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By Ismail Ali Ismail
June 11, 2011

It cannot be gainsaid that the current deadlock in Somali politics is, like all the crises before it, a manifestation of asinine behavior – a complete lack of reason and logic.  The primary actors – or primary wreckers – are unwittingly destroying their own personal interests by destroying the overarching national interest.  I have said before – and I think it is worth repeating – that no one can advance his or her own interest by destroying the common one.  We need not go to examples illustrating this point for I have furnished them amply before.

The creators of the current crisis, as well as the previous ones we have seen before, are the two 'shariefs':  Sheikh Sharief Sheikh Ahmed (the President) and Sharief Hassan Sheikh Adan (the Speaker).  Sheikh Adan Madoobe also created his own deplorable crises when he became Speaker of Parliament after Sharief Hassan’s escape to Asmara.  Add to the list Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and all those others of his ilk who are killing Moslems to reach worldly power in the name of Islam - a religion of peace and mercy they have turned on its head.  I am beginning to lose faith in ‘sheikhs’ and ‘shariefs’ as politicians and as leaders.  Goering is known to have said, ‘whenever I hear the word intellectual I reach for my gun’.  Perhaps we too should reach for our guns when we hear the advent of a political ‘sharief’ or ‘sheikh’.

Sharif Sh. Ahmed & Sharif  Hassan

The two protagonists in the present crisis are known both as ‘sheikhs’ and ‘shariefs’.  But, in reality (their behavior so plainly tells us) they are neither: they are therefore dummy 'shariefs' and dummy ‘sheiks’, and dummies have to be dumped in order to get out of a farcical situation.  As we shall see below both Sheikh Sharief and Sharief Hassan have track records that do not recommend them to any sane and sober person who has his or her country’s interest at heart.

Sharief Hassan (the Speaker) is known to be barely literate and wealthy, by Somali standards at any rate.  He has been given, not one nickname but two: ‘Sharief Harief (Xariif)’ which literally means ‘ Clever Sharief’, and ‘Sharief Sakkien’ which means ‘Sharief, the blade’.  Taken together, the two nicknames portray him as a ruthless (the blade aspect) manipulator (the clever aspect).  He has made up for his educational deficiency by the clever use of sweet tongue and cash and a soft demeanor to win many of the cash-hungry parliamentarians to his side, and to destroy those who are implacably hostile.  


He was elected convincingly as a Speaker against the opposition of Abdullahi Yusuf who backed his opponent, Adan Madoobe, and he proved his vindictiveness later by declaring a false parliamentary voting result rejecting President Abdullahi Yusuf’s request for bringing in foreign troops to restore peace and order to the country.  What actually happened in that parliamentary meeting was a televised bloodletting physical fight in which  sticks and chairs there were used. Opinions were so hardened and so diametrical opposed that a civil discourse was thrown out of the window and voting was impossible. Yet, Sharief Hassan who presided over that shameless spectacle declared that voting took place and that the Government lost.  What a travesty! 

Under Sharief Hassan’s chairmanship Parliament never functioned properly, for he has always sought to create crisis after crisis in order to cripple the government.  Abdullahi Yusuf and Sharief Hassan signed a peace accord in the Yemeni city of Aden and it was thought that all was well.  The Sharief, however, soon betrayed Abdullahi Yusuf by clandestinely working with the Islamic Courts (which then included the Shabab) in order to torpedo the start of negotiations between the Courts and the TFG and when the Ethiopian forces chased out the ‘Courts’ he fled to Asmara where he took refuge with others.  Three years later he absconded from the cave of Adullam betraying his putative friends and taking Sheikh Sharief with him who, upon becoming President, gave him his choice of portfolio - the much-coveted Ministry of Finance.  Together the two of them took three major steps for which they had condemned Abdullahi Yusuf, viz. bringing in foreign troops, fighting the Shabab (whose existence on the Somali soil they had vigorously denied), and befriending Ethiopia. Clan hypocrisy has been laid bare in many instances.  Here is another glaring example of it. Abdullahi Yusuf, being a Darood, was castigated in some quarters for using Ethiopian troops to massacre a Hawiye population in order to avenge the massacre of the Darood in and around Mogadishu at the outset of the civil war.  No one has ever accused Sheikh Sharief of massacring the Hawiye in Mogadishu by the equal use of foreign firepower, simply because he himself is Hawiye.  So counterproductive and disabling can clan hypocrisy be.

