By Faisal Roble
For many of his supporters, the Farmajo administration has fallen out of grace so fast. With the right and bold steps, however, he may regain their confidences and rescue his presidency.
Several incidents that had transpired in the month of August, mainly in the area of public safety, security sector, governance have cracked big fissures in the faith Somalis had in the new administration.
In early August, Hirshabele regional government, the youngest of the federal structure, faced crisis where the parliament claimed to have sacked the president of the region. In mid-August, a joint US-Somalia military operation against what was thought to be a successful attack against Al-Shabab turned to be a liability for the young administration. The death of over ten civilians mistakenly killed at Barrire in a surprising ambush became a heavy burden on the government’s otherwise hitherto clean record. Later, the Farmajo administration distanced itself from this fiasco.
Another folly was the sudden and abrupt dissolution of Mogadshu’s Chamber of commerce. Without a replacement plan in place, all contracts have been suspended until a new system of bid processing and contract award system are formulated. Not only did this create anarchy in major sectors of the economy, but it has chocked off what was a quickly recovering economy in Mogadishu. As one knowledgeable put it, the economic activity of Mogadishu is coming to a grind.
All these challenges have been complicated by the inaccessibility of the president. Reliable sources suggest that the president is literally cut off from the government except a handful of advisors. In an interview that Ahmed Hashi, a member of the upper house gave to Goobjoog, he accused the president of being cloistered and isolated from both houses.
In a recent attempt to visit the president by prominent leaders who are his supporters, including Senator Ahmed Hashi, and highly respected other politicians and citizens were rebuffed by his aid. Villa Somalia is turned into a deserted ghost town out of reach for parliamentarians and cabinet members.
As if all that was not enough headache for the president, there is a wide dissatisfaction among members of the cabinet. They feel as if the prime minister treats them as high school students. Whatever the intent of a recent gag order the PM placed on the use of social media by his cabinet members, it had dampened their enthusiasm for their jobs. The spirit of team work and mutual respect is replaced with fear of the boss.
The most damning development in Farmajo’s career, however, happened with the story about Abdikarim Sh. Muuse (Qalbidhagax) who was handed over to Ethiopia on August 28, 2017; only less than six months since he took office, the FSG handed Qalbidhagax, an aging Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) member to Ethiopia. This has shocked both supporters and detractors of Farmajo and became a political earthquake which in effect drastically weakened the new administration. The national euphoria over Farmajo’s election only six months ago is turned into a wave of rage, anger and disbelieve crashing at the gates of Villa Somalia.
Complicated all these issues is the fuel added to the fire by political opportunities who quickly joined the fight to exploit the situation for their own gain. Also, emerging information suggest that the government of Hassan Sheikh had struck a deal with the Somali Regional Government of Ethiopia (DDSI). Some suggest that this agreement was used as a cover to extradite Qalbidhagax.
To rescue Farmajo’s legacy and his administration from a total meltdown, he needs to take leadership in crisis management and show that he is capable to punish those who put him in this fiasco.
Many argue that handing over a Somali citizen who had a successful career in the Somali National Army, is certainly a constitutional issue. It clearly violated Articles 35 (1 through 13), 39 (1 through 3), and 40 (Interpretation of fundamental rights) of the Somali Federal Constitution. If any or all of these articles are violated by handing a Somali citizen to another country, then the parliament may elect to invoke Article 92 which explicitly empowers the legislator to assess what actions, if any, may be taken when a seating president commits such a crime.
History is replete with all types of actions that suggest President Farmajo has many company in Somalia’s short post-independence history. Handing over alleged members of ONLF to Ethiopia by Somali leaders has become common. Therefore, he may not be the first or the last one who erred in matters that are related to Somalia’s national vision.
Why Farmajo’s Follies are Different
There are four main points why the handing over of Qalbidhagax by Farmajo’s administration is different from the previous sins:
- Mogadishu is a symbol of Somalia’s existential philosophy. It is where the nation and its laws, rules and governance infrastructures have existed since independency. Moreover, it is the last refuge of any Somali no matter where he was born. It has always been the last refuge. And that edict has been violated.
- Farmajo was elected for his standing patriotism against untrustworthy Charlton politicians. When Addis Ababa said he could not be president in the thick of election campaign in summer 2016 because of clan identity, Somalis stood up and said “we all are one indivisible Somalis under one God,” and so effectively defied the dividers. In return, the Somali masses rushed to his help. A newly seated parliament where almost 50 percent are young and novice parliamentarians sided with the sentiment of their masses and voted for Farmajo. Therefore, he is put into office not by foreign powers, or neighboring countries, or the Gulf States, but by his people. Farmajo on his part reciprocated their feelings by invoking SYL, Aden Osman, Abdi- Riziak and a broad vision for Somali unity. He seemed to usher a new dawn. Many assumed that the handing of Qalbidhagax violates that reciprocity.
- Another difference is that Farmajo, unlike in past days, is accountable to the Somali constitution and the parliament. In post-civil war Somalia, a fragile but blossoming representative democratic infrastructure is in place. As things stand now, the handing over of Qalbidhagax violates several articles, but most importantly Article 42(I) which calls for the caring of those who defended the territorial integrity of the country. Also handing an individual over to another country without the prisoner’s will is explicitly prohibited by the 1957 Geneva Convention. In that regard, this administration violated both national and international laws.
