By Makau Mutua
The democratic installation of Mohamed Mohamed as President of the Federal Republic of Somalia is the most hopeful political development in the war-torn Horn of Africa country in decades. Mr Mohamed, a New York resident – and dual US-Somali citizen – is likely to lead a national renaissance in one of the most tortured countries on earth.
Somalia has not known peace since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. President Mohamed, the urbane technocrat educated at the University at Buffalo, is bound to transform Villa Somalia into the nerve centre that puts humpty dumpty back together again. A man of virtue, Mr Mohamed is a one in a generation leader.
Mr Mohamed’s rise to power has been greeted with universal acclaim. Inside Somalia, he has been received with a unanimity never seen before. Somalis in the diaspora in America and the West have been delirious with joy at his election. Closer to home, ethnic Somalis in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti see real hope for Somalia. The adoration for Mr Mohamed is justified. He is a skilled technocrat. He was Commissioner for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and Equal Employment at New York State’s Department of Transportation. He put that expertise to effective use as Prime Minister in Somalia from 2010-2011 before he fell victim to palace and political intrigues.
What Mr Mohamed did in his short stint as Prime Minister brought hope to Somalis everywhere. In less than a year, he paid bureaucrats and soldiers on time. He introduced a code of ethics and required public officials to declare their wealth. He set up an anti-corruption commission to curb official graft. He stopped wasteful international travel junkets by senior officials. He introduced a full audit of government property. He trained more than a thousand new security officials and together with the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom), the multinational force fighting Al Shabaab, retook most of the capital Mogadishu and large chunks of the countryside. Lastly, he defused clan tensions and engaged religious and scholars on constitutional talks.
Historically, the Somali political landscape has been a snake pit. Somalia is not riven by ethnic or linguistic cleavages. Out of 12 million, eight to five percent of the population is ethnic Somali, 15 per cent Bantu, with a small number of Arabs. However, the demon of Somalia has been competing and toxic Somali clan politics. No central government can survive without massaging and managing the economic and political interests of clan-based elites. In a pastoralist culture where the writ of the central state has historically been wafer thin, clan elders are king. In the last two decades, state collapse and the total decimation of the economy have fed the radicalisation of disenfranchised and disillusioned youth. That’s why Al Shabaab has thrived.
Somali jihadists have perverted Islam to create a state of terror. Extremism has grown without economic opportunity, law and order. Amisom and Somali security forces protect the government in Mogadishu but the countryside remains perilous. Amisom troops, especially the Kenyan contingent, have taken huge losses from Al Shabaab attacks. Runaway corruption by the government and perceptions of human rights violations by Amisom have hindered the campaign against Al Shabaab. Besides, Mogadishu has no control over the self-declared rogue statelets of Puntland and Somaliland, which are not recognised internationally. President Mohamed faces a herculean task as he attempts to restore Somali statehood and sovereignty. He and his international backers, especially the US, must take several pivotal steps to return Somalia to civility.
Mr Mohamed must reinvent the Somali state. He has the opportunity to carry through with the reforms he started as premier. He must create a transparent, open, and democratic state devoid of corruption and impunity. He must use the deserved goodwill of the entire Somali people to stand up institutions of the state that work and are fair. An independent judiciary is indispensable. The executive must be accountable and service-oriented. The legislature, long a den of the mafiosi, must be brought under the rule of law. These steps will give confidence to the people – both at home and the large Somali diaspora – to return or invest in the economy. Drones and guns alone will not vanquish Al Shabaab. Mr Mohamed together with Amisom and the US need to court Somalis who have joined Al Shabaab out of desperation.
They must isolate the moderates from the diehard Al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated jihadists. Most Somali Al-Shabaab fighters do not have global jihadist ambitions. They can lay down their arms with a peace deal and a path to deradicalisation and reintegration. Mr Mohamed and his allies must decisively address the current famine. To defeat Al Shabaab and lead a Somali renaissance, he must create a society of opportunity.