The Clock is Ticking for Somalia
By Mohamud Ahmed
January 23, 2011
In Somalia, the clock is ticking as the end of The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo nears. The TFG’s tenure will expire in seven months, and the prospect of an extension is bleak.
Farmajo administration fills the most unstable government in the world. Oftentimes, its occupants last no longer than two years. The TFG is not elected by the people, and its members are often selectively appointed to fulfill unattainable goals: completion of the reconciliation process, restoring government institutions, holding a national election, etc. More often than not, the prime minister flouts these goals, whereupon he is excited by a no-confidence vote or a pressured resignation.
Prime Minister Farmajo has assumed an office of ill repute. He replaced Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, who resigned because of political rifts between him and President Sheikh Sharif, not to mention widespread allegations of uncooperativeness, administrative opacity, and pointed ignorance to insurgent activity in government-controlled areas of Somalia. In fact, Villa Somalia is surrounded to this day, with only an 8,000-strong AMISOM force keeping it safe.
Now it’s Farmajo’s turn to face the burdens of public scrutiny and a cannibalizing parliament entity. Halfway to his first hundred days, the PM has his work cut out for him.
Nomination and cabinet selection
PM Farmajo was nominated on October 14, 2010, and endorsed by the parliament two months later. He formed his cabinet, mainly comprising educated diaspora Somalis, without the benefit of time on his side.
Considering the massive size of parliament, Farmajo’s clique of eighteen ministers appeared small and efficient. But there are problems even here: several cabinet members have been accused of having close relations with Al-Shabab, the insurgent group. Moreover, some major Somali clans have mounted opposition to the Farmajo government, alleging that they were not consulted during the cabinet nominations. The leader of semi-autonomous Puntland in Somalia, Abdirahman Farole, told the BBC that “we have witnessed many looted properties, but we have not known yet ministerial positions looted[.] … [T]hese ministers do not represent us[.]” Furthermore, the majority of the Farmajo cabinet have spent an average of 25 years of their lives outside Somalia — a problematic situation, since the “technocrat” image they’ve consequently developed may not sync with the Somali milieu.
In general, no one expected the Farmajo cabinet to prevail in a parliamentary ratification vote. Yet it happened — though many believe that the “approval” came after thousands of dollars were distributed to bribe-plagued TFG parliament members.
Recently, the leaders of Alshabab and Hisbal Islam assembled in Kismayo to show their solidarity. The merger has been jointly announced by the heads of Alshabab and the Hisbal Islam Leader, Sheikh Aweys. Together, the two strongest Islamist organizations will form a united front, controlling more than two-thirds of Somalia. Indeed, since Mr. Farmajo came to power, not much has changed on the ground. The only force preventing a complete takeover from the extremists has been the AMISOM, who, when attacked, fire indiscriminately and shell the civilian-populated areas of Mogadishu — an infuriating act of violence against innocents. This has resulted in civilian sympathizers demanding AMISOM’s withdrawal. Yet the weak government has once again appealed to the African Union and the United Nations to expand the AMISOM’s strength from eight to twelve thousand. The government has thus ignored the inhabitants of Mogadishu, hence the insurgents’ growing resiliency and public support. The more the government relies on AMISOM, the larger and more organized the insurgents become.
It has been argued that the TFG’s powers — in particular, the president’s and the PM’s — are inseparable. However, the Somali constitution has clear definitions and an unequivocal separation of powers. According to the TFG charter, “[t]here shall be a President of the Somali Republic, who shall be The Head of State, commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces … and Symbol of National Unity. … The President shall appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and/or dismiss the government if it fails to obtain the required vote of confidence from Parliament[.]”
Evidently, the TFG’s incessant problems have nothing to do with the separation of powers, but rather with President Sharif’s lack of experience and competence as a leader. President Sharif has no known political résumé beyond his days with the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. This was a campaign in which a confederation of Islamist groups engaged a fierce and successful battle against the warlords in Mogadishu. At that time, President Sharif was a despised leader under Sheikh Dahir Aweys, then the ICU ruling shura (committee) supreme chairman. Sheikh Sharif’s agreement to negotiate with the old TFG in Djibouti angered Aweys, which resulted in a split between the two leaders. Meanwhile, Sheikh Sharif relied on external advisers since he could not make his own decisions.
Sharif functions more as a foreign affairs minister than as a head of state — he spends a lot of time traveling to Middle Eastern and neighboring states instead of dealing with the problems at home. For that reason, self-interested Sharif advisers sought someone who will follow his leadership style, and Omar Sharmarke did not fit that profile. Prime Minister Farmajo has been chosen over many experienced, more agile candidates because of his “follower” attitude. President Sharif wanted just such a PM, but in reality, there is nothing for Farmajo to follow. So the prime minister is cornered — President Sharif cannot lead, and he will not let the PM lead. This stalemate cannot be overcome unless Sharif is replaced with a better leader.
TFG mandate expires August 2011
The current Sharif government was formulated in Djibouti in January 2009. President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned December 2008 after a long, bloody war in which he was accused of authorizing Ethiopians to invade Somalia. At that time, many people held the notion that the short-lived Islamic Courts Union would have ended the mayhem in Mogadishu had the Ethiopian Army not invaded Somalia and swept Islamist forces out of the country. Many believed that it was indeed a missed opportunity and that this led the U.S and others to take a different political course — that is, installing Sheikh Sharif, a “moderate,” as the next TFG president. Under the Djibouti agreements, the two sides — the previous TFG parliament and a new Sharif parliament — merged to form the current Sharif-led Transitional Government.
