Thursday, May 19, 2022
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An Open Letter to the Next President of Somalia

By Deeq S Yusuf

Somalia is entering an uncharted territory as the election of members of the lower house comes to a close. With the much-delayed presidential election on the horizon, the curtain is finally falling on a tense and long-drawn transition that needs to be managed carefully. The occasion calls for the emergence of a president with nationalist and statesmanly credentials who can unite the country, speed up the reconciliation process and embark on an ambitious, but equally realistic national reconstruction project that can effectively end Somalia’s political upheavals, social ills, and crisis of governance.

Mr. future President, the country has been facing intractable political and social crises since state collapse in 1991. While incremental progress has been made since the transition to federalism, the country has experienced a significant roll back in the last ten years of the post-transition, federal era. While the ultimate decision to elect the next President would be in the hands of a joint session of 329 members of the lower house and senate, it is critically important that as the next President, you come with crisis management skills and leadership qualities and values that can help pull Somalia out of the current quagmire.

As noted by Forbes, the role of a leader shifts during a crisis and only those that are truly great “prioritize and respond to the needs of the people that follow them. If they get it right, they — and their people — will emerge stronger and more resilient on the other side[1].” Whether it is weathering the deadly effects of a protracted conflict, widespread social unrest, environmental catastrophes, and unprecedented economic disruption, crises of all sorts can be the true test of leadership.

Over the last thirty years, a class of corrupt, divisive and nepotistic leadership has persistently threatened to tear Somalia’s social fabric apart. Only the resilience of the citizenry has kept the country going in the wake of mounting challenges, volatility and widening political rifts.

At this juncture, what Somalia needs most at the helm is crisis leadership, which refers to the ability by political leaders, notably heads of states to dexterously navigate and respond to pressing challenges facing a nation while tactfully working to prevent the recurrence of such crises in the future. I draw your attention to Paul ‘t Hart, a Professor at the School of Governance, Utrecht University, whose work in part addresses how a long-standing crisis can test the ability of political leaders to respond to acute adversity “often under conditions of time pressure, high uncertainly and collective stress”[2]. Adversity may stem from both domestic and external forces of which the origins can be natural or man-made. As you already know, Somalia’s, man-made domestic woes include impunity, violent extremism, clannism, mismanagement, corruption, human rights abuses, and political stalemate while natural causes often appear in the form of recurring droughts and famine. External shocks are global or regional in nature and may include the pandemic, climate change, global recession and more.

Somalia’s intractable problems are multiple, complex in nature and immensely daunting. The crisis of legitimacy is key among them. Since the collapse of the nation in 1991, any semblance of political legitimacy has virtually been eroded by a political class driven by nepotism, factionalism, rent-seeking and outright despotism.

Mr. incoming President, you must surround yourself with untainted, selfless, competent state functionaries who have the nation’s interest at heart.  You and your inner circle must address the seven key challenges of crisis leadership identified by Dr. Hart. At the conceptual level, you must understand that three initial challenges that need to be tackled right from inauguration day will include the following:

1. Sense making: “diagnosing confusing, contested and often fast-moving situations correctly, a necessary condition for effectively meeting the other challenges”[3].

2. Meaning making: “providing persuasive public accounts of what is happening, why it is happening, what can be done about it, by the leadership, key stakeholders and general public”[4] and

3. Decision making: “making the correct strategic policy judgments” in times of uncertainty.

Pragmatically, Hart notes that a leadership faced with acute crises can move forward through the following four steps:

4. Coordination: “forging effective communication and collaboration among pre-existing and ad-hoc networks of public, private and international actors”[5].

5. Consolidation: “switching the gears of government and society back from crisis mode to recovery and ‘business as usual’, without a loss of attention and momentum in delivering long-term services to those who are eligible”[6].

6. Accountability: “managing the process of expert, media, legislative and judicial inquiry and debate that tends to follow crises in such a way that responsibilities are clarified and accepted, destructive blame games are avoided”[7].

7. Learning: “making sure that the parties involved in the crisis engage in critical, non-defensive modes of self-scrutiny and draw evidence-based and reflective lessons for their future performance.”[8] Therefore, it is imperative for Somalia’s future President to possess all the above skills in order to successfully steer the national vessel through rough waters.

