Over the last few weeks, many Somalis have pondered and posed an important question: after nearly 60 years of independence, why do we need a white man – a muzungu or saan-cadde as we say – to play babysitter and lead a sovereign, Somali entity? If reports are accurate about the potential appointment of a white, British man leading the Central Bank of Somalia, this sets an ugly and dangerous precedent. Why not, then, allow Europeans to run our ministries, our military, or indeed, why not have a European head of state? And where are the Somalis?
The natural, if not insulting, conclusion from such a move is that it was impossible to find a qualified Governor of Somali descent. However, we know that this is not true. Over five months ago, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Abdirahman Beyle, announced that the Government had advertised the post, taking out an expensive ad in The Economist, a well-renowned British magazine. The rationale for taking the search international was that Somalia wanted to recruit from among the best and the brightest. It raised some eyebrows when there was no restriction in the posting on nationality. An astounding 146 people applied for the position, almost all of which were Somali men and women. Among their ranks were exceptionally high-caliber individuals – former Ministers, former senior Central Bank of Somalia staff, and Somali experts from international financial institutions.
The initial selection process was delegated to a British woman by the name of Fiona Davies and her associate. By way of background, Fiona is a World Bank delegate and a member of the Financial Governance Committee. After some more months, Fiona and her ilk narrowed down this list to 16 people, of which 11 applicants were Somali and the rest non-Somali. At the time, nobody had paid much attention to the inclusion of foreigners since the Central Bank of Somalia Act explicitly bars non-Somalis from holding this position. Article 12 of the Act states that all members of the Board of Director must be citizens of Somalia. The Governor is the Chairman of the Board.
Interviews were then conducted in mid-December by five people: Minister of Finance Dr. Beyle, Minister for Post and Telecommunication Abdi Ashur, Chief of the National Economic Council Dr. Ali Isse Abdi, Mr. Abdirahman Abdullahi of the Office of the Prime Minister, and a Kenyan professor. This committee further cut the list to six or seven individuals with the intention of holding further face-to-face interviews in January.
On December 29th, at a cabinet meeting, Minister Beyle tabled an amendment to the Central Bank of Somalia Act with special attention to Article 12 which explicitly reserves the post for Somalis. Most of the cabinet expressed disapproval on the amendment but the Prime Minister intervened and stressed the need to obtain trust from the donor community and attract foreign investment. Most of the ministers did not like the idea, but when it came to voting, only two voted against the motion. The leadership decided to move quickly and push the amendment through parliament.
Here we have another unprecedented move– a question of legality and fairness. A recruitment process was conducted over several months, and after its conclusion, a law of the Federal Republic of Somalia is being changed to allow for a specific outcome. For a State that aspires for democracy, this is a worrying development; laws are there for a reason and cannot be changed at the executive’s beck and call. Secondly, this extreme move shows how desperate the Government is to have a foreigner at the Bank’s helm. They would rather amend a law which involves Cabinet approval, then parliamentary approval, and then Presidential sign-off than appoint a fellow Somali. In short, the Government would rather change Somalia’s laws than have its institutions be run by Somalis.
There seems to be a flawed belief that in order to attract foreign direct investment or gain “trust” from donors, we need one who looks like them in charge. Set in their neo-colonial outlooks, we know that many foreigners do not trust Somalis to run their own affairs, but why does our Government not trust Somalis to run Somalia? We welcomed the calls of Soomalinimo, we cheered the regulation that all official government communications must be in the Somali language, we were impressed by the recent declaration by the Somali Ambassador to the UN that Somalis run Somali affairs…but how does bending over backwards for a white man fit with all this talk?
The question we must ask is: what can a white man of British pedigree achieve in Somalia that a Somali cannot? Rumor has it that the Government is desperate to appoint Mr. Nigel Roberts as Governor (interestingly, Nigel Roberts is a friendly acquaintance of Fiona Davies). Let us examine Mr. Roberts’ credentials. Surely, he must have world-class experience in international banking or finance as many of the Somali applicants do. Mr. Roberts has no such experience and is actually a conflict and security expert. He holds a Masters Degree in English Literature and another Masters in Agricultural Economics.
Putting nationality aside, it is valid for the Somali people to ask: is this man even qualified for the role? And will he abide by the Prime Minister’s instruction that only the Somali language can be used in official letters and meetings?
If the rumors in the halls of Villa Somalia are true, then this is truly unprecedented for a sovereign, post-independence country. Nations reserve such important, sensitive posts for their countrymen and countrywomen. Even the law is on the side of the Somalis. Our leaders must ask not: what message will this send to our donors and foreigners, but what message does this send to Somalis? That they are incompetent? Somalis are indeed capable people with limitless talents.
Every day, we hear about the accomplishments of Somalis near and far. They triumph from refugees to leaders in foreign, hostile lands, as is the case of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar in the U.S. and Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in Canada. Indeed, the President of the International Court of Justice – the UN’s court – is led by a Somali man, the Honourable Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf. We know that Somalis are capable and can thrive to the top even in Western countries when they arrive with nothing. So why can’t they be given the same chance in their native Somalia?
This bizarre case raises many serious questions and concerns. As the Government scrambles this week to get the law amended by Parliament and appoint their miracle man Nigel, I appeal to our legislators, the people’s representatives, to put an end to this mind-boggling debacle. Let us respect our laws, our institutions, and first and foremost, let us respect Somalis.
By Rasheed Hashi