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Circling The Square In Somalia

Circling The Square In Somalia

Somalia is headed in the right direction. But ‘right direction’ doesn’t mean a path free of pitfalls and clear of landmines. A new President who inspired renewed sense of optimism within the Somali people has been elected by the parliament.

In his inauguration speech, the new President—Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmaajo)—has highlighted the direction that he wants to take his country. He underscored how the supremacy of the law is the central pillar of any viable State. “Sareynta sharcigu waa udub dhexaadka dowladnimada.” He also asserted that his government will be committed to strengthening the supremacy of the law as stipulated in the Somali constitution “(In xukuumadeydu ay) si dastuuri ah u xoojindoonto awoodda sharciga.”

These words don’t just highlight what the Somali people should expect from their new leader, they underscore the litmus test by which the new President should be assessed. There is no “supremacy of law” without respect for the constitution, regardless of its shortcomings.

Belligerence of Predatory Exploitation

“Somalia is open for business” was the last government’s motto or rather corrupted officials dog-whistle to usher in predatory capitalists and make certain corrupt officials and their international brokers very rich. The previous government has ignored the serious warnings that: such haphazard invitation without having institutions of checks and balances would prove economic suicide. Now Somalia’s natural resources is wholly entrusted with a shadowy firm to explore, market and be granted exclusive rights to a number of lots. Never mind the fact that the constitution does not specify the demarcation of the federal-states or the distribution of natural resources. Somalia owes over $5 billion mostly to IMF and World Bank. And Kenya is claiming a legal right to part of Somalia waters.

These three deals have one thing in common: They were all secured away from the lampposts of transparency.

In business, as in politics ‘perception is reality’. That is why businesses spend significant amount of their revenues on building their public perception, therefore image. However, when the negativity associated with the business is so deeply rooted, it is almost impossible to change that perception. In that context let me say this: Since its genesis, Soma Oil and Gas has been wreaking the foul smell of corruption. Conducting shady dealings in a dark room might deceive the eyes, but not the nose.

Anyone who is, or has been, directly associated with said tainted firm has a lot to answer for. Was he or she the Somali John Doe who made the theft of the century possible? Did he or she play a role in facilitating or brokering former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s approval?

Nature Of The Controversy 

Immediately following his inauguration, President Farmaajo has nominated the only Somali who is known in being part of Soma Oil and Gas, one of its top officials (Executive Director) and one of its major shareholders- Hassan Ali Khaire—as his Prime Minister.

I don’t personally know the nominee. However, it is fair to say a number of people who know him say that he is a professional and a good natured person.

While these are good qualities, they hardly address the nominee’s history with the aforementioned shady business. As a private citizen, he had the prerogative to engage in any business, but as a man being entrusted with the executive power of a nation victimized by the company that he was officially representing, it is a public interest and moral duty to scrutinize him thoroughly.

The Dash Factor

Experiences and lives are often exclusively commemorated by calendar moments with a starting and ending dates that are separated by small dashes. In the employment history as well the life of the individual, more attention is given to one particular period or another. When a person’s employment or life may’ve started or it may’ve ended when the most important aspect of that record is the dash. That little dash encapsulates the real record and offers a more reliable portrait of a person.

The Hijacking Process

As soon as the nomination became public, a well-coordinated, relentless PR campaign has been launched to bypass the constitutional process.

Before being vetted by Somali parliament, without getting vote of confidence, and without being sworn-in, the nominee became Somalia’s Prime Minster upon his nomination. The timing coincides with while the newly elected President was out of country and the Speaker of the Parliament, who like the nominee is Somali-Norwegian, was the acting President. And just by sheer coincidence certain Guerrilla diplomats, namely from UK and Sweden, meet with “the new Prime Minister” to discuss “bilateral issues”. The strategic objective seems to establish enough facts on the ground that would make reversal of the nomination almost impossible.

Though this seamless hijacking profoundly undermines the legislative authority of the Parliament as enshrined in the constitution, neither the Speaker of the Parliament nor the UNSGR expressed concern.

Soma Oil and Gas may have been cleared politically as this economic highway robbery has implicated some high level British politicians. It may have been cleared criminally as the UK Serious Fraud Office could not find enough evidence to put some people behind bars. You may remember the Mafia legend Al Capone whom the FBI could not bust him red-handed till he was finally busted on tax related crime. Soma Oil and Gas is ethically as shady as ever. And that should raise a red flag.

Raising The Bar

There are more than one third of members of the new parliament who are from the diaspora and hold dual-citizenships. President Farmaajo should raise the bar for all officials who are dual-citizens who see themselves as people on vocation or, at best, on short-term tour of duty. He should voluntarily—indeed graciously—relinquish his US citizenship. In doing so, he would underscore that he is duty-bound to represent and serve his native nation and make it a country where his grandchildren could thrive peacefully. He and other dual-citizen officials and MPs have taken oath to put Somalia’s interest above all others, fairly, and justly.

The Foreign Secretary of U.K., Boris Johnson, the current President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, and his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, have renounced their citizenships to pursue political careers in their native countries.

Currently, as those before them, Ministers as well as MPs routinely visit foreign embassies on private invitations, private meetings, etc.

So What Is The Alternative?

It is no secret that President Farmaajo is faced with multiple problems that demand his attention. Realistically speaking, he will not be able to solve all of them within his four year mandate.

This is not to set off the alarm for political or paranoiac moral urgency. This simply is an attempt to amplify the fact that unless Somalia ends its ever-present culture of impunity, reconstituting a viable Somali state would remain a figment of imagination.

There is a difference between political pragmatism which compels leaders to make certain undesirable deals as necessary compromises and gulping down the very toxic cocktail mixed to suck the life out of you.

As one of the majority of Somalis who would like to see the new President succeed, we cannot remain forever intoxicated with the post-election euphoria. So President Farmaajo must employ the ER approach to governance. in which life-threatening injuries are given more urgent attention than broken bones. Corruption presents an existential danger to this ailing nation. It is the main reason why Somalia is condemned into perpetual dependency.

This scandalous controversy marks a dark spot on his reputation as the desperately awaited people’s hero who came to crackdown on corruption. How fast he washes it off will determine how deep the stain may penetrate.

The nominee, by virtue of being a man who lived in the West long enough, and a civilian friend with extraordinary political influence of the previous president, one would think he should know better. In the past four years, the current nominee has witnessed three different Prime Ministers undergoing through the constitutional process before assuming their responsibilities.

President Farmaajo will either disassociate himself with this group by recanting his nomination for the egregious constitutional violation or risk being seen as an accomplice. Securing Soma Oil and Gas a direct access to the national executive power is tantamount to putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank of this ailing nation. [A couple of days after this piece was published on HuffPost, Somalia’s new parliament has granted Hassan Khaire unanimous vote of confidence to become the new Prime Minister]



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]