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Somalia: Déjà Vu with a Vengeance


By Heikal Kenneded

Nov 27, 2014- Every society should get the politicians it deserves, and most Somalis who support the current political dynamics can hardly argue they did not know what they were letting themselves in for. Somalis seems set to reel on indefinitely fighting heads of the state who compete for the support of corrupt legislators. Still raw from the last political squabble between the incumbent president and his first prime minister, Somalia’s hope to finally turn a corner has rarely appeared more unlikely than in recent history, when the first news appeared that once again the President and his second Prime Minister were at each other’s throat and much worse the theatrical contest was bound to be deliberated by the MPs. President Hassan Sheikh like his predecessors still believes in the virtue of authoritarian control over his government and to pull all strings, but becomes apprehensive whenever his Prime Minister challenges him on such grounds. Yet in reality the President is merely a titular leader under the provisional federal constitution adopted in August 2012. Ideally, the legislators (MPs) in the parliament should mend and rule the day when all else fails, but tragically that’s where all the political trappings lie. This sounds like a déjà vu with a vengeance.

Somalia’s current government has long staked its legitimacy on being able to implement a nationwide reconciliation among its warring factions, but the people are now more aggravated about the chronical infighting of the President and his Prime Ministers, which relentlessly risk the country to slip back into lawlessness and political fragmentation. Further, the Somali parliament is currently occupied by representatives (MPs) that the people did not vote for and thus accountable to no one but to their deep pockets and bound to advance their selfish interests more than the country. Likewise, the three heads of the federal administration made up of the President, Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament quite often seem to be on another planet and seem to care little about the opinions of the general public or world opinion. For instance, high-caliber corruption allegations and links to terrorism of the heads of state are rarely ever investigated, let alone brought to court. In fact, Somalia wouldn’t be so hard to govern if its heads of state were not so egotistical to edge the country onto political crisis that wipes away all else achieved in the past. Plenty of literature elucidates why most African nations fail and there’s no better example than what the current Somali leaders are committing against their country, which endured an unspeakable political turmoil, without the least of care of what’s stake. 

The major mandate of this government was to build the country’s eradicated institutions and lead the country to a credible transition that will culminate with countrywide elections on 2016. In effect, Somalia’s international donors/partners who were already demoralized by the frequent corruption allegations at the highest echelons of the government are now irresolute how to tackle this latest political squabbling between the President and his Prime Ministers. In light of this political gridlock, when recently the UN Somali envoy, Nichols Kay chided the Somali MPs to avoid inciting of such debilitating politics in order to earn bribes and avoid the preparation of unnecessary motions to oust the Prime Minister. The Somali MPs collectively acted outraged and demanded for an apology while the President Hassan Sheikh also called for the International community to “respect the country’s sovereignty.” This delusional self-importance is quite enthralling for a government protected by foreign troops, not to mention a bulk of the country’s budget is bankrolled by donor countries, but at the same time to demand for a non-interference policy from leaders of these same donor countries, speaks volumes.

Having ignored the dire warnings of the international community to back down from the political meltdown and show much needed concession for the sake of nation-building, instead President Hassan Sheikh is bent on showing the door his Prime Minister, as he exactly did less than a year ago to his first Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon. But this time around more than ever the President would be wise enough to heed these warnings and give political unity a second chance. Political compromise like a leader’s wisdom and forbearance is an essential virtue, and the President should seize the chance to show great leadership and thus set a precedent for all future Somali leaders to follow, as a transformative leadership who puts the country before any self-grandiosity. If not, future generations will look back at him with contempt and discern him as the embodiment of what has gone awry in the country during these taxing decades. 

Reality Check

President Hassan Sheikh needs to learn a thing or two from President Obama and how hard he sometimes tries to meet half-way the Republicans in the U.S. Congress, despite their extreme and sometimes implacable demands, without resorting to sacking them. In fact, political compromise is the most difficult philosophy that new democracies find to practice because it goes against the mindset and cultural attitudes of these leaders. Although power struggle between the President and his Prime Minister is nothing new to the current Somali administration, however, the stakes have never been higher for achieving a lasting peace in Somalia. Unfortunately, most of the Somali MPs are oblivious or do not even care about the serious consequences of rallying behind the President’s every whim to replace his prime minister, as though exchanging for a seasonal dress. Two years ago when President Hassan Sheikh was first elected, everyone anticipated a shift in Somali politics that might provide grounds for a modest degree of optimism for the country to turn a corner. Regrettably, such high expectations were immediately undermined by constant corruption allegations and much maligned political dysfunction within the government. In fact, the President ineptly failed on all major political goals, including national unity, economic restoration, peacebuilding, and most importantly delivery of basic services.  

No wonder, in the face of the current political fiasco most Somalis fear that nothing has changed in the country’s political maturity and are concerned of renewed fresh war trappings that foster a breeding ground for terrorists. It’s quite disturbing to see how confident President Hassan Sheikh feels every time he’s set on dismissing his Prime Minister, simply because he can afford to buy the votes of the legislators who are keen on introducing a parliamentary motion. Equally vexing is the Prime Minister’s unwavering challenge against the President and his closest allies that put him in a collision course to the current political gridlock. Most Somalis wish to see a president who extends a compromise among other heads of the federal administration, instead of trouncing each other without regard to the country’s future on the balance. The fact is that Somalia cannot afford another relapse to pre-civil war days of totalitarianism, when the president had the last say of all affairs of the government and held the power an iron grip from Villa Somalia to the furthest hamlets in the country. In the end, political hostility fueled by corrupt legislators will only leave the people hard pressed to respond and demand for a credible change. 

Finally, the international community has a legitimate concern about safeguarding the fledging peace in Somalia and therefore making sure that the selfish grandiose of one person doesn’t thwart the best interest of the people yearning for peace and democracy. For Somali leaders to be left alone to resolve their political gridlock, as a legitimate sovereign nation, then they need to behave as one and not abuse their political capital to risk everything that has been achieved to restore the country’s stability. Political reconciliation among the highest echelons of the government should be paramount, if tangible development to be achieved.

Heikal Kenneded
Washington D.C.

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