After 15 months of election delays, sabotage, political unrest, violence, and general uncertainty, Somalia legislatures reelected Former President H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud marking a new era in the history of Somali politics. When Somalia's history is written, Hassan Sheik Mohamud will be the first person to win a presidential race twice. While there were many qualified candidates on the ballot, former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was not only the most viable candidate but also the sharpest tool in the toolbox. This article highlights why Hassan Sheik is the most suitable person this time around and what he should focus on during this new mandate. One may reflect on the background of H.E. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and compare and contrast him with the rest of the political aspirants in the race.
In Twelfth Night, the famous English poet and playwright William Shakespeare once said, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” President Hassan Sheik wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In essence, one can argue he has had greatness thrust upon him by the Almighty. He comes from an extremely humble background and has achieved greatness during the civil war in Somalia. In 1990s, when most current political critics were fleeing helter-skelter, Hassan decided to risk his life and his family to serve his nation. He answered the call when his nation needed him the most, not when it was convenient for him.
He understood that without changing the mindset of Somali youth exposed to violence, killing, rape, looting, harassment, piracy, displacement, and suicide bombings, they would continue to contribute directly to crimes against humanity and the prevailing political crisis. He decided to provide accessible and quality education when resources were non-existence, Somalia was isolated from the rest of the world, and security was in a dire situation.
In alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, he recognized a child's right to education. He returned from overseas at the height of civil strife with a graduate degree to alter the course of his country by educating the younger generation. In addition to establishing numerous primary and secondary schools, he established and led what will become the Ivy League of Somalia: SIMAD University. In addition to educating tens of thousands, he mentored and coached many of them. Today, many of his former students are respected political leaders, members of parliaments, former ministers, etc.
On my recent visit to Mogadishu, I realized that SIMAD University not only trains 21st-century scholars, engineers, and doctors, but it also runs multiple services, such as a Legal Aid program, the first of its kind in the country. Despite living in Somalia most of his life, Hassan possesses an unmatched global vision for the country. When Hassan was risking his life, some of his critics worked for warlords, and others couldn't be trusted to aid their immediate families, let alone address societal challenges. The conflict and crisis that consumed the fabric of the Somali Nation actually defined his character. Despite the relentless attack and character assassination engineered by Farmajo and his allies, Hassan was still seen as a “savior”.
In addition, for the first time in five years plus, the country is gradually emerging from a political coma, darkness, and confusion. The country became deeply polarized and almost reached the point of state collapse. The mistrust between the Federal government and federal member states grew significantly.
Now more than ever, Somalia needs a political statesman who will bring the country together to dress and heal these open wounds. Hassan Sheik is not only a veteran politician but also an eloquent and charismatic leader with an easy smile and enjoys a great rapport with many leaders across the aisle. He has a natural talent to easily engage both the public and partners at the international level. The absence of his “servant leadership” was felt during the past five-plus years when the population felt like it was being driven by a drunk driver. Most people considered Hassan a reputable and political pragmatist long before joining politics. His conciliatory acceptance speech has already brought fresh waves of optimism.
Unlike the former president, Hassan Sheik believes and breathes in the rule of law. On many occasions, he repeatedly stated that Somalia needs the supremacy of the constitutions but not a supreme leader. Philosophically, he believes in democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. For the past five-plus years, Somalis witnessed the militarization of political differences, oppression of opposition leaders, attempted assassination, and the use of force when diplomatic channels were available and open. Most Somalis believe he will re-establish the customs of his previous presidency and engage his critics in public forums, respect their views and perspective, address and answer their concerns, and, most importantly, listen to his critics with open ears and complete and undivided attention.
It's noteworthy that Hassan Sheik inherited a newly written provisional constitution with limited government infrastructure. For four short years, he established all federal member states except Puntland, pacified Al-Shabab from most regions, and spearheaded the first indirect election since the first transitional government was formed in neighboring Djibouti in 2000. This wasn't an easy or little accomplishment for then-newcomer Hassan. He accomplished all these against the backdrop of regional pressure.
Another major achievement that resonated with the electors was his role in stopping Kenyan’s desire to claim Somalia's territorial water, empowering women, and youth by appointing them to key positions such as Deputy Prime Minister, Governor of Central Bank, and other critical ministerial and parastatals roles. Unlike his competitors that relied on bribing MPs or buying votes, Hassan Sheik is surrounded by people who believe in his vision and political ideology. He is the only man surrounded by political heavyweights and loyal supporters from all Somalis.
H.E. Hassan Sheik returned to the office as a former president and after serving five years as an opposition leader. No one with that kind of experience and exposure has ever led the country during such a turbulent time. That is why, the legislative chamber considered him as the right man for the right job. Therefore, he must focus on the followings.
The first priority must be given to ending the war in Somalia with Al-Shabab. After decades of guerilla war and coordinated suicide bombs, both the SNA and the international military intelligence recognize, the Jihadist ideology cannot be defeated decisively. Suppose decisive military victory is a grim prospect, in that case, an escalated military attack by ATMIS and SNA and potential increased U.S drones alone cannot eliminate the threat posed by this group. The alternative is to drag the war for decades or consider negotiation as a viable option.
