Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud at CSIS in Washington DC
by Dr. Ali Said Faqi
Monday, January 21, 2013
President Hassan Sheikh’s visit in Washington, DC was exceptionally successful. It was historic in many facets such as his reception at the white house with president Obama, his conference at CSIS and his presence at the formal recognition event of Somalia by the US, the first time since 1991. This was a major victory that will lead to a new era for Somalia. As stated by Secretary Clinton the progress has been building for several years and finally the US felt that the president’s visit in DC was the perfect time to reward the leadership of Somalia and its people.
Listening to his speeches and interviews I felt the president was smart, eloquent and visionary. Speaking to the Somali communities in DC area the president said “my goal is to wipe out the many bad names of Somalia, explicitly the most corrupt nation on earth, the nation of pirates and terrorists”. Personally, I was very touched with these words; it made me very proud to see for the first time that there is a president with real aspirations and commitment to improve the image of his country.
The president spoke of federalism which is one of the most contentious issues of Somalia, where he reiterated that Somalia is a federal country. The word federalism scares a lot of Somalis and that is why it is such a hot issue. Unfortunately it is falsely implied as the creation of clan states. It is this myth that ignites clan emotions, polarizing the communities and making it harder to achieve peace and stability. During my tenure as the Committee of Experts (CoE) for the Somali constitution almost all Somalis we talked to agreed on a decentralized system of government, but there was a contrast division among the people on whether Somalia should adapt regional states or regional autonomy.
To build a united federal state of Somalia requires peace and stability throughout the country. It also requires public education and a democratic process that respects the will of the people. Somalia cannot adapt a western style of federalism as is; we will need to come up with a special federal system that accommodates our entire social ailment in the system. Still history tells us that most nations in the world were at one point faced with serious internal conflicts, but with true leadership and tenacity they were able to resolve their disputes. The president seems to be ready for this challenge as he clearly laid out his political intention on this issue. Since failure is not an option, the formation of an independent committee from across Somali clans with a clear mandate is crucial. The committee shall come up with the most suitable system of federalism for Somalia following public consultations and public debate. So far there seems to be an abundant number of parliamentarians in each regional state and whether it makes sense financially or not is not anyone’s concern. The regional states have to live within their own means, reducing expenditure, and creating a path that will allow financial independency. Many western countries are in the grip of financial bankruptcy or are bankrupt and are in deep social and political turmoil such as Greece, Italy and Spain. Financial independency is the only way to run an effective government and it is doable if the federal government focuses on encouraging private investments and job creations nationwide.
Another important issue that the president spoke was the recreation of an effective judicial system where no one is above the law. After 22 years of anarchy and lack of rule of law, Somalia badly needs an effective judicial system led by individuals with high integrity, morality and ethics. As Muslims we need to keep in mind that justice is a basic goal of Islam and a moral asset of our existence. Allah said in his Quran “We sent Our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Measure in order to establish justice among the people…” Accountability is the first and foremost vital aspect of strong judicial system. Every one must be called to be accountable for his/her action; the culture of impunity must be eradicated. The president needs to set an example and be aware of his constitutional rights without overstepping his power. Many of the president’s critics have accused him of being a micromanager and acting as an executive president. As much as needed to see the president succeeding in his endeavor to bring peace and stability, at the same he should be reminded that his actions are the foundation of the nation; he is the guardian of the constitution and the laws of the country.
The president also spoke of his relationship with his PM and the Speaker and he reiterated that they decided not to engage in conflicts. This sounds very good, and the public normally expects a consensus decision from the leadership. However, the no conflict policy may emphasize that only one person makes the decision and if others have different opinions, they must keep silent to avoid violating the Code of no conflict. This doctrine may minimize the democratic building process of the Somali institutions. Divergent of opinion in the leadership could be used as check and balance system and should not be construed as negative.
The president has a great momentum to make positive changes in Somalia, but he needs rallying the public behind him. Although the public has been skeptical of where the country is heading, it has however, become clear that he has a clear vision and effective plan for Somalia. Nevertheless his endeavor to reshape Somalia cannot be achieved unless he brings in the government highly competent individuals. So far to be qualified for the job is not a precondition for any position in his administration, but it is too early to criticize as he has been in the office for less than six months.
Overall President Hassan deserves kudos as he has proven to the skeptics that he is the right man for the job. Those who met him personally in DC described him as cordial and down to earth. This is the kind of leadership that Somalia needs. Finally here are my two cents of advice for the president. Many Somalis are in dire need of food, health, clean water and education and they have nobody but you and your team, Mr. President. You need to execute a plan of action that addresses these needs. Also good leaders listen to the voices of their public; I encourage you to do the same. Kudos again for the well accomplished visit.
Ali Said Faqi