This week, Somalia elected a new president, Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo,” an event that marked the second time in recent history an incumbent president lost the election. It happened in 2012 and again in 2017, just like Donald Trump’s surprise win, Farmajo’s election was unexpected, and it upended my prediction that the incumbent, Hassan S. Mohamoud (HSM), would be returned to power.
Now the new president has his hands full. He inherits a government that has plundered public funds, failed to pay the salaries of civil servants and the army, and was unable to maintain security.
Farmajo is a politician with a clean slate. He was prime minister in 2010 for eight months. Prior to that, he had a few years’ experience in the Foreign Service and then spent some time working for the State of New York in Buffalo as a housing specialist. His eight months as prime minister were neither remarkable nor disastrous. He was forced out of office after clashing with the then Speaker, Sharif Hassan. In short, Farmajo was outwitted and outmaneuvered by the Speaker until he was forced out of office.
Scattered protests supporting Farmajo, the beleaguered premier, were held in Mogadishu, but he opted to resign. According to some reports, the Ugandan President, Yuweri Moseveni, whose soldiers were protecting the Somali leaders in Mogadishu, told Farmajo the African soldiers would not guarantee his safety if he stayed in office. Unfortunately, some Somalis viewed his resignation in a decidedly negative light and branded him a quitter.
Farmajo fared poorly in the 2012 presidential elections failing to garner enough votes even from his clansmen. In fact, it was the newcomer, Hassan Sheikh, who stole the limelight, thrashing Sharif Ahmed, who was expected to win the election. Farmajo was still coming to terms with his crushing loss when he decided to return to his old desk job in Buffalo. His political career briefly stagnated and he took stock of his political future.
Farmajo’s comeback is a testament to his doggedness and commitment to redeem himself. Now he has been given a second chance in Villa Somalia, the seat of the government. He is enjoying remarkable support in the streets of Mogadishu, where he remains popular. Somalis have a history of lionizing their new presidents initially, and later vilifying them for poor performance. Farmajo is unlikely to be an exception. The pervasive euphoria in the streets of Mogadishu today will be numbered as Farmajo delves into the perilous task of governing a failed state.
There is a good chance that Farmajo will attempt to drain the swamp in Mogadishu and restore clean, transparent governance. He is uniquely qualified to start a reconciliation process as he is remarkably popular in the south, where his wife, Seynab Abdi Moalim Abdalla, hails from. Farmajo’s detractors are concerned he is a populist, an incorrigible showman who sometimes resorts to hyperbolic language. He is at best a “nice” politician, they say, in a rather cutthroat profession. His detractors see him a man who lacks substance, but he now has the perfect opportunity to prove them wrong. His supporters regard him as an interesting leader with tremendous positive energy; a man of the people, by the people, and for the people.
It is not clear how Jubbaland and Puntland would react to Farmajo’s presidency. Puntland is led by Abdiweli Gaas, an old nemesis of Farmajo, who gave Gaas a cabinet portfolio only to see the latter replace his boss as premier. The relationship was never the same afterwards as it plummeted to new depths. The once good friends back in Buffalo are no longer on speaking terms. Hopefully, they will set aside their personal and political animus and work toward the welfare of the country.
Jubbaland’s case is different and murkier because that region has been a political battleground between the Ogaden clan and Marehan, Farmajo’s clan. Clan politics in Somalia have a way of keeping national leaders on a downward trajectory.
Here are some recommendations for the new president:
1- Appoint a competent prime minister who will name equally qualified cabinet members. It is time for Somalia to have experienced, honest, and nationalist ministers whose loyalty is primarily to the motherland. The last government was stacked with many incompetent, baby-faced, ideological allies of the president. It was an administration that helped its employees replenish their resumes, but who accomplished little.
2- Ensure that women become an integral part of the government’s leadership. No more tokenism and no more traditional leaders usurping the right of women to participate, lead, and participate in the decision making process.
3- Appoint an independent commission to investigate past corruption cases and possible graft allegations in the government. This commission, given full authority, would restore hope in the people’s confidence in the government and eradicate Somalia’s reputation as the most corrupt country in the world.
4- Complete the work that has started in reviewing and amending the provisional constitution, a document HSM ignored and trampled on. Farmajo can help in making the country one in which the rule of law is respected and enforced.
5- Work on the reconciliation process to unite Somalis and restore peace amongst them. This can be done partly by establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, as South Africa did. It is time for Somalis to talk openly about their grievances, the return of lost properties, and past wrongdoings, and engage in genuine confidence building. Only then can the country move forward.
6- Farmajo should work hand in hand with legislators to form an independent judiciary. The judicial branch will check and balance the powers of the executive and the legislature. It must have its own funds to operate in order to avoid the current system in which justice is for sale.
7- Somalia must strengthen its national security force, pay its soldiers timeously, and slowly but gradually replace the 22,000 African troops in Mogadishu. It is embarrassing that foreign troops have to protect the Somali president.
8- Al-Shabaab terrorists are still a threat to the country and must be fought relentlessly. First, Farmajo must have a strategy to combat terror. A campaign to clean up the police and intelligence forces of militant sympathizers is paramount. Second, the militant group is present in the capital and enjoys the support of certain business conglomerates. This group runs a sophisticated network that is involved in extortion and racketeering. There are those in Mogadishu who harbor al-Shabaab militants because they are “their sons.” This culture of complicity and duplicity will take some time to eradicate. The Al-Shabaab group still collects a percentage of the salaries of government employees, who hand over the money for fear of being assassinated. The same is true of small and big businesses that pay money monthly.
9 Engage with the Somalis in the diaspora because they are an asset to the country. Over two million Somalis live abroad. Tap into these talents, investments, and advance their involvement in the country’s affairs.
Farmajo’s win is a victory for all Somalis. It is a victory for change, a new beginning for a war-torn country, and a new horizon, but the new administration has a lot of work to do. Let us all hope that Farmajo overcomes the challenges and works hard in make Somalia great again.
By Hassan M. Abukar
Mr. Abukar is a political analyst, a regular contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.