Foreign Policy Blogs

Ending “Doormat Politics” In Somalia

Somalia-US

“More than ever, foreign policy is economic policy. The world is competing for resources and global markets.”   John Kerry

Considering the positive trend of the past eighteen months, Somalia is en route to recovery, and, in due course, to re-engineer a better state from the ground up. The caveat being: in the long term, this could be another squandered opportunity as long as “doormat politics” shapes Somalia’s political landscape.

By doormat politics, I mean the combination of systematic self/foreign-inflicted aggressions and exploitations suffered by the nation and the subsequent desperation, hopelessness, chronic dependency and indignation.

From the cold war proxy geopolitical mortal games, to the iron fist of the military government, to the ruthless militias/warlordism of the civil war, to the moral menace of religious extremism, to the hostile intervention of neighboring countries and the paranoia-driven global war on terror, Somalia has been under the exploitative schemes and the brutal authority of various external and internal actors. By and large, throughout these periods, the nation was used either as a camouflage to advance clan-based exclusive rights or a gambit for zero-sum expedience.

 

Mutual Interest and Mutual Respect 

Today, Somalia is at the threshold of a new era; an era of bilateral relationships of mutual interest and respect. However counterintuitive it may seem, a new image of Somalia is gradually coming into formation.

Aside from its coveted long and strategic coast, Somalia is a country with untapped energy and other natural resources and massive rebuilding needs. Many recognize its potential lucrative emerging market.

And, as U.S., China, Europe and India continue their scramble in Africa for resources and food security, cultivating bilateral relationship with Somalia as a strategic gateway to sub-Saharan Africa becomes a geopolitical necessity. This, needless to say, provides Somalia an opportunity to expand its horizon and cultivate diverse friendships.

Recently, a number of old friends were compelled to emerge out of their diplomatic ambivalence since the Republic of Turkey has raised the bar and re-assumed its full diplomatic relationship with Somalia and opened its embassy in Mogadishu at a time when it was still being considered the most dangerous city in the world. Like China, Turkey has successfully been establishing good footing in Africa based on its method of engagement- soft power.

“What Africa needs is not pity, but fairness and opportunity.  Developing partnerships based on respect, equality and mutual interest will go a long way in overcoming the vicious circle of exploitation, poverty and underdevelopment in Africa” writes Turkish Columnist Ibrahim Kalin in Today’s Zaman.

 

Somali/U.S. Relations

On January 17, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reactivate the bilateral relationship between Somalia and United States. Though the State Department welcomed “the great strides toward stability Somalia has made over the past year”—an effort in which the U.S. played a key role—it made no commitment to change its Dual-Track Policy and globally dreaded “Drone Diplomacy.”  These are the two sides of a single counter-terrorism based policy toward Somalia that has been undermining the legitimacy of the very central government that US has officially recognized and established bilateral relationship with.

Sustainable bilateral relations between Somalia and the U.S. would remain a political mirage as long as the U.S. policy toward Somalia continues to be driven by counter-terrorism expediency and its diplomatic gestures are delivered by drone strikes! Pressure would soon be mounting against both nations as this policy is getting under intense scrutiny and is the subject of a new documentary called Dirty Wars that recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is expected to hit the theaters in March.

“We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us,” said John Kerry,  the new Secretary of State. Whether or not these words would prove prophetic per the foreign policy of President Obama’s second term would remain to be seen.

 

Challenges and Opportunities of Economic Growth

Statehood is not sustainable without steady revenue and economic growth and this should not be a shock to a nation emerging out of the ruins of its bloody history and hampered by chronic poverty with roughly seventy percent of its youth being unemployed and nearly two million of its population being internally and externally displaced.

Somalia needs a fresh start. However, as this just resuscitated state is struggling to find its political, social, religious, and economic balance, bill collectors are lining up. Granted, there is nothing illegal about that. However, a few issues must be illuminated:

Even though it is still considered a “Pre-Decision-Point country”, Somalia is qualified for debt cancellation under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative.

