The selection of Hassan Sh. Mohamud in September, 2012 as President of Somalia kindled a momentary burst of excitement in a national mood that was, up to that point, epitomized by dour feelings and increasingly pessimistic outlook. Somalis everywhere were thrilled, in the off chance, that with new political leaders at the helm, as it were, the country maybe at the cusp of national renewal. For a brief moment in time, this was the prevailing sentiment expressed passionately in spontaneous outpouring of well-wishes and heartfelt congratulatory messages. Folks from all walks of life within the country as well as from far flung corners of the world took part in the reveling, which, in retrospect, turned out to be entirely premature demonstration. Why? Because the President decided early on to be upfront about his plans to fulfill sectarian agenda at the expense of policies advancing archetypical national priorities. As a result, all the goodwill and near universal support shown to him personally and subsequently to the government that he seems control evaporated in one fell swoop.

Many of those welcoming the new head of state had no illusions that President Hassan, a virtual unknown among Somalis, was going to morph into a transformational leader overnight and suddenly bring about a sort of nirvana in the troubled country. Their expectations were rather modest. They hoped for a government that pursued a national agenda giving rise to clear break with the sordid politics of the recent past; an honest attempt at ending the sorry era of mindless civil conflict and comprador-led, caretaker governments.

They were looking for baby steps towards reclaiming the nation’s place under the sun along with earnest efforts to help restore the collective dignity of the Somali persona both at home and overseas. Of course, those hopes were dashed in what seemed like a flash as the new president, who was catapulted into power by laundered plane loads of cash from shady Middle Eastern sources, revealed his true sectarian colors.

Today, Somalis across the Horn of Africa and beyond are mostly perplexed by President Hassan’s approach to governance. Beyond his palpable inexperience and obvious naiveté, he is exhibiting an unsettling knack for misjudging events, missing ethical guideposts and ignoring basic elements of political acumen. He has been in office only matter of weeks. But the string of patently bad decisions attributable to him and his coterie of Dam Jadiid advisors are already legion. Notable miscalculations in this category include his recent visit to Hiiraan for “consultation” as to whom he should nominate as Prime Minister, while sidestepping Puntland altogether and second-guessing the real progress that is being made in Jubaland. This is significant in that the detested 4.5 formula was still in full effect, making Puntland and Jubaland the first among equal communities to lay claim to the PM position in accordance with the set rule of the extant playbook.
Pres Mohamud in Beled Weyne
Pres. Mohamud addressing the residents of
Beled Weyne during his visit in Sep. 2012

There were also a number of gaffes and contradictory statements coming from President Hassan. In the same Hiiraan visit, he urged the local population to choose a governing body for their budding federal state. But he scoffed at the thought of the people of Jubaland exercising that exact Allah-given right, which is also enshrined in the provisional Somali constitution—a clear example of double standard, if ever there was one.

But this seems to be in keeping with his emerging governing style. In point of fact, President Hassan has all but farmed out key presidential decisions to a secretive religious organization (Dam Jadiid) that is accountable to no one (outside the membership of its inner sanctum).

This is no simple oversight nor can it be dismissed as innocent quirk. It compactly dovetails with his apparent obsession of late with all matters having to do with the burgeoning federal state of Jubaland—an aberrant fixation pointing to the President’s narrow view regarding governance. It is also a revealing example of an oafish fondness, on his part, for sectarian politics bordering on proclivity for clan-stacking. How else would he waste such an inordinate amount of precious time trying to thwart an impending federal state’s efforts to form a government, while no one is attending to the innumerable pressing issues facing the nation? This problem is all the more vexing in that President Hassan does not seem to fully appreciate that paying little or no attention to national priorities such as security, reconciliation and social developmental programs, at this critical juncture, will have dire consequences.

Worse yet, President Hassan is on record spoiling for confrontation to be able to frustrate the political, civic and religious leaders of the Jubaland communities. He wants them to buckle under the pressure of the otherwise aimless regime in Mogadishu that he heads. This despite the fact that Jubaland leaders are, by all accounts, adhering to a democratic process that is scrupulously fair and transparent; Jubaland political leaders have repeatedly stated their commitment to accommodating all legitimate stakeholders from within the three regions (Lower Juba, Middle Juba and Gedo) to be full-fledged participants in the process of forming a broad-based state government.
A photograph released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team of soldiers of the Somali National Army (SNA) upon their arrival in Saa’moja near Kismayo on October 1, 2012.
A photograph released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team of soldiers of the Somali National Army (SNA) upon their arrival in Saa’moja near Kismayo on October 1, 2012.

Still, true to his earlier pledge, President Hassan rejected out of hand the state’s proposed governing structure, which was carefully crafted with due attention to all relevant details. Instead, he wants to impose on the citizens of that state-in-waiting a regime not of their choosing, which parenthetically is neither fair nor consistent with the guiding principles of the provisional constitution.

This is undoubtedly chaotic approach to crafting national policy. For example, his insistence that the federal government in Mogadishu, specifically his office, should intervene in what is indisputably state prerogative, namely the formation of state government, is viewed by many as odd; folks are taken aback by the effrontery of President Hassan’s callous yen to dictate that very process to the local citizens. And so the citizens of Jubaland can be forgiven if they are more than a little mystified by President’s specious line of reasoning as it relates to their state.

President Hassan’s justification for interfering in this issue, which is potentially fraught with myriad problems, is that Kenya is playing an active role in the on-going efforts to establish Jubaland’s federal state government. He feels that his otherwise torpid government should take the lead in all this.

