Unpredictability: Somalia’s Undoing

Published on 2nd July 2019

When we examine the troubles that cripple the establishment of a strong and viable governance system in Somalia, there is an issue, that’s constantly overlooked or undermined. You will hardly find this as a topic of discussion in an intellectual or political level. I am referring to lack of continuity in government offices.

Throughout the history of Somali administrations, from independence til the present moment, no leader, be it at the central government or regional administration level has ever succeeded in their re-election. The question is, why are we as Somalis unique in this regard? Is it because our culture leans towards fickle behaviour?

Removing several Prime Ministers from office in the span of a single term of four years came to define Somali governance history. For instance, (1960-1967) is a period that many Somalis consider a glorious era, but even this golden era did not lack political turbulence. President Aden Abdille Osman, who is regarded by a majority to be father of the nation figure and a sage by nature had replaced, in a questionable manner in 1964 his first Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. In spite of being replaced just after four years post-independence, Abdirishid Ali Sharmarke retains the record of the longest serving Prime Minister in the history of Somalia (Four years).

Since formation of the current federal government in 2000 at Arta, Djibouti, every President has appointed three Prime Ministers at a minimum during his tenure of four years:

* President Abdiqasim Salad (2000-2004) appointed three Prime Ministers (Ali Khalif Galydh, Hassan Abshir and Mohamed Abdi Yusuf).

* President Abdullahi Yusuf (2006-2009) followed suit and appointed three Prime Ministers before resigning (Ali Mohamed Ghedi, Nur Cadde and Gacmadhere).

* President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed (2009-2012) appointed three Prime Ministers too (Omar Abdirashid, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and Abdiweli Ali Gaas) 

* President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud (2012-2016) continued the tradition and appointed three Prime Ministers over his term (Said Shirdon, Abdiwali Sheikh and Omar Abdirashid).

All these redundant transitions were taking place within a four-year term. In average, each Prime Minister stayed in the office no more than 16 months.

The problem this creates is when nominated, the Prime Minister arrives with a team picked mainly on the basis of loyalty, while those dismissed as ministers, state ministers, deputy ministers and other civil servants of the previous government become potential political opponents. In essence, within four years, a high number of idle politicians, headed by the dismissed Prime Minister are essentially created, whose main objective then becomes to retaliate and prove the President wrong and make him pay the price of taking the wrong decision, from their perspective at least.

The result is multiplying the number of politicians who no longer can return to their ordinary jobs since they became recognised politicians. A Somali politician recently dismissed when asked what his future plans were. “I’m not a trader” he replied. He was stealthily stating that he is a politician and will of course continue working in politics. He was asked whether he would be a political rival to the government. He said, “In Somali politics you are either loyal inside the tent or on the outside as an opponent”.

Reshuffle of ministers occurs far too frequently. Unfortunately, some key ministries that require continuity such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are not spared from endless reshuffles. More than thirty former Somali Foreign Ministers with exception of Abdullahi Isse Mahmoud (1960-1964) and Omar Arteh Ghalib (1969-1976), held the office for less than 3 years.

Despite the post being vacant for 10 years, the number of ministers that served as Foreign Ministers since independence 60 years ago are the exact number of their counterparts in neighbouring Ethiopia – over a period of 110 years. Is it any wonder why our foreign policy is inherently unstable and hardly seems to make sense?

The other major dilemma is the Presidential status itself. The majority of occupiers of the highest office in the country were often people unfamiliar with the inner workings of Government. With exception of Presidents Abdiqasin Salad and Abdullahi Yusuf, all the Presidents elected since the civil war were new to the Somali political arena.

This has exacted a great price on the country which the long-suffering citizens continue to pay. The newly elected President requires a few year’s worth of training on the job, to fully appreciate the dynamics of the local political context, tribal power sharing formulas and international relations. By the time his vision has clarified and they greatly understand all the rules of the game, their term is over and he tries to cling to the seat and fights with all his energy to return to office, but with a limited hope and another completely green President is elected and so the cycle goes on and on.

Likewise, parliamentarians aren’t selected due to their political or legislative experience, but owing to the clan power sharing formula. For first few years, the MP will be hapless as a freshman legislator. By the time he or she has gained enough experience and appreciate the nuances of the constitution and mature politically, their term comes to a close and the tribal elders select yet another inexperienced parliamentarian as their replacement. Other members of the sub-clan demand their turn to represent the sub-clan as an MP, irrespective of ability or education.

These politically immature Parliamentarians then select an inexperienced President, and the President selects an untried Prime Minister, and the inexperienced Prime Minister assembles an untested cabinet. Somalis thus can be described as a people on the quest for eternal change, for the sake of change.

As a result of this fostered culture, we will always struggle to achieve steady development, economical growth or political stability – all the components that produce a successful, stable society. We are never been pleased with the incumbent leader, but paradoxically become overwhelmed with nostalgia after dismissing them from office. This endless cycle (based on past behaviour) seems to be the unfortunate destiny for the long-suffering people of Somalia.

While not being a great supporter of President Ahmed Madoobe, for the sake of continuity and application of the true spirit of the Somali saying: “Whoever ties a rope knot at darkness is the best to untie it.”

We hope this vicious cycle will be broken this time and another term will be granted to the President of Jubbaland, to continue forth the stabilization efforts and economic progress taking place in Jubbaland state.

By Nasir Sofe

Email: nasirsofe@gmail.com


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