Chasing Mirages Across Somalia
Hopelessness is a dangerous dead-end. As in people, nations need sense of hope to exist and to deal with inevitable challenges throughout their development and indeed existence. But that sense of hope must be grounded on reality; otherwise, it turns into delusion.
With the so-called election being around the corner in Somalia, it is fair to say that this systematically eroding nation is in the thick of that season of delusional self-assurance. Positive change is inevitable without making any change in method and mindset.
Many candidates are lined up to replace the de facto President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose term has ended on September 10th, who is enjoying an extension without mandate, who himself is a candidate. The Parliament is sidelined as in 2011 right before the transitional period came to an end. Worse, there is no Constitutional Court to judicially arbitrate.
These candidates, by and large, have only one thing in common: the conviction that “The president must go.” This sentiment which resonates with the majority of Somalis has ironically rendered any substantive inter-candidate debate on critical issues unnecessary, at best.
Most seem confident that a replacement would automatically bring about the direly needed change to repair brokenness and rectify ills. However, history reminds us of successive disappointments that resulted from such false assumption in the past decades.
Governance by Tourism
Four years ago, I have privately counseled and publicly cautioned that the newly elected President was bound to fail if his government does not provide direly needed public services, make genuine reconciliation and transparency to end corruption his top priorities. And fail, he did.
Against this backdrop, President Mohamud has been expanding his authority by issuing unconstitutional decrees that are intended to become part of the policies shaping the electoral process. His effective tactics worked like this: He would issue a decree that clearly overreaches the legislative authority of the Parliament, and then swiftly, before any public outcry or any candidate could react, IGAD and UNSOM would issue their respective congratulatory statements. Implementation ensues.
Meanwhile, in order to present a façade of legitimacy, the coopted Speaker of the Parliament is granted a symbolic seat at the so-called National Leadership Forum. The NLF is an IGAD concocted and international community supported political sham that grants a handful of regional actors and government officials with clear conflict of interest the exclusive political authority to decide Somalia’s existential fate. Make no mistake; this can only lead into a never-ending process of transitioning out of transition, bloodshed and perpetual dependency.
Smoke-screened by this political theatrics, the reinvention of President Mohamud is smoothly underway. He is in effective hands of professional image-makers who are capable of making miserable failures look like exemplary successes. In this recent article with all dramatic visual and sound effects, President Mohamud, the man under whose watch Ethiopia got a blank check to run the Somali political affairs and al-Shabaab became more lethal than ever before, claims to have a new plan to restore security and defeat that terror group.
On their part, the Council of Ministers has completed the National Development Plan or the cosmetically enhanced version of the cash-sucking New Deal Somali Compact 52 days before their term expired. The subsequent political fanfare by the advocates of status quo was hardly surprising.
Never mind that the current leadership are yet to designate national currency and are yet to address how having US dollar, the Ethiopia’s Bir, and Kenya’s Shilling—the national de facto currencies—contribute to inflation and make life economically unbearable for the average Somali. People are led to believe that these same leaders whose ‘national budget’ is made of salaries and operation costs, who are yet to set up a single government-funded clinic or feeding and housing centers for the nearly one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu alone, are set to improve the Somali per capita income and reduce poverty.
Meanwhile, suits are pressed, shoes are shined and suitcases are packed. The Somali leadership team is anxiously waiting for the next great conference being convened somewhere across the seas.
Coercive Institutionalization of Clan Federalism
Ever since certain members of the political elite accepted that clan-based federalism is a viable governance system; that false narrative has neither faced serious scrutiny nor serious setback. Well, at least not until the government, IGAD, and UNSOM have at various times attempted to lure, pressure, and coerce the traditional leaders of Hiiraan to merge into an arbitrary union with Middle Shabelle and immediately form a federal-state before the upcoming election. Apparently this trio has forgotten Hiiraan’s historical reputation as the womb of Somali patriotism.
So, Hiiraan became ‘Laf dhuun ku taagan’ or the ‘bone that stuck in the throat’ of the trio and a major setback against the political formula engineered to make the reconstitution of the Somali state impossible, and inter-clan perpetual enmity and bloodshed the political order.
Which of the Presidential Candidates Might be the Right One?
In identifying the right person, it is critical to establish criteria through which each candidate could be evaluated. None should be granted advantage based on name recognition, clan affiliation, or cash cushion. Election or selection should be criteria-based:
– Does he or she have a clear vision, grand strategy and a viable implementation plan to help him or her shake up the current externally manipulated political order?
– Is he or she willing to cut the umbilical cord of dependency and spearhead a nation willing to mainly rely on itself?
– Is he or she willing to put genuine reconciliation, public service and transparency on top of his or her priority list?
– Is he or she willing to push-back against IGAD & UNSOM diktats and accept the fact that the authority to govern comes from the people, and that he who grants you that authority can also take it away from you?
– Does he or she recognize the existential importance of having one or two strategic partners instead of an array of states and interest groups of conflicting interests?
If these criteria seem too difficult to meet, rest assured, they are. No one should be misled to believe otherwise.
Sowing Before Harvesting
The succeeding president and government will not make substantive change so long as they don’t put genuine reconciliation, followed by constitutional convention that addresses all critical issues ignored by the current counterfeit document on the top of their priority.
The new constitution must overhaul the political order of the day. It may acknowledge the social relevance of clan structure but must declare in no uncertain terms the separation of clans and state and ensure that clans have no political authority and that clan-based distribution of political power is done with. In their very nature, clans promote exclusive rights and perpetual zero-sum strife against other clans.
Somalia may not get a candidate who meets every aspect of the criteria but it cannot afford not to raise the bar. It is time for the public to demand accountable leaders with transformational vision. It is time to resist getting intoxicated with political rhetoric. It is time to end the mirage-chasing game.