The planned meeting of Somali leaders in Garowe must not be wasted – UM

President Farmaajo is welcomed to Garowe by the new Puntland leader Said Deni. Photo courtesy: Villa Somalia

Mogadishu (UM) – The recent inauguration of newly elected president of Puntland Siad Abdullahi Deni made one thing clear: Somalis love each other. They do. In Somali culture it is impossible to be refused generosity or for another to come to your aid when things go wrong, or you just need assistance. Somaalinimo is alive and healthily evident in our society. Yet, politically, things always fall apart as quickly as they are established or agreed upon. The international community and bilateral partners have developed the term “Wait and see” as the measurement for Somali progress. This is sad, but entirely the Somali leadership’s fault.

Outsiders are always shocked by how quickly Somalis agree on things and then disagree. This is not cultural as Somalis have lived in peace with each other for centuries. The inauguration of President Deni brought the best of the Somali leaders past and present and, President Farmaajo even asked the newly elected President of the Somali State of Puntland to organise a meeting between himself and the Federal Member State leaders. This has now been formally announced and we will see the outcome. Only last year there was a huge agreement in Baidoa of the nature President Farmaajo envisions to happen in Garowe but what use were the outcomes of Baidoa? Nobody takes it seriously. In any case, on resource sharing and other matters, the rushed Baidoa agreement looks like a slicing of the Somalia’s natural resources along clan lines and more clan posturing.

If and when the proposed meeting to be hosted by President Deni does happen, there have to be some ground rules to change the culture of empty friendship and promises between Somali leaders. There must be a clear agenda for ending Somalia’s paralysing political stalemates. There must be common purpose, and understanding of the need to share responsibility and deliver for the Somali people.

Number one on the leadership agenda should be that the “Iska Dhici” mentality of the past is left outside the negotiating room. There will always be political challenges and differences but in Somalia this is based on unintelligible nonsense. The disagreements are never over ideology, policies or anything meaningful for the Somali people but rather they are informed by personalities, pathetic grudges, and pointless political animosities. Somalia, and its people, cannot be held hostage for a few politicians that cannot get along, we just do not have that luxury. If the proposed leadership meeting happens, it must be based on real things that matter to the Somali people like security, economic reforms and the finalisation of the Somali constitution. It is easy to blame the leaders of the Federal Member States for much of the past disagreement but poor leadership and immature “igu sawir” politics from the federal government can’t also be ignored.

All Somali leaders’ meetings are disappointing in the end because after all the posturing, promising and hugging and kissing, there will be no follow up. The agreements and good will disappear with the flash of the cameras. When things are agreed nationally, they must be implemented quickly to gain public support and to improve the lives of the people. Whatever is agreed in Garowe in the future between the leaders, the leaders that signed for them must personally lead it with the Federal Government. Making the outcome of the future meeting, if it does happen, a success is the job of all Somali leaders in all sectors.

The President is a big fan of taking a back seat and leaving the operations of the government to the Prime Minister. This is fine in some areas like health and the economy, but on the big constitutional matters and security issues that will shape Somalia’s political settlement, he must be visible and play an active role. He is the Head of State! President Farmaajo is a contradiction; he is loved by his people, yet he prefers to remain behind closed doors and consult a few in his inner circle who often mislead him. The President’s political capital is only useful for a very short time until the people become disgruntled and think he does not care or, worse, incapable. When this happens which it will if he does not change his ways, the President might as well remain invisible and prepare to hand over the baton of leadership after the upcoming election. This will be very sad because it will be a complete waste of a great talent and opportunity to make a mark in Somali history. President Farmaajo has been wise enough to see that he cannot alone bring the Federal Member States leadership to Mogadishu and expedite a national agreement. To assist with this he has reached out to the newest of the Federal Member State leaders. This strategy can pay off given Puntland’s political weight and that it was one of the Federal Member States which was at the heart of the disagreements with the Federal Government.

Currently the ongoing political stalemate is economically hurting the Somali people across the country. In all the regional capitals of the Federal Member States the cost of living has gone up, insecurity has increased and trust between the public and government has weakened further. Things cannot go on like this for much longer. A solution must be found urgently.

Presidents are not remembered for winning elections but leaving behind a strong legacy. Getting the leaders of the Federal Member States on his side and working with them, will ensure President Farmaajo has a better chance of becoming the first 2 term President in Somali history. For the Federal Member States it will herald in connectivity, better security and economic recovery. This maybe the foundation for a new Somali deal for change if it works.

President Deni of Puntland has started of well and lobbying for Somali unity and acting on it himself, will make him a real national hero. There is not much Somalis disagree on in truth but there is much that takes their focus away from the real issues. These costly and dangerous distractions, including national and international political spoilers, must be extinguished in the proposed Garowe meeting. All the Somali leaders say “Somaaliya Ha Nolaato” with convincing emotion but the real question for them is “What is hurting Somalia and shackling our proud, resilient people with poverty, violence and underdevelopment?” When they can answer this, the Somali people will respect them more.