- Per Article 92 of the Somali Federal Constitution, the president and his administration need to answer to the parliament once they are summoned. The parliament has an oversight powers over the executive branch. If and when the executive power errs in judgement in national matters, the legislative body is required per the same Article to organize a public hearing and sort matters out. The process of assembling such a hearing has begun. Once the hearing is set up, it is up to the same body to either exonerate or exact punitive sanction on the administration, including dissolving the current government of Prime Minister Khayre.
Explaining Qalbidhagax’s issue
There are three theories to explain the handing of Qalbidhagax to Ethiopian security: the Ethiopian one, the Somali theory, and the most plausible explanation.
Ethiopian theory: Ethiopian scholars suggest that the successful mission of Ethiopian security aided by the Ethiopian embassy in Mogadishu is consistent with their foreign policy mission – to always keep Somalia divided and confused. Beginning from the late 1940s, when the trusteeship was imposed on Somalia up to the era of independence, Ethiopia always sought to weaken popular leaders in Somalia. Some sources I talked to invoked an old Ethiopian adage that guided their foreign policy – “break the beans before they get hard,’ or (Digirta ridiq ama jabi intaanay adkaan). This is to suggest to never allow Somalia to stand up on its feet. Thus, this was a successful Ethiopian mission, they suggest, that undermined the only popular leader since the 1991 civil war.
This theory is not plausible mainly because the Farmajo government, with a huge mandate from its own citizens, could have easily said no to low level Ethiopian security agents. It exaggerates pax-Ethiopiana bravado. It is not Ethiopian strength that made the Qalbidhagax mission possible; rather it is the internal weakness of Somalia’s ruling elite.
Somali theory: Most Somalis theorize that the cabal around the president, including but not limited to his Prime Minister and those close to him, intentionally sabotaged him and set the noose for his failure. They postulate that the PM was seeking to ferry favors with Ethiopia and maintain independent relationship for his own ambitions.
Again, this theory is not sustainable because a new PM who is related through marriage to the president he serves has nothing to gain by sabotaging him. Beside, no one can prove that the PM was intentionally sabotaging his president and his country, which he loves like any other citizen. This theory is nothing more than a conspiracy theory, often a product of confusion and lack of knowledge to explain the unknowns.
Plausible theory: I believe one plausible theory to the melt down of Villa Somalia can be found in the way the president managed his affairs. First, he has been a hands off executive manager. He was also cut off from anyone who could have given him tough advice when one is needed; even his own cabinet members were not allowed to provide professional input. Why the president isolated himself remains a conundrum. It is therefore plausible that the president believed and had comforted himself in the competence of his executive officers, mainly the PM and the NISA leaders. Now we know that his team may not have the right qualifications, experience and sophistication for the jobs they are assigned to.
When the president put together his government following his euphoric victory after February 2017’s election, he picked individuals he had relationships. With good intentions, the only criteria he seriously looked at were personal connections and the implementation of the notorious 4.5 formula. Like in the past, today’s fiasco in Farmajo’s government is the consequence of challenging jobs that are being distributed as entitlements. While clan political entrepreneurs are satisfied and individuals are rewarded with positions they don’t deserve, the president encountered a major setback early in his administration.
A Way out for Farmajo
Although it appears very complex and almost prohibitive for the Farmajo administration to shed off the stigma of violating reciprocity with the masses, it would require competent experts to gauge whether this matter meets the threshold for impeachment. From the outset, it may not meet that test for the president may claim to not have received the right background information on the matter before he authorized the action. Details are trickling in that the president did not get an exhaustive report and alternative recommendations put forth to him. By far, he was informed about the whole affair minimally, and may not have approved the handing over of Qalbidhagax.
Moreover, elders who tried to intervene on behalf of the citizen before he was handed to Ethiopian security failed, because the president’s handlers prevented them from meeting with the president. Some of the vexing questions Somalis all over seem to be asking are the following:
Did those who regularly advise the president inform him that Qalbidhagax was: (1) a Somali citizen and a former member of the national army; (2), did they give the president scenarios to choose from? (3), why didn’t those up the food chain protect him so that he does not violate his reciprocity with those who elected him? Did anybody including the prime minister avail to the president the legal ramifications, nationally and internationally, and political gravity of the matter?
The Somali parliament is not known for a clear and fair judicial role in times of national crises. Unconfirmed reports coming from Mogadishu, Nairobi and the Gulf States suggest that intense political campaign to thwart or/and corrupt the pending hearings has already begun. Alas, the Somali nation expects of the parliament a clean and fair hearing on the matter.
The president can help his nation by taking drastic measures to fix things as soon as possible. Although some of the negative narrative thus far written about him may prove impossible to reverse, doing some or all of the following could help stabilize his presidency in the short term.
1) He should fire his security guy – Sanbalooshe – who is probably responsible for keeping the president in the dark or had unprofessionally handled the issue in a way that exposed the president to irreparable harm. Also, anyone who had a role in this matter must be fired. How far this goes up the food chain is a task the president needs to quickly attend to.
2) The prime minister, along with the president, must explain to the nation what had happened. PM Khayre seems to have let down the president by not protecting him. In the end, it is up to the president whether he would take drastic measures to replace his PM and ask the parliament for its approval.
3) President Farmajo must knock on every door possible to regain the release of the prisoner. Talking to Ethiopian authorities at the national and regional levels are key. Also, the authorities in Jigjiga have an opportunity to show that amnesty is a rare commodity but a big part of diplomacy. If a solution to the plight of Qalbidhagax is worked, which seems attainable, that would obviate some pressure off of the president and the family of Qalbidhagax.
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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