Challenges and opportunities for President- Elect Lafta Gareen – UM

Will this happiness last? Lafta Gareen after his election success: Photo via Twitter.

Mogadishu ( UM) – The electoral victory of the Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed, also known as Lafta Gareen, in this week’s election in South West State comes at a huge cost. Despite the celebrations in Mogadishu and some parts of the election venue in Baidoa, most in the country are concerned by the level of disunity among the people of South West State in the result. There is no doubt that this very morning Lafta Gareen is the elected state president of South West but he needs to make a real effort to bridge the gap between himself and those who oppose him. Already there is a huge social media campaign against him which portrays him as a Federal Government puppet. The deaths of at least 11 people, including a regional MP, is a legacy that will haunt his administration.

Lafta Gareen was the establishment favourite who all know has had great support from the Federal government leadership. Many UM spoke to also accused the Federal government of financially and politically pushing Lafta Gareen to electoral success while directly undermining his opponents. Much anger was caused, and still remains, over the arrest of Mukhtar Robow who was also a candidate for the South West State’s presidency until a few days before the election. In fact, Robow was the favourite to win until his sudden arrest according to all stakeholders including influential elders and Federal MPs from South West State. All these plus the chartered plane and bulletproof car it carried with it to bring Lafta Gareen to Baido to start his election campaign, has this important Federal member state of Somalia very concerned and divided.

To ensure Lafta Gareen does not become another unwanted federal member state leader like the former Galmuduug leader Abdikarim Hussein Guleed who was associated with the former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, he must become his own man very quickly. Otherwise he will leave the same miserable legacy that Abdikarim left in Galmudug after his time is up. Who Lafta Gareen was and who supported him is not important now, what matters is who he becomes and whom he chooses as his partners to govern.

Lafta Gareen has many disadvantages, especially, because of his association with the Federal government, the clan dynamics of the state and a sceptical international community. Yet, he can turn these into advantages. A close working relationship with the Federal government is important for the unity of the country, the progress of South West State and engagement with international partners. Lafta Gareen should focus on strengthening this for the common good of the Somali people and not abuse it like his predecessor whom the people of South West are glad to be rid of. A strong working relationship with the President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Kheyre is an opportunity for South West State and not an obstacle. On their part, the federal government must stand back and allow Lafta Gareen to lead in the state and support him by linking national development opportunities with political support from the centre. Looking at it from this perspective, Lafta Gareen has a great historical opportunity to lead on the strengthening of federal structures of this country.

Lafta Gareen must unify South West State. Now, the anger and division is clear. Not everybody can get what they want in elections and all sides must work together for the benefit of the people of South West State. Lafta Gareen must start a process of dialogue and consultation with his MPs, elders and the people. The developmental needs of the diverse South West State are many and its people must play a key governance role. Lafta Gareen must start a listening tour and start incorporating people’s concerns into his thinking and priorities. He must stay in Baidoa and travel around his constituency to champion the state’s needs. If he decides to he in between Mogadishu , Nairobi and Gulf States like his predecessor Sharif Hassan, he will definitely not last very long given the unpopularity with which he starts. The people are the real stakeholders and bringing them closer to himself and his administration, will override all the issues he has today. It may even make him likable to his opponents and the people.

Lafta Gareen is now the President-elect and leader of the South West State in waiting and this position calls for him to make tough decisions. The first decision is to unite his political opponents and a good way of doing this is reaching out to Mukhtar Robow and finding a way for him to participate in South West State’s future. Mukhtar Robow will make a great Minister of Internal security or an adviser in this critical role. He was one of the founders of Al-Shabaab, and as he promised in his campaign, he can deal with them effectively. Whether Robow will accept or not is another matter but Lafta Gareen must not ignore the influence of Robow in South West State.

South West State is home to proud, resilient Somali people who need leadership to go forward. Lafta Gareen is privileged to be tasked with this great honour and now he must start his role by uniting the State. If he cannot do this he better bring back his bulletproof car in the same chartered flight to Mogadishu where his two sponsors, President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Kheyre, will not be pleased to see him after his failure.