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Yet another false dawn for the people of Somalia

By Abdi Samatar

THE SOMALI people were on the verge of despair, as President Hassan Mohamoud’s tenure careened towards its demise in 2017, due to corruption and abuse of power. Somalis held out hope that the 2016/17 ‘elections’ might produce civic leaders.

Among the dozen candidates who vied for president was Mohamed Farmajo who was a caustic critic of Mahmoud. This essay assesses Farmajo’s campaign and the implications of his presidency for Somalia.

UNPOPULAR : Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, right, in New Delhi.

Farmajo’s campaign office in Nairobi, Kenya, was managed by one Fahad Yasin. Farmajo was not independently wealthy, but his manager had wealthy “friends” in the Middle East who provided millions of dollars for the campaign.

Transparency International has consistently ranked Somalia as one of the most corrupt countries. How parliamentarians and the president are selected, exemplify systemic corruption.

Due to insecurity in the country, MPs are selected by pseudotribal teams of 45 individuals per seat, who sell their votes to the highest bidder.

Top presidential candidates bankrolled many MPs, and the cost of parliamentary seats was about $10 million (R135m) in a country where the Education Ministry’s budget is less than $2 million. The 329 MPs in the two houses of parliament elect the president.

Presidential candidates of means sought to buy MPs’ votes through cash bribes.

Some MPs were concerned that the president might rig the election. Consequently, parliament appointed eight citizens as the National Anti-Corruption Election Commission to oversee that the election met minimum standards, but the NACC lacked resources to investigate widespread trade in MPs’ votes. It decided to concentrate its effort to ensure that an appropriate poll venue was selected, and that no money or means to transfer money were brought into the venue.

The parliamentary committee responsible for selecting the venue agreed with the NACC that the air force hangar at the airport was the most fitting venue, and the AU Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) secured the facility.

As the chair of the NACC, I met many people in Mogadishu and realised the magnitude of the market for MPs’ votes. I confidentially and individually met 37 parliamentarians who shared information provided I used it without attribution. Twenty-one of the MPs reported that they each received money from the two “wealthiest” campaigns, averaging $35 000.

The obscenely corrupt wave crested the night before polling day as scavenging MPs and morally exhausted candidates made final attempts to trade votes for money. Several million dollars changed hands during that day. Months later, a senior member of Mr Farmajo’s campaign confided that they had spent $2m that day.

The NACC arrived at the venue at dawn and secured the hangar’s two gates. Then the delegates were searched and seated. Everyone behaved properly during the first round of voting.

Once it became clear that the contest was between the president and Farmajo, disorder increased during the break as many MPs tried to win promises from the two candidates.

But such attempts were in vain since verbal promises did not carry the sanctity of a legal contract. Pandemonium broke out once Farmajo’s presidency became inevitable.

Somalis celebrated throughout the world as they hailed the defeat of Mohamoud and hoped that Farmajo would chart a credible national agenda. But, as the chairperson of the NACC, I knew what most Somalis were unaware of: that the president deployed cash bribes to retain power.

The faint expectation was that he will atone for his sins.

Mr Farmajo’s campaign solely focused on winning the presidency and had no national strategy. Somalis had expected the president to appoint an ethical prime minister and a lean cabinet. He nominated, Hassan Khaire, an individual with managerial experience, but whose last job was shrouded in mystery.

The two leaders selected a huge cabinet of 67 ministers. Senior politicians confirmed that the prime minister was forced to accept this unwieldy cabinet since the president wanted to honour his campaign promises to many MPs. Consequently, citizens quickly recognised that political reform was off the table. As the public digested the cabinet implications, the president appointed his financier, who was widely known for being corrupt, as chief of staff.

His appointment indicated that fighting sleaze was not a priority.

Somalia’s government took a principled neutral position in the Gulf Conflict between Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt.

Qatar valued this decision and offered significant financial assistance to the government. Somalia’s acceptance of this aid compromised its neutrality, and consequently, the UAE began to play hardball with Somalia.

Opposition groups challenged the government’s decision in the Gulf Conflict. The regime accused them of getting money from the Emirates and then banned opposition political meetings. Subsequently, security forces attacked an opposition politician, killed six young bodyguards and buried them incognito.

The regime’s audacity shocked the nation. Many Somalis assumed Farmajo was a patriot opposed to Ethiopian interference in the country’s affairs. Contrary to this image, the president decided, in August 2017, to hand over a former Somali military officer, Qlabi Dagax, to Ethiopia due to the latter’s links to the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Major civic leaders pleaded with the president to rescind the repatriation, but he ignored their appeal.

Consequently, Somalis from across the country condemned this betrayal. A few months later, regime leaders orchestrated the removal of the parliamentary Speaker. The president accused him of stymeying the government’s legislative agenda.

This claim was partly valid, but there was a more nefarious reason for the ousting.

Villa Somalia coveted to tame parliament and the judiciary as these independent organs might obstruct their illegitimate scheme of holding on to power. The executive deployed a slush fund to bribe MPs to vote in favour of the motion of no confidence against the Speaker. Although sufficient MPs opposed the motion, the Speaker finally relented and the government seated their man as Speaker.

The judiciary was the last autonomous branch of government. Farmajo proclaimed ambitions of restoring the integrity of the justice system. Notwithstanding, he failed to take the foundational step of appointing the Judiciary Commission responsible for vetting prospective judges before their appointment. Instead, Villa Somalia connived to co-opt the chief justice.

Judge Lidle told me, in 2017, that the president’s top two advisers attempted to cajole him into “working” with the presidency, an offer he declined. Weeks later, the president summoned the judge and demanded that he dismiss a case before the court that dealt with improperly seated MPs.

The judge rejected the illegitimate proposition.

Suddenly, the president fired the chief justice of the supreme court in May 2018, and Lidle challenged the legality of the edict. More shocking to the public was the elevation of a young man, the deputy prime minister’s cousin, who has never worked in a court of law, as chief justice.

Most Somalis think the court is tamed.

Given the dearth of the top leaders’ sense of duty towards their people, Somalia will remain the poster child of human misery.

Read more: Yet another false dawn for the people of Somalia

Source: The Sunday Independent

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