Hassan Sheikh Mohamud: Working against two clocks

The degree of change under president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HsM) is notable. There had been a significant reduction in the bloodshed in Mogadishu and elsewhere. Bloody terrorist outrages are now, thankfully, much less frequent in the city of Mogadishu and in major towns of the country. He is the first president who tried to take the war to the terrorists; tried to sever the tentacles of terrorists within government institutions – levels of comingling that gave impunity to terrorists to kill and maim at will. Detoxifying the army and security services has been a key challenge and the trend under HsM is a positive one. Unlike his predecessor, HsM cannot be accused of being a spectator to immense daily suffering and bloodshed at his door step. These are significant achievements.

On the political front, there is hardly any asphyxiation of political opponents. Take the example of the former president who is now in town, sniping from the sidelines – a civilised privilege and courtesy that he forgot to show to others when he was in power. It demonstrates HsM’s political maturity. The days of raining bullets on opposition are, thankfully, long gone. It is another welcome change under HsM, the significance of which few seem to appreciate.

On the constitution, the government is absolutely right to bring this charade to a close. Disunity is a lucrative business in Somalia and “completing the constitution” project has been one of its most enduring cash cows. Closing the constitution chapter is therefore long overdue. HsM should be thanked for having the courage to take on this task, rather than pilloried. The chorus of disproval is indicative of the fact that he is getting something right. He needs to get on and be done with it.

On foreign policy, HsM pushback against the Ethiopian scavenger hunt and thuggery is commendable. Gone is the pusillanimous leadership of the past – always a nod away from signing the country away. HsM is right to assert Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, this is not over yet and how he deals with this existential threat will indeed be one of his defining legacies.

All of these points will flatter HsM and his government. While the government may seem to have achieved much, the fact is that this was a low bar to clear. There is still a chronic lack of leadership in many vital areas, including on governance and economic development. In these areas, the government operates in theatre politics, is incompetent and bereft of ideas to make a small difference to people’s lives. It is here that HsM’s success or failure will come to define his chances of a historic third term.

Father confessor incarnate

HsM’s Friday sermons in Villa Somalia’s mosque tells us a lot about how he wishes to be perceived. He often talks about how previous governments failed to move the dial on good governance. For all the pretensions of progress in these areas, his government is indeed no different. Pointing to the failures of the past is not a good leadership strategy. His first term was tainted by corruption and incompetence – a reputation that is difficult to shift and still fresh in everyone’s mind. Without demonstrable progress in addressing chronic mismanagement and corruption, these father confessor sermons are self-deluding and will convince no one.

Second, responding to the government’s day-to-day issues is not a credible governing strategy. It will be a remarkable feat of incompetence to replicate the failures of his first term in his second. One of these is the inability to make headway on economic development. Millions of the country’s youths are employed; the country has vast natural resources, and yet there is no single economic

development priority that has been achieved under HsM. The entire government is consumed by policymaking abstractions, vacuous self-applause from meeting some non-sensical targets and 60- year economic plans written on the back of envelopes. To know the country has joined economic blocs, achieved debt relief or would transform in 60 years is of little value when millions of Somalis are facing starvation now and lack access to basic life-saving health facilities.

Looking closer to home

Take Mogadishu – a personal embarrassment to HsM and a national humiliation. The country’s financial and political capital, and home to more than 3 million people, has no functioning leadership and resembles more like a badly run “Buulo”. There is staggering levels of incompetence and corruption. No one is thinking about the economic challenges the city faces, or the delivery of basic civic functions, while millions of dollars in taxes are collected from its citizenry. A president that cannot fix Mogadishu will not have an answer for the country.

The government also has no concrete plans to create jobs, unlock the country’s vast potential and let businesses thrive. Not a single school, hospital or road has been built. No effort made to unlock private investment, through the creation of capital markets, which can invest in infrastructure and create millions of jobs. While no one expects HsM to transform the country overnight, he needs to have the courage to deliver on critical priorities, irrespective of political blowback or the constraints of the odious 4.5 gene pool. Tacking these challenges is the whole point of being in Villa Somalia.

One measure of peril in Somali politics is when presidents assume that they are a model for the country but instead become a warning for the future. His predecessor is a good example and a warning from history. This is why HsM has not learnt from the mistakes of his first term.

He is driving the government through the rear-view mirror without looking ahead to deal with the priorities that are critical to the country. He is also working against two clocks – the desire to win the next election and something to show for his time in office. Just like his first term, without a credible plan that delivers for the people of Somalia, he will run out of time without achieving neither.

At half-time, he needs to take stock and change gear for his and the country’s sake.

By : Abdi Ali

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