PRESIDENT FARMAJO’S DIFFICULT ROAD AHEAD
By Abdinasir M. Hashi
On Feb. 8th, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed also known as “Farmajo”, shown on above, won Somalia’s 2017 presidential election defeating the former president Hassan Mohamoud along with other candidates. His victory was hailed with cheers and jubilation, erupting celebrations inside and outside the country as the man who will resurrect Somalia from the utter misery to its heydays. The new president bears the burden of administering the heads of federal member semi-autonomous states who hold adequate powers to cause pandemonium if he intrudes into their comfort zones and the monumental task of, as he likes to term it, ‘eradicating’ the threat of al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabaab which is fighting for Shariah Law.
The president is widely supported and he is characterized as the new savior who possesses the blueprint to revive and to recapture Siad Barre’s glorious days. Siad Barre, a warlord president dubbed as “The Mighty Mouth” had achieved a lot in the socio-economical sector, education, upgrading the military etc., but the country was destroyed in its totality after he was ousted in 1991, followed by 21 years of famine and hostility. Somalis are natural born guerillas who also possess intellectual capacity to reconcile their differences as easy as a handshake between two tribal elders but in Somalia, leadership skills are a rare commodity and tribal loyalty is an epidemic illness that suffocates any progress towards nationhood. It was once a prosperous country nicknamed the Switzerland of Africa, and many are still yearning for an accomplishment that has never been repeated, the painful desire to see it ‘rise up again’ dwells in them. But the new president has a scent of a hero, virtually no power or resources to meet the expectations, his administration would be hard-pressed like the formaggio (cheese in Italian) between the bread slices.
Somalia’s politics is like a spider web tingled with grudges whose root causes are long forgotten and foreign interests with hidden aspirations camouflaged as nation builders. And, Somalis themselves suffer from two major defects that have prevented them to became a great nation: Firstly, blind tribal allegiance which has deeply penetrated the fabric of their soul resulting in a ridiculous sense of pride that discriminates others – none will concede the other as a leader invoking nobility in ancestry, and readiness to shed blood at the slightest pretext. Secondly, narrowness: failure to acknowledge the right to differ, a peculiar attitude of self-righteousness. And, federalism was conceived out of this mindset and as a result, the land was petitioned along the tribal border lines, semi-autonomous heads with no sense of patriotism and loyal armed militias whose criterion of right and wrong is that of their forefathers. A mini-state of their own. These are Somalia’s problems. In pre-Islamic days, the Arabs had similar issues but Islam had simply challenged tribalism’s intellectual arrogance by demystifying it with Quranic verses opening the barred doors, and it reformed their intellectual thought process by offering an alternative conviction that superseded the one provided by the chieftains.
Another crippling problem is corruption, which is an endemic and is widely accept as a norm. For example, applying for a passport, one needs to pay shaah (tea) to expedite the process and the speed is directly proportional to the worth of the tea, and at times, depending on the nature of the service, the shaah could have a hefty price tag. So, the establishment of the federal government simply gives old problems a legal frame, a uniform, and a wide area for corruption to maneuver under a lawful mask. A common question among Somalis is: What is the only known proficiency that Somalia’s presidents acquire at the presidential palace? Answer: how to transfer embezzled funds to overseas accounts which they are greatly devoted to. A spectral tale of treachery, unfortunate crossing of interests between destitute and deceit, and between hopelessness and heartlessness – men whose upbringings has taught them a duplicitous skill and in this poverty-stricken land, it had always been a lifeline. Sometimes, it seems that we are at looking at two distinct realities of the same thing so different in attitude, loyalty, and direction; a past that rekindles a painful delight and a rotten present that cannot be explained in conventional terms have found a common unity under one name: Somalia.
The Ethiopia ambition
There are five semi-autonomous states and one which claims to be independent from the rest of Somalia, Somaliland. Though they outwardly appear to operate in sovereignty, there is a force that refines their sense of intellectuality and devises their directions benefitting from the bitter dispute that is raging among themselves, the diametrically opposing views about the future and the broken wholeness of their spirit. However contradictory they are to the central government, they have one thing in common: the feeble assumption that their administrations will be better rooted if they have Ethiopia as an ally, a body guard against unity. Their incentive reasoning is pitiful: the fear of losing their posts, but Ethiopia has ambition with proportional magnitude. Even during Menelik’s era in 1897, Ethiopia never considered Somalia as an independent nation but a “rebellious state” that needs to be reintegrated into the greater Ethiopia and the civil war was an opportunity that assisted its cause. Perhaps history lessons will elucidate this point further which are known to give a wider glimpse about the future events in relation to the past.
According to Robert W. Merry of ” A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent ” Mexico got is its independence from the Spanish empire in 1821 but its northern frontier state of Texas was largely unpopulated, and it had encouraged migration to the state largely due to the cotton production industry. Anglo-American had migrated in large numbers and, as Mr. Merry writes, “the newcomers rejected loyalty to Mexico and cast their devotion to their ethnic brethren in the United States.”To its dismay, Mexico reversed its immigration policy which was followed by a military campaign and Texans retaliated by declaring independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. Of course, that angered the Mexico government and on April 21, 1836 the army was mobilized but they lost the battle against Texas rebel forces led by Sam Houston.
