Sunday, October 01, 2023
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Can Somalia survive Hassan Culusow’s Return as President?

By Osman Hassan

So much ink has been spilled over Hassan Culusow’s institutionalised and unfettered rape of Somalia’s political, financial and constitutional bodies since he came to office in 2012. From all observations, this amount to little more than an empty gesture to let out the pent-up shimmering discontent with the man but otherwise appears to make little or no dent on his conduct or political prospects. Judging by his appearances, he seems unperturbed by his unparalleled unpopularity and continues to flash his usual sinister smile, self-assured that he is unassailable. And that is for good reasons.

It is money provided by his Arab Gulf backers that enabled him to bribe the parliamentary electors and get elected in the first place. And it is the money he blundered from State coffers while in office, (or diverted from foreign aid) that served him well to fend off parliamentarian impeachment attempts (motivated to get money) to unseat him. In Mogadishu, money talks, and under Culusow, money begets power, and power brings money and so goes his virtuous circle.

President Hassan Ulusow

While Hassan Culusow can rely on his money to buy him votes from as many MPs as possible, what will sway the stakes in his favour more than any other candidates are the support he can count on from two different quarters: first are the block of votes from the caucus of MPs hailing from the secessionist enclave. Based on his record, they see him as Somaliland’s best friend among the competing candidates who will ensure as he did in the past that no pressure is put on the enclave to renounce its secession or to end its occupation of the unionist regions of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC). In addition, they owe to him the fact that the enclave continues to receive the lions share of foreign aid while still not compromising on its secession.

But there is another reason why Hassan Culusow is their preferred candidate. