Thursday, May 24, 2018
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An Open Letter to President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo”

By Ahmed Hassen

Dear President,

Your election as the President of Somalia was unprecedented and a surprise to all.  Nonetheless a good one. Somalis, wherever they reside, went wild with ecstatic jubilations, resulting in trending of #Farmajoiigeeya. Real and perceived foreign interference, desire to see change, failure of the outgoing government to do anything tangible were the three-key elements that led to the downfall of the incumbent, despite the alleged millions he spent on election campaign.

The new President Farmajo (left) with Jawari and Abdi Hashi , leaders of Somalia’s parliament

Soon the euphoric dust will settle, the honey-moon period will be over and people will start to ask tough questions: What type of change have we voted for? What agenda does the new president have for the country? Has he delivered on the promises? Considering there is always room for improvement and a responsibility to take lessons from history as Hegel aptly put it “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”, I want to join others following the example of André Gide, a noble laureate, who said “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again”. Here are my eight sincere advice to you, your excellency and your team, hopping it will help you get going in the right direction as you assume the most powerful position in the country.

1- Keep the Momentum

It’s indubitable that you have won the hearts and minds of Somalis through riding the high horse of Somali nationalism. The Somali youths have played significant role through their social media pages to rally people to support you and have inspired mass movements throughout the country. Stay on the course of nationalism and use this golden opportunity to unite the Somalis, reconcile their differences and transcend the narrow clan parochialism. At the moment, you can use the drought situation to bring about awareness, raise the needed funds from both Somalis and international community. Travel to drought affected areas in each member state and engage the Somali community both in-country and abroad to raise money through live-call in and fund raising gallas. In the meantime, you can use your presence in each capital to meet with the FMS (Federal Member states) officials and other segments of the community to consult with them about the next PM and your agenda for the nation.

2- Nominate Capable and Bright Prime Minister

It would have been better if the provisional constitution were clear on the roles and responsibilities of the President and his Prime Minister. But alas, that is left open for interpretation, whims of the two individuals coupled with lack of constitutional court to settle any differences when it arises, a recipe for disaster. “One bad general”, said Napoleon “is better than two good ones”. Mistaken not, the writer is not arguing about dictatorship but a clear role and relation of power between the two in contrast with the one existing in the provisional constitution that crippled the previous governments of Ali Gedi, Sharmarke, Gaas, Shirdoon, Abdiweli and of course yours. This in essence is what the Quran tells us about the importance of giving the responsibility of leadership to one than many: “If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides Allah, there would have been confusion in both! but glory to Allah, the Lord of the Throne: (High is He) above what they attribute to Him! (Holy Qur’an,21:22).

Civilians celebrate the election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in the streets of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Given the current arrangement of the provisional constitution which does not give much leeway once the president elected his PM, are you going to elect a “yes-man” to ensure your grip on the government or are you going to select a competent and committed leader, capable of standing by his own feet and does what is good for the country? Here we can draw lessons from the Qur’an in identifying the right individual for the job. For instance, the Quran tell us how Yusuf (Joseph) and Musa (Moses) (May Allah be pleased with them both) landed a job in the following verses: (Joseph) said: “Set me over the store-houses of the land: I will indeed guard them, as one that knows (their importance).” (Holy Quran,12:55); (About Moses) Said one of the (damsels): “O my (dear) father! engage him on wages: truly the best of men for thee to employ is the (man) who is strong and trusty” (Holy Quran,28:26)

In that same vein, Malcolm Forbes said: “never hire someone who knows less than you do about what he’s hired to do.” If you nominate the right PM for the job, then every clan who is eyeing for this opening will see the fairness of your decision -even if they are not happy about it (after all, everyone want their clan). But in contrast, if you select the wrong candidate known for his mediocrity, then forget to get any credit let alone from the larger Somali family but also from the clan the PM is hailing from. An additional burden of babysitting a mediocre PM will fall on your shoulder too.

3- Give a space for your PM to function

Once you select the right PM for the job, allow him to spread his wings and thus get out of his way. You should heed the wise advice of George Washington who looked upon his new role with reservation. He knew his actions would not only shape the nation of his day, but that of future generations: “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent”. Similarly, you should lead with humility and reserve, never imbuing your office with more power it deserved, and constantly reasserting that the government was subservient to the will of the Somali people. Remember the inaugural speech of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr Siddeeq, who said: “O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me”.

4- Surround yourself with the best advisors

Once a king asked his advisors to give him the best advice they can muster. They told him, “listen carefully to what the enemy is saying about you”. The king send out spies to find out what the enemy is saying about him. “you have got bad breath”, come the response. The king was bewildered and thus asked why not there is one soul to inform him about his condition. He went to the wife, whom he loved and asked if she has known if he has got bad breath? “From the day that I met you, I knew that you have got bad breath” but “I thought that it was a given thing to kings”, said the wife.

