By Hassan Adam Hosow
The promised day has finally arrived. The young generation were confident in their heart their preferred candidate would reach out to them and provide solutions. On February 5, 2017 then-candidate Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was set to present his campaign platform to a joint session of the Federal Parliament of Somalia. A dozen other contenders had been accorded the same opportunity in the preceding days; however, Farmaajo’s speech turned out to be the most viewed of all as thousands turned to the television screens and social media live feeds, not because he was expected to display a high oratorical power and honed persuasive art in speech-making, but simply stated, the generation that bore the brunt of the protracted civil war and lawlessness saw in him a glimmer of hope for a proud Somalia and with it a flourishing future that through no fault of their own they have long been deprived of. His brief tenure as Prime Minister in 2011 said it all. In his concluding remarks, he skillfully tapped into their sentiment by quoting an excerpt from a moving, empathic speech by the Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari to a group of civil war generation last year:
A few days ago, the Speaker talked to the young generation. He said three times, “I sincerely apologize to you… I apologize… I apologize to you…on behalf of my generation. The generation of freedom fighters, of SYL, made heroic sacrifices to pass a free country down to us. Sadly, my generation, the one that inherited that proud country, that enjoyed its low hanging fruits failed miserably to hand it over to you’”
After a brief moment of silence, he cautiously urged, “Today I ask you, the young members of this parliament, to vote your conscience and save yourselves from a similar regrettable fate”.
Mindful of the forces at play attempting to effect the outcome, from transactional vote-buying to covert, sometimes overt foreign meddling, though I was not the immediate target audience, those powerful words, nonetheless, sent a shrill down my spine. Images of my sad childhood suddenly started to race through my mind as I watched those concluding remarks. The civil war broke out before I enrolled in school. As a child, I experienced the horrors of the early waves of the protracted internecine civil war, first in Mogadishu, then in Baidoa Janaay, those days dubbed with the “City of Death” due to the man-made famine that claimed almost 300,000 lives in 1992. I witnessed the Somali Red Crescent and community leaders using garbage trucks to collect emaciated dead bodies from all corners of the city and surrounding areas on a daily basis and dumping them in single mass graves by the dozens. Dodging stray bullets in various quarters of Mogadishu and Baidoa, my parents managed to put me thorough makeshift schools and I stayed in Somalia until early 2000s. It was just a mere luck that I later on had the opportunity to complete my high school education and attend prestigious universities in the Middle East and North America. Many of my peers did not survive the civil war, many stayed home, a million others a decade younger than I am struggled to graduate from local higher education institutions with meagre resources – under unenviable circumstances.
On February 8, 2017, President Farmaajo rode the patriotism-fuelled wave down to Villa Somalia. The upset electoral victory sparked unprecedented nationalistic celebrations across all regions of Somalia and abroad. Even the self-declared republic of Somaliland was not spared as pro-unity protests have broken out across major cities.
Looking at recent history, there is little surprising about the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another in and of itself. We have had a functioning quasi-democracy in place since the rebound from the civil was set in motion in Arte, Djibouti in 2000. What is captivating about President Farmajo’s win is the revived spirit of love for the country, the unorganized grassroots, patriotism-fuelled clan-blind movement that brought citizens of all stripes to the streets; the jubilant crowds and healthy debates on social media sites. The widening core base of “Danta Dalka iyo Dadka” supporters have towering expectations that the new administration would, on one hand, achieve closing the ugly chapters of the hurt, dictatorship, tribal civil war, statelessness, corruption, oppression and cronyism, foreign meddling; and would, on the other, usher in a fresh new Somalia – a modern state with functioning and reputable institutions, and a sustainable economy, an independent judiciary and strong security and defence apparatus.
While massive attention is currently being given to the short-term task of appointing a skilled prime minister who can form an inclusive government that is competent in carrying out duties, I firmly believe development and implementation of long-term strategies aimed at capitalizing on the “Farmajo Revolution” and keeping it alive warrant a much bigger attention. This moment is precious, something of a rarity in Somalia’s recent political history and the new administration must do all in its power to seize it and build on it. One could easily see the expectation on the euphoric faces of students and young citizens pouring into the streets across the nation and voicing their support for the new administration; and could hear the yearning in their voices hoping it would turn a new leaf. How many times have these masses been overpromised and under-delivered? Unless managed effectively, the unrealistic expectations on the part of the public as to what President Farmajo can achieve in his tenure can cause immediate disappointment in no time.