But that argument misses a couple of important points: 1) the federal government has no constitutional role to play in states forming their own governments; 2) the government in Mogadishu is ill-prepared to accomplish this important task; absent AMISOM muscle it has no protection nor could it establish a firm foothold in that city’s security, let alone the sprawling state of Jubaland; Shabab is still breathing heavily on the collective necks of the President’s regime apparatus; and 3) the issue of Kenya’s role is more complicated than meets the eye; it involves mutual security and the necessity for establishing the governing structure needed to safeguard the peace. Hence, the need to create a Jubaland government that can build a focused security infrastructure in the area under her purview.

Further, Kenya’s involvement is part of an on-going mission entrusted to that country. It is a multi-faceted operation that enjoys the support of IGAD. And Kenya undertook it expressly at the behest of the Somali nation. The official request came from high up in the former TFG regime in Mogadishu many months before President Hassan assumed his tenure in office.
Ahmed madobe of Ras Kamboni Brigade in Kismayo
Ahmed Madobe of Ras Kamboni Brigade
in Kismayo

True enough, under normal circumstances, such a venture would seem unusual for its extraterritoriality aspect. But that concern is obviated by more urgent extenuating condition, namely the imperative for enhanced security in both communities.

That is why Kenya agreed to undertake a military campaign that was instrumental in helping to liberate key parts of Jubaland from Shabab—a group that still represents clear danger to both countries.

So while Kenya’s involvement is not entirely for altruistic reasons, her efforts are both understandable and of strategic interest to both countries, especially since the government in Mogadishu is not up to task. After all, there is no denying that Kenya has tremendous stake in securing the porous common border. Or, that she needs to shore up her defenses to minimize unpleasant surprises from across the border with the Somali Federal Republic.

It is for the above reasons and not necessarily sinister motives that Kenya is doing this. There is another crucial factor, which the President and his cohorts seem to overlook. It has to do with the fact that Kenyan-Somalis are important actors in this campaign. They are duty-bound to assist their brothers and sisters on the other side of the border, in their hour of need.

Besides Kenya’s need to secure her northern flank from attacks, the Somali-Kenyan factor explains in part why Somalia’s neighbor to the south undertook the mission to help liberate the City of Kismayo and its environs from Shabab. In this context, the issues of Jubaland state government and Kenyan security requirements are intertwined. Likewise the abovementioned campaign is aimed at restoring peace and stability to the wider region.

So it makes no sense for President Hassan to ask Kenya to abandon the cause. For such a course of action would leave Kenyan territory vulnerable to the vagaries of a subterranean war from an avowed, determined foe that promises to wreak havoc on her territory. It would also render the common border insecure with all that was achieved thus far, including the liberation of Kismayo, for naught.

Any demand for premature Kenyan withdrawal, therefore, without credible substitute force from the Somali side is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. It would only crystallize the apparent disconnect between the current occupant of Villa Somalia and the objective reality as it exists in Jubaland, among other places.

Any argument to the contrary would similarly confirm that significant amount of incongruity plus liberal of dose inaptitude is at play here. In this regard, it is important to underscore the need for implementing and cementing the articles of federation to get the Somali Federal Republic on the road to stability and veritable socio-economic development. To give federalism firm grounding, therefore, fully autonomous states and a weak central government must negotiate workable power-sharing modalities with emphasis on the fiscal federalism elements. Up to now, the new government in Mogadishu is operating in a vacuum. They seem to regard federalism as though it is unreal and that things will always be dictated from that city irrespective of the wishes of Somali citizens across the country.

Such a mistaken mindset, however, contravenes the mandates of the provisional constitution. It also represents a worn-out notion concerning the role of national government. Ironically, too many Somalis have vivid memories of Mogadishu as the place where in 1991 thousands of innocent Somalis were slaughtered, Interahamwe-style, for the sin of belong to the wrong clan, which renders centralization of political power in that City practically a dead letter.

Those and scores of similar crimes took place throughout the south, from Afgoye to Merka to Brava to Baidhabo and Kismayo and elsewhere in the riverrine areas. But strangely, President Hassan has not saw fit to so much as acknowledge such horrendous crimes against humanity. To his credit though, he spoke of earlier abuses suffered by Somalis in the northwestern part of the country. But the glaring omission from his contrived narrative is telling. So far, he refused to recognize that the victims of the 20 years war on civilians being waged by clan militia SNM in parts of the north; a lapse that maybe indicative of the blind alley to which he wants to lead the country!
Abdiqasim Sala Hassan
Abdiqasim Salad Hassan

His dispatching of former warlords, the butchers of the south, including parts of Jubaland regions to run interference for him in Kismayo was arrogant as it was dumb move. Naturally, it failed miserably as his notorious delegation was returned on its heels from the airport—a fiasco that was altogether avoidable if President Hassan was a little thoughtful about the situation. Instead, he reportedly relied for advice on this from Abdulqassim Salaad Boy, the godfather of the murderous Indhacade and a disgraced figure himself closely identified with the architects of the savage, Mogadishu massacres. It is not difficult then to guess what is in the President Hassan’s tool box as far as policy goes!

Finally, in the spirit of never having to say never, President Hassan should reverse course, while he still has the opportunity to do so. He should pay close attention to the need for genuine reconciliation among Somalis. This will give him the credibility he sorely needs to pursue policies that would engender peace and real social development (in concert with the existing federal states and those in the pipeline) along the lines of effective federalism. Such close collaboration between a weak central government and fully autonomous states is the only way forward towards good governance in the Somali Federal Republic. The dismal status quo that gave us a society that is perpetually staring at abject failure in the face would no longer pass muster with Somalis!

Barring this, which is unfortunately more likely, President Hassan will continue on his merry way opening one Pandora’s Box after another until his presumed mandate (that was procured with cold cash) completely loses its patina. Thereupon Kismayo will truly become his Achilles’ heel.

Mahdi Sheikh Ahmed