By Faisal Roble
Forget cascading diplomatic niceties, NGO side caucuses that went on for hours, or good-natured sisters partying all night long following the main event to redress stress, the highlight of the 3rd London Conference — London Conference 2.0 — will not be remembered by how much it helped Somalia. Neither will it be remembered for raising Somalis from the ashes.
Like those that came before it, largely empty pledges would be made in the millions, if not billions, to momentarily excite unsuspecting Somali leaders. But in the end, the dust will settle and Somalis will once again face the reality of reconstructing their country brick by brick with their own means.
Given Europe’s rising aversion to the outside world, Theresa May’s Brexit neo-nationalism that invoked the worst form of racism in large sections of Great Britain, much should not be expected from the pledges made at the conference. Rather, we have to be skeptical and vigilant about of a new form of pledging our resources at less cost.
Many Somalis also feel credibly wary about the unknown factors surrounding oil deals and those that are bidding on it, particularly the host of the conference or its main ally on the Somalia project – Norway. After all, “Europe underdeveloped Africa” (Walter Rodney), and England in particular dismembered Somalia (Ali Hersi). Whether they can be the solution to the problems of a nation they had wronged in the past remains to be seen.
The economic recovery that the President outlined in his speech is typical World Bank and IMF export-import substitution economic model. Export-import substation economic model is antiquated where one side exports raw material (Somalia, for example) in exchange for importing devastating consumer goods. The President Ad nauseam talks about exporting our livestock and agricultural products in the midst of one of the worst famine in history, is telling of confused priorities. Unbeknown to his office, World Bank and IMF adjustment programs in the 1980s significantly contributed to destruction of the Somali state.
The Unforgettable Moments
What will not be forgotten about Farmjao’s speech are words of foresight that form my takeaways from the entire fanfare and the incessant partying the ensued. There were moments of vision and foresight that will reverberate for some time.
Farmajo went to London and delivered a credible speech at a time when large sections of the Somali community that hitherto supported his campaign for the seat cast doubt about his competency.
Given the magnitude of endemic political problems and the massive disunity that plagued this once-cohesive nation, only one thing can lift Somali up from the gutters – a broad and sustained foresight that touches the hearts of millions of Somalis who have been let down by successive charlatan leaders. That, he seems to have done it, and this time he mainly talked directly to the Somalis.
Well-crafted in substance and carefully sequenced in style, not to forget the obvious American political jargons that peppered phrases of the content, Farmajo, without boasting but blissfully, impressed upon his listeners with a huge dose of political legitimacy that his nation gave him on February 8, 2017. “Somalia successfully concluded a long and complicated election process on the 8th February 2017. On that day, representatives of the Somali people voted for change and a new direction for our country,” he said while quickly adding that he is determined to be the leader of change.
He is not the first democratic president Somalis had given their votes. Just to set the record right, in a rare proud moment for all of us, he reminded both Western and non-western dignitaries that his nation, despite current challenges, holds a unique position in the continent. He harkened back to the 1960s when Somalia started “peaceful transfer of power.” That “peaceful transition of power” is a distinction neither Ethiopia nor Museveni’s Uganda can claim. It was also a cleverly delivered message for the consumption of donors that Somalia is capable to be democratic, if given the right opportunities.
Linking the present to the past narrative to paint a proud moment for Somalis, Mr. Farmajo lauded “The successful and peaceful transfer of power, following my election, was a reminder of Somalia’s potential as a beacon of democracy and hope in one of the most unstable regions in the world.”
One cannot miss the irony that some of those leaders who want to dictate to Somalia about good governance have not had themselves clean election for decades. Whether they admit it or not, they got the subtle message Mr. Farmajo delivered to them. In short, the “bell tolls” for AMISOM contributing countries that are both the problem and solution to Somalia’s instability.
While he was at it, he carefully but in well-crafted words commenced what appears to be the beginning of national conversation about a potential road map for an exit strategy for AMISOM. In addition to praising the partnership with AMISOM, he underlined that time has come to look ahead after they worked “with us for a period of 10 years—much longer than anyone expected.”
In other words, with the recently established Somali-led unified national army consisting of forces of the Federal government and regional states, coupled with a request for unfreeze of the long arms embargo on Somalia, the President laid down his argument for an expedited exit strategy of AMISOM troops.
As a reader of Somali politics, the highlight of Mr. Farmajo’s speech lies not in jargons appealing to World Bank or IMF lest that never helps Somalis; as a matter of fact that portion was a turn off. Nor is the over-exaggerated partnership with about 20 countries with varied interests will ever lift Somalia of the ashes.
Rather, two simple but emotional and interrelated issues proved to be close to the hearts of the nation. It was a momentous in his speech when he celebrated the latent power of our youth and the genius of Somalis in entrepreneurship. Without knowing, he parted to us a John F. Kennedyesque message of “what we can do for ourselves, not what others can do for us.”
The mere mention of the killing of the youngest Ministers and a former Dhadhab refugee camp resident, Abdullahi Sheikh Abas Siraj, had instantly conquered the hearts of the nation. Touching our collective pain and commemorating one of his fallen ministers for the first time humanized a less humble Villa Somalia and reconnected it with the masses outside Mogadishu’s fortified perimeters presidential palace.
Not least important by any means is his humble invocation of his partnership with his Prime minister and his cabinet. Mr. Farmajo showed a good side of his personality – which he is ready to value teamwork and share credit with his lieutenants – a cleaver but subtle way to show the nation that his administration is a far cry from past practices.
This is not the first time Mr. Farmajo touched the right nerve. He did so in opposition to former President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud whom he often painted as a corrupt and incompetent leader. Consequently, he won the election by promising positive changes.
So far, he has not done much change of noteworthy. To the contrary, he allegedly established a large government with 69 ministers based on 4.5, insecurity still rages Mogadishu, allegedly nepotism in awarding positions and government contracts are worse than during his predecessor’s, and large number of his ministers are not qualified for the positions assigned to them.
What has changed this week is that he mesmerized millions of Somalis with a speech that has a foresight. The speech was partly addressing the Somalis directly and that is the right way to connect with your people. No nation has ever been saved from without but only from within. And that, he clearly articulated. From here on, we need to hold his feet to fire and make sure that rhetoric and promises encapsulated in those well-crafted words are worth the paper they are
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.
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