In 2016, H.E. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (“Farmaajo”) ran a populist infused campaign, jam-packed with Somali nationalism and anti-Ethiopian rhetoric. He promised to defeat and eliminate Al-Shabaab within two years, fight corruption, and promote political stability through reconciliation amongst the various Somali stakeholders. In this editorial, Somali’s will objectively review the first two years of the Farmaajo Presidency.
Foreign Policy and the anti-Ethiopian Rhetoric
During his campaign, President Farmaajo vehemently opposed Ethiopian hegemony over Somalia’s internal affairs. He exclaimed that Ethiopia should not be allowed to be part of AMISOM because it was a neighbouring country. This rhetoric was massively appealing to the everyday Somali, who felt that Ethiopia’s role in Somalia was negative. Once elected, President Farmaajo seemed to have a change of heart. Somalis worldwide protested the extradition of Abdikarim Sheikh Muse (“Qalbi Dhagax”) to Ethiopia — a 1977 Ogaden War hero who was serving as a member of the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) leadership. Also, President Farmaajo’s cabinet voted to label the ONLF a terrorist organization, although the parliament opposed this policy action. Farmajo’s relationship with Ethiopia got stronger after the power shifted from TPLF to OPDO and ANDM alliance within the ruling EPRDF coalition.
The new Prime Minister of Ethiopia visited Mogadishu and promised a paradigm shift in Ethiopia’s policy towards Somalia. Practically, the warming of relations led to agreements on cooperation and economic integration in the Horn of Africa. Today, Somalis get their visa on arrival at Bole airport, and there is a daily Ethiopian airlines flight that connects Mogadishu with Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa have stopped hosting leaders of the Federal Member States (FMS) and publicly vowed to only work with the recognized Somali state, although there seems to be a reconsideration of such position when it comes to Hargeisa. Ethiopia’s new PM has also facilitated dialogue between Somalia and Eritrea. For some, warming relations with Ethiopia have only resulted in an economic cooperation that would assist in the transfer of Somali ports to Ethiopia. Others are worried that the tripartite agreement between Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea would alienate Somalia’s closest ally, Djibouti.
Farmajo’s score card on navigating the Gulf politics for Somalia’s interest is a mixed bug. Initially, the government got sympathy from the public and the international community for being neutral in the Gulf crises, but the longer the crisis dragged on, it became clearer that the government, possibly through Fahad Yasin’s influence, supported Qatar, instigating reaction from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who now use Ethiopia to influence the statebuilding process in Somalia.
Under Farmajo’s leadership, Somalia issued two UN officials including the UN envoy in Somalia a persona non grata, a sign of growing confidence of the administration. Its relations with the UK government has also grown somewhat cold, although the new British ambassador is attempting to smoothen the relations. The administration seems to enjoy a warm relation with other western countries. Some question whether the support of the EU (including budgetary support) and the US administration encourage Farmajo’s centralist tendencies.
Reconciliation and Political Stability
Farmajo’s first year was largely a success in terms of consolidating Somalia’s political settlement. The National Security Council (NSC) was established and a security governance structure was negotiated. The NSC also facilitated dialogue and agreements on resource sharing, particularly resources from oil and minerals. The president’s tour to a number of FMS created a momentum for national healing and reconciliation.
The second year was, however, the exact opposite. The relations between the central and regional authorities broke down. The government started using the state security apparatus to deal with political dissidents often in a violent manner. The attack on the Wadajir Party’s leader, Abdirahman Abdishakur and use of force to detain Robo, who was a candidate in South West State, are glaring examples. The government also used every trick in the book to force Jawari, the speaker of parliament, and Sharif Hassan, the president of South West State, to resign, replacing them with loyalists.
Although the election of the new president in Puntland and ongoing talks between Ahmed Madobe and the federal government might create an opportunity to revive relations between the federal and FMS, it will take time to build a level of trust that can lay the foundation for serious dialogue and agreements on completing the transitional tasks. The worsening relations between some sections of the parliament and the executive complicates the matter even more.
Before he was elected, President Farmaajo campaigned to completely eliminate the Al-Shabaab insurgency within two years. Special forces were created to fight AS in Mogadishu and offensive strategies and transition plans were devised with AMISOM to liberate AS controlled areas and major supply routes. Some progress has been made in keeping Mogadishu relatively secure for the first year. The government also managed the first year to pay soldiers their salaries on time. The drone attacks also helped the government to target AS leaders.
The second year was, however, far from great. Today, AS poses the greatest threat to the government and the region. Al-Shabaab attacks at will and is more effective than the government in collecting taxes from local businesses in Mogadishu, including Bakaraha Market, the biggest marketplace in Somalia. The revenue they generate locally is estimated to be almost on par with that raised by Somalia’s federal government. Instead of offering public service such as the provision of security, government security is confined around four KM radius with roadblocks and checkpoints. This is for defensive purposes, only to protect government officials while leaving Al-Shabaab to prey on innocent civilians. If drastic measures are not taken immediately, Somalis will certainly lose hope in the administration’s capabilities to create and maintain peace.
Somalia acknowledges that corruption has been a rampant problem with Somalia prior to the Farmaajo Presidency; the country has topped Transparency International’s “Corruption Perceptions Index” for the last years. With that said, there is perception that corruption has become more widespread than before, despite the current government’s pronouncement of fighting corruption. In December 2017, the logistical and stipend support by the US government was cancelled due to widespread corruption within the Somali National Army. Patronage networks are growing under the leadership of Farmajo. It is alleged that the government makes regular payments to public officials and individuals outside the government bureaucracy to maintain a positive image. It is alleged that Qatar’s off-budget support is used to create and maintain these patronage networks.
With only two years left, it is our view that Farmaajo must move quickly to work on the massive tasks ahead. This includes completing the constitutional revision process, improving Mogadishu’s security, and completing the electoral process to achieve one-person one-vote by the end of his tenure.
The government must change course as the trajectories of governance is messy and requires political reconciliation, transparency, accountability and delineation of independent government institutions (i.e. the judiciary). These are just some of the core ingredients of good governance. Also, it is imperative that Villa Somalia engages and consults with FMS, political opposition groups and political parties on the way forward in achieving one-person-one-vote in 2020 – 2021.
The government should go back to the drawing board to deal with growing insecurity. It is time for a radical surgery. The government should either resolve the conflict with AS in a peaceful manner or should eliminate AS by waging door-to-door clean-up operations in Mogadishu. It should mobilize the public and invest nearly all its revenue in defeating AS and creating and maintain peace. It is time to deprioritize development and diplomatic tours to the world.