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Somalia: New Leadership in Demand


The ultimate responsibility for the collapse lies primarily on the shoulders of Somalia’s leadership … It is evident that during this particular period of its history, Somalia lacked capable and competent leaders.”  -  Abdurahman M. Abdullahi (baadiyow)


Ahmed A. AbdullahiBy: Ahmed A. Abdullahi (Kamil)
Sunday, September 23, 2007


The Somali crisis has been a subject of academic discourse for Somali scholars, particularly in the Somali Studies International Association (SSIA) held in Columbus, Ohio on 15-18 August, 2007. They have analyzed and evaluated almost every angle of the problem and most perspectives have been debated and discussed. These discussions have laid down the foundation for future policy guidelines and prospective for Somali studies. However, they all agreed that Somali tragedy is not a one factor cause but a combination of interrelated complex issues. The one factor that consistently keeps appearing in all the analysis, as the root of the problem is bad leadership. From the economic decline in 1980s to the collapse of the Somali state in 1991; from the failure of the clan system (1991-2006) to the rise of Islamic extremism in 2006, are all a direct result of bad leaders making bad decisions.


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The rampant low capacity of leadership in Somalia has been observed since first local administration of 1956. Somali elites have developed bad culture of governance in which they treated the economy as their personal enrichment and the state as personal property. In order to generate a new culture, different from this style of failed leadership, the emergences of educated high calibre leaders are in high demand in Somalia. This new leadership shall have the quality of transcending clan political cleavages and loyalties, and shall be committed to the virtues and values of Islam that promote equality, justice and good governance. New educated generation of Somalis in the Diaspora may have the best opportunity to prepare in filling this leadership vacuum. This generation has to be aware that unless they take that task seriously, Somali tragedy and crisis may drag longer. They should be mindful that creating economically vibrant Somalia, which is based on merits and equality of all citizens, depends on the dedication and commitment of the young generations of Somalia.


Descending from theoretical discourse and preaching great national agenda to the political realities in Somalia, there are four main challenges that must be tackled by any new leadership in the short period. In counting these challenges which I do not aim that new generation should raise up now as revolutionaries without preparing themselves for the big task ahead.  It takes years to make tangible reform to Somalia and requires gradual process, nevertheless, currently, these are the major challenges: (1) the proliferation and easy accesses to weapons, (2) the threat of Islamic and clan extremism, (3) the presence of Ethiopian troops and (4) the dysfunctional Transitional Federal Government (TFG).  


First challenge is the proliferation and easy access to weapons, which in hindsight has been one of the major obstacles to peace and security in Somalia. As a result, warlords and their armed bandits have self-appointed as leaders in different parts of the country.  During the last two decades, the warlords committed grave atrocities and were an obstacle to reconstituting any form of governance. The easy access to weapons has derailed all Somali reconciliation conferences. Whenever disagreement appears in the conferences, discussions heats up and the first response is to resort to the barrel of the gun. It is this mind set that has been the fundamental cause of much of the pain and suffering, and ultimately the collapse of all Somali institutions.


The second challenge is the result of the proliferation and easy access to weapons. It is the emergence of combined armed groups on the basis of Islam and clan attachments that is antithetical to the constructing of functioning Somali state institutions. Islam and clan are the social realities in Somalia and are not the cause of the multitude problems that Somalia faces. Islam is the common belief system and practiced by all Somalis to various degrees and levels, while every Somali is born into a clan by birth. The problem, however, remains on how Islam and the clan are used as instruments to gain political power. In the name of clan, armed militias have committed murder, theft, rape and pillage against civilian population during the last two decades. On the other hand, and quit recently, there has been a surge of armed Islamic groups that placed Somalia on the list of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ and created the grounds for a proxy war between Eretria and Ethiopia.  As a result, the name of Islam has been once again misused to further a cause which undermines the very existence of Somalia as a nation among others.


The third challenge is the proxy war of Eritrea and Ethiopia in Somali territory.  Though both countries continuously supported opposing factions and armed different groups in Somalia, recent Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia exacerbated precarious situations. Indeed, Ethiopian intervention further polarized already divided Somalis and eventually intends to pave the way for Ethiopian hegemonic role in Somalia. Finally, Ethiopia backs the TFG to realize its strategic objectives such as national security imperatives and access to the Somali seaports. On the other hand, Eritrea supports all anti-Ethiopian groups recently including the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC) to thwart real Ethiopian threat to its national security, and to weaken and cause maximum damage to Ethiopia.


Forth Challenge is the low capacity of the current Transitional Government. This government can not defend its self and needs external assistance for survival. The presence of the external forces particularly Ethiopian troops in Somalia, place the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in an unfavourable position among its citizens. Indeed, the TFG has become dysfunctional since its inception in 2004 because the warlords have hijacked the peace process and excluded all other stakeholders. Thus, the bad culture of governance, low capacity of leadership, and lack of resources caused the failure of the TFG.  Moreover, their dependence on Ethiopia for security and the growing insurgency creates more obstacles for the TFG to succeed.   


In conclusion, leadership is what makes or breaks a state and low capacity of leadership had caused the collapse of the Somali state and prolongation of its recovery.  This article calls young Somali generations in the Diaspora to think this issue through and take it seriously.  Beyond immediate tasks of governance such as collecting the weapons, promoting reconciliation, building state institutions and withdrawing Ethiopian forces, new leadership has to mould all controversial issues of Islam, clan and governance, and rebuild a new peaceful and prosperous Somalia for the next generation.

Ahmed A. Abdullahi (Kamil) is a senior student of Sociology and Political Science at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Mr. Ahmed can be reached at [email protected]

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