Sh. Adan Madobe
Sh. Adan Madobe, Former Speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament

In the event, the two 'shariefs' fell out with each other, not too long after they took up residence in Villa Somalia, and Sharief Hassan became nostalgic about his old post as Speaker – a post from which he could ruffle the President’s feathers, dictate to him and hold the government to ransom whenever he so wished.  But, returning to that post was by no means an easy task; for there was already a speaker from the same region who was himself a sheikh (Sheikh Adan Madoobe) who was no less mischievous, no less scheming and no less tenacious than him.  In the ensuing bitter struggle however Sharief Hassan prevailed and continued to apply his genius for taking the Executive from crisis to crisis whenever he wanted either to humiliate the government and the President or otherwise get some concessions from them such as appointing a protégé of his to a cabinet post of his own choice.

By contrast, Sheikh Sharief Sheikh Ahmed, the President, is not a cutthroat politician.  Oddly enough, he became President as a political novice; for he was without much education or work experience or leadership qualities or the wisdom of age to qualify him for high office.  At the time he was elected the country needed a leader whose image was not tarnished by having been a warlord or having a hand in the inter-clan fighting that plagued the south of the country.  He was seen as young, fresh, educated and honest because of his association with the highly laudable six-month reign of the Islamic Courts, which took Mogadishu, by storm.  It was also hoped that because of his Islamist credentials he would be able to wean the other Islamists from the Shabab. His electoral victory, engineered by Ould Abdallah, was assured by according him a voting contingent from what was called “Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia” (ARS) equal in numerical strength to the previous parliament.

Little did anybody know that he was or would soon be in the grip of that wrecker of the previous parliament and the previous TFG, Sharief Hassan Sheikh Adan.   The two ‘shariefs’ were hand in glove and Sheikh Sharief told the Somali community in Washing D.C that he and the speaker were inseparable, having been ‘solidly’ united by a common struggle.  But, there are no permanent friends in politics, it being the art of the meanwhile; there are only permanent interests, and there were no such interests to bind them together.  The speaker, being the sly that he is, knew this only too well.  He spent time sizing up the man and making his calculations.

Time has laid bare the multiple inadequacies of Sheikh Sharief as President.  He is not articulate in any international language, not even in Arabic.  I have watched his interviews in Aljazeera (Arabic) and was very disappointed.  He speaks neither English nor French.  He has no political skills to bring people together and he has not put the moral force he was supposed to have as a man of God and as an Islamist leader to any good use. 

ICG Kampala

The President has become a globetrotter, for he apparently enjoys the pomp and ceremony and the lavish hospitalities that are integral to official presidential visits abroad.  He is a human being of course with the urge to escape the beleaguered Villa Somalia from time to time.  But, he seems to be averse to traveling within the country; for he has never visited the many peaceful areas and regions to see the progress being made, to promote reconciliation and to carry the people with him and win their support. He has, instead, alienated Puntland despite several invitations to him.  Instead of seeking support for the extension of his term from within the President has been seeking it from abroad – specifically from the presidents of Burundi and Uganda, the UN, the Contact Group, and IGAD - ignoring the fact that only the Parliament that had elected him in the first place could extend his term.  The grounds on which he based his request for extension were even more ludicrous, for he claimed, in the absence of a good performance, that the internal situation was not conducive to electoral politics.  He had forgotten that the situation was much worse when he was elected two and half years ago. So conveniently short can political memory be.  The President also made himself the laughing stock of the world when he unilaterally extended his term and that of the government for a year, and when he vowed to bypass Parliament and appoint his own electoral committee. In like manner his decisions have been erratic: he dismissed his former prime minister, Omer Abdurashied, only to rescind his decision when the latter refused to go. He admitted to have made an error but then dismissed him irrevocably again. 

PM Mohamed A. Mohamed

It is due to his political ineptitude that Sharief Hassan has been running circles around him.  Now he sacrificed his current prime minister, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed (Farmajo), in order to accommodate the wishes of the speaker.  For according to ‘The Kampala Accord’ signed on June 8, a new prime minister will be appointed within a month and half the cabinet will be from the side of the Speaker. In return both the President and Parliament will get a one-year extension.  Farmajo who was outraged by the blatant and unabashed interference of the head of the Legislature in the internal affairs of the Executive vowed not to resign at the behest of Sharief Hassan, the Speaker. He fumed and fumed and fumed and flew to Kampala to put his foot down only to be assuaged, like his predecessor, with a golden handshake, and has therefore agreed to tender his resignation, only six months after he took the reins of office.

Prime Minister Fermajo has been highly praised, and rightly so, for having putt together a cabinet of men and women equipped with high academic degrees - a novelty in Somalia.  To his credit there were, in the wake of the Kampala Accord, public demonstrations in Mogadishu in support of his stay as prime minister. 

