A new president and hope for a new tomorrow

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Since early 2021 the political situation in Somalia has been very complicated. On the one hand, the president claimed first to organize elections based on one man, one vote but did not consider the conditions required for that election to materialize. And later, when he grasped the impossibility of that happening, he alternatively tried to extend his mandate illegally outside the constitutional framework without thinking about the outcome.

On the other hand, the opposition was preparing for the worst scenario in reaction to the president’s action. There was uncertainty among the opposition politicians, the population, and civil society about the elections of 2021.

The functioning of an entire country seems to depend entirely on the influence of one person – in this case, president Farmaajo. At the same time, the daily life of the Somali population is mainly dependent on politics. Their limitations directly impact the economy, security, and social life, affecting the peace process.

There were two options for change in Somalia: a reasonably good election or a violent popular revolution. After a few difficult months of wrangling and complex negotiations, an election was put on motion and ended with the presidential election on 15 May 2022.

Nice, of course, that impressive election victory of President Hassan Mahamoud Sheikh, but with that, we are only at the beginning of an extended change process.

In the previous presidential elections, elected candidates never received that many votes (except sheik Sharif in 2009), with a difference between President Hassan, who received 65% of the vote against Farmaajo, who received 56%. This result reflected citizens’ mistrust of president Farmaajo’s politics: too distant and implausible. Thus, the new president had to be careful right away.

It hopes that President Hassan will become a politician closer to the citizen and seeks cooperation to restore the damaged trust. And can even make the political atmosphere enjoyable again. For that, we expect him that he should be creating a model of a democratic system based on a plural political party.

The legacy of president Farmaajo.

In the past six years, apart from the language used, one thing was clear: the federal government and member states no longer understood each other. The main reason for this ‘alienation’ is that member states feel excluded from policies that directly affect their living environment. The ongoing disagreement between federal and regional governments has further destabilized the country.

The former president’s Rule was a Personal dictatorship, where all power was in his hands. He was the one in charge of all things. Still,

the parliament and security forces enabled the president to abuse his power. Personal dictatorships often arise in countries where the state, the military, and political parties are fragile, and Somalia is no exception as witnessed.

An autocratic ruler needs a group of confidants to carry out his policy. President Farmaajo had people around him who always agreed with him and had the same opinion. Among them were heads of security forces, especially the military, police, and intelligence. All security department heads were his allies and acted outside the law by enforcing all his orders. Those security forces who symbolize the safety of the people and the country chose to obey the president while knowing he was operating outside his constitutional power.

Political interference from the military is not new in Somalia. The expectation was the new security forces had learned from their previous mistakes and would be at the service of the republic and not immediately play a political role. But the corrupt habit never dies quickly. Farmaajo on the helm, our security forces hit the brake on progress towards greater democracy. Hence, defense is also one of those sectors on which Somali politics must develop a firm line. The new president must quickly restore constitutional order and take the military out of the politics by depoliticizing defense forces.

To fashion an idealized and heroic image of himself, Farmaajo built a propaganda army on social media. A small but very active subculture of people who are fans and idolize Farmaajo nicknamed (CBB), whose main objective was to dehumanize anyone with a different opinion than the president. He wanted to convince people that his Nabad & Nolol ideas were the best forward for Somalia. He also wanted to make sure people started to see the opposition members and neighboring Kenya as an enemy. The constitutional rights of the citizens and the rules that prevent someone from being wrongfully imprisoned, tortured, or killed were pushed aside and completely smashed.

What Next?

Regaining public confidence in the government and encouraging the public to become politically active is essential for building a democratic society. It is striking that the most obvious solution – involving citizens more directly in government – is often ignored. Still, if President Hassan gives people back a sense of ownership over their living, the working environment gains trust and involvement.

The problems surrounding conflict and violence in Somalia are not isolated. The evolution around democratization, human rights violations, and general lack of development are related to this. If human rights go wrong, the democratization process is scaled back, and internal conflicts flare up again, which, in turn, gives rise to displacements and flows of refugees. This insecurity disrupts agriculture and thus the economy, and the country ends up in a negative spiral.

The cause of insecurity is the weakness of a government. Coupled with that is a weak economy that makes more potential spoilers arise and the increased risk of a war outbreak.

Security is critical to lasting peace, while employment opportunities, accessible education, and improved healthcare are a peace dividend. After all, the well-being of ordinary citizens contributes to the role they can play in perpetuating peace. Therefore, the prevailing focus of the new government must be security, reforming security forces, the Rule of the law, completing the new constitution, and setting up a constitutional court to avoid a high risk of relapse into conflict. Once the new president brings the violence and insecurities to a halt, he can begin the arduous and long road back to normality and development, hoping that no new crisis arises.

To avoid a pitfall, the president should invite all concerned parties to discuss the country’s course for the next four years. As formulated in his various election programs, the promises to voters must form the basis for substantive discussions. Our condition is that any administrative agreement should not be cast away but should provide scope for improving security and re-establishing the connection with citizens. Of course, President Hassan must remain faithful to his promises and ideals. Nevertheless, pursuing and maintaining support is a prerequisite for achieving his election promises.

I am aware that this change will not come overnight. It’s quite a process. However, I believe that change is possible, and it will depend on the efforts of each of us. The change also requires that the population become aware of its power and responsibility to take care of itself.

NGOs and the international community

The number of international humanitarian organizations in Somalia is mushrooming (primarily in the Southern part of the country, where the population has become dependent on foreign aid). It must decrease so Somalis can improve themselves. With so many NGOs in the country, why can’t we get out of poverty? The question is, does these NGOs and their aid drives growth in the country? If you look closely at the possible factors that can cause the poverty problem, you find its natural and institutional factors. And so far, no single NGO is dealing with these factors. Therefore, all international assistance must primarily focus on development aid.

Institutions are the collection of social, economic, legal, and political arrangements that determine the organization of a society. They decide the incentives in the economy and thus affect economic performance through their effect on investment decisions of economic actors. Institutions involve information flows, transaction costs, investment risks, and societies’ ability to solve social problems through collective action. The lack of these institutions is a common problem that traders and producers face daily. These factors (insecurities and absence of institutions) can all influence the economic functioning of the country, and the new president and his upcoming government must prioritize establishing such essential institutions.

And finally, our diplomatic relations must be sincere and more transparent and serve our interests. The international community must also stop pretending to know better. What consecutive Somali governments lack is the courage to adopt a sovereign position vis-a-vis the so-called international community. This acceptance of interference from outside forces must change if we want to create a united Somali state. When Somalis are left alone, they can sort out all their problems. Therefore, we need to build collective awareness as an alternative that can lead to change in our country.

Our democracy is vulnerable to the day’s political issues because of the lack of shaky support within Somali society. De dictatorial behavior and oppressive behavior from our leaders do not increase support. On the contrary. Consequently, our new members of parliament must prevent Somalia from falling into the same authoritarian tendencies displayed by the former president. They must not accept being side-lined in splendid isolation as their predecessors and call the coming government to account. The government and the parliament must also involve civil society organizations and society in this process.