Foreign Policy Blogs

Frailty and Gladiatorial Combat in Somalia


It is that cyclical season of winner takes all. It is that all too familiar gladiatorial executive combat all over again. Yes, the Villa Somalia has once again turned into a roaring amphitheater. The president and his prime minister are at each other’s throat, and as engraved on the walls of the theatre, the worst is yet to come.

Of course, there is nothing new in this latest drama. A year ago, after current president — Hassan Sheikh Mohamud — succeeded in sacking his last prime minister — Abdi Farah Shirdon — I co-authored an article with Professor Afyare Elmi for Al Jazeera titled Spectre of Political Meltdown. In it we argued that the problem is systemic and that it would reoccur again and again so long as the system is not overhauled.

Likely Outcome

I am afraid this latest dramatic episode will most likely have the same finale as the ten previous times when high-level political contention took place in the past two or so decades. The prevalent scenario: The prime minister would be sacked, and the president would be left severely bruised. The outcome would further weaken the nation’s barely existing institutions. Furthermore, it would further corrupt parliament and severely undermine the capacity of council of ministers by aborting continuity and sustaining the culture of ushering in new clan-based ministers each year who must start rolling up the boulder to the top of the hill. The miracle scenario: international community would successfully pressure the contending executives to put their acting hats on and finish their term together. In both scenarios, the outcomes would be the same.

Meanwhile, systematic assassinations of parliament members, government officials, and civilians with a sense of patriotism, experience or institutional memory continues. Conveniently, each and every assassination is attributed to that dreaded usual suspect, no questions asked!

A case in point: On Saturday after a car bomb killed a person and wounded at least two others, the Hodan District Police Commander had this reassurance to offer: “We are still investigating the incident but we are convinced that [al Shabaab] terrorists are behind the attack.” This is not only the epitome of incompetent policing; it is a dangerous public disservice. Now al Shabaab may very well be the culprit, but, arbitrarily attributing them all such crimes only emboldens other sinister characters (domestic and foreign) who might be motivated to “settle old scores” or permanently eliminate one human obstacle or another. Mogadishu has its share of such characters.

Galvanizing al-Shabaab

Make no mistake, this latest nasty political rancor within the executive branch is likely to give boost to al Shabaab and motivate them to forget about their differences and intensify their nihilistic objective of wreaking havoc throughout Somalia.

Al Shabaab, though they lost a number of strategic cities and towns to AMISOM and the Somali forces, they were not defeated in the battleground as they done tactical retreat each time AMISOM and government forces approached their locations. So, they still collect “taxes”; rather, Mafia-style protection money from almost all areas that they do not technically control, all the while planning their next deadly strategic move.

Phantom solution or fool’s errand?

Against its better judgment as it relinquished its sovereign right to forge a Somali-owned national salvation strategy, the current “permanent” government, like the transitional ones before it, has illustrated its chronic dependency and unwavering faithfulness in the schizophrenic “international community” strategy into oblivion. Here I would respectfully ignore President Mohamud’s latest statement as it is nothing more than rhetoric intended to clear the runway for a political fait accompli.

The government is expected to secure and stabilize the country by defeating al Shabaab in the battle fields. Since it has no well-trained, adequately equipped and consistently paid army, the government must rely heavily on AMISOM which is under de facto Ethiopian command. While Ethiopia and Kenya are publicly the most vociferous opposition to al Shabaab, both find its threat as a convenient pretext for their respective strategic interests of exploitation and keeping Somalia Balkanized.

Second, the government must put “development” before national reconciliation and inclusively negotiated social contract. In the current arrangement, the government and all other political entities and fiefdoms are to contract out all resources and borrow heavily before system of checks and balances is well established. The government and its miniature twins are often lured into lavish international investment conferences for crisscross contracting of the same oil blocks and same mining fields located in highly disputed and volatile geographical areas.

Meanwhile, civilian individuals who are mostly from the diaspora and businesses (foreign and domestic) continue to invest and lavishly build new building and rebuild artillery-devastated old ones.

Third, government must facilitate and help develop federal states. Considering the current constitution—a document that I refer to as “constitution of ambiguity and deferment” — any step forward toward this end opens the curtain into a dizzying three-ring circus and a deadly political freak show. There is not a single entity that declared itself as a Federal State or declared its secession that is not built on active fault-lines.

Candidly speaking, one has to be delusional to believe that Somalia is on the right path to sustainable federalism or a negotiated secession. Every argument that makes a good case for an Alpha clan to concoct a “federal state” inadvertently makes a case for rivalry clan(s) to concoct their own sub-federal state. The same is true for Somaliland’s declared secession. The current trajectory leads onto a slippery slope of perpetual partition, hostilities and indeed bloodshed.

Fourth, government must build national institutions. While this particular priority has especial merit in democratic societies, how sustainable would these institutions prove in a broken nation that is yet to be repaired? To make matters worse, under the current arrangement, building non-essential ministries take precedence over reforming the judiciary system. For instance, since year 2000 the establishment of a constitutional court to arbitrate cases such as the one at hand has been suffering one setback after another-always putting the cart before the horse.

Fifth, the government must outsource all reconciliation-related matters to IGAD (read Ethiopia). Ethiopia has been the masterful political trickster in the center stage of Somali politics. There is not a single militia group or a political actor that it did not or does not empower and arm against another Somali entity.

Addis Ababa is a busy hub. It is where Somalia’s reprehensible political dysfunction is showcased and Ethiopia’s capacity to manage that dysfunction and its byproduct is amplified. Higher officials from Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Garowe, Kismayo, etc., make virtually biweekly visits to pay homage, attend one futile meeting or another, take orders or to fill up their respective political fuel tanks.

Meanwhile, their meager resources are drained and less fortunate Somalis are deprived of food and essential public services.

Business continues as usual. Casting doubt on the necessity of a comprehensive Somali-led genuine reconciliation, periodically, artificial “reconciliation” powwows are organized only to further complicate matters by forcing together clans with overlapping territorial claims and mutually exclusive interests. Each time myopic concessions were made only to create newer problems. Today, Somalia is on perilous tracks. Even Somaliland and Puntland — once considered oases of peace — are manifestly unsustainable.

Resilience is a state mind; it is the willingness to rise above adversities and misfortunes by consciously managing or changing one’s outlook and attitude. The Somali people have demonstrated their capacity to undergo such process, whereas the “Somali elite” — political, intellectual and traditional — still find the status quo exclusively empowering and, yes, lucrative.

Soon the current episode would come to an end and our collective attention would turn elsewhere. Already many have their eyes blindly casted on 2016, when the current government’s term is scheduled to end. Rest assured, nothing would change before attitudes are adjusted and the system is overhauled.



Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics.
Twitter: @Abukar_Arman
or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]