has gone straight into his head.
Only few in the nation had dared to raise their voices and called for realism and sanity. Mr Muktar Omer, a distinguished regular contributor to WardheerNews is foremost amongst them. In a sobering article he posted in this website on September 25th, titled “President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud :not yet a hero!”, Muktar, somewhat taken aback by these unseemly adulations of the president reminiscent of the days of Siyad Barre, reminded his readers that presidents earn their praise on the basis of their achievements but not in advance lest we rue our haste if expectations are not met. Indeed, that is what is already happening as the initial spectacular giddy rise of his stocks among the people is now receding fast like a mirage in the desert.
African leaders cherish to metamorphose into demi-gods once they taste power. Whether our novice president wants to became an all conquering towering leader, a la Siyad Barre, is a moot point. What is clear however is that he has set his sights high, looking perhaps towards other big African leaders in the region, Museveni et al, as his role model. Already, his first months in office are proving problematic as an unmistakeable self-righteous streak takes hold, revealing the early hallmarks of a budding authoritarian.
Clearly, a number of the president’s self-seeking actions are all causes for concern: the lack of transparency of his actions; his reliance on unelected clannish clique who hold sway over him; his creeping disregard for his constitutional limits and acting as a one-man government; his reckless alienation of most of the clans in the land. But above all, it is his pampering the secessionists at the cost of the unity of the country that is the greatest concern to northern unionists. These are some of the issues I shall address in the following sections.
A. Choosing A Puppet Prime Minister
Selecting a puppet Prime Minister (PM), as has transpired, was the first priority and centre piece of the president’s strategy to establish a one-man government. As reliable sources have intimated, Mr Abdi Farah Shirdoon, a colleague of the president and fellow NGO advocate, was earmarked for the post from the outset the moment the president was elected – if not before then. Why then the month-long period in which the president was ostensibly engaged in time-consuming consultations, interviewing some highly capable candidates for the post only to reject them one by one in favour of an inexperienced novice? If that was his intention all along -and that is what it is – what was the point of wasting all this time when urgent government business crying for action was put on the back burner?
One can only conclude that the president expected these cynical side-shows, giving the appearance of a president leaving no stone unturned to find the right person for the prime ministerial post, would go down well with the public and ultimately accept his choice. He certainly had much goodwill to start with, but in the end the public’s patience run out with his dilly-dallying and musical chairs. It is easy for a leader to lose credibility and the trust of the people, the mainstay of his authority, but to regain them might be elusive and arduous.
B. Cabinet appointments and chosen clans
The selection of the cabinet was supposed to be PM’s first major task but that was not to be. Just as he has selected the PM, it was the president again who handpicked the cabinet one by one and made the announcement to the nation as if the country had no PM. These actions are not unconnected but are part of the president’s relentless jockeying for power pulling all the strings with the PM nothing more than a puppet.
What is mind-boggling is that the Prime Minister seems to have submitted to his demise with no obvious resistance. As Ismaaciil C. Xasan asked in a brilliant article in WardheerNews recently (Mee ra’iisal wasaarihii Soomaaliya?), the nation is wondering what has become of its PM? This state of affairs, which is to the benefit of the president and not the nation, should not be allowed to continue. If the PM is unable for one reason or another to effectively perform his constitutional responsibilities to the nation, he should be replaced. That is the job of parliament but whether they will act is questionable.
C. Size of the government
The most controversial move the president has embarked on is his formation of a 10 member cabinet government. Efficiency grounds and cost considerations have been given as their justifications. It is true that a small-sized government has much to recommend itself for a bankrupt government almost entirely dependent on international handouts for its survival. But the other side of the coin is equally important if not more so, and that is retaining the support of the clans who favour a bigger government.
For a country that is basically a motley of clans not yet a nation, which has barely recovered from over 22 years of clan strife and civil disorder, a bigger government, in which clans are equitably represented to the extent possible, provides reassurance to each one that it will not lose out, or others in the government will not ride roughshod over its interests. This fosters stability which is our most important need for sometime more than cost-saving lean government.