The lesson we can draw from the above story is simple: you surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear, then you get ruined. History is replete of many cases where leaders failed to see what is happening around them because of their incompetent advisors who misinform them, only telling what they thought what the leader want to hear. A good case in point is the Vietnam War, where Robert McNamara told President Johnson that “victory is just around the corner” when in fact Americans are unlikely to win the war in Vietnam. Suffice to say that, if you want to be a great leader, you should not take yes for an answer. You should cultivate a culture of debate and dissent among your advisors in order to ensure that all assumptions are challenged. To this effect, Somalis say “Taladaan la ruugin waa lagu rafaadaa” meaning “an unconsidered (unchewed) decision will make you suffer”.

5- Choose your battle

You are elected as a President of a country already reeling from a conflict that has been raging quarter of a century, absence of capable institutions, broken social fabric, abject poverty, endemic corruption and above all entrenched politicians who use the clan as their instrument in an environment where zero-sum game is the norm than the exception. As the leader of the nation, it is important to remember the old admonition of “pick your battles carefully”. It would be foolish to pursue an all-or-nothing strategy, taking on all the challenges at one go just to score a point with the ordinary people without assessing what’s possible and not at any given time. There is a great wisdom in this commonly used adage in the Islamic culture “May Allah be merciful to the one who knows his own limits”. These will lead us to the next two points.

6- Beware of the Federal Member States

The truth of the matter is, you are the President of Mogadishu who wants to bring the whole country under his administrations, while other parts of the country are under the tight grip of their FMS presidents. To complicate the matter, almost all including the new ones, have failed their constituencies and are very wary of vote of no confidence to be tabled at any given moment-one is already slated for 19th February in Galmudug state and hopefully others will follow suit. The big question that remained to be asked is that whom you are going to support during and in the build-up of these motions of no confidence? Remember, even if you remain neutral (which is untenable), sooner you will enter the political fray in one way or another. This has much to do with the lack of clarity in the provisional constitution on the roles and relations between the FGS and FMS and your popularism which has already put off-guard almost all the FMS presidents. If we are at all going to take a heuristic lesson from the past, these unscrupulous politicians will attempt to undermine your efforts of uniting Somalia through bringing the people closer and transcending the clan-divide. As a leader, you should be aware of this and come up with a strategy to isolate them from their constituencies. Teddy Roosevelt once quipped, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. This hyperbolic statement reinforces the need to be prepared to handle insidious opposition. After all, a leader cannot always expect others to follow the same conventions. Soon you will have your battle and how you carry yourself will seal the fate of this fragile nation.

7- Deal tactfully with the different foreign interests

Your stand on the frontline countries who joined AMISOM is in public domain. No doubt, they are in Somalia for their vested interests and you want to see them gone immediately. That is good wish and intention. But, is it feasible now? The answer is an emphatic “no”. So, the big question to be asked is, how you are going to mend fences with them? First, you should know that you have got a lot of vulnerabilities that the foreign interest might use to capitulate you. Innumerable vulnerabilities can be cited but the ones that stand out are: (a) you don’t have a national army; (b) Al Shabab is still intact and a force to reckon with; (c)communities are divided along their clans’ lines; (d)reconciliation among the clans has never taken place;(e) extreme poverty seems the fate of many Somalis; (f)you have got large illiterate and unskilled youth; and (g)unscrupulous politicians are waiting for you to make the wrong move, but to mention few.

So, don’t torment yourself to death over the foreign interest at least for now. Focus with the internal problems. If you strived hard and decrease your internal vulnerabilities, you will be better equipped to stand up against external challenges and machinations. But at the moment, the only power that you have is the support of the public. Don’t lose it. Because, “power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have”, said Saul Alinsky in his last book entitled “Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals”.

Use the public support through rekindling their nationalistic fervour at strategic times. In the meantime, “when you cannot bite the hand, kiss it” says the Arabs and Somalis have also got something to that effect “Salaad walba waqtigeeda la tukadaa” loosely translated “every prayer should be offered at its proper time” to indicate that there is time for everything and you have to be patient as it will reward you handsomely. To this end, to be seen as a nationalist figure, don’t start your official abroad trip with either Ethiopia or Kenya, but instead start with Djibouti or Istanbul or Makkah and then visit Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi.

8- No more of old-tricks

Somalis are fed up of tricks especially of blaming one’s predecessor for any failure one might expect or finds himself bogged down with. One such trick is around corruption. The elected President either of FGS or FMS will announce immediately saying that “I have not left with a single penny” or some will take to another level saying “I have been left with millions of dollars in debt”. This will inform the people not to expect anything from him as he pays the debt of the previous government.

The above Somali situation reminds us the two letters of Khruschev. “When they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said: ‘When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter.’ Well, soon enough, this guy found himself in a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said – ‘Blame everything on me.’ So, he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said– ‘Sit down, and write two letters.”

Being a President to a war-torn Somalia is not an easy job. The challenges are daunting but together with the people of Somalia you can overcome it -In Shaa Allah!

Ahmed Hassen


Mr. Hassen is a development worker with over a decade experience working in East and the Horn of Africa. He can be reached at:

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