In addition to the above crisis management skills, we expect you to demonstrate certain qualities, principles and values required of a quintessential national leader such as clear vision, integrity, accountability, transparency, honesty, strategic thinking, empathy, humility, and positivity. You must be a statesman, a leader who can rise above personal and clannish interests, always works in the best interest of the country and believes in consensus-building, and compromise. You must be a God-fearing leader of high moral standards and excellent character who respects the sanctity of life, rights of citizens and upholds Islamic tenets that promote virtues, good etiquette, shuns vices and moral decadence.

Mr. incoming President, upon assuming office, you must ensure there is a clear separation of powers between all three arms of the government – the executive, legislature and judiciary. Parliament should operate independently free from interference by the executive. Parliament should not be used as a tool to rubber stamp shadowy legislation at the whim of Villa Somalia, the deep state and other vested interests. Indications are Somalia may end up with a parliament comprising of among others, senior military, police and intelligence officers as well as ex-warlords and other shady elements of the deep state implicated in serious crimes, be it murder, rape, human rights abuses, suppression of freedom of press and wanton looting of public coffers. Mr. next President, you must be willing to utilize all constitutional instruments at your disposal, to weed out criminal elements who have taken up seats in the lower house.

The House of the People should not become a shield of immunity for serial war criminals. They should be charged and prosecuted at a court of law, put behind bars or if necessary, face capital punishment for their grisly crimes. Chapter 15 of the Provisional Constitution provides for the continuation of the constitution review process and constitutional amendment in general till conditions are rife for the holding of a nationwide referendum required for the promulgation of a permanent constitution.[9] Through a constitutional amendment, make sure an integrity clause is inserted to bar anyone implicated in such crimes from running for office in future elections.

On the issue of gender representation in parliament, it appears Somalia may yet again miss the thirty percent representation threshold for the female MPs. Ideally, your government should purge out criminals masquerading as parliamentarians and fill the slots left behind by women only candidates through by-elections. Alternately, you can introduce one of the widest-reaching electoral reforms in recent decades, deeply affecting the core of representative democracy, that is based on the introduction of electoral gender quotas. Over the past two decades, more than 100 countries, democracies, as well as non-democracies, have adopted either voluntary or compulsory electoral gender quotas in order to rapidly address women’s historical under-representation in both national and sub-national legislatures.[10]

Closer to home, countries like Uganda have adopted this model while Kenya has moved to guarantee a system of gender representation through county-wide seats solely allocated to women representatives. Your administration should consider introducing and enacting constitutionally-mandated legislation that can guarantee expanded gender representation in parliament.

Under your watch, the judiciary should be able to conduct its affairs independently and in accordance with established laws of the land. As the next head of state, make the establishment of a constitutional court a key priority of your government. Somalia has been unable to solve constitutional crises owing to lack of a relevant court tasked with handling constitutional matters. Somalia can borrow a leaf from Kenya, where the Supreme Court annulled the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in August 2017, calling for a re-run of the Presidential vote after ruling that the process was marred by flagrant violations of the constitution that undermined the core of the Kenyan democracy. The historic ruling was hailed across the world as a decisive victory for African democracy.  Inspired by the Kenyan ruling, the Malawi Supreme Court in February 2020 annulled that country’s May 2019 Presidential elections citing widespread irregularities. The Kenyan and Malawian Supreme Courts have set an important precedent for Africa that a country like Somalia needs to emulate.

On the deteriorating security situation, you must strive to build a professional army for Somalia especially at a time when AMISOM is giving way to the African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), which in the next two years will be charged with “stabilising Somalia with a clear end goal of transferring full responsibilities of national security to the Federal Government of Somalia.”[11] The Somali National Army (SNA) and special security forces like Gorgor and Haramacad should focus their operations on degrading and eliminating the threat posed by Al-Shabab and must be kept out of politics.

Upon inauguration, you must move fast to mend relations with Federal Member States at loggerheads with Villa Somalia. While there can be a difference in opinion between FMS leaders and the Somali Head of State, Villa Somalia should not abuse its powers by exerting undue control over FMS leaders but should instead cordially work with them and collaborate to iron out differences, chart a common front together while placing the national interest above parochial ones.

Defending human rights and protecting civil liberties should be of paramount importance during your term in office and you must work diligently to end the culture of impunity through judicial, military and police reforms and by streamlining and reforming the National Intelligence Services Agency (NISA) in such a way that all the security organs do not infringe on the rights of citizens. Proper mechanisms including civilian oversight bodies should be in place to safeguard the rights of all citizens. Freedom of the press should be one of the cornerstones of our democracy and Somali media houses and journalists who have endured all forms of brutality including imprisonment, beatings and murder should be free from harassment, intimidation and state violence. The long completed process of establishing the Somali Human Rights Commission which has sadly been shelved since December 2017 must immediately receive the seal of approval from the cabinet and parliament, and be made fully operational within the first 100 days of your mandate.