Vote of confidence garnered from Parliamentarians, who elected the president in the first place through selling their votes, and who most probably did the same thing this time in endorsing the government, does not reflect wider public support for the government, its PM and least of all its president. As with the former TFG institutions, there is a disconnect between what goes on in parliament and the concerns of the public. And it is their satisfaction and support that is indispensable for sustaining the government in the longer term and not vote peddling parliamentarians lining their pockets. As it is, this president has already alienated most of the people and sooner rather than later the chicken will come home to roost.
D. Pandering to the secessionists
From the perspective of northern unionists, the most egregious action of the president is his rewarding the secessionists while dumping the unionists, a treacherous act that will enter the annals of Somalia’s history. Needless to say, the secessionists never had it so good as they have under this president who gave them on a plate what they had failed to garner from the international community for the last 22 years.
This achievement came about after Somaliland made fundamental change in its quest for recognition. Having realised that no recognition was forthcoming from the international community unless they had first settled the matter with their Somali government, Somaliland had little option but to heed that advice and change tack. That is what they did.
Tribalism is Somalia’s Achilles’ heel and it is through that route Somaliland sought its aims. As they often intimate, support for the union at the best of times is lukewarm in the south, and least cherished among the Hawiye clan. For this reason, and in order to tap this groundswell of potential support, the mythical Irririsim bond was revived in which reciprocity of support for each other’s interests would be the order of the day. The call for the enclave’s recognition by the former TFG minister of the interior, Mr. Abdisamad Maalin Mohamoud, often cited as representative of the Hawiye political class, was the first dividend of this policy.
In pandering to the irrirsim card, the prematurely much-vaunted president has gone beyond the pale more than the unscrupulous Sheikh Shariif would have dared. In return for their votes, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud has rewarded Somaliland by giving the most coveted and sensitive post, combining the foreign ministry and first deputy PM, to Ms Fowsia Yusuf Haji Aden, an inexperienced secessionist who refused to even renounce the secession after her appointment with the president, (and now parliament), turning a blind eye.
Interviewed by both VOA and the BBC Somali Services on her stance on the secession and union issues, her response , disingenuously, is that Somaliland is her country (not her region) and Somalia too is her country. In other words, these are two separate countries and she belongs to each of them as other Somalis in Parliament and government also belong to both Somalia and other foreign countries ( USA, UK,Candada, etc). In other words, Somaliland is separate from Somalia as the UK is. This is the logic that the president, PM and Parliament have all sanctioned.
FM Fauzia Yusuf H. Aden
What makes Ms Fowsia’s appointment all the more unforgivable is that the president preferred her to a number of experienced unionist veterans, some from her own clan, people like professor Ismail Mohamud Hurre “Buubaa” who is not allowed to enter his region, Somaliland, to the present day as punishment for his unwavering support for Somalia’s unity.
E. Marginalisation of the north and demise of unionists
Northern unionists had high hopes that this new president will usher a new era where power will be shared more equitably between south and north, and the unity of the two parts safeguarded by ending the secession or at least liberate those unionist regions in the north under secessionist occupation.
Much to their shock, this president has instead delivered two simultaneous devastating blows to their face. The first is the iniquitous sharing of power where all the three top government posts were selfishly pocketed by southerners as if the north did not exist. And the second, and far worse from their perspective, is his betrayal of the unionists by cosying up to the separatists for his own cynical political ends by giving them the key post that has, for better or worse, direct critical bearing on the unity of the country- a treacherous act that was since independence a red line not even crossed by the warlords.
Both these acts, and the southern-dominated Parliament’s endorsement of this pro-Somaliland government, play into the secessionists’ hands, for the thrust of their case to wean northerners off the union was precisely that the southerners do not care an iota about the union and therefore are in no mood to share power. Capitalising on president Hassan Mohamoud’s favours, Somaliland would now work on its recognition on two fronts: on the one hand persuade and/or pressure the unionists in the north, in the Khatumo, Awdal and Makhir States, to come to terms with the secession in the face of these realities, hoping many disillusioned by President Hassan Mohamod’s actions will now resign themselves to the secession.
On the other hand, they can now more convincingly persuade the international community that Somalia is not averse to their separation. That message will be given immense boost by Ms. Fowsia Yusuf Haji Aden, acting both as Somalia’s foreign minister and at the same time Somaliland’s advocate.
Shedding Sheikh Shariif for Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud has turned out to be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Betrayed by its president, Prime Minister and Parliament, what next for Somalia union?
Email osman.hassan @gmail.com
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