By HASSAN MOHAMED
Somalia has made important milestones in rebuilding its economy and normalising relations with the rest of the world and, more importantly, with international financial institutions. The country has, however, not done well in improving security and thawing political tensions to improve political stability, which are both crucial if it is to attain real progress.
The following is a breakdown of the major gains and disappointments in 2018. It is unfortunate that the disappointments outweigh the gains. This should serve as a wake-up call for the government to change its leadership style in 2019 for real progress economically, security-wise and in terms of overall political stability.
Top in the list of positives is the lack of squabbling between the President and Prime Minister, which has been a norm in Somalia’s recent political landscape and a source of government shutdown in past administrations. True to his words, President Farmaajo is yet to replace his Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre, unlike previous Presidents Hassan Sheikh Mohamed, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and the late Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed who all finished their terms having replaced their premiers twice.
During his inauguration in February 2017, Farmaajo promised he would appoint a premier who will work with him and with whom he will finish his four-year term. So far he has delivered on this promise. The only setback is that Farmaajo sided with his Chief Minister Kheyre when the latter fell out with Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jaawari, forcing the latter to resign in April.
The Somalia government was praised for increasing revenue collection from the Mogadishu seaport and Aden International Airport, which are the two main sources of revenue for a country still reeling from more than two decades of civil strife following the collapse of the state in 1991.
The revenue collection of $189.9 million (Sh19.3 billion) resulted in an increased government budget of $340 million (Sh34.6 billion) in 2018 from last year’s $274.6 million (Sh27.9 billion). The government could have done better if revenue collection was updated to automation from the old manual way, which encourages corruption.
Revenue collected by the five Federal States — untland, Jubaland, Galmudug, South West and HirShabelle — was however not included. This remains a thorny issue for Somalia and was a source of the rift between Mogadishu and the states.
There is need to centralise revenue collection and equitably share national resources. This will reduce mistrust between the government and the states, which should accept thath they fall under Somalia and stop behaving like independent entities.
The government has also done well in kick-starting the Constitution review process. However, that exercise must be continued in earnest with the support and political goodwill of the Federal Member States, who currently don’t see eye-to-eye with the national government. The National Independent Election Commission needs to be truly independent and must not accept national government interference in polls. More importantly, it must root out corruption, which has become synonymous with all elections so far in Somalia.
Somalia’s government has in 2018 increased its international recognition with the resumption of a number of key diplomatic ties. Topping the list was the United States appointment of Donald Yamamoto as its ambassador to Somalia on July 11.
On December 5, the US announced plans to officially open its embassy in Mogadishu, 28 years after it closed the mission. The US is an important ally and partner. As if to prove this, the US has increased attacks on al Shabaab, with almost daily aerial bombardments and joint operations with Somalia Special Forces Danab and Gaashaan. In November and December there have been nearly 20 attacks, including 12 drone attacks.
The government has done well to encourage diplomatic relations with foreign countries. It has also mended relations with its immediate neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia, which has resulted in the countries’ national carriers resuming flights to Mogadishu. This will spur development and create jobs and opportunities.
Another milestone was the government’s decision to remain neutral in the Gulf crisis pitting Qatar against Saudi Arabia. Many believe this is as a result of one influential man called Fahad Yasin, former President Farmaajo’s Chief of Staff and now Deputy Head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), who was a long-time Al Jazeera Arabic Somalia reporter and Doha’s man in Somalia. He helped finance Farmaajo’s election with his Qatari connection.
Another victory was government’s takeover of management of Somalia’s airspace from the International Civil Aviation Organization from June 20. This will bring much-needed extra revenue. The government must now police its vast 3,000km seashore and land borders to improve security and generate revenue.
The biggest failure has been this government’s inability to improve security. Al Shabaab has carried out more attacks than it did last year. This has been at the centre of the government rift with its Federal Member States, which accuse the government leadership of ignoring security and further destabilising the country.
The government was badly embarrassed on July 7 when al Shabaab carried out a daring suicide attack on the Ministry of Interior, which is the main entity responsible for maintaining peace and security. A number of high-ranking government officials, including senior military officers, have been assassinated by al Shabaab.
Lack of genuine reconciliation has increased clan feuds as well as the big border war between Somaliland and Puntland in May. Although the national government condemned the war, it did little to ease tensions between the two warring states.
However, the government’s biggest political blunder so far was its decision to ensure there was no free and fair election in South West State of Somalia, which went to the polls on December 19 to elect a new President.
President Farmaajo’s government is blamed for installing a puppet president in Baidoa and, worse, for illegally arresting and detaining the leading candidate Mukhtar Ali Robow. Robow is a former Shabaab founder and one-time Deputy Commander and spokesman who quit in 2013 and surrendered to the government last year. His arrest prompted the resignation of Somalia’s Public Works minister Abdifatah Ibrahim Gesey on December 16.
The decision caused unnecessary tensions and loss of innocent lives in Baidoa, the capital of South West State. Farmaajo might have been thinking of the 2020 polls when he ignored pleas to postpone the election, exposing his ignorance of the rule of law, democracy and unity.
The seeds he has sowed in Baidoa and elsewhere are likely to haunt him as it showed a rather dark side of a President who wants to cling to power, which is rather a different picture from his usual calm demeanour. Many believe the President is being misadvised by some inexperienced political novices who are digging his political grave.
The icing on the cake in political blunders remains the government’s fight with the Federal States, which exposes the political immaturity in Somalia. The states are the heart and blood of government, without which it would only control Mogadishu.
The government must not further destabilise the country. It has to reach out to the states and accept criticism without resorting to dictatorial tendencies of arresting opposition members as it has done in 2018. The government must also work extra hard to improve the well-being of its citizens as well as create jobs for its burgeoning youth population, who make up the majority.