Mogadishu (UM) – The visit of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to Mogadishu this week was presented as historic by a government desperately seeking to end a Ramadan period dogged by road closures, public anger and accelerated assassinations by Al-Shabaab. The Ethiopian Prime Minister’s visit was a closely guarded secret up to the point when he actually arrived in Mogadishu on his national carrier.
The visit produced the usual discussions underpinned by the regular empty pleasantries of diplomacy which the Somali people have become accustomed. Cooperation in trade, security and so forth was written in an unusually rushed communique.
Experienced observers of the visit would have realised the amateurish state protocol, the lack of coordination and, once again, the full lockdown of the capital from the night before which was the first day of Eid.
Naturally, there is much for the Somali government to learn from the visit of the Ethiopian Prime Minister.
Lesson 1: Stay only as long as absolutely necessary to achieve national goals
The visit of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was less than half a day and he got done what he had to. In most visits abroad, even to neighbouring states, the minimum time the President and Prime Minister spend outside the country is 2-3 days. Why? Do they not have a country to run? If well organised and fully prepared for most State visits can be concluded in a day. However, the challenge is the entourage of friends accompanying our leaders, who often are not qualified to do anything for them, need to shop and meet their cousins and friends which takes a day itself. This must end.
Lesson 2: Respect the Foreign Ministry
The visit of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed laid bare the institutional distrust and dysfunctionality that exists in Somalia. Instead of waiting in their offices like other leaders they have met everywhere else, both the President and Prime Minister rushed to the airport with Cabinet Ministers. The Foreign Ministry and national protocol were totally sidelined by those seeking a photo opportunity. This is a national disgrace that would never happen in Ethiopia. This is because the Ethiopian Prime Minister respects his Foreign Ministry and the State protocol who have always collected Somali leaders from their airport, took them to their hotel and then, at the appointed time, delivered them to the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ethiopian Prime Minister knows he has a country to run unlike President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Khaire.
The Ethiopian government also know that it is protocol to not hold another press conference after the two Presidents have spoken and for the Presidents to answer a few questions from journalists regarding an important communique which was not initially on the agenda. In any case, it is usually the Foreign Ministry, not Presidential media staff, that comment on a bilateral Communique.
Lesson 3: Don’t bring the capital to a standstill
The whole of Mogadishu was shutdown during the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s visit. How does making Mogadishu a tense ghost city demonstrate national progress to a visiting leader? Yes, there are security challenges but why not only close the roads that the delegation convoys will be using? Addis Ababa will never be brought to a standstill for a Somali leader because the Ethiopian leadership understands that this is an economic disaster.
Lesson 4: Follow up
The content of the Communique pre-dates this government. All the areas of cooperation are standard and were negotiated from the last government. What will make this governments efforts stand out is the implementation of the agreed content.
A year and a half into this government it still appears they have not transitioned from campaigning to governing successfully. Despite a supposed ambitious legislative agenda, both the President, Prime Minister and key members of the Cabinet find time to wait at the airport for a visiting dignitary contrary to all established international protocol while the Somali people they represents lives are disrupted for an entire day by road closures. This is not the Nabad and Nolol the Somali people expected or deserve.