Somalia: A Government Failing at its own Peril
Somalis could aptly capture the disappointment with Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud's administration in the following proverb: "Dha'do roob noqon waayday!" and a fittingly comparable Indian saying goes "Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm….,"
One must wonder why conditions in Mogadishu and adjoining southwestern regions of Somalia are descending back to anarchy and to a renewed conflict. One may also wonder why all the fanfare orchestrated in the month of February when Somalia's new leader, Hassan Sheikh Mohamed, visited the US and Europe so quickly dissipated. Yet, most Somalis suspect that policy makers in Washington D.C. and its proxy country in the Middle East – the kingdom of Qatar – were hasty to declare "mission accomplished" in the long conflict of Somalia.
If indeed true, that would have been good news to be welcomed by Somalis – a population so hungry for peace, development and security in their own backyard. But it was not meant to be so. As matter of fact, the month of February, 2013 could go into the annals of the history of this troubled country as the month when hope for lasting reconciliation and a new history making among the country's disparate clans was thrown into oblivion. As such, there is a credible fear the adage of "clouds floating into our life, but no longer carrying rain" could be the true fate of the nation in the lurking.
The government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, who has been eroding whatever little is left of Somalia's cohesion and coexistence, is responsible for, in the words of Dr. Weinstein, the production of a "renewed conflict" between the center and the regions.
A novice in politics who enjoys deep roots in religious radicalism (Africa Confidential, October 2012), Hassan Sheikh took power in September of 2012. At the outset, his lack of experience worked in his favor, because, as often noted by those who elected him in September of 2012, he was perceived as the lesser of two evils (between him and the former President Sheikh Sharif). In a sense he is a man without history and without paper trail.
Alas, a Somali scholar who spent with Hassan Sheikh (almost three days of a grueling session in Djibouti in 2010) said this: "for three hard working days of deliberations and discourse, Hassan said nothing. All that was feasible in his face was that he came across as a man of tremendous anger and partisanship."
Despite some cosmetic gains, most often orchestrated by donors who are anxious to hand over Somalia's affairs and make her leaders responsible for their citizens' protection and management, Hassan Sheikh's policies so far bear truth to this cogent observation by one of Somalia's prominent academics.
Let us skin off the layers of the ongoing dismantling of the tangible gains Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud's predecessors so far made and the rapid dissention to the abyss of conflict.
Jubbaland: The residents of Jubbaland had seen enough terror, occupation and wanton bloodshed in the hands of militia commanded by the late Aidid Farah, who is alleged to have introduced into Somali political culture what Dr. Lidwein calls "clan cleansing."
They have also suffered multiple invasions by the allied forces of Jubbland valley (Dooxada Juba) encouraged and funded by the first transitional government, headed by Abdi Qasim (Qasim is now a close advisor to Hassan Sheikh). The longest occupation of the region has been under the forces of Al-Shabab.
In 2008, a new chapter ushered in Jubbaland where a grass roots effort was launched to establish a local administration that would tackle invading outsiders and possibly put security matters in the hands of locals (this effort was based on an earlier effort carried out by the United Nations in 1993). The objective was to empower local folks not only to govern themselves, but to also protect and provide for their security. This was advised by a theory that combines the tools of local governance and grass roots approach to neighborhood protection.
Instead of joining and promoting this noble effort, the government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud made its number one national policy to fight and dismantle the gains so far registered in this region. By doing so, he deliberately violated key Sections of the provisional Federal Constitution of Somalia, including but not limited to Sections of Articles 48, 49, and 47. Worse, he used divisive languages and politics of wedge that eroded the prestige of his own office.
The very perception that the President of Somalia is painted with such an ugly picture as "tribalist," or "vendetta carrying USC cadre," makes him an irrelevant of a leader with no national appeal. Unless he shows some significant and immediate mending of relations with all sections of the Somali communities, his administration is looking for a rocky future ahead.
For a potential amelioration of the situation and perhaps the only way to save his presidency, a must–study lesson to him in this respect would be the recent agreement reached between Puntland and his own Prime Minister, Saacid Farah, a more calm and conciliatory figure.
Somaliland: Somaliland had declared a unilateral secession from the rest of Somalia in 1991 on the ashes of Somalia's failed state. It is recalled that Barre's regime exacted an unforgettable massacre against the Issaq population in the region.
The hope for meaningful talks on the nagging question of Somaliland's unilateral secession, and the resolution to the conflict in Khatumo, was dashed first by mismanaging the talks, and finally by the immature request by this government to lift the 20 year-old arms embargo.
A lasting reconciliation between Somaliland with Mogadishu requires trust-building and Mogadishu recognizing the limits to its power. It would also require finding reputable ways to give Khatumo leaders a prominent role in the talks for they are major stakeholders in the outcome.
