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Leadership is On the Line in Somalia's Presidential Election
By Sadiq Abdullahi Abdirahman
Saturday May 14, 2022


The Somali parliamentary committee tasked with preparing for the presidential election has rapidly set the date of May 15, 2022, as the day polls will be held. The combined legislators from both upper and lower houses have an opportune moment to elect a leader who has the integrity and courage to lead their country without fear or favor. A leader who can act from a place of integrity and courage and has lucidity on what his country needs to move forward. A leader committed to the interest of Somalia alone and is not afraid to chart their own ship to mandate the widescale changes necessary to improve the quality of life for the people. The Somali people cannot afford to lose this opportunity to leave behind a conflict-driven past and elect a leader who can change Somalia's negative and stereotypical narratives held by others as a lost cause and failed state. The legislators must carefully agree on one leader who exhibits transformational leadership qualities, carries emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills, and will utilize an enterprise approach to tackle the country's wicked problems. Whatever it takes on their part, these legislators must never fall for the corrupt business as usual that has clouded over past elections where under-the-table deals dominated the results. Instead, show duty to the Somali people who have suffered enough, and in their name, these representatives vote. The country's common good should come before narrow personal interests that are not as lasting as doing the right thing for one's country.

Why Change is Needed

If the past is any indication of the future, Somalia's political, economic, and social future looks bleak. The Somali government remains fragile and powerless without the support of the African peacekeeping troops currently providing security and are well compensated for their services. The country is still struggling to meet critical pillars of good governance. Safeguarding security and the rule of law, which are necessary ingredients and foundations to achieve permanent peace, are out of reach. The experimental 4.5 clan-based system has solidified the imaginary social divisions perpetuated by some internal and external interest groups who do not have the best interest of Somalia at heart. The inferior clan politics undermines the country's homogeneous identity and territorial integrity. A genuine reconciliation process to help the country sits at the bottom of the priority list. Financial scarcity problems are a real impact on carrying out any meaningful changes to improve livelihoods. Ten years after the transition, the government still relies on foreign donors and loans to finance its budget. According to Somalia's Ministry of Finance, the annual budget is approximately 370,000 million dollars, gathered from local taxes and budgetary aid from donor countries. The amount is a drop in the bucket and insufficient to meet the scale of the country's current needs.

 Even more heartbreaking, Somalia's triennial review published by the United Nations in 2021 placed Somalia at the bottom of the least developed countries in the world, with critical figures such as the country's gross national income (GNI) ranked at $104, human assets index (HAI) threshold of 24.3, and stressing a high economic and environmental vulnerability responsible for food insecurity. Moreover, nearly sixty-eight percent of the people live under two dollars a day. The joblessness rate is skyrocketing to twenty percent, which is strikingly high for a country the donor countries claim to have spent over two billion dollars. Seventy percent of the population do not have access to clean water, and only fifty percent have electricity in their homes. Access to quality education and adequate healthcare is out of reach for millions of Somali children and their families. Somali legislators need to know what is at stake and how they hold the key to helping the country find its better footing again.

Why Leadership Matters

Transformational leaders are visionaries who put their people and country first and lead by example, which Somalia needs today. They have the know-how to bring people to work together and motivate them to feel good about sacrificing themselves for their country. They inspire people by bringing them into the vital conversation early, being honest about the choices before them, and standing by the consequences of their decisions. Transformational leaders know how important it is to understand the multitude of perspectives on Somalia's body politics. They possess emotional intelligence, which is about identifying and managing your own emotions and other people's emotions. A leader with high emotional intelligence is self-aware, shows empathy to others, self-regulates, and motivates their leadership circle. Being self-aware is knowing yourself deeply about your strengths and weaknesses and knowing what can trigger your emotions and how to have control over them. It is about considering other perspectives and making room for those divergent ideas and inputs in the decision-making process, allowing these opinions and statements to flourish without any hesitations. Soliciting new ideas straightness trust and inspires people in the leadership to be free thinkers. It creates an environment where all people can feel safe and want to contribute to their expertise constantly.

Transformational leaders are also experts in managing conflicts. They understand that people's backgrounds, such as principles, values, and belief systems, shape their perspectives. Understanding how these different perspectives are formed is helpful knowing for any leader aspiring to lead a post-conflict country like Somalia to find its footing again. Moreover, transformational leaders are cognizant that not all disputes are harmful and should be avoided. The conflicts that are entered to support the goals of the country to enforce the rule of law and protect its territorial integrity are good conflicts to have that need no convincing.

Transformational leaders are also critical thinkers. Critical thinking is one of the most influential cognitive skills a leader needs to develop that is often deserted because of a lack of awareness. Some Somali leaders associate critical thinking with the intelligence and experiences they already have and are unaware that it is a skill that requires other pieces of training. It reinforces problem-solving abilities and thinking independently, clearly, and rationally to frame the problem formulations when dealing with resolving issues. The risk of electing anyone is that some leaders might claim they are good at resolving problems, but the truth is are they resolving the right problem. Transformational leaders recognize how launching an inquiry and inviting divergent thinking throughout the process to understand and select the problem formulation is critical to getting to an actual resolution. They are, by nature, systematic thinkers who take a holistic approach to looking at factors and interactions that could better assist their country. The coming presidential election brings an opportunity for legislators entrusted to elect a president of Somalia for the next four years must wisely exercise their vote. The Somali people are yearning for transformational leadership to bring a new dawn to Somalia. All hopes are riding on their votes to bring meaningful changes worthy of their country's future. History will record whether or not they have fulfilled their obligation to the country by selecting the most capable person to lead the country.

Sadiq Abdullahi Abdirahman is an independent writer focusing on the Horn of Africa and a Ph.D. candidate at Hamline University. He can be reached at [email protected]


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