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Did Our President Select the Most Qualified Candidate?

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

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by Mohamed Keynan
Sunday, October 14, 2012

Few days before the selection of the new Prime Minister, Mr. Abdi Farah Shirdon – I had a lengthy discussion with a close friend. My friend seemed mystified or incensed, and he demanded an answer: “Muxuu Sugayaa Madaxweynuhu?”*

I thought the President was basically right and prudent to take some time out. After all, people wanted and I thought our country deserved the best and most considered decision, not the most rushed. I also thought a quick decision made sense only if conclusions were likely to be correct, the cost of occasional mistakes minimally acceptable, and if efficiency of effort was the primary criteria for a final decision. This is hardly the case in the selection of a new Prime Minister. My friend was not convinced and I could not offer a more incisive answer. So I let the matter slide.

My friend’s question is now settled and I’m saddened to report my friend is no less confounded. The selection of the new Prime Minister raised a far more important question for us: did our President select the most qualified candidate he could find among our people? The President thinks he did but majority of our people may not share that belief. For those who disagree with the President, that disagreement must be done respectfully. Significantly, disagreeing with the President’s decision is not enough; any opposing person must advance a well-reasoned view – because this significant issue deserves no less.

And there is something else to worry about. Because of what decision psychologists have called “cognitive ease” - most people will revert to answering a much easier question when confronted with harder question, our brain is just wired that way. Evaluating the President’s pick is a hard question, it requires an effort and it can strain our thoughts – instead, the tendency is to answer a much easier question. An example: is the new Prime Minister capable of doing this job? And even much easier one: Shouldn’t we give the new Prime Minister some time? These are very simple but wrong questions for us now.

First, as an individual, I have no reason to doubt the capability of the new Prime Minister. Most people probably feel that way. Also, I have yet to meet a single Somali person who is not willing to give the new Prime Minister and the new President bounteous space and time before evaluating their work. Our reasons could be clearer. Most Somalis are aware, our President and Prime Minister do face arduous tasks and the past trend for success has not been good. Most considerably, our existences as Somali people may well depend on how these two men perform. Thus, the stakes for us could not be higher – the least we can do is to stand with them, wish them well, and hope for the best.

Can we answer a harder question?

Objectivity matters, however, but to inform each other require that we resist answering simpler questions, where finding an answer to - or at least trying our best - to answering a harder questions is more appropriate. Luckily, evaluating whether the President selected the most qualified candidate is indeed a practical question, and an objective and fair analysis can be attained. The process is simple; define and agree on few criterions, find a trustworthy source for information to inform us, weight alternatives, and finally make judgments based on what we find. It can prove hard to define, let alone to know and agree
upon, what makes a good prime minister. A “proxy” criterion might do the trick. Clearly, experience matters, education perhaps, any business background could help, and for a good mix – let’s throw in the tribal card (after all the President had to follow the dreaded 4.5 formula). Based on these criteria and available public information, here is a result: 

 Experience: The new Prime Minister has never been elected to any political office; he has held no political position, and his governing experience is limited to 2-years with the previous Somali government before the civil war. 
 Education: Mr. Shirdon is a graduate of the Somali National University, in 1983 - with a degree in economics. No other educational experience has been reported. 
Business: The new Prime Minister has been a businessman for a long-time. He might have been successful in his own life, but he is certainly not a titan of industry and business, and not a lot is known about the nature of his business. 
  Finally, the tribal card: The prime Minister indeed hails from one of the larger Darod clans

Now, these are not exhaustive criteria and the only ones to be considered, an honest discussion of others is in fact possible. But on the basis of these factual statements, did the President select the most qualified candidate? To me, the answer is categorically no. The selection of the new Prime Minister says a lot about our new President. He is not a serious man, he used the good-will of the Somali people (arguable his only real political capital unwisely) – and he may have damaged our new found hope. This is unfortunate.

When I was growing up, I spent countless hours with my father and other older men in our small rural community, as these men discussed numerous social problems and dispensed justice as they knew it. None of these older men ever took a leadership responsibility if they thought a more qualified person might be at hand. They thought that was simply unbecoming. I learned a lasting lesson from that experience. I know our culture has changed a lot and men everywhere are overconfident. Thus, Mr. Shirdon can be forgiven if he thinks he is the most qualified man the President could find. But did our President really belief he picked the best candidate? For our own existence’s sake, let’s wish both men well and hope for the best. But I’m now less hopeful than few weeks ago.

Mohamed Keynan is a research analyst. He can be reached at mo.keynan@gmail.com

* Somali - translates roughly to: “What is the President waiting for?”


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