The search for more arms and weapons for Mogadishu-commanded militia army, the so-called "Somali National Army (SNA)" is in total contradiction to the spirit of fostering genuine and productive talks with Somaliland and the resolution to the question of secession. The conflict in Somalia is not due to lack of arms, but more arms in the wrong hands in southern Somalia at a time of heightened insecurity and tangible suspicion of Mogadishu by the regions.
On March 17, 20013, only weeks after the UN's lifting of arms embargo on Somalia, massive amounts of ammunitions, rifles (AK47s) and other weapons were "stolen" from the presidential palace of Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Whether or not the loss of such a huge amount of weapons was the design of an inside job is beside the point. The lesson here is that Somalia is still awash with weapons, particularly Mogadishu, and most of it is in the wrong hands.
Moreover, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud's government does not have the right infrastructure and legal capacity to keep weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Thus, peaceful communities in Somaliland, Puntland, and Jubbaland are not comfortable with weapons flying all over.
Return of Terror/Anarchy to Mogadishu: On March 19, 2013, the New York Times carried a front-page story about Al-Ahabab resuming its aggressive acts of terrorizing the residents of Mogadishu. This is one of a series of troubling signs of the deterioration of Hassan Sheikh's administration. Despite his premature and uninitiated over-pledging pronouncement to the nation that his three top priorities are "security, security, security," the nation is less secure now than six months. Security is slipping out of hand; dead bodies continue to turn up in Mogadishu's dark alleys as if we were experiencing a de javu of the days of extreme anarchy.
About ten days ago, the corpses of six civilians with their hand and legs cuffed together were dumped by government soldiers in to the city's allies. Rape cases are not abated, despite the international attention received by the rape of a Somali woman, only because of a human rights advocate from Europe who refused to let the issue get buried under the rhetoric of the President as a "friend of women."
Moreover, Somalia's equal opportunity critic and cartoonist, Amin Amir, had recently posted at aminarts, a serious of cartoons reflecting the Somali sentiment; the disposition of Mogadishu becoming a "one-clan city;" pressure for the immediate return of "stolen or looted properties" is building up; prisoners freed out of government jails in a freak way, and massive amounts of weapons stolen from the government's depot located at the presidential campus. If the worsening conditions are not arrested, the euphoric welcome extended to this President is soon to be replaced with despair and a potential demise to the modicum of gains so far registered.
Baydhabo region: Who thought that millions of Somalis would worry at the very news of Ethiopia's leaving Bydhabo region? Local and international news media is awash with concrete information that as soon as Ethiopians pulled out of Xudur, a prominent town within the Bydhabo region, Al-Shabab easily overran the ragtag militia soldiers reporting to Mogadishu.
It is also reported that, if reinforcement is not given to the AMISOM troops stations in Baydhabo, Al-Shabab is poised to recapture the regional seat of the Digil Mirigle coalition.
Is the comeback of the Al-Shabab, therefore, simply a military question, or an indication that Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud's government is losing the faith of the Somali people at-large?
There is some truth to the argument that his imprudent conflict with the leadership of IGAD, with his neighbors who through unfortunate circumstances hold sway on Somalia, particularly in the area of security, and with the officers of the United Nations Office for Somalia (UNOS) is partially a cause to the faltering security conditions in the southwestern regions of the country.
Unfortunately, the main reason why security is deteriorating in Mogadishu and in Southwestern regions is a function of bad internal politics. Since assuming power, the government's domain has been narrowing and it lost faith with Puntland, Somalialnd, Jubbaland, and to some extent the Digil Mirifle coalition. The recent brouhaha over the rights of Galmudug to form its state, which could have been discussed in private chambers and the clashes in Marka, also further eroded this government's grip on the nation's affairs.
Whereas his government was supposed to reach out to all section of the Somali society, Hassan Sheikh arrogantly narrowed his power base to a coalition representing some members of his clan and that of his religious group, Dumjadid.
While writing this piece I reached out to my good friend, Said Samatar, a prominent historian and an authority on Somali political culture and asked him what good could Hassan Sheikh have done at the outset to get this time right?
This is what he said:
"Hassan Mohamed should have put on his Maawis (Somali garb), wrap his Shaaland, and carry his Bakoorad (cane); with that take a tour consisting of a coalition of Hawiye elders to Puntland, Jubbaland, Bay, Bakol, and Somaliland; meet and great those elders, give a peace and justice overtures; let the Hawiye elders convey the message that their son is ready to respect Somali Xeer and mutual respect to each other."
In one of his speeches to the Somali Diasporas Hassan Mohamoud prematurely and triumphantly announced that the role of the elders is finished. Considering how deeply he sinking in so many fronts, particularly with security slipping out of his hands, one is tempted to give a try to Said Samatar's traditionalist approach to interject a dose of optimism and hope to the faltering search for peace in Somalia. After all, the government and the land belong to the people of Somalia and it is their responsibility to fix it.
By Faisal A. Roble