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Somalia: No Country for Honest Men
Thursday, January 26, 2017
By Heikal I. Kenneded
“Every nation gets the government it deserves”
Somalia presidential candidates. ILLUSTRATIONS | JOHN NYAGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP
In more than three trips to Somalia over the past five years, I’ve come to rewrite my own perception of where the country is headed and it doesn’t look promising because the future of Somalia looks gloomier than at any time in post-civil war era. Despite the positive tone of my past comments of the country and much of what I often write about Somalia, especially my belief that Somalia is on the mend to recover from its horrific collapse. Regrettably on my most recent trip, I did find myself tormenting more and more about the dismal record of current cadre of leadership who are in power, not to mention those others who are vying to run the country. Just when things seem as though they can’t get any worse in Somalia, the country finds itself much worse predicament that puts everyone else on the edge. The picture is not only disturbing but rather disheartening because the country’s economy remains fragile at best, as recovery continues to be hampered by the challenging security environment posed by Al-Shabab and widespread corruption that pervades every sector of the country from the highest government officials to local security forces to non-government institutions (NGOs), not to mention avaricious money-lords who privatized most of the basic services, including telecommunication, healthcare, schools, power plants, banking and even created their own private security forces. As a result, I came to the kernel truth of how Somalia has become a den for corrupt politicians backed by merciless businessmen who would not hesitate to run the country to the ground in order to enrich themselves and there’s no place for honest men or women. Corruption is the single biggest threat to Somalia’s path towards a lasting peace and prosperity.
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I flew into Mogadishu in the week leading to the elections for the Speaker of the parliament and his deputies and I saw it with my own eyes the vicious political wheeling and dealing among the country’s political elites who eventually elected two out of the three officials from the last parliament to their old seats. Ironically, in a country where no significant wages were paid in the last seven months to both the security forces and the civil service employees, including the MPs, a great deal of money is floating around in the capital. On daily basis, expensive parties are thrown throughout Mogadishu's hotels, where presidential candidates backed by foreign elements are readily spending a huge amount of cash in order to court MPs' vote in their favor. If it's any indication of the recent parliamentarian elections that has revealed how financial factor is the sole driver of winning their seats by a great majority of members of the parliament (MPs), there's a little chance that they will abide the constitution and elect the best candidate for the job. This will have the catastrophic consequence of throwing back the country in the back burner and risking both the territorial and maritime of Somalia to get annexed by neighboring countries, who have been eyeing for a long time Somalia’s exceptional strategic location and abundant natural resources.
A City of Two Tales
Mogadishu is fast becoming a city defined by its disparate lives – those few high profile corrupt politicians and money-lords who live the lavish lives, as millions of the populace struggle to get by as they are deprived of basic necessities, such food, clean water, sanitation, housing and access to healthcare and proper education. In effect, corruption in the country has created unprecedented extreme poverty and exclusion. Shortly after I arrived at the capital, I decided to take a tour around the city and it would be an understatement to say the least that I was shocked to witness the extensive level of gun culture of various forces in full army gear riding in the back of their pickup trucks. I drove by the military bases of various security forces that didn’t’ report to the government but rather were financed and trained by different foreign governments, including the UAE and the U.S. I felt as though I descended into a scene of the Mad Max movie set, where gunmen ruled the day. Despite the overload of security forces in the capital, attacks from Al-Shabab have not been averted and the city is as highly explosive as ever.
Paradoxically, the increased security throughout the capital and much of the rest of the country has resulted in more insecurity for others in Somalia, as this stepped-up protective presence has seemed to backfire. One of the tragedies that I witnessed during my first week of visiting the country's capital involved between a family man accompanied by his two sons who just returned from the Friday prayers and in the midst of the city's traffic jam when his car got a bit "too close" to the vehicle transporting one of those "self-important" MPs. These trigger-happy security details instantly opened fire and fatally shot the poor civilian in the midst of his children in the car to witness such carnage. In fact, the city's streets are occupied by such pickup trucks laden with gun wielding military men ready to shoot in the first instance of suspecting a threat towards their “Big Man.” Interestingly, I visited the dwelling places of several such "self-important" high profile government officials and I was taken back the number of gunmen safeguarding their houses, sometimes exceeding over two-dozen gunmen. No wonder such cosseted government officials cared little about the country's serious security lapses, as long as they retreat to their own silos, where they are lavishly catered to a life full of debauchery and selfishness. This reminded me of 1980s prewar Somalia during the waning era of the Siyad Barre regime, when corrupt high profile government officials partied like it was 1999, until it was too late to repent and the entire nation-state collapsed. Needless to say the country has a long way to go in recovering from the ravages of the last two decades of civil war.
An Improvised Visit to Baidoa
Disillusioned of what I have seen in the capital, I decided to travel outside of Mogadishu and paid an spontaneous visit to Baidoa, where I had anticipated encountering a much more serene environment and more political progress towards stability and peace. As soon as I landed at the city’s makeshift airport, I was disappointed by the sheer dominance of the Ethiopian forces who manned every security checkpoint with total control of the airport and its adjacent U.N compound. Upon my arrival in the heart of the city, dust seemed to blow from every corner of town and when I wondered aloud how come the city had no single paved road. I was shocked to learn that few years ago the Turkish government offered to pave the city’s streets for free, but became disenchanted after both the governor and mayor at the time demanded to get paid the specific amount of $70,000 U.S dollars in bribes. Mind you this is a region in the country, where safe water is still one of the most difficult commodities to come by due to below-average rains during the last rainy seasons. The scarcity of this essential resource continues to challenge the health of the locals who as of late were hard hit by an epidemic of cholera. Unfortunately, women and children are particularly hard hit, especially in areas experiencing continued food insecurity and conflict. In fact, a close friend of mine confided in me that on a daily basis an estimated 30 people die of cholera. However, neither the regional authorities nor the federal government has yet to declare an emergency status of such an outbreak and set up cholera treatment units, but rather busy with their fraudulent political campaigns.
The Way Forward
In the end, every nation gets the government it deserves and I’m sure the Somali people are no different that they must deserve the kind of leadership that emerges among them in every few years who take them back to another miserable decade of decadence and poverty. If Somalia is to circumvent its current political quagmire and destabilizing insecurity that has paralyzed every sector of the society, the people have to strive in electing honest leaders, instead of voting with either their pockets or clan allegiance. Indeed, the impending presidential election offers such an opportunity that will test the will of the newly elected 329 parliamentarians to give their votes to the most honest and capable leader among the candidates. Another urgent task that the new houses of parliament should tackle is passing a legislation to establish an Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate against all those politicians who live beyond their means and graft on all public sectors. No one should be above the law and policymakers should lead by example to the people. Nonetheless, if they fail to do so and ignore the historical duty encumbered upon them, Somalia and its people risk an existential threat that might wipe them out from the face of the earth. Because the county can no longer afford another four lackluster years of political logjam and full of corruption, a real change is needed.
Heikal I. Kenneded
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