As then-candidate Farmajo requested during his speech, the young members of the parliament, who have been deprived of peace and decent life, voted for him in droves while those without the voting privilege showed their support in various ways. Now, President Farmajo as a member of the younger segment of the generation that failed to pass the country they inherited down to the civil war generation, his administration needs to formulate a deliberate strategy that empowers the young generation and places them in the vanguard of the “revolution”. This is significant because no political organization or movement in Somalia, good or evil, has ever succeeded without recruiting an army of like-minded young generation of the day. SYL’s efforts in this area are well-documented; they used the young generation to free the country from colonial rule. Similarly, the Union of the Islamic Court turned to the young generation to put an end to warlordism in 2006. By the same token, terrorist groups and warlords have had long existence because they made indoctrinating the young generation with toxic ideologies the backbone of their strategy for survival.
According to the United Nations, more than 70% of the Somali population are under the age of 35: the civil war generation. On average, this generation is mor educated than the past generations; more advanced technology-wise with a far-reaching awareness of the state of the world. Having lived through the horrors and the shame that comes with civil war, their yearning towards a strong and peaceful Somalia is as strong as that of the generation of SYL. They are free from clan mentality, and if given the opportunity to play a leading role, they will succeed in reclaiming their dignity and rebuilding Somalia into a modern country. It is sad that many of this generation who survived the civil and managed to graduate from universities across Somalia find it hard to secure jobs in their fields and as a result hoping to establish a better life in Europe end up perishing in the Mediterranean Sea. The more fortunate and educated segment who obtained advanced credentials and experience from the West are trapped in Europe, North America and other parts of the world, and not willing to go back and help out. Perhaps, the incentive is not there. Many others born in the West are in prisons for all types of criminal activities and offenses.
To prevent the spirit of recently revived patriotism from dying off, the new administration should immediately jump to the task by identifying within the civil war generation those with the capacity and readiness to take up leadership roles and encourage them to join Villa Somalia, ministries and other institutions – a wise replacement for the old stuck whose sole aim is to profiteer from the meagre State revenues. In tandem with draining the swamp, provide training for recent brilliant graduates and ready them up for work. Those without advanced education and experience should be given the opportunity to train and join lower ranks of all government departments and institutions. The government should embark on extensive engagement with students across campuses, schools and through all other means and entrench in their hearts a set of core national values and principles such as safeguarding the sovereignty, the rule of law, unconditional love for the country, honesty, and integrity. In the past few administrations, it became almost a ritual that each new administration kicks off their tenure with massive terminations of all senior leadership of government institutions and even junior staff. One big sin they commit is the installation of similar individuals with no better belief systems, competence and moral compass in place. Former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed as the first order of business fired all ministers, some executive directors and directors, the accountant general, the auditor general, the solicitor general, and junior staff in the government. He later on fired the commanders of the military forces, the police, the custodial corpus, the national security, the navy, the immigration directorate and finally the head of the Supreme Court only to have in their place people with no better credentials and integrity. President Farmajo can change that usual practise by creating a strong union for at least the civil servants. The development and implementation of this strategy is not costly at all, all needed is optimization of the current sources of revenue and streamlining of the use of the international aid that the word is channelling through corrupt INGOs.
There undoubtedly exist downward and lateral “anti-revolution” forces dormant now in waiting for the full transition before they make the first hit. They infiltrated all organs of the State and are comfortable with the old ways and will try to poke a hole in anything that is not business as usual using all means necessary ranging from carrying out foreign interests to stirring up tribal wars. Building a deep bureaucracy dominated by the civil war generation will in the future enable the government to outmaneuver any attempt aimed at subverting or undermining the “revolution” from within.
I know from experience that public trust and support for any government is temporary and the spirits will likely sink and hopes will vanish into smoke unless the new administration makes the necessary effort to maintain it for the long-term. I remember as if it were yesterday when Abdiqasim Salad Hassan was elected president. In October 2000, I was among thousands of high school students who received President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan at Mogadishu Stadium with jubilation and an ecstatic public welcome. In stark contrast, in April 2001, I was again among thousands of students who participated in a three-day strike and protests against the crippling economic effects of importations of fake currency into the country by businessmen allied with Abdiqasim’s administration. Inflation in Mogadishu soared to 130%; the shilling reached an all-time low, businesses refused to accept the $500 bills and students could not afford bus and school fees. The leader people called “our hero” the year before, was now dubbed with “Cabdi Gaajo”. History is replete with plenty of valuable lessons worth learning from. I hope it won’t repeat itself going forward.
Hassan Adam Hosow, MBA
Hassan is a senior energy economist, Ministry of Energy, Alberta, Canada
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