By Hassan M. Abukar
Much hope has been pinned on the new South-West regional state (SW) becoming an integral part of the remaking of a strong federal system in Somalia. The SW’s interim government is headed by Sharif Hassan, former speaker of the Somali parliament. He has had a reputation for being cunning, smart, unscrupulous and ambitious. Since his election as president of SW on November 17, 2014, Sharif Hassan has lived up to his reputation. He is bent on making the regional state his fiefdom. In essence, he is presiding over a regional administration that is replete with graft, favoritism, and unhinged ambition.
Sharif Hassan, like a mafia boss, has entrusted key government positions to his close relatives. The most prominent figure is the president’s half-brother, Mohamed Haji Abdinur, better known as “Madeer,” who ostensibly serves as a political advisor. However, Madeer’s responsibilities are much more extensive than his actual title indicates. On July 12, 2013, a report by the United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea accused Madeer of a being a “spoiler” to peace when he had allegedly threatened to kill members of the Digil/Mirifle clan if they demonstrated against Sharif Hassan. Madeer, a naturalized American citizen from Minnesota, has set new standards for loyalty to his brother.
President Sharif Hassan has also nominated his nephew, Mohamed Abdullahi Mursal, as State Minister for Presidency. Mursal is a graduate of local schools and has neither government experience nor background in business. He has been the gatekeeper for his uncle. Mursal exercises immense power in the state government. He occasionally chairs cabinet meetings when his uncle is traveling (which is most of the time); he has usurped the powers of the minister of planning, has sole responsibility for all contacts and relations with international organizations and countries, and oddly, has the overall responsibility over the ministry of finance. In other words, Mursal technically oversees the ministries of planning, international cooperation, and finance. As one source told this writer, “Mursal, in essence, is in charge of all the ministries.”
Another nephew of President Sharif Hassan, Bashir Fircoon, is in charge of tenders, the rebuilding of all public institutions of the state. These rebuilding projects will be funded mainly through the Somali Stability Fund.
Sharif Hassan has been in office for only five months. Many parts of the SW have been liberated from Al-Shabaab. Despite many challenges faced by the state, it is one of the most resourceful regions in Somalia, with a lot of potential for massive economic development. Unfortunately, Sharif Hassan has started his rule by mismanaging resources. For instance, the president, on many occasions, was advised by learned and concerned citizens to modernize the tax collection system, but to no avail. Suggestions that taxes be collected electronically, something prevalent in Somalia, were also rebuffed. Taxes are collected in the old fashioned way and the revenues are misappropriated.
For instance, the Afgooye checkpoint is a major revenue source for the state. On a daily basis, about $15,000 to $20,000 are collected. About 10% goes to the district, 60% to the four armed militias in Lower Shabelle (two Habar Gidir, one Abgaal and one Wacdaan), only $1,500 goes to the ministry of finance, and the remaining balance goes to an account controlled by president Sharif Hassan and his relatives, who are the only ones with access to these funds. Ironically, according to some state ministers, neither government employees nor even state ministers have yet been paid salaries. The monthly proceeds of the Afgooye checkpoint alone could enable the SW government to add 400 and 500 men to the police force to maintain order in the entire region. To add insult to injury, President Sharif Hassan has told the ministers to either ask their respective clans to buy them the vehicles needed for their official use or pay for it themselves.
The SW state taxes khat (a mild stimulant plant) importers and the poor women who sell it in the streets. However, the actual amount of revenue is known only to a few people close to the president.
A confidential source has said that Sharif Hassan has granted a contract to Ibrahim Hassan Buulle, a businessman, to manage all the airports in the SW and to oversee the collection of taxes. Interestingly, there has been no announcement or public bidding for the said contract. Buulle simply reached an agreement with Sharif Hassan. It is not known if Buulle has the experience or the capacity to undertake such projects.
Relations with the Federal Government
There is a symbiotic relationship between the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and President Sharif Hassan. Mogadishu views SW as a reliable ally, unlike Puntland and Jubbaland. Sharif Hassan, though, has his own agenda which is to become president of all Somalia. The first steps to accomplish that goal were the appointment of a gargantuan cabinet (29 ministers, 6 state ministers and 13 deputy ministers) that included tribes that normally do not reside in the SW, and the disfranchisement of some indigenous clans. One tribal leader from the region aptly put it this way: “It is all about the 2016 elections.” Sharif Hassan needs the support of the Digil/Mirifle and at least one other major clan in order for him to have a chance in the elections. Incidentally, only three women (one minister, one state minister and one deputy minister) were appointed in that bloated cabinet out of 48, roughly 1.44%.
Until the elections next year, the SW president will turn his eyes away from interference by the SFG into his region. For instance, the SFG interior minister has recently appointed a mayor for Afgooye. To the surprise of many in the SW, Sharif Hassan has yet to issue a statement about this blatant encroachment on his sphere of control.
On the other hand, Sharif Hassan has been trying his best to influence the SFG. He has demanded that he be consulted regarding the appointments of federal officials. There are key Somali ambassadors (Turkey being one of them) that he has been instrumental appointing them since the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. He has made clear to Villa Somalia, the seat of government, that he is the one who should be consulted about the needs and concerns of the Digil/Mirifle, not speaker Mohamed Jawari.
Sharif Hassan is not yet done flexing his muscles in the SW. He has floated the idea that the proposed state assembly for the SW include 32 extra members that only he can handpick. Moreover, he has been in negotiations with Ahmed Madobe, President of Jubbaland, in selecting the Digil/Mirefle representatives for the Jubbaland assembly.
It is notable that Sharif Hassan was a member of the federal parliament before his election as head of the SW. He succeeded in having his own son replace him as a legislator.
In a nutshell, according to a cabinet minister in the SW, “If there is a specter haunting the South-West, it is Sharif Hassan.” He added, “The man is demonstratively dangerous.”
Hassan M. Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a regular contributor to WardheerNews. He writes about politics, social issues, and Islamic groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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