It might even qualify to legitimately invoke “The Odious Debt Doctrine” (a precedent set by the U.S.) if and where it is necessary. The rationale driving this legal doctrine is that loans not made in good faith to non-democratic governments with questionable legitimacy that then use these monies against their public interests, or to oppress their citizens, or for embezzlement and other corrupt overtly corrupt motives, cannot be transferred to democratically elected governments that may succeed them. Regardless, there is a good chance that these international financial institutions would do what’s right.

That said, a more profoundly complex issue than dealing with these institutions is dealing with Hedge Funds profiteers who purchased some of Somalia’s old debts while the state was on its death bed, hence the name Vulture Funds. This would have to be won legally in the courts. Think Congo.

 

Processes and Sacrifices of Transformation

It behooves the current government to appoint a Debt Audit and Asset Recovery Commission that includes economists, international lawyers, members of the Parliament and civil societies.

Moreover, it should deliberately avoid any decision that would put this recovering state in a position to be held as ransom for generations to come. This includes aid monies that the state is chronically dependent on. After all, as the old adage goes: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Somalia now has too many pipers playing too many tunes, all at once; a classic political cacophony of a sort.

The good news is that the current government already has alternative ways of generating state revenues such taxation, postal services, licensing the telephone gateway, licensing banking, licensing commercial fishing, leasing agricultural lands, etc. in its priority.

The Somali people have resiliently rejected the permanency of failure. They have been responding with an overwhelming stream of repatriation and investments. By and large there is a popular march toward the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the process is not yet complete and hazardous pitfalls along the way still present detrimental challenges. So, the current momentum must be guided with vision, maintained with prudence, and guarded with vigilance. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the magically disappearing $ billions in South Sudan and Haiti. This indeed underscores, among other things, the importance of having in place effective policies of checks and balances, also the apparatus and the capacity to invest these funds into viable projects of critical nature.

So, the prospect of ending doormat politics in Somalia is reasonably high as the world continues to change and the political awareness of the average citizens continues to rise. However, as it is a two-engine phenomenon, it is utterly naïve to count on it before the Somali people come to the realization that in the dark pages of history this lamentation is scripted in blood – if only we were united!

 

 

 
  • fowsiya

    Walaalo waxaan rajaynayaa inaad idiga iyo raga/dumarka kale ee waxlasocda oo taariikhaha iyo cilmiga leh iyo the wisdom waa inaad isla hadashiin oo aad isla tashatiin xitaa hadaad dareemaysid qaarkood inaysan rabin inay dhagaystaan. waa inaad noqotaan steadfast. you make them listen even when they don’t wanna listen, xitaa waa inaad lahadashaan oo aad fahansiisaan qof walba oo ah influential in the somali community in somalia. waa in aanu xasuusino dowlada iyo influential people in all regions in somalia ay dantoodu is ku mid tahay oo aad u micnaysaan sababta ay dan iyo xushmad uugu jirto inay iskaalshadaan oo ay is

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you Fowsiya for the kind feedback and counsel. I agree, sustaining the current progress and transforming Somalia into a better nation would require reaching out to others and broadening the circle. I think the process is on.

      Walaal Fowsiya, iga raalli nooqo ma aha in aan diidanahay inaan afkeena ku wada hadalno ee maadaama aqristayaasha shabakadan wexey u badanyihiin dad afka Ingariiga ku hadlo. Mahadsanid mar kale

  • Yonis

    Nice article Mr. Arman. Today is Somalia’s chance to get up from its misery or forever stay down.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Yonis, for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more “Today is Somalia’s chance to get up from its misery or forever stay down.”

