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Institutional Development a prerequisite for any progress in Somalia

by Liban Obsiye & Sakariye Hussein
Saturday, February 25, 2017

Now the waiting is over as Somalia has finally elected its new President and he in turn swiftly appointed a Prime Minister. Both President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Hassan Kheyre have made clear that they want to lead a government that puts the people and country at the heart of all policy considerations and deliveries. This noble endeavour of commitment to public services and its effective delivery is a universal political promise by all leaders which citizens of the world have come to expect. However, delivery is what citizens and, hence, history judges our leaders on. 

The challenges facing the new Somali government are enormous but not insurmountable. Given the continuing security threat, albeit limited to opportunistic attacks now, the lack of effective internal revenue generation, the demands and priorities of different international partners and the lack of bureaucratic leadership and coordination within, it is easy to be drawn into pessimism and criticism. Yet, there is hope. This is because less than a decade ago these challenges were impossible to overcome while today there is every opportunity to undertake the public service reform that can unleash the Somali people’s aspirations and the government’s functional capabilities.

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Despite the efforts of the last administration led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, all Somali public institutions need tremendous improvements before they can be fit for purpose. While some do undertake great work, this is often disjointed, short term and personality driven. To overcome this, it is important that both the President and PM define their policy priorities clearly with an expected outcome that they hope to achieve within a specific time frame.

With the above overall goal in mind, the PM can then select the most competent Cabinet to administer and oversee the fulfilment of each priority on a day to day basis. While Ministerial posts are still going to be shared under a 4.5 tribal system, a leadership that is committed to transforming Somali society through institutional reform and public service will most certainly select the most suitably qualified public servants to face and overcome these constraints.

The 4.5 system of Ministerial appointments has allowed incompetence to flourish with impunity. The mentality is that the Minister represents his clan and is difficult to sack by the PM for poor performance. This haunted the last government and must immediately be addressed by President Farmaajo and PM Kheyre. A simple means of doing this is through regular appraisal of the Minister’s work and abilities to achieve set priorities against each other. This simple benchmarking will ensure either Minister’s pull up their socks or face the sack. Knowing how tribesmen like to boast about the competency of their Ministers and their clan in general, it is most likely that, rather than shame themselves, they will quietly replace a failing Minister. 

Incompetent Ministers are generally smart in other ways and they will most certainly attempt to side with either the President or PM when they come under pressure. In this scenario, both must remember the overall goal of public service to the Somali people and stand united. The future success of this government depends on a strong relationship and trust between the two principles above all else.

What do we value?

Throughout his campaign, President Farmaajo made clear that he will put the interest of the People and Nation first and foremost (Danta Dalka & Dadka) and PM Hassan Kheyre’s extensive experience in Somalia and the Horn of Africa clearly evidences his commitment to it too. However, rebuilding and reforming Somali public institutions and services requires an evaluation of the public service ethics in their entirety.

Currently, while many civil servants do their job to the best of their abilities, there are no defined unifying core values that inform their daily duties. Yes, they perform a public service but underpinned by what motivations? The review and adoption of national public sector ethics and values based on integrity, transparency and responsive public service will clarify the meaning of President Farmaajo’s “Danta Dalka and Dadka” slogan further.

Goodbye negativity

On reflection, it is obvious that hierarchy, long winded empty titles and attending meeting after meeting is embedded in the Somali civil service at all levels. Worryingly, despite many unqualified tribal appointees at the most senior level of administration, there is no guidance, career development pathways and appraisal of their work. Therefore, it is crucial that Ministers are pressured for results by the PM and President so that they in turn can reform their own Ministry’s internal bureaucracies to work more effectively with a view to delivering on national priorities. This will arguably lead some way towards instilling meritocracy into the system and reducing the family business mentality that plaques most national institutions in Somalia.

Morale within public service professionals is low and this is due to many factors including discrimination at work, high staff turnover, lack of guidance and regular non-payment of salaries. Overcoming this requires a cross governmental exercise in identifying the causes of all these issues which hamper institutional development and progress. The most suitable people to lead these will be the key line Minister’s and their senior management staff with the full participation of all staff at the institutions. The findings can then be fed back to a wider meeting chaired by the President and PM on the way forward. From this point, it will be clear what the major issues are, what can be done about them and by whom.

The above exercise will firstly identify key needs and gaps in public services as well as document the concerns of the public-sector professionals.  It will also involve the latter in finding solutions to their common problems which will most certainly boost morale and encourage further collaboration. In addition, this process will lessen ambiguity and assign responsibilities. More importantly, this cross-government exercise can be used to agree and adopt the national public service values, vision and direction.

Nothing hurts public morale more than the recycling of failed leaders. While the revolving door syndrome is not a purely Somali phenomenon, it is more damaging in a post conflict nation attempting to swiftly rebuild and strengthen public institutions whilst also adopting values built on transparency, equity and value for money in public services. It is therefore fundamental that failed Ministers and public figures are not awarded other public roles given that they failed in their initial roles. This practice has hurt Somalia’s credibility in the past and is an impediment to achieving the urgent national priorities to move the country forward. This simple action will boost morale, improve performance and show the public and partners that Somalia’s leaders will not tolerate failure like in the past. Although the politics of this can prove challenging, this necessary medication must be administered for Somali institutions to rebuild, strengthen and thrive.