Evidently, the Americans’ capture of Sheikh Sharif at the Somali-Kenyan border upon the ICU defeat by the Ethiopians, was the first step to creating a “moderate” leadership within the Somali Islamist world. According to U.S Embassy cables recently published by WikiLeaks, Sharif was interrogated in the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, where he took an oath to remain “moderate” in exchange for amnesty. The Americans and their allies hoped that Sheikh Sharif would deliver a heavy blow to the insurgents by damaging their alliances and infiltrating Al-Shabab intelligence.
Unfortunately, after nearly two years, Sharif has not gained an inch of land from insurgents. Furthermore, he has failed to apprehend even a single known al-Shabab/Hisbal leader, while insurgents have made huge advances and now encircle territories surrounding Villa Somalia, the presidential place.
U.S. dual-track policy and the international community
In June 2010, a group of TFG parliamentarians and government officials were invited to Washington, D.C. to report on the “state of the moderate” Sharif government. The eight-member delegation stayed almost two weeks and had prearranged meetings with various congressmen. To their disappointment, Somali parliamentarians and other TFG officials were subjected to heated interrogations harsh reprimands.
Later, Senators Feingold and Payne issued what they called the Final U.S. House Resolution for Somalia, which conveyed new ideas supposedly based on the Somali delegation’s input. Members of the Somali delegation recommended that the U.S. reevaluate her policies towards Somalia; some suggested that the U.S. shift focus in Somalia in order to involve more clans, traditional leaders, parents, women, and youths in the decision-making process.
But this was not to be. A few months later, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Africa Johnny Carson announced a modified strategy: a “dual track policy” aimed to engage on the one hand with Puntland and Somaliland (Somalia’s relatively stable parts) and on the other hand with the TFG. Of course, engagement with the latter would depend on the progress it made against al-Shabab’s growing influence. This announcement came during a difficult period for the TFG.
The international community and the U.N have not been serious enough to extend support to the weak TFG administration. These international entities choose instead to focus on piracy: in June 2008 Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon authorized the navies of 22 nations to police Somalia’s unguarded waters at a cost of more than $40 million per year.
On the other hand, the U.N. has a paltry presence inside Somalia itself. The office of the U.N.’s undersecretary to Somalia (currently occupied by Augustine Mahiga) is operated from Nairobi, Kenya. Likewise, the UNDP’s limited operations go through networks of dishonest subcontractors. Most NGOs also have their bases in Nairobi. The EU, the Council of Arab Nations, and others have excused themselves from any close involvement, leaving Somalia at the mercy of the African Union and IGAD. However, in a letter to Secretary Mahiga, PM Farmajo indicated his government’s inability to attain security goals because of the expiring mandate of the TFG in August 2011. He further reiterated the need for expansion of the UNISOM forces, as the creation of a functioning Somali Army requires a long-term commitment.
Issues of national interest and Memorandum of Understanding:
In his letter to Secretary Mahiga, PM Farmajo expressed his commitment to one unified Somalia, to the restoration of the rule of law, to rebuilding national institutions, to fighting piracy, and to improving the private sector. Unfortunately, he did not mention the protection of Somali waters. Earlier, the PM was contacted by Somalitalk.com, the organization that investigated the Kenya-TFG Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) deal thwarted Kenya’s plan to annex–through unsubstantiated dispute– part of Somalia’s Continental Shelf. The PM has not addressed Somalitalk’s concerns.
In fact, the MOU was between the Sharmarke administration, acting on behalf of Sheikh Sharif, and the Kenyan government. Its intent was to create an unwarranted dispute within the Somalia’s waters. Kenya, with the help of Norway, invested a lot of money to promote this hidden agenda, but the deal incensed Somalis everywhere, including in the Somali parliament.
As a result, the parliament voted unanimously against the MOU. The U.N. Agency for Oceanic Affairs followed suit, acknowledging Somalia’s Territorial Sea and Ports Statute, signed into law on 10 September 1972. But Kenya has pursued other avenues to imperil Somalia’s waters: Kenya’s recent plea to the Commonwealth of Nations came out of her desire to substantiate her illegitimate claim to part of Somalia’s unprotected wealth. In fact, Kenya already occupies NFD (North Frontier Province) Somali territory, which was annexed to Kenya by the British before Somalia won independence.
So far, PM Farmajo has ignored this critical issue. Many questions consequently come to mind: why he is not stepping in to defend Somalia’s waters? Why ponder on the pirate issues while Somalia’s seas are under constant threat? The Somali people are desperately awaiting Farmajo’s response.
PM Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has joined the TFG at a critical juncture. The first half of his hundred days have elapsed with no considerable achievements, but he still has a slim chance of success. The TFG was never a viable solution for Somalia; it was never anything more than an IGAD-prescribed life-support system. The continuing fractures and splits in the corrupt Somali parliament make it clearer every day that Farmajo will need nothing short of a miracle to change course. There is hope yet for the prime minister, but time is running out.