Demonstrations in Mog in support of PM Farmajo

That does not detract from the fact that he and his cabinet colleagues are political novices and, clearly, he did not play his politics very well.  He assailed the Parliament openly and imprudently before the UN Security Council (a foreign body) when he was last in New York and that was not lost on Sharief Hassan and many members of Parliament.  It is unfortunate that the country does not have leaders who have the necessary combination of political and executive experience.  The few that exist are old and struggling with their lives in the Diaspora, and it is premature, in the absence of safety and security as well as political stability, to think about establishing competent public services which are sine qua non to performance and the achievement of national goals.  Though everyone is fed up with a transitional political arrangement the country has a long way to go before things settle down and stabilize.

In the interim, however, and in view of the foregoing it is my considered opinion that Parliament should ignore the Kampala Accord and hold a new presidential election in August this year and that it should dump, for the sake and sanity of the Nation, Sharief Hassan as a speaker (he has been there for ages and has been an obstacle to progress for too long) and elect a new speaker who is willing to respect his mandate within the framework of established parliamentary procedures.  I would have added that both ‘shariefs’ be barred from standing for the presidential election, were it not for Democracy that dictates otherwise.

Honestly, I cannot for the life of me understand how the Kampala Accord can override the prior decision of Parliament to extend its own life for three years.  Clearly, Sharief Hassan had no mandate to commit Parliament to reducing its term extension to only one year, which will end coincidentally with the President’s extension.  We have already heard vociferous and loud protestations from many members of parliament condemning the Speaker for having taken upon himself to act for Parliament without a prior mandate and to meddle in the internal composition and affairs of the Executive. 

Moreover, I think it will make a lot of good if the Charter is amended to state clearly and unequivocally that the President cannot dismiss the Prime Minister so long as he commands the confidence of Parliament.  Within a space of only two years Sheikh Sharief has dismissed two prime ministers and his predecessor, Abdullahi Yusuf, dismissed likewise two prime ministers within four years.  But Abdullahi was not allowed to get away with it in the second instance (in the case of Nur Adde).  Sheikh Sharief ignored that precedent and he got away with the dismissal of two prime ministers within a short span of only two years.  Where then is the stability he was supposed to create?  The country cannot be served properly and effectively by a prime minister and a cabinet who are subservient to a whimsical president.  Therefore, it should be recognized that the Prime Minister does not serve at the pleasure of the President but by commanding the confidence of Parliament.

Granted that in Africa, as in many other places, we do not understand, much less appreciate, the need for and the value of a ceremonial Head of State who combines vast knowledge, long political experience and the wisdom of age – a dignified person who is above the petty quarrels of politicians and has the skill and the temperament to smooth the ripples when required. Contrary to the general impression, a ceremonial president has more than a full plate of functions.  He is not someone just sitting idle and drawing a fat salary and other generous perks of office.  He has some real powers too. But these powers are moral in nature and emanate, not only from the prestige of his exalted office but also from his personality.  He can influence the course of events through persuasive interventions when required; but he has to have a good sense of timing.

The Somali parliament unilaterally decided to extend its five-year mandate
The Transtional Federal Parliament unilaterally
extended its term

The final point I want to raise here is the need to know that Parliament is sovereign.  It has the last word, and even if the President may veto any legislation Parliament should have the right to override his veto if it deems necessary.  Parliament should give or deny confidence to the government on the basis of its programs and issues and should control it through the budgetary process.  It can also elect and dismiss the President; and the latter can of course dissolve Parliament under certain conditions.  The courts do not make the law: they interpret it and in interpreting it they have to strive to find what the intention of Parliament was in making that law.  But, where there is a constitutional court the sovereignty of parliament is circumscribed by the fact that Parliament is bound by the court’s interpretation of the constitution. 

There have been voices and opinions calling for the adoption of the presidential system in lieu of the parliamentary system.  I shall elaborate my opinion on this when the debate on the draft constitution is opened, but I do not think that a system in which Somalis have no experience; the functions of the head of state and the head of government are combined in one person; the vice-president merely serves as the first in the line of succession in the event of the president’s death or incapacity – a sort of what we call in Somali bakhti suge – and his or her substantive functions depend on the discretion of the President; the system of checks and balances is adversarial and often used to thwart presidential policies and put the president in an unfavorable light in order to ensure his electoral defeat; and appointments to the supreme court are reduced to a fight between liberals and conservatives (in the case of Somalia between clans) will move Somalia forward .  All these will tend to create serious, maybe bloody, confrontations in a society where politics is, in effect, a struggle between clans for primacy.  For the present, however, I have no doubt that the salvation of Somalia lies partly in saying goodbye to the ‘shariefs’.


Mr. Ismail Ali Ismail is the author of the new book “Governance: the Scourge and Hope for Somalia" which is available at Amazon and Zailai books. He can be reached at: geeldoonia@gmail.com

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