 Learn to Multi-task

Somalia’s institutional weaknesses are best illustrated by the recent electoral and inauguration processes. This is because everything came to a halt across Mogadishu and all the limited resources were directed to both. Both the Public and private sector were shut down for the events and this, while necessary for security purposes, magnified Somalia’s institutional weaknesses to the public and partners, including potential investors. 

Going forward, clear and agreed priorities should guide each institution and direct their full attention to achieving their set goals.

Human Resource surplus

Somalia has a young and vibrant population which is increasingly more educated and lacking opportunities. Yet at the top of the public institutions they are almost invisible apart from a few special advisers. This needs to change along with the mentality that age brings infinite wisdom (because it doesn’t always).  

Somalia’s neighbours Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have invested enormous amount of time, effort and money in skilling up their young and preparing them for leadership roles through early responsibility. The new Somali government must learn from this and rejuvenate and innovate its public institutions with new blood and by providing educational opportunities for the remaining workers. Where possible, it would be opportune to retire many of the remaining elder professionals with dignity.

Understandably, despite every effort of the Somali population, two decades of civil war has taken its toll on public institutions and hampered the chances of the Somalia people, especially in education and employment. However, a large enough number of this group are educated to a standard where they’re able to work to a high standard. Many more just need support through Continuous Professional Development and Lifelong learning. All these services can be offered in partnership with the local universities and specialised civil service training colleges which the Government must re-establish quickly to support the institutions building process.

In addition to the above, there are capacity injections program still run by international organisations like the IOM and UNDP but these are short term and will be most effective where the institutional values and frameworks are already in place and only need strengthening. However, like most programs, the Somali Government must decide on its priorities first and then, where necessary, seek capacity injection.

In the last 4 years, Somalia has strengthened bilateral and multilateral relations with many partner nations and thus has had the opportunity to seek and secure assistance with capacity building for staff from many of them. An exemplary illustration of this is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion which secured diplomatic training for staff in many countries including Turkey, UAE, South Korea, Qatar, Egypt, India, Kenya and China but to name a few in the absence of a functioning national Diplomatic Institute at present. These capacity building and knowledge exchange programs still exist and all government institutions must prioritise utilising them, especially, as they also strengthen Somalia’s bilateral ties.


E-Government is a solution to the challenge of coordination, service delivery, public engagement and accountability in Somalia. It also reduces corruption given the traceability of digital footprints. While there can be early substantial costs involved in E-Government, given the global competition in this market, it is cost effective in the long term. Somalia has a young population who have access to fast speed and affordable internet so delivering skills training, education and other public services such as the payment of taxes, could be made more effective. In the long term, E-Government will drive the government to improve ICT literacy, connectivity and transparency across the country enabling security and investment to improve the Somali people’s lives and prospects. More importantly, the current high risks associated with information governance will be massively reduced further bolstering security and instilling confidence in public institutions on the part of citizens and partners.

Outside help

Partnership is important for institutional reform but the Somali Government in the past developed a strong dependency on outside support which often takes time, confuses priorities and rarely involves the Somali people.

It is always good to seek advice if you do not have any solutions yourself but there is plenty of great ideas for institution building and reform within Somalia. The first stage is collecting this data and creating an action plan to address them with agreed values and time lines. After this point, if the Somali Government deems it necessary, local and international consultants can be called in to scrutinise the action plan to provide quality assurance and independent review. Over reliance on outside advice and support does undermine the civil service Somalia needs to build and strengthen but where necessary, consultants and organisations which can add value, share best practice and transfer knowledge should be engaged through a clear tendering process.

Take me to President Farmaajo and PM Kheyre

The outpouring of public support and euphoria after President Farmaajo’s election victory is a clear indicator of the appeal of his political message. However, there is only a small window of opportunity to deliver before political capital turns to disappointment for any new leader. So, together, President Farmaajo and PM Hassan Kheyre must devise the means to ensure the public are not only heard but are brought to the centre of the policymaking process.  

The above inevitably needs a government that thinks outside of the villa Somalia bubble and engages the public in open forums to hear their concerns. President Farmaajo has already started the listening exercise with certain groups such as the religious, business and regional state leaders but he must broaden this out to include larger sections of the population. Online feedback, public broadcasts and quarterly TV and radio questions from the public will be extremely beneficial for engaging the public for both the President and PM. More importantly, to embed democracy and accountability, the PM should present a monthly progress report to Parliament and each quarter, Ministerial activities and progress should be scrutinised by the responsible Select Committees in Parliament.

Like the legendary King Canute, both President Farmaajo and PM Kheyre must not allow flattery and false reports from a few in their circle, including their future Ministers, make them complacent about engaging with their citizens. No lofty Policy or Delivery Unit can replace public engagement as a means of setting and altering Government priorities. In the end, both the President and PM are in office for the betterment of the nation for the progress and prosperity of the people of Somalia and therefore, their first and last duty is to them.

In conclusion, while President Farmaajo has a strong public mandate to govern, there is very little he or the PM can do without effective public institutions designing and implementing their policy priorities. But in re-building these institutions, the very people, systems, processes and partners that will be central to sustaining them must be engaged from the beginning. 

Liban Obsiye is a senior adviser to the Somali Foreign Minister. 
[email protected]
   & @Libanobsiye (twitter)

Sakariye Yusuf Hussein is a member of the Senior Management team of Global Somali Diaspora (GSD).
[email protected] & @Iamzakariye (twitter)

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