By Hassan M. Abukar
Abdirahman Mohamed Abdi Hashi believes he is a fortunate man.
“I have had certain opportunities in life that many of my peers did not get,” he said.
Those opportunities included education in the United States immediately after his high school graduation, employment at prestigious U.S. and international firms, and the rare prize of attaining a doctorate in economics.
“By the time I came back to Somalia in 2012, I realized I had not worked in Somalia,” he said. Little did he know that, four years later, he would become a federal minister for fisheries and marine resources—a job that would bring challenges and letdowns he had not expected.
Hashi comes from a family steeped in politics: his father, Mohamed Abdi Hashi, was one of the principal founders of Puntland and had served as vice president and president of the regional government. Hashi was born in Sheikh in northern Somalia. As a child, he attended Quranic school and elementary school in Lasa Anod. Afterward, the family moved to Mogadishu, where he finished his intermediate schooling at Media Centrale and his high school at Benadir Secondary School.
In 1977, Hashi arrived in New York and enrolled at Pace University. In spite of a tuition waiver, he had to work hard in order to pay for his living expenses.
In the 1980s, he began working at various financial heavyweight corporations such as Price Coopers Waterhouse and Citibank at their headquarters in New York, as well as the famed investment banking firm of Solomon Brothers.
In 1989, Hashi moved to Washington, D.C where he began a 15-year career with the World Bank. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with master’s degrees in economics and finance, he strived to improve his lot and go further in expanding his knowledge. Hashi went to school and earned a doctorate in economics from George Mason University with a specialization in monetary and international economics. In 2013, he published a book, Islamic Banking: Study in Shaky Times, which explains Islamic finance and compares the stability of conventional banks with those of Islamic banks.
In 2012, Hashi’s return to Mogadishu was full of energy and verve. He wanted to make a change in his native country and decided to run for the presidency.
“I knew my victory in the elections was far-fetched,” he said, laughing, “but developing my campaign platform and presenting a cohesive political and economic program for Somalia was worthwhile.”
In early 2017, Somalia elected a new president in Mohamed Farmajo, and Hashi was appointed as the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources. He had another responsibility in the Secretariat of the Economic Committee in the Council of Ministers, a body which oversees and coordinates the work of 12 ministries.
Hashi knew he had a herculean task before him. He was put in charge of a ministry in a country that experienced two decades of civil war, anarchy, piracy, an endemic culture of apathy for fishing, and the absence of fishing cooperatives. Moreover, Somalia’s coastline, which is estimated to be about 3,300 km long with an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) over a million square miles, has always faced one deleterious problem: Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. “The country loses between $300 to $600 million every year due to IUU fishing,” Hashi said. China, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, France, the Netherlands, and Spain are among the biggest offenders. Among many other problems, Hashi saw an urgent need for robust naval capabilities such as a coast guard, at least 10 navy patrol vessels, skilled manpower, and the political will to make the best and right decisions.
Additionally, there was the thorny issue between the federal government and the federal member states. The Provincial Constitution is explicit in resource-sharing. Up to 12 nautical miles belongs to the regions; 12 to 24 nautical miles are within a grey zone; and 24 to 200 nautical miles are federal responsibility. Since the administration of President Hassan S. Mohamoud, negotiations have bogged down between the federal government and the federal member states in fisheries licenses revenue-sharing because Puntland wanted a share almost similar to that of the federal government. In February 2018, Hashi proposed an interim fisheries agreement in which all the monies from the issuance of federal licenses would be deposited in the Central Bank and then it would be divided between the federal government and the regional governments based on consensus. Incidentally, this interim fisheries agreement is in effect now and is the basis for the 30 fishing licenses that have been issued to Chinese companies since Hashi’s departure.
“Illegal fishing in our shores is the most challenging problem we have,” Hashi said.
Many foreign ships roam Somalia’s coast exploiting fish and marine resources without being stopped and questioned. Among these are the super trawlers or factory trawlers, which are banned in many parts of the world because they threaten the natural habitat of fish and cause overfishing. These ships have the capacity to stay at sea for weeks, catch fish, process them, freeze them, and store them. They may also be involved in illegal activities such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, and toxic waste dumping. “On the Somali coastline, some of these trawlers have used Vietnamese and Cambodian crews as forced labor,” Hashi explained.
Bottom trawling is a method used by these factory trawlers to scoop fish from the seabed thereby damaging the marine ecosystem and depleting fishery. “Some of these trawlers have managed to extirpate mangroves in our coast and ship them back to their countries like China does,” Hashi said. Legally, the trawlers are not allowed along Somalia’s coastline, but Puntland, a regional government, allows them to fish in its region even though Puntland’s fisheries law prohibit them.
