By Bashir Goth
The most heartwarming initiative that happened in Mogadishu in 2013 was the start of an inspirational reconstruction momentum thanks to the city’s energetic and ambitious mayor Mohamud Ahmed Nur Tarsan. If he continuous with this vigor and commitment aimed at restoring the beauty and glory of Mogadishu, Tarsan will be the person to watch in 2014.
It is encouraging also to see the vital role played by the diaspora returnees who are investing heavily in rebuilding the city not only in the form of pouring money into business but also in bringing back creative ideas and breathing a new life into the morale of the people. There is no doubt that the Somalis with their renowned entrepreneurial skills that created lucrative businesses in many parts of Africa as well as in Minnesota, London, Dubai and elsewhere can and should make Mogadishu the pearl and commercial hub of the Horn of Africa. After more than 20 years of ruin, misery and lawlessness, one can see the undefeatable spirit of the Somali people who despite the forces of darkness like Al Shabab who wants to keep the people under their destructive and backward ideology, surge ahead in a promising effort to make the country stand again on its feet.
Having said that, it was disheartening to watch how the government of Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud squandered a lot of opportunities. The year 2013 began on a high note for the Somali Federal Government (SFG) led by Mohamoud as the U.S recognized Somalia’s government for the first time since 1991 when the country slipped into chaos and eventually became a byword for a failed state. This was followed by the UN Security Council’s decision on the partial lifting of the decades-old embargo on selling arms to Somalia for a year. In a quick response to this, President Obama decided to allow the provision of US military assistance to Somalia.
But instead of capitalizing on the good-will of the international community and taking measures to bolster domestic security, Mahmoud’s government started globetrotting with photo shoots with world leaders as their biggest achievement. Back home, Al Shabab continued to dominate the security situation despite their diminished visibility on the streets of Mogadishu. To prove their tenacity and to expose the vulnerability of Mahmoud’s AMISOM-propped government, Al Shabab struck Mogadishu’s main court complex in April killing about 30 people, while launching daring daylight attacks on the Presidential Palace and the UNDP compound in the capital. Their attack on the Westgate Mall of Nairobi was also to remind the world that no matter how much assistance the International Community provided to Mogadishu, the key to the region’s security still remained in their hands.
The government even mishandled the impromptu arrival of Hassan Dahir Aweys who fell in the government hands as a windfall from Al Shabab’s infighting. Aweys deserves to be sharing the same fate and cell with Charles Taylor for the crimes he committed against the Somali people and for keeping the whole country in cyclic violence for more than two decades. But the failure of the government to yet bring him to court is sign of its unwillingness or weakness to serve justice to the victims of this brutal terrorist and his affiliates.
EMBROILED IN CLAN POLITICS
In another apparent misplaced priority, Mahmoud’s government was embroiled in clan politics which allowed neighboring countries to have a greater leverage in resolving domestic issues. The agreement between Mahmoud’s government and Ahmed Madoobe in Addis Ababa on the creation of the Juba region administration showed the government’s inability to rise above clan politics.
The government also squandered the generous hand extended to it by the international community in the form of a three year “New Deal” cemented with a pledge of 2.4 billion dollars aid to boost the country’s economy and security.
The resignation of Yussur Abrar as the Central Bank Governor due to what she called the government’s double-dealing behavior had damaged the international community’s trust with the government and had put the fulfillment of the New Deal into jeopardy.
The replay of the previous government’s dueling between the President and Prime Minister and the unceremonious sacking of the PM by the President-bought parliament had also thrown whatever hopes the people had in President Mahmoud’s government being any different from its precedents.
It was again the appointment of the new Prime Minister that proved beyond doubt that not every Somali child can dream to rise to the country’s leadership unless she/he belongs to certain clans. Looking back at the succeeding Somali administrations from independence until now with the exception of the short-lived tenure of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, one can see that the practiced formula was always and still remains to be: “Kolla Rashiid, Kollar Rasaaq, Inta kale, Ma rooti baa?” Weary of war and lawlessness, the Somali people hoped for a new dawn with Mahmoud’s government but it seems Professor Ahmed Samatar’s disconcerting observation of duopoly in Mogadishu is indeed carved in stone.
