By Ali H. Abdulla
Farmajo is a Somali adaptation of the Italian word for cheese “Formaggio”. I have no clue as to why the new president of Somalia has cheese associated with his name, but I certainly hope that he will be soft as cheese when dealing with the millions of the downtrodden in Somalia, and hard as a nail when dealing with corruption, the Shabab and our ambitious regional neighbors.
One thing that I have noticed about the new president is his sense of humor. In one of his campaign stops, he recounted the story of a Somali elder rushing into his office shouting “Armaajo, War Armaajo, Beeshayda maxaad u haysaa?”. Armaajo is another Somali adaptation of the Italian word for closet “Armadio”. The elder was quizzing the president about the position of his clan, the elder’s, when it comes to power sharing and other privileges. Farmajo responded that he would put the elder’s clan in one of the many drawers of his closet. Farmajo used the mispronunciation of his name to his advantage in answering the elder. This shows his quick wit and sense of humor.
Somali politics is clan based and the president will find it difficult to navigate such a bumpy road which is full of dangerous potholes. Hopefully his humor and quick wit will come in handy in navigating these potholes successfully. The first pothole that the president traversed in his first 100 days was the selection of a capable prime minister who can assemble a team of qualified technocrats capable of rebuilding and resurrecting the Somali institutions that have been defunct for more than a quarter of a century. His selection of a former NGO operative has been met with mixed reactions. Some pundits praise the way he outmaneuvered the two dominant clans in the South, both vying for the position as if it were a privilege bestowed upon them by God, by naming a PM from a smaller but related clan. Others, like the popular columnist Hassan M.Abukar, accuse him of nepotism since the new PM seems to share the same clan name with Farmajo’s wife. Since it is highly unlikely that the quick-witted Farmajo would risk losing the support of the masses with such an open and flagrant display of nepotism, I beg to differ with my old colleague’s assessment in his recent article “Farmajo’s Farce”.
There are many encouraging signs of the new president’s determination to fulfill his campaign promises and satisfying the hunger of the Somali people for the restored dignity and honor of their country. His recent trip to Saudi Arabia and the unprecedented reception he received there reminded Somalis of the place their country used to occupy in world affairs before its unceremonious collapse. The mecca for most of his predecessors
and the leaders of the Somali regions used to be Addis Ababa where they used to form long queues bowing to the leaders of Somalia’s erstwhile enemy, Ethiopia. Some may attribute the reception he received in Saudi Arabia to the monarchy’s need for allies in its war against Iran and the Houti rebels in Yemen: but why Somalia of all countries? It seems to me that the Saudi kingdom somehow sensed that Somalia may have taken the long road towards recovery, given the widespread popular support for the new Somali president.
Farmajo’s predecessor Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud used the following six pillars as the lynchpin of his administration although none of them has been achieved in a tangible manner:
- Full stability based on the supremacy of the law and good governance: The security situation is worse than when he took over from the Sharif.
- Economic recovery: The poverty index is much worse than when he took over and Somalia achieved the notorious ranking for being the most corrupt country in the world thus barring any meaningful economic recovery. Drought and famine wreak havoc in all corners of the country. Somalia’s animal wealth is in grave danger of totally disappearing. Hassan’s government failed to shield its people from the ravages of recurring droughts and the lack of clean water for all.
- Peace-building and a national process of social reconciliation: The Galkayo conflict reflects the extent of reconciliation and peace building in the country under the former president.
- Service delivery such as universal access to education and health services: The mortality rate of newborns and the number of post-natal death is at an all-time high in most parts of the country. The lack of an affordable and unified education system that prepares youngsters for jobs in a depressed economy encourages the youth to either join the Shabab or risk their lives in perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea to reach a non-existent paradise in Europe where they face discrimination and a marginalized existence if they make there.
- Improved international relations for ensuring that Somalia took its place on the world stage again: Ethiopian and Kenyan hegemony over the country negate any progress in restoring Somalia’s place on the world stage. The sale of Somali assets by the regional administrations and the long-term leasing of military bases to foreign countries threatens Somalia’s sovereignty and place in the world.
- Unity and integrity of Somalia: The Unity and integrity of Somalia is marred by the untoward behaviors of the regional administrations and the separatist enclave of Somaliland. The latter refused to even send an envoy to the inauguration ceremony of president Farmajo. One would expect that people that share the same ethnicity, language religion and family trees should share their joys and tribulations even if they wanted to part ways. The leaders of an enclave that considers the celebration of some Northern Somalis of a peaceful and successful change-of-guard in Mogadishu a crime punishable by incarceration, should have their heads examined. There are thousands of Northern Somalis in Mogadishu as merchants, ordinary citizens and active politicians. The speaker of the upper house in Mogadishu is from the North. The departing deputy prime minister of Somalia in Mogadishu is from the North. There are millions of Northern Somalis who consider the Unity and Integrity of Somalia as sacrosanct and they cannot be coerced into a secessionist agenda by a few aging leaders hung on the past. The recent incarceration of activists like Oldoon for celebrating the election of Farmajo with their brothers in Mogadishu is a slap in the face of the democracy claimed by the separatists in Hargeisa. A Northern satirist makes fun of the whole affair in his hilarious clip: “Don’t dream about Mogadishu”. Hassan Sheikh encouraged this behavior instead of challenging it which lead to emboldening the separatist leaders to illegally negotiate the widespread leasing of Somali assets to foreign countries. These assets were built with aid received by the Somali Republic and were not meant to be sold by the region where the assets happened to be located without the consent of the Federal government.
The new president and his PM should be judged by their efforts to achieve the above six pillars, and not by their clan affiliations and the lineage of their spouses. The chosen PM is a professional worthy of being tested like the others before him. His decent educational background and his experience in running various humanitarian projects makes him well positioned to deal with the devastating drought and famine facing the country. He can also rebuild the most important institutions by appointing qualified and capable professionals.
As for those who coveted the PM position and lost, the many drawers in Farmajo’s “Armaajo” should fulfil their political ambitions.
Ali H. Abdulla
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