When President James K. Polk took office at the White House in 1845, he was determined to expand the American territory by any means and the land for cash scheme was a possibility because Mexicans leaders were “incompetents” and “thieves”. Texas was annexed even though it was not part of American territory on April 12, 1844, on what is known as Tyler-Texas treaty. And on February 2, 1848, Americans paid $15 million in exchange for New Mexico and California, and the Mexicans accepted it with pleasure.
Like the Americans, Ethiopia is playing a political game of chess to expand its territories, and the similarities between the heads of the states and the Mexicans leaders in 1844 are like peas in a pod, and the possibility of Somalia being auctioned lies in the higher echelon of the probability. For example, under former Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2009-2012), Kenya expanded its territorial waters into Somali territory by signing a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Somali government, the undisputed fact is that Sharif Ahmed sold it off to Kenya. Surely, if Ethiopia’s suave political venture prospers, Somalia will vanish from the atlas and the damage to its territorial sovereignty will be permanent and irreparable.
As recent as September 3rd, 2017, the NewStatesman published an article titled, “ Ethiopia and Kenya help dismember Somalia” by Martin Plaut who exposed Ethiopia’s unhindered influence on Somalia’s affairs and depicted Somali politicians as ceremonial figures. The author unveiled Ethiopia’s impetus in fragmenting Somalia’s unity, “…For the Ethiopians, the establishment of Jubbaland is a further fragmentation of Somalia, its sworn enemy since the Somalis invaded their country in 1977. It was an attack that is imprinted on Ethiopian memories, fueling a determination to see the end of a powerful, centralized Somali state.”, and much of the country is “…out of Mogadishu’s control…”.
Somalia is an extremely dangerous place and the probability of being blown-up and being kidnapped for ransom are always in close proximity and Al-Shabaab remains an elephant in the living room. Though the successive presidents have declared a war against them with loudspeakers, they did not understand the philosophy or the scheme of their sworn enemy, let alone yield a victory.
Their concept is spiritual revival to create a utopian society that brings about the necessary reforms and modernity within the orbit of Islam and purifying a much-diluted message, and they know that one cannot be brought about without the other. The West’s military campaign does not alarm al-Qaida or its affiliated groups because they view it as the same insidious design that Arab pagans and Jews had plotted against the Prophet, hoping that as the war prolongs, the West will eventually show a sign of fatigue losing the appetite or the desire for battle followed by precise knockout blows that will conclude the match. Indeed, wars do delay its operational frequency but they do not shake the core concept or its theological drive.
Paul Berman’s book, “Terror and Liberalism “, commenting on the late Sayyid Qutb’s voluminous Quranic interpretation, “… And action may well bring on a martyr’s death. To read is to glide forward toward death; and gliding toward death means you have understood what you are reading…” and, the suicide bomber of Mogadishu’s Nasa Hablod 2 Hotel on August 28th had digested what he read enough to yearn for a life other than this planet. In a pre-recorded interview aired by Al-Shabaab’s Andulus FM radio, he stated that the motivation was to preserve Shariah from total extermination, urging others to ensue uttering Quranic verses that alluringly support his account. The point is, al-Qaida has a powerful ideology that is deeply rooted in Islamic texts and these terror attacks are the means to achieve a well-defined objective.
On August 21st, Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, crushed the ego of his nation by announcing that the US will not win against the Taliban despite its military might, “ You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you.” not explaining the impediment in religious terms or any other precise expressions whatsoever, a nation that is accustomed to dominance, the feeling of fragility was in the air. Of course, politics and policies do change with time, back in 2001, it was George W. Bush who unequivocally sealed the Taliban’s fate: either ‘dead’ or in captivity, and in 2017 Tillerson said addressing the Taliban “So, at some point, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end,” with hard earned experience, the US has realized that it cannot eradicate the ideology that is fueling the Taliban preferring a political route instead, in other words, the US has the power and the Taliban has the will.
Equally, Helen C. Epstein of the Atlantic reinterred Mr. Tillerson’s notion on October 16, 2017 in, “Negotiating With Al-Shabaab Will Get America Out of Somalia“, as the more firepower approach is thinning out against Al-Shabaab, negotiation with group is the sole option left. Justifying her reasoning, she wrote, ” Over a decade of intense firepower and at times brilliant military tactics on the part of AMISOM have not made Somalia or its neighbors safer. In fact, lawlessness has only increased.“
When president Farmajo took the office on 16 February 2017, the country was in a politically immobile state which numbed the president’s ability to initiate a change. He is powerless to unite the country legally or otherwise or to aver Ethiopia’s gradual intrusion into Somalia’s territory. So, the best bet is not to instigate more grievances with the member states, states that are politically tuned to other than the Somali government.
As for security, President Farmajo has declared an all-out war against Al-Shabaab to bolster the country’s security issues, like the past military campaigns, Al-Shabaab has shown resilience in enduring such attacks and it seems that they will survive this one too. To give Al-Shabaab an ultimatum of ninety days shows a clear sign of naivety and the president drew blank. Besides, his predecessors were tougher and bolder in fighting them and none had dented their spirit. Not able to match Al-Shabaab’s deep philosophical lore, at best, with help of AMISOM, the government may recapture a town or two and, at worst, it may lose more territories to Al-Shabaab.
Finally, this administration needs creativity in tackling this problem instead of adapting an endeavored fruitless plan, perhaps they should follow Rex Tillerson’s lead for a start.
Abdinasir M. Hashi is a policy researcher in Mogadishu, Somalia
You can Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org