For quite some time, the narrative heralding Somali politics has been one wielded by a few leaders arguably driven by the tendency of prioritizing personal interests over public interests. Now that narrative seems to be in its death throes. Or so jubilant Somalis would like to tell us, citing substantive new developments that have recently unfolded in the country. Somali lawmakers have elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to lead Somalia, to what is hoped, a better future. Although the new leader is described as a political novice, he has managed to eke out a landslide victory over politicians believed to have possessed unequivocal political leverage and unequaled assortments of networks.
Trying to make sense out of the ascendance of Mohamud, pundits and ordinary Somalis postulate that the new president has come to the office not because of political accomplishments of his own, or influential acolytes with swathes of wealth to buy off MPs right and left, but largely because he was perceived as the only man among the pack of candidates who signaled change. The fact that there is a new Somali president does not necessarily mean Somalia will be turned into a place where everybody is happy and healthy. It also does not mean that Mohamud will be able to heal very old wounds in Somalia. As the dust begins to settle, it is important to review what went wrong in Somalia.
What went Wrong?
As Somalis, we are in a transitional period. We are encountering taxing paradoxes and conflicts from within and outside of Somalia all at once. One thing that could help illustrate a glimpse of our apprehension is that the political landscape of the country has changed rapidly, while the Somali people are at the fringes, and most often, the change is antithetical to Somalia’s interest. In a sense, we are a frustrated nation and we feel that our feet are not treading on solid ground. There are numerous factors out there people tend to claim to be the basis for our incessant frustrations. Some people claim injustice to be the reason, others hold outside forces are the culprits, still others throw the blame at the Somali people. All these analyses, to me, are sound. Nevertheless, I find them broad and immeasurable.
I contend Somali’s never-ending troubles were are based on these four factors: An uninformed society whose relation to government is confined within the dominion of deference, repugnance or indifference, or a society only mobilized along clan sentiments and/or religious mantras. A society under the mercy of political elites led by leaders who behave as if the whole country is an extension and incarnation of their personas, ineffective Somali intellectuals who have been barred from adding to Somalia’s political developments, who have been encased in and “Ivory-tower Pollyanna” to borrow a phrase from the late Steven Jay Gould, a lack of effective institutions geared toward promoting the rule of law, the mechanism of holding the ruler accountable to public scrutiny, and the principles built around righteousness, justice, tolerance, human dignity and equal representation and a deadly apathy towards the welfare of the community and a pervasive appetite for looting and pillaging of the nation’s resources.
Reflections on what has Happened
Ever since Somalia’s inception it has been a sickly nation, sickness that ostensibly led to the fall of Somalia’s central government in 1991. From that time it has been ruled by narrow elites who have mobilized society for their own political benefit at the expense of the people. Political power has been concentrated in the hands of a few men and has been utilized to generate great wealth only for those who possess it. The $140 million fortune apparently accumulated by officials from the defunct Somali TFG is a case in point. The losers have been the Somali people, as we fully understand. As result of a few corrupt and crony political elites, Somalia has become synonymous with anarchy, chaos, and pandemonium. Descriptives like “the most dangerous place in the world,” “the most corrupted place in world,” and “the longest failed state in modern history” have stuck to our country like lint and wet cat hair.
What to be Done?
Logic dictates that you should start with strong institutions if you are striving to form a long-lasting government. Strong institutions require a vibrant civil society that promotes participation, advocates transparency and accountability, and mobilizes the masses to curb all schemes perceived as “the abuse of pubic power for private profit.” As far as I can tell, nearly all associations among Somali society tends to be based upon clannish and/or religious basis. Such mentality has derailed the society for so long. Unless the spell is broken and the paradigm is shifted, we will be in limbo for decades to come. A demonstration of this trend is “the fact that three of the top four candidates in the second round of the presidential vote came from a relatively small genealogical group that populates parts of the old capital [and all three, including the current president, ostensibly are core Islamists or Islamist sympathizers],” as Abdi Samatar correctly observed.
Against this background, I believe four qualifications are needed: Informing the masses of their rights thus encouraging representation, enabling the citizenry to make their voices heard in the political process and holding their elected leaders accountable to the public, strong institutions that are less personal, more stable and more beneficial than other systems founded either upon tribalism or revolving around the single man rule model. It is a universal truism that groupings built on tribalism or religion tend to dissolve. And associations based on a big man rule model tend to fall apart at the death of the leader, rekindling the candle of lost Somali civic values from its dormant status, because civic way of thinking is the only way to send the sectarian mindset to the dustpan of history and recruiting intellectuals to aid the government in the area of constructing viable policies and educating the populace. Intellectuals, in the words of Noam Chomsky, are endowed with the gift of knowledge and are expected simultaneously to guide and “expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions,” to mobilize the masses for the common good, and to prepare tomorrow’s generation.
Somalia’s predicament can be fixed, but only if a coherent and a holistic plan based on morality and understanding is enacted. Let us all hope that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his administration will eradicate the usurpation and the tribalism that has derailed our country for too long and will heal the deep-seated grudges that have polarized our nation. Let us hope the beaming beacon of brotherhood and sisterhood will rise over our great homeland once again.