  • Mohamed

    Thanks Arman for the thoughtful and analytical piece- I really enjoyed it. One aspect which I find interesting to have been mentioned is ACCOUNTABILTY on the part of the government. As it currently stands and attested by Transparecy International, Somalia wines and dines with corruption and kleptocracy to say the least. so without proper institutional and legal mechanism to fill these loopholes in place, I beleive there is no meaningful economic recovery and investment confidence.
    This not withstanding, I appriciate your scholarly article

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Mohamed, for your feedback and kind words. In order to establish robust institutions that ensure proper processes of checks and balances, we must keep two particular realities in mind: 1) Corruption is fought top/bottom, at least from the state perspective. 2) Though the Somali political elite still have “the good, the bad, and ugly”, corruption is a two-way street. Contrary to Transparency International perspective, it has its giver and take, internal and external actors. Over all, I believe the current government is making the right steps toward fixing the system. And we all should help them succeed.

  • Safia

    Salaam, Arman;

    A great article! Informative and futuristic in thinking…I hope and wish for the same “if only we were united”! Continue to inform, educate, share and challenge us all in your writings. Thanks.

    • Abukar Arman

      Many thanks, Safia, for the feedback and kind words. As more and more Somalis come to accept that unity is an existential necessity, the political elite would be compelled to follow suit.

  • Somalilander

    Somaliland ha noolaato

    • Abukar Arman

      Thanks for sharing what was on your mind.

  • Ali Ossoble

    A really well written and informative article and awakens our dormant history
    It is time we all come together as one nation and make history
    I really love your informative articles. Thank you!

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Ali, for the kind words and wise feedback. Indeed “it is time weall come together as one nation and make history”.

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  • khalid

    abukar arman

    I have really enjoyed all of your writing because of the clarity with which you express your views.

    In my humble opinion, federalism is the way forward in Somalia albeit not to the extent of independent foreign relations as per the “dual track” policy.

    Some devolution of power is an absolute necessity however much it troubles Mogadishu.

    In an ideal world, the Somali political elite in all regions of Somalia would be true patriots but unfortunately tribalism permeates all walks of life and throughout our various political structures including the government in Mogadishu, therefore I cannot see how exactly a strong central government would ever again develop except by a return to the old one tribe rule.

    I would like thank you for your honest assessment of Somalia and expect a clarification on how exactly Somalis that have been traumatized by internecine tribal warfare that led to death of countless innocents would ever again trust each other.

    This is my rather optimistic assessment but if i was more honest I believe Somalis are naturally antagonistic towards each other along tribal lines.

    I am sorry for the lengthy and disjointed comments but I am just baffled by the insistence on central rule in some quarters.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Khalid, for the kind words and though-provoking feedback. You

      and I are in agreement that “some devolution of power is an absolute

      necessity however much it troubles Mogadishu.” I believe Somalis would

      never accept a strong autocratic central government.

      That said, you and I differ on which model is the right one to ensure such
      devolution. For you it is “federalism” and for me it is a “decentralized
      unitary government”.

      I am not against federalism per se; I just don’t think it is good for our people

      and nation. I have a number of reasons for this; chief among them is the

      prominence of clanism and the nonexistence or the schizophrenic
      understanding of the concept of citizenship.

      Please pardon my bluntness; you or any other objective observer can

      randomly select any one of the so-called Federal States within the
      current arrangement and point out how it is nothing but a reinvention of the
      very system they criticized as a tyrannical, clan-based central government.

      The flag carrying clan for each of these FS is a particular clan that considers
      itself to possess exclusive rights and therefore is the sole heir to the throne
      of power. The very grievances that these clans were making against the
      military government are now being made against them by other Somalis of
      various clans in their respective FS.

      The simmering political discontent in each of FS is reminiscent of Somalia

      of late 70s and 80s. And that, Brother Khalid, concerns me a great deal.

  • Mahad Gelle

    It’s inspiring and it feels brave. Thank you brother Abukar Arman! serving the nation is not a sacrifice but a privilege. Keep going, the good and hard work Arman.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Mahad. Indeed it is a privilege.

Author

Abukar Arman
Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat (Somalia's Special Envoy to the US). He is a widely published analyst. His focus is Foreign policy/Islam/post-civil war Somalia/extremism. He is a DiploAct of a sort (fusion of diplomacy & activism).
You may follow him on Twitter: @4DialogSK or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]

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