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An Open Letter to Sheikh Sharif

It is Time to Go Home,

by Hassan Mohamed Abukar
Thursday, October 08, 2009

Dear Sheikh Sharif,

Before I start my letter, I have a confession to make. I have never supported you before nor did I attend any of your speeches in America. In fact, I have been suspicious of the way you became president, or even the way you escaped from Somalia after the collapse of the Union of Islamic Courts. I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories, but let me just say that your meteoric rise to ‘power’ will be an intriguing subject matter for Students of Somali history and politics. In political parlance, I see you a politician who is two notches better than those who oppose your rule.

Many Somalis in the big cities like Minneapolis and Columbus came and heard your stomp speeches. Some were motivated while others were curious.  Of course, there are many who paid no attention to your visit. I think you have been gone from Somalia since September. You went to Saudi Arabia, then New York to participate the U.N General Assembly meeting. Then, you went to Washington D.C where you spoke at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic Studies. Many Somalis honored you, in a reception that was held on your behalf, in the Washington area.   From there, you went to Minneapolis, and then Columbus.

Sheikh Sharif, it was helpful that you came to the States and met many of our people. Your speeches, though reassuring, were meaningless. Your position in Mogadishu is tenuous and your popularity among many leaves a lot to be desired. The fact that you control a few blocks in Mogadishu is palpable. You have the recognition and the support of the international community yet you have failed to capitalize on it. It has been said that you have a young talented and educated staff.  There is a great deal of disorganization in your ranks, like defections to the radical groups and mismanagement of the tons of arms that the Americans have given you.  Your record of saying what people want to hear is legendary. It started when you were the face of the Union of Islamic Courts. I was always puzzled by the double-talk you used to engage when your colleagues at the time were making radical pronouncements.

In spite of all these foibles, you are the best hope Somalia has now. Your rivals are two extremist groups that are bent on destroying whatever is left of the country and more.  Al-Shabaab is a radical group that, if it succeeds, will introduce a new brand of Islam that is intolerant, pervasive, intrusive, and draconic. The fact that they have allowed foreigners fighters to join their ranks is ominous. Foreigners should be welcomed to Somalia if they want to help the reconstruction of the country, but they should not be part of the further dismantling of the country.  Hizbul islam is no better. Hassan Dahir Aweys is the epitome of power-hungry, myopic, and self-righteous individual. He reminds me of Abdullahi Yusuf whose long and arduous quest of becoming Somali president, by any means necessary, wrecked havoc in the country. Aweys will not stop until he erects a tent in Villa Somalia. I would humbly advise you the following;

First, go back to Mogadishu because that is where you are needed now. It is good to meet Somalis in the Diaspora and hobnob with some of the American officials. Your job is to be in Mogadishu and start building coalitions instead of pleading for more AMISOM troops. Do you think 10,000 African troops will annihilate the Shabaab and Hizbul Islam?   I believe more African troops will weaken you even further. Like Hamid Karazai of Afghanistan, you are seen as a leader beholden to foreign powers. It is time that you take the risky path of incrementally extricating yourself from these foreign entities. It is your life-line now but the longer you cling to them the more you alienate many Somalis.

Second, you need to build a coalition of clans rather than a coalition of warlords. I am amazed at how you and your Prime Minister have assembled a mind-boggling cabinet. Apparently, whoever owned a sizable number of ‘technicals’ (with the title of ‘Shaikh’ before his name) ended up in the cabinet? It is ludicrous that a leader like you, who has some of the brilliant minds as advisers, will have war-criminals like “indhacadde” as Defense Minister.  In all fairness, you do have some capable ministers in the government. I know that you will say that it’s Omar A. Sharmarke’s job to appoint the cabinet. But, Sheikh Sharif, the current structure of power is that of a strong president.  The collection of these dubious Ministers and their technicals has not produced good results. In fact, there are still issues of loyalties with the very people who serving in your government. Some are patiently waiting to see where the wind will blow. It is time that you start thinking of broadening your coalition. I will start with clan elders. Somalia elders, though weak militarily, can play a decisive role in preventing the spread of this pernicious disease of religious fanaticism. Somali people have no taste for the type of radicalism that Al-Shabaab espouses.

Third, the current fighting between Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabaab in Kismayo, though tragic to many innocent civilians, is a short term opportunity to exploit in your favor. The skirmishes have exposed the fact that these so-called “Mujahiddin” are primarily engaged in a new type of Jihad. It is “business jihad”. It is the pursuit of profits and revenues. This is the time your charm and power politicking must come to play. Dividing these two evil forces, when they are engaged in bloody confrontation, is necessary and commendable.   I give you some credit for initiating talks with some of the leaders of Hizbul Islam. Of course, more is needed to draw a wedge between these two groups.

In a nutshell, Sheikh Sharif, there is a lot to be done. The bulk of your work is waiting for you in Mogadishu. Hurry up and head home. Every day that passes, while you are touring in America or elsewhere, is a day wasted. The people who need your leadership and service are in Mogadishu and its vicinities; not in Columbus or Minneapolis. 

Hassan Mohamed Abukar
[email protected]