After a long electoral cycle, the Federal Parliament of Somalia on May 15 elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the 10th president of the Federal Republic of Somalia. In a ceremony held in the presidential palace on May 23, Mohamud took over from Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, widely known as Farmaajo. In fact, to see the denouement of such an arduous process was an overwhelming relief for both the exhausted Somali people and the country’s international partners. The relief stemmed from the nullification of an ominous expectation – the impossibility of conducting peaceful elections that lead to a power exchange, as has been the case for the last 20 years. That perception and fear was reinforced with the former president’s uncompromising power play against his adversaries, and the willingness of the coalesced opposition – who haven’t been united on a single agenda – to deprive the man of any opportunity of a second term by any means.
The diffuse nature of power represented by the embryonic federal system has forced politicians to accept the conclusion of the indirect election as the only way out from this quagmire. In addition, the pressure from the international community in the form of incessant statements and its active involvement in the country’s internal politics for the purpose of mediation was very decisive. Admittedly, the global financial institutions’ engagement with Somalia in the form of debt reduction and budgetary support was productive. The latest warning from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the organization would halt financial support if elections were not concluded before May 17 played a crucial role and compelled the political leaders to precipitate the election process. Without such efforts, Somalia would have gone in the wrong direction.
The newly elected president is not new to the political scene. He served as the eighth president of Somalia between 2012 and 2017. Before 2012, he served in civil society and played a tangible role in the reconciliation efforts. After he was defeated in his bid for a second term, he peacefully transferred power to Farmaajo in 2017. During his previous term at the helm, which coincided with the end of the transitional period, some accomplishments were achieved in federalization, the reform of the security sector and the establishment of a structured civil service sector. During his previous presidency, four of the five federal member states (Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West State and Jubaland) were founded, albeit, the contentions caused the eruption of an armed conflict in some regions.
Mohamud has taken over the presidency at a difficult time. Currently, the country is facing multifaceted natural and man-made hardships. Due to poor rainfall and low river levels, the country is witnessing the worst drought in 40 years. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Somalia is on the brink of acute famine with more than 6 million people affected by the drought while nearly 1 million of them are displaced and live in makeshift homes in camps for the internally displaced people (IDPs). Therefore, the severe food insecurity will have profound ramifications on the stability and the slow process of state building.
Politically, due to the previous administration’s dissatisfaction with the standing federal system and its policies that aimed to crush and subjugate all states except those in line with its political agenda, the political scene in the country was poisoned and regressive. Consequently, the political deadlock and cleavages damaged institutions’ workflows and also derailed the leadership from working on matters of significance for national interests such as the much-needed institutional development, federalization and reformation of the security sector. Since March, the al-Shabab terrorist group orchestrated two devastating attacks in southern and central Somalia, which claimed the lives of 60 people, including both Somalis and peacekeepers, in an attack on an African Union (AU) base.
The political fractures and lack of consensus are not confined to the ties between the federal government and the federal member states; in addition, the fractures within each member state are a matter of concern. Currently, at least three of the five federal member states are facing threatening political tensions over power-sharing among their inhabitant clans. More than that, some of the federal states do not control even half of the territory that is supposed to be under their control, which has thus enabled non-state actors, mainly al-Shabab, to have direct authority over large swathes of land and extract a substantial amount of money.
Consensus as a guardrail
To realize his promises with less exertion, Mohamud will have to forge ahead with sincere political bargaining with all political stakeholders who otherwise may become an obstacle. Certainly, accepting different views is the essence of any bargain that could lead to cooperation on considerable national issues. On the contrary, demonizing those with dissenting views and leaving no room for dialogue will lead to uncharted territory of chaos and misery. Similarly, without mutual understanding and collaboration among stakeholders, particularly the center and periphery, the state-building process backslides while the spoilers flourish. Besides the political leaders, civil society should have a proper role in matters of great importance, because civil society reflects the feelings, expectations and perceptions of the wider Somali community. Based on that, invigorating civil society will strengthen democratic values as well as reconciliation.
More often, the agreements within Somali circles are based on the parochial interests of a handful of people at the expense of the general public, limiting state-building efforts in a vicious cycle for more than three decades. However, at this time the conditions dictate that the political agreements and all dispensations should be based on the constitution and national interests; hence, there shouldn’t be any agreement that is convenience-based or contradicts the provisional constitution. Also, owing to the fact that the federal parliament is a source of legitimacy, the administration has to strength the federal parliament in the face of those who want to degrade its role.
Another useful decision is relaunching the national consultative council that Mohamud established in his previous term in 2016. In addition to the president of the federal government, the council had under its umbrella the prime minister, the presidents of the federal member states, the speaker of the peoples’ house – at that time the higher chamber was not formed. Besides the periodic meetings, the council will need to set a code of conduct that will guide their interactions in terms of the intra-relations, conflict resolution and decision-making mechanisms. Actually, maintaining high-level leadership gatherings will have an overarching positive impact no only on Somalia’s political atmosphere but also on overall society.
“Somalia at peace with itself and the world” has been the president’s motto before and since his reelection. More than its catchy literal meaning, the slogan and his later speeches on several platforms were conciliatory in tone, contrasting with Somalia’s previous disastrous modus operandi. The comings days will prove if Mohamud will abide by the commitments he made or not, where the litmus test will be how he recalibrates the relations between the federal government and federal member states. In fact, reviving a beleaguered nation like Somalia isn’t an easy task, but by attenuating tensions and suspicions by listening and considering different views and interests, Somalia could be in a better place in no more than a few years.
BY ABDIWALI MOHAMED SAYID
Researcher at East Africa Association for Research and Development (DAD)