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President Farmajo tends to treat Puntland as an adversary: Is this seemingly without rhyme or reason?

President Farmajo’s visit to Puntland in Jan 2018 –

Farmajo paid his first official visit to Puntland in January 2018. A two day visit. When he arrived in Garowe, people travelled from nearby villages and towns to give their president a heartfelt welcome during his visit to Puntland. Garowans were waving flags. Many youngsters both men and women were wearing t-shirts and cloth wraps beautifully and colourfully emblazoned with president Farmajo’s face. Such was the high regard that the population of Puntland have for Mr Cabdullahi Maxamed Farmajo Puntland government, being the foremost of all the Federal member states, played a major and crucial role in the establishment of the Federal Republic of Somalia. Mr Cabdullahi Yusuf Axmed who led the first transitional Somali government which moved back to the nation’s capital city, Mogadishu, and into Villa Somalia, was regularly receiving monetary and military support from Puntland government led by the then president of General Cadde Muuse. It was mainly that undiminished financial and military support which had facilitated the consolidation of the Federal Government’s stay in Mogadishu.

Farmajo has come to power after a lot of sacrifice of both human resources and time invested by most Federal Member States, including Puntland in the starting of both peace and state building. What has then prompted this adversarial attitude towards Puntland in particular?

Unnecessary Vehemence and Rancour against Federal Member States

Farmajo’s tenure have driven a wedge between Puntland and the Federal Somali government. There are many issues surrounding Farmajo’s antipathy to Puntland government. For one, President Farmajo and quite few Somali politicians are hell-bent on dismantling and disassembling any process which strengthens and improves a federal system in Somalia. These politicians including the president have held the belief that the Somali nation, in this anarchy and uncertainty, needs a strong central government with all its institutions under the control of an absolute and powerful president like the former brutal dictator Major General Siyaad Barre.

Somalia 1969
24 of the 25 Members of the SRC junta who led the 1969 coup and crushed Somali’s nascent democracy

Farmajo and many of his aides in Villa Somalia are wistfully reminiscing the era of SRC (Supreme Revolutionary Council) and the time of XHKS (Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Kacaanka Soomaaliyeed – Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party). It is the profligacy of the members of these two organisations which drove Somalia into ruin.

Little did Farmajo and his aides know that the cause of this bloodshed, chaos and state failure was the consequences of the oppression and repression,persecution and corruption which was widely prevalent during the dictatorial rule of Siyad Barre. Little did they know that there is no way back to that destructive route. That a dictatorship cannot remain at the helm against the will of the Somali population was practically and forcefully proven when Siyad Barre was chased out of Mogadishu in 1991. Those who are now longing for that kind of government need to wake up from their demented dreams.

The last thing Somalia needs now or ever is another autocratic regime. Puntland government has spent a considerable effort and time in building effective, inclusive and accountable institutions. There is no doubt that there is a profound need for capacity building and substantial improvement in almost all of its government institutions. These government ministries and agencies cater for the needs of Somalis in Puntland.

Planning and ultimate decisions making for all its policies are determined in Puntland ministries, and councils of its cities and towns. Puntland government now has the power to set policies which guide its economic and political interactions and determine forcefully the way goods and services are delivered across its rural and urban areas. It also has the power to shape how its budgets are allocated and spent. Its judiciary system is also regulated by Puntland’s ministry of Justice. All these powers rest on the authority of Puntland government albeit with some Federal government consultations. Now how could it be viable that this whole system of governance in Puntland be transferred and submitted to Mogadishu and to a central government ministries in order to delegate back from there? Total capitulation of own authority and powers – hardly acceptable to any politician or a civil servant in Puntland or its population.

Other Federal Member States – FMS (Jubbaland, GalMudug, HirShabeelle, and South West) are following suit in pursuing their federal autonomy in all aspects of policy making despite Farmajo’s incessant intervention, political manipulation and underhand tactics to control respective FMS’ MPs and their executive bodies.

Currently the power of Somali political associations in the Federal Member States are mainly based on clan affiliations and/or clan constituencies. Farmajo seems to have no dominant, politically significant constituency in the country. GalMudug and Jubbaland are two member states where he could set his political net to attempt to secure a ticket to the Federal Parliament or to the senate. There seems no shortage of enmity for him in these constituencies. The chances of him being (s)elected from these constituencies are very meagre. He could be cast into a long term political wilderness. Puntland’s role in supporting Somalia’s federal system by sharing all its strategic federal knowhow and autonomy with FMS is a thorn in Farmajo’s side. He and many of his political associates would rather have Puntland adopt a secessionist policy like Somaliland than remain in Federal Somalia and continuously safeguard Somali unity.

Another of Farmajo’s deep-rooted aversion to Puntland could be attributed to his perception that the cause of the demise of his role model and hero – the ruthless dictator, Major General Maxamed Siyad Barre is SSDF (Somali Salvation Democratic Front), one of the first armed organisations against Siyaad Barre’s regime. SSDF was formed by former officers who, after their failed coup d’état, defected to Ethiopia. It is through clan affiliation that Farmajo is associating these military officers and their organisation with Puntland. Note that a significant number of SRC members who were loyal to Siyaad Barre were also of Puntland descent.

Leaders of a rebel organisation, in this case SSDF, cannot represent regions of a country, the same way that Puntland cannot be shrunk into a few dissident officers against a dictator.

His ego seems to take over

Instead of fostering all possible collaborations between FGS and FMSs and building on FMS’ strengths, Farmajo started to believe he has all the answers for rebuilding Somalia, and that he is intellectually and politically equipped to make the best decisions for the country. Rather than valuing Puntland’s 20 years’ experience in building state institutions, and including all FMSs in all federal processes, he simply wants others to follow him – toxic leadership full of aggressive, dictatorial, arrogant and manipulative behaviour.

Suspicions that the office of the president is expending energy and investing resources in creating tensions, conflicts and rifts within Puntland state or within any other Federal Member State organs are mounting and could irretrievably damage the rebuilding of this fragile country which is just starting to emerge from severe crisis and civil war. Any resources for development or social rehabilitation for FMSs should be channelled to the proper authorities of the Federal governments. Ignoring that is tantamount to financing the destabilisation of Federal Member States and side-lining their authority and governance. These are some of the symptoms of Federal antagonisms that the president’s office has seemingly been showing lately.
Nationals of Puntland are Somali nationals and so are all other Federal Member States’ nationals.

Farmajo should know that he is their head of state, their leader, and president. He owes them respect. It is extremely vital that he has trust in their population and its governments. He can have an everlasting influence on the population, its MPs, and its governments as long as he observes their choice. By giving the Somali population collectively a shared task and teach them a shared belief, he can provide a social glue – a well-established social cohesion. These are the characteristics of a true patriotic leader. But the question is, does Farmajo appreciate that?

By Yusuf F. Samatar