In the past, western countries have shown an unwillingness to engage, let alone negotiate, with organizations designated as terrorists. However, that mindset shifted when the U.S recently negotiated with the Taliban after decades of war. To the benefit of the Somali population, most Al-Shabaab members are not foreigners, and there are many moderate voices within the group. Therefore, coordinated communication to open the doors for possible negotiation must be pursued in addition to the military operation.
Today, Al-Shabaab collects tariffs approximately 75% of the Mogadishu residents. Therefore, the most crucial task in relation to Al-Shabab is to disrupt and dismantle this robust and sustainable revenue stream. This can’t be done without overhauling the National Intelligence and Security Agency and reinstituting a capable and functional security apparatus that acts within the constitution. Unfortunately, this crucial security sector acted as mafias during the past five years.
I do believe most junior officers are patriotic individuals with integrity but have been coerced by ill-advised and ill-mannered top officials. In this regard, it's paramount to underline that no country is sovereign until it can manage its security. Therefore, the current administration must be assertive in ensuring The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) mandates expire in 2024 without extension. This means SNA is trained and equipped to take over the country's security by 2024. To successfully take over the country's security, the current administration must lobby for lifting the arms embargo.
It's paramount to note that Somalia National Army (SNA) has been fighting against Al-Shabab while both hands are tied behind their back. The choice for the United Nations Security Council is obvious: support the legitimate government in establishing and managing its security or allow terrorist elements to run over SNA and destabilize the country. It's paramount to communicate to the international community that Somalia can’t depend on ATMIS for security. It’s not sustainable nor conceivable.
Secondly, establishing an independent judicial system is a cornerstone of any democratic system of governance. As the former U.S President Thomas Jefferson once said, “if the three powers maintain their mutual independence on each other our government may last long, but not so if either can assume the authorities of the other.” In addition to checks and balance, independent judicial system is the means of ensuring the rule of law. The establishment and empowerment of an independent judicial system will minimize and even eliminate the desire of ordinary people to seek legal redress from ruthless terrorists, build trust and rapport among citizens and promote civic cohesiveness.
Thirdly, the completion of the provisional constitution must be given due attention in the first 18 months of this administration. There is no doubt this will be a contentious matter considering tribal tension and political polarization, but it’s worth every single bit of sweat. For the past ten years, every government has had major gridlocks due to rigidity attributed to the interim constitution.
The provisional constitution also produced a powerful and unelected Prime Minister and a weak government. Therefore, it's paramount for the current administration to ensure the adaptation of a constitution within the first two years. Since a nationwide constitutional referendum is not visible in the next ten years, electoral colleges from major cities can vote for the constitution. For instance, each city that hosted an election during the last general election process could be selected. This could mean as many as tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of voters from federal member states drawn from various cities could debate and vote on it. Without finalizing the constitution, the current and future administration will remain an interim authority functioning on a provisional constitution dwarfed by political wrangling and gridlocks. Without finalizing the constitution, Somalia wouldn’t be able to initiate one-man-one-vote system. Completing the constitution will provide the necessary legal frameworks that will ensure free and fair one-man, -one-vote election system.
Fourthly, the future of Mogadishu needs to be determined during the first two years of your current term. For some time, there has been contentious debate if Mogadishu will be a federal zone or a federal member state. The city that houses more than 3 million residents can’t be without representation in the Senate or being run by an appointed mayor. I believe the entire Banadir region can’t and should not be considered a federal zone without representation. However, the more appealing option could be designating a few districts (not more than three districts in total) where government institutions are concentrated as federal zone while declaring the remaining 14 districts are single federal member states that elect its governor and other local government administrators. This will allow the resident of this region to receive much-needed services such as clean water, improved sanitation, education, roads, and recreational parks, which will enhance its visibility, thus attracting potential investors. Residents will also have an opportunity to elect competent leaders and hold them accountable, thus improving the current security nightmare.
Fifth, Somalia has been a country without currency since the 1990s. The absence of national currency and lack of banknotes circulation creates a lack of trust among Somalia businessmen and foreign investors. Introducing a national currency will be a precursor for a functioning financial and economic system. It' is noteworthy to mention that most Somalis, especially those living in remote and rural areas, can’t access U.S dollars. Therefore, it's paramount for the incoming administration to print Somali Shillings urgently. This will be a massive milestone for the country and a huge legacy for your government. Of course, many configurations need to be sorted out, such as the cost of printing new currency, getting buy-in from a population that mistrusts an unstable government, agreeing on an acceptable exchange rate, and how the new shillings will impact the import and exports of goods and services.
Finally, this second presidency must ensure government employees (especially the armed forces) receive their monthly salaries. Critics of the government often cite irregular payment for public servant as one of Hassan’s major weaknesses.
The next four years is a short time to accomplish this, and the task is quite daunting. However, ending the war with Al-Shabab, establishing an independent judicial system, completing the constitutional documents, a decision on the zoning and representation of Banadir/Mogadishu, the reinstatement of Somali Shillings, and consistent pay for public servants are commendable efforts to pursue. Significant progress in each of these initiatives will be a momentous accomplishment for the Hassan’s second term, but if anyone can do it, it’s him. Progress in these areas will strengthen the Somali citizens’ hope for the democracy and good governance that has eluded the country for so long.
By Dekow Diriye
Dekow tweets: Diriye100