Mogadishu (UM) – The peaceful and swift election of Saciid Abdullahi Deni as the president of Puntland state of Somalia is a welcome sign showing that the residents of Puntland needed change. The outgoing president, Abdiwali Gaas, was unpopular, divisive and shamed Puntland on many fronts, especially, with his clannism and support for the UAE over the interest of the Somali people. Puntland and the whole of Somalia is surely happy to see him defeated so embarrassingly. Abdiwali Gaas was not always unpopular as when he replaced Abdirahman Faroole, many thought he was a saviour. Now, Saciid Abdullahi Deni standing where the man he defeated today was five years ago; it is up to him to learn the difficult but clear lessons of history and to become the leader that Puntland deserves and desperately needs. Urgent priorities of the new elected leadership of Puntland are:
President Deni must urgently reverse the hostile policy of inter-clan violence between Somaliland and Puntland. For too long, both sides have blamed each other for flaming the fire of the conflict. Leadership on both sides also used this violent and deadly conflict as a political tool which fed in to the electioneering mantra which has clearly failed on both sides. President Deni must reach out to Musa Bihi of Somaliland and end the evil that is the unnecessary violence victimising entire vulnerable communities. Puntland’s forces should re-focus on fighting international terrorism alongside the Federal Government and not spilling the blood of brothers on two sides of a non-existent border.
Relationship with the centre
The relationship between the centre and the Federal member states of Somalia has been strained for some time now due to power struggles born out of a lack of clearly defined constitution and foreign interventions. At one point last week, the Puntland administration refused to allow entry for representatives of the Federal Government including Ministers. While this was electioneering tactics, it nevertheless showed the wide gap of understanding between the Federal Government and the Puntland administration which shamefully acted as though it was another sovereign state. Now, the chief architect of this policy, Abdiwali Gaas is gone and president Deni has an opportunity to put things right. Welcoming Ministers from the Federal government immediately after his electoral victory is a step in the right direction, but the long term ambition should be for Puntland to take a leading role in improving the relationship between the Federal member states and the centre, and through this uniting the country as whole.
President Deni is an experienced politician and businessman who understand the Somali political dynamics very well. He must use this to his advantage and build the track record of cooperation and delivery in Puntland which he as a former Federal Planning Minister championed.
This year is the final opportunity to get the Somali constitution right. The Somali constitution has been dragging on since forever, and one of the key questions is the relationship between the Central government and the Federal member states. Rights and Responsibilities must be assigned and all stakeholders must rise to the challenge of finally producing a viable and functioning constitutional framework, so the country can exit from its governance confusion. President Deni, as now the leader of the mother of all Federal states, must lead by example and participate in settling the constitutional arrangement alongside other fellow Federal member state leaders. The leaders before Deni were obsessed with short-term tribal gains and were dragged on superiority of Puntland over all else. President Deni must understand that this has led Puntland nowhere and should start to change this mentality and turn Puntland into a thriving Somali territory which is governed by logic and in the interest of all Somalis. This would mean working closely with his vice president and all the tribes that reside within his territory and not use them against each other for his own political gains.
Transparency and accountability
The government of Puntland, like most other Federal member states, must operate more transparently and be accountable for its actions to both the Federal Government and its residents. Puntland is lucky to have an independent source of income through its ports but very little is known about the Government’s expenditure and policy priorities. Both Abdirhman Farole and Abdiwali Gaas were ineffective communicators and did not welcome scrutiny. Faroole had the “I am the boss mentality”, while Gaas thought he was more intelligent than everybody else. President Deni must not be tempted to fall into these pathetic traps and must always seek solutions with all key stakeholders in an accountable, transparent and respectable manner. This will ensure he leaves behind a successful and enduring legacy for the generations to come.