As the year rolled to its end, it was somewhat amusing to see President Mahmoud rushing to Nairobi to join other IGAD leaders who were trying to bring an end to Africa’s latest civil war in Southern Sudan, while he left Al Shabab to make a name for itself in grappling with the devastating clashes in Lower Shabelle and Hiiran regions.
The autonomous region of Puntland welcomed 2013 with bombast as the region’s president Ahmed Faroole celebrated his 4th year in office but his chance for a second term and the hope for the region’s change from clan-based structure to a democratically elected administration hit a snag with the cancellation of the municipal elections in July.
Although the cancellation averted a civil war, it was the tropical cyclone that smashed Puntland’s coast in November and killed scores of people and had devastated the livelihoods of other hundreds that united the people again.
The year ended with clan-nomination of Puntland’s new 65-member strong parliament which is due to elect a new President on 8th January. The system of clan nomination of representatives which took place in Mogadishu earlier and now in Puntland, falls short of Somaliland’s experiment of a direct elected parliament.
Somalia still remained to be a black hole for women’s rights. Rape and violence against women continued unabated to the extent that Amnesty International described it as “ongoing epidemic”. The report cites that perpetrators of such heinous crimes against women included government security officials, armed groups and members of AMISOM. The government’s inability to halt the spiraling rate of rape and violence against women and its appalling actions sometimes of incarcerating the victim instead of the criminal makes a mockery of its otherwise commendable gesture of appointing women to high political and bureaucratic posts such as the deputy prime minister/foreign minister and the Central Bank governor as an apparent cosmetic action aimed at appeasing donor countries.
Press freedom also continued to bleed heavily in 2013 as Somalia retained its notorious position as one of the most dangerous places for media people to work. It remained in the rank of the five worst countries in the world for press freedom as per the 2013 report of the Reporters without Borders.
Going to 2014, it has become obvious that the Somali people have the resilience to rebuild the country but only if Mahmoud’s government liberates them from the grip and fear of Al Shabab and provides them with badly needed justice and a clean fiscal management.
SOMALILAND IN CRISIS
If one attached a name to 2013 in Somaliland it could be called the Year of Roads. A number of initiatives were taken to mobilize the nation to rehabilitate its old roads and build new ones. Most of the projects were people-based although the government also contributed handsomely to them. The plan to build the Buora-Erigavo road, the longest road in the country with the most dangerous terrain, is indeed a highly ambitious and commendable endeavor.
The year 2013, however, started with the country reeling from the aftermath of badly handled municipal elections. Sporadic peaceful demonstrations, police brutality, and heavy handedness against the press have been the main spotlights.
Rape against women reached an unprecedented level as the Ministry of Health reported that 104 rape cases occurred during 2013. What made the situation even worse was that a number of the women were gang raped with impunity.
The political situation was dominated by the wrangling between the government and the opposition about the possibility of holding a national debate to evaluate the status of Somaliland after more 20 years since Hargeisa declared its unilateral secession from Somalia.
The government and the opposition may have different motives for either rejecting or accepting the debate, but one can feel that the unspoken agenda behind the debate is to discuss nothing but the viability of Somaliland’s secession. With thousands of youth graduating every year from the mushrooming universities in the country and the non-existence of employment opportunities for them, and with the majority of the population relying on remittances for their livelihood, there is a great economic crisis in the offing. And also with the improving situation in Mogadishu and the international community’s recognition of the federal government and the sovereignty of a united Somalia as a whole, Hargeisa found itself in the doldrums of a self-imposed political isolation.
The problems we saw on the surface in Somaliland in 2013 such as the deepening divide between the people on tribal lines, the water shortage in Hargeisa and elsewhere, the rampant unemployment, the government’s failure to attract foreign investment and its inability to provide relief assistance to victims of natural disasters such as droughts and rains in far-flung areas of the country, its lack of strategy and clarity of vision in dealing with Somalia as well as its erratic actions regarding the banning of United Nations flights at its airports and its prohibition of its citizens from using Somali passports without offering an alternative, all these problems are just obvious signs of a chronic economic, social, cultural, and political crisis that need an immediate remedy before it is too late. The much talked about debate is therefore not only necessary but timely to extricate Somaliland from its current untenable situation.