Cacophony is the coming together of multiple sounds that create an awfully unpleasant, if not unbearable noise. Chronically discordant politics tend to create a cacophony that leads to mental and intellectual dissonance with far reaching ramifications.
Between now and August, when a new Somali president is supposed to be elected, a variety of political noises are expected to get amplified only to lead to the all too familiar outcome—a wonderful presidential parade to inaugurate the next charlatan, a new or a recycled one. Sadly, with regard to the so-called Vision 2016 election, this is the most optimistic forecast that I can offer.
Ironically, we are back to 2011 when the Somali political process was manipulated by a few actors and the political discourse was cleverly confined on a single issue—how to replace the current president with another whom Ethiopia (and other likeminded elements) would endorse as a champion of the status quo. In other words, a quick review of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s public record ought to give us the political silhouette of the next president.
The Sprinter Approach to a Marathon
After squandering the broad-based public support and international political capital, President Mohamud’s four year political balance sheet indicates huge liabilities and no leverage. His presidency is a bankrupt enterprise by any definition. Here I must disclose that, due to profound difference on strategic priorities, I had to resign my position as Somalia Special Envoy to the U.S. four months after President Mohamud assumed office.
Despite my differences with the then new president, I must confess he had an impressive start, though his greatest achievements have all taken place in the first few months of his presidency.
Immediately after getting elected, he announced he would not be traveling to New York for the UN General Assembly because he had to roll-up his sleeves and attend to a number of urgent domestic issues. That first impression of service-oriented leadership and commitment to put the interest of one’s nation before all others’ got him heroic praises. And when it was time for the UN Secretary-General sponsored Mini-Summit on Somalia, the president joined in via video-conferencing.
Weeks later, he succeeded in persuading various traditional chiefs and militia leaders to remove some 60 clan and gang extortion checkpoints that made streets of Mogadishu a dollar-draining maze of insecurity. Unfortunately, the rest of his presidency has been a roller-coaster of deficiency, deflation, and disaster.
On January 2013, former Secretary of State and current Democratic Party front runner, Hillary Clinton said “So we (the U.S. and Somalia) have moved into a normal sovereign nation-to-sovereign nation position, and we have moved into an era where we’re going to be a good partner, a steadfast partner, to Somalia as Somalia makes the decisions for its own future.”
This, needless to say, set in motion an international chorus of support for Somalia’s sovereignty. But, instead of using that political boost to launch a genuine, Somali-owned reconciliation process and ward off the front-line states—especially Ethiopia—President Mohamud ironically opted to do the very opposite.
First, one of the most politically debasing decisions that the new president made was to allow UNSOM, a reinvention of the defunct UNPOS that supposedly ended with the transitional government. By unilaterally accepting UNSOM to operate at-will—travel to any part of Somalia proper without any notification to the government let alone consent, and bring into the country its own mercenaries without any weapon control—he not only has shot any reclaim of sovereignty in the foot, he has given UNSOM the presidential approval to keep Somalia into indefinite transition.
Second, he unilaterally granted a shady company named Soma Oil & Gas one of the most coveted exploration and exclusive marketing rights deals of all emerging markets. Never mind that the provisional constitution defers all issues pertaining to natural resources and regional boundaries to be negotiated later. And, never mind the potential violence that this could trigger in the foreseeable future.
Third, he unilaterally placed any chance for Somali-owned and all-inclusive national reconciliation indefinitely in the back burner and aborted the process to mend fences with Somaliland with flagrant apathy.
Fourth, he unilaterally decided to lend Ethiopia (euphemistically known as IGAD) the official approval to continue its relentless pursuit to exclusively micromanage the Somali political affairs and keep Somalia under Ethiopian subjugation.
The so-called National Consultative Forum puts the subjugation process back on the rails. Already, Ethiopia has its own cardboard president in each of the clan-dominated fiefdoms that Somalia has been fragmented into. Ethiopia is now the Big Brother broker and the “guarantor” of any and all artificial Somali peace accords.
If that is not enough, President Mohamud also ushered in the Ethiopian army to officially become part of AMISOM and get hefty salaries and lucrative contracts to sustain its thinly-veiled sinister motive. Ethiopia is now in charge of Somalia’s stabilization and security strategy.
Fifth, he unilaterally provided cover for Kenya’s illegal forced repatriation of close to half a million Somali refugees at a time when the Somali government cannot even secure the safety of Villa Somalia or the presidential compound, thus putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees at great risk. Already in Mogadishu there are nearly 1 million internally displaced persons who do not get any services from the government.
Granted Somali government is now singing a different tune long after the curtain has closed on this matter. The Foreign Ministry said that Kenya would be guilty of “legal and moral failing” and pave the way for increase in food insecurity and in terrorism. ‘Too little, too late’ is an understatement.
Furthermore, President Mohamud allowed Kenya to arbitrarily build a wall along its border with Somalia, hence setting the stage for immanent human tragedy that divides families, cuts an entire region’s economic lifeline if not more. He also provided a backdoor entry for Kenya erroneous claim to Somali maritime territory that was all but buried to rest.
Sixth, he unilaterally accepted all ‘outstanding national debts’ inherited mainly from the military government without any expert scrutiny or substantive renegotiation attempt. Somalia now owes $5.6 billion to IMF, World Bank and others. Never mind the fact that little over two years ago the Financial Times was reporting that “Somalia has an overall external debt of about $2.2bn and arrears to the IMF and World Bank of $352m.”
How is Somalia ever going to climb out of this debt abyss corresponding to 93% of the nation’s GDP? Which Somalia might be responsible for paying back this rapidly ballooning foreign debt—Somalia proper or the de facto clan fiefdoms that it became?
Seventh, he unilaterally sacked the highest official in the judicial branch who, ironically, conducted the oath of loyalty ceremonies of President Mohamud and all officials in the legislative and executive branches. This example of unconstitutional freewheeling renders the president’s eloquent democratic rhetoric as mere political mendacity.
Eighth, due to rampant cronyism, bribery and other forms of corruption in his administration, he almost became the first president ever impeached in Somalia
Appearing in the 2013 Time 100 Most Influential People in the World, President Mohamud has proven to be nothing more than a masqueraded political charlatan driven by a paradoxical concept that he calls “nomad diplomacy.” Though the phrase is exotic, especially effective in capturing the attention of younger diasporic generations, it is nothing more than a fancy name for diplomatic naiveté or the utter incompetence that he exhibited for the past four years.
Despite all, considering the growing number of active, politically conscious youth who are sick of how their politicians sell them and their nation in the cheap, I believe Somalia has better days ahead.
Direly needed are leaders who can resist instant gratification and the seductive lure of power, who are willing to put their seats on the line by demanding what is in the strategic best interest for their nation. Are any of those individuals positioning themselves to compete for the presidency this August worth giving the benefit of the doubt?
Well, that depends on how honestly and openly they are willing to assess the existential danger facing Somalia today in the invasive role of Ethiopia. Would they be willing to reassess the failed counter-terrorist project and demand from AMISOM a short-term exist strategy? Would they be willing to dis-invite both Ethiopia’s and Kenya’s armies? Would they be willing to immediately spearhead a heart-to-heart truth and reconciliation process devoid of any foreign interference? That is their litmus test.
Meanwhile, any candidate who can match, or exceed, President Mohamud’s subservient loyalty to others has a fair chance to replace him.