Specifically, there have been seven trawler ships registered in Thailand that have been violating Puntland’s coast. Oddly, these ships carry fishing licenses issued by Puntland and hence operate between 24 and 200 nautical miles in Somalia’s exclusive economic zone in clear violation of Somali Federal laws. At some point, these ships conveniently secured Djiboutian flags, thanks to lobbying by Abdiweli Gaas , the former head of the Puntland regional government to fish in Puntland. When Djibouti discovered about the Interpol pursuing these ships, it withdrew its flag. Ironically, the ships found flags from an unexpected place: Mogadishu. The federal Ministry of Ports and Marine Transport allowed them to use Somali flags. When Hashi found out, he documented the incident and reported the matter to Ahmed Ali Dahir, then the country’s Attorney General. Dahir met with President Farmajo at Villa Somalia, the seat of the presidency, and the flags were withdrawn from the foreign ships.
On May 3, 2017, Hashi said that Thailand had contacted the Somali federal government to inquire about a ship in its territory with a fishing license issued by Puntland. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources responded that any fishing licenses not issued by the federal government of Somalia are null and void. Thailand’s response was swift and decisive: it seized the ship. That is when Abdiweli Gaas complained to President Farmajo that Hashi and his ministry were hurting the interests of Puntland businessmen who had a stake in the seized Thai ship.
It is important to note that there are 6,000 ships registered in Thailand, which bring in an annual fishing revenue of $300 billion to that country. Most of the fish are exported to the European Union (EU), however, there have been serious allegations of these Thai-owned ships being involved in illegal fishing, human trafficking, and other shady activities. According to Hashi, The EU issued a yellow card to Thailand to curb illegal activities by these ships or face serious commercial consequences. Thailand began monitoring these ships and taking legal actions against them. “In fact, Thailand wanted to help Somalia to fight illegal fishing and was telling the EU that it was aiding us,” Hashi said.
Hashi also said he was pleased with Thailand’s bold actions in seizing the ship, which had a merchandise of fish illegally caught along Somalia’s coastline. “We were sending a message to the world that Somalia will not tolerate the exploitation of its coast,” he said. The president of Puntland and his associates were adding pressure to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and Villa Somalia to cease its activity of waging a campaign against the Thai-owned ships. President Farmajo was walking a tight rope: he needed the support of the regional governments, particularly Puntland, which had tense relations with the federal government.
The president, the prime minister, and the federal government leaders attempted to circumvent Hashi by directly contacting Thailand. For instance, Yusuf Garaad, then Somalia’s Foreign Minister, wrote a letter to the Thai government asking for the release of the seized ship. According to Hashi, the Thai government became concerned about the foreign ministry’s correspondence, as the matter of the seized ship was not its purview.
Hashi said he had briefed Prime Minister Hassan Kheire about the seized ship, and the premier was initially supportive of Hashi’s stand. “When I told Khaire about my actions in asking Thailand to hold the ship, he became animated and started using his flowery language that it was the end of illegal fishing in Somalia,” Hashi said. He characterized the prime minister as “negatively genius.” When the premier saw the goodwill Hashi had developed with Thailand, he wanted the minister to ease on the seized ship and let it go, but Hashi refused.
In essence, Farmajo was capitulating to Gaas’ pressure and demands. Gaas was howling and the noise from Villa Somalia deafening. Amid the cacophony, Hashi found himself in the center of the storm. Ironically, the firing of Hashi came at an opportune time when the leaders of the federal government and regional leaders had a gathering in Garowe, the capital of Puntland.
Hashi was quietly relieved of his position as the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Mahdi Guled, Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, gave a statement praising Hashi for his dedication, hard work, and superb knowledge. No word was ever issued on the real reason behind Hashi’s job termination. In the end, President Farmajo had caved in to appease those figures in Somalia who had no qualms about seeing their country exploited. Obviously, political expediency prevailed on the part of Farmajo. As Hashi said, “The need for political will is paramount in fighting illegal fishing in our coastline.” The work he said he was trying to do at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources—which are the core principle of tapping into the country’s natural wealth, investing in its coast, generating revenue to alleviate poverty, and aiming at self-sufficiency—were undermined by our leaders. “Unfortunately, personal gain by some leaders became more important than the national interest,” Hashi said.
Hassan M. Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a writer, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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