You should forge good neighbourliness with all countries in our backyard by restoring cordial diplomatic relations. Your government must reassess its diplomatic conduct by abandoning bellicosity and by adhering to diplomatic protocols that meet international standards. Your administration should be one that respects international law, works closely with our international partners including the UN, AU, EU, IGAD, US, UK, Sweden, Norway, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Donor Community and international organizations supporting Somalia’s transition to democracy. Somalia should take its place among the league of democratic nations and must avoid aligning itself with despotic leaders and totalitarian regimes, least we join the ranks of pariah states.

You must address the plight of thousands of often neglected Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by instituting national programs aimed at re-integrating them back into the society through provision of employment and economic opportunities and moving them to permanent settlement through the allocation of land and other resources.

Finding a lasting solution to the forced migration/exodus (tahriib) of our young generation deprived of educational and economic opportunities should be a key plank in your administration’s national development agenda. You should prioritize youth employment and training and the re-introduction of free universal public education for all from elementary and secondary school system to post-secondary education. Likewise, the access to quality universal healthcare ought to be another key priority of your government.

From the get-go, you need to kick-start and revamp Somalia’s tanking economy by investing in key sectors such as agriculture, livestock, and fisheries and by strengthening other sectors through diversification in the fields of science and technology, digital infrastructure, telecommunications, banking, fintech and the blue economy. You should provide the right incentives to Somali professionals, innovators, scientists and technocrats and create a favorable investment climate for entrepreneurs and the business community both domestic and diaspora-based interested in building a new, prosperous Somalia.

You have to go beyond security and enforcement measures by progressively pursuing a diplomatic solution to Somalia’s conflict by opening direct talks with Al-Shabab fighters. The recent US and Qatar -brokered peace talks with Taliban creates a legitimate diplomatic window for Somalia to operate in, and both Washington and Doha should be approached by your incoming administration to provide an avenue for talks with elements within Al-Shabab willing to accept a negotiated settlement.

Finally, national reconciliation should be your number one priority. In the last 30 years, Somali leaders have failed to establish a genuine national reconciliation project that can end the ongoing political stalemate. Without reconciliation, there can be no peace and justice in Somalia. In your first 60 days in office, you should consult with key stakeholders to set up a national reconciliation commission representative of all Somalis and drawn from all regions. This should be followed by a national reconciliation conference in Mogadishu that should address all sticking points in the conflict and come out with fully implementable recommendations. It should be an entirely a Somali-driven and Somali-owned process free from external interference.

In addition, your government should institute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that shall provide an avenue for victims to recount their losses and suffering and for perpetrators to remorsefully acknowledge their crimes and excesses. Overall, the TRC can serve as an effective pathway for healing and forgiveness that will allow Somalis to reconcile, unite and build a future anchored in peaceful co-existence.

Apart from restorative justice, your government must vigorously pursue retributive justice targeting criminals implicated in international crimes, such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given that the country currently lacks the legal and judicial mechanisms to try such crimes, your administration should call upon the UN to set up a Special Tribunal for Somalia to try war crimes committed by all warring parties dating back to the military regime, the warlord era as well as crimes committed since the advent of federalism. Such a court should be presided over by a panel of international judges and assisted by a team of seasoned prosecutors. Only peaceful negotiations, reconciliation, constitutionalism, good governance and justice can help end the culture of impunity in Somalia and in the process, lay the foundations for nation-building, peace building, national development and post-conflict reconstruction.

Deeq S Yusuf
Email:[email protected]

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Reference
[1] Forbes: How Crisis Changes the Role of a Leader: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2020/09/30/how-crisis-changes-the-role-of-a-leader/?sh=2f3436b31eaa
[2] Paul Hurt: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262863554_Political_Leadership_in_Times_of_Crisis_Comparing_Leader_Responses_to_Financial_Turbulence
[3] ibid
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] Paul Hurt: Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Constitutionnet –  Somalia: https://constitutionnet.org/country/somalia [10] Quotas and Women Substantive Representation: https://www.cmi.no/publications/file/6076-quotas-and-womens-substantive-representation.pdf
[11] ATMIS: https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/somalia-enters-transition-as-amisom-gives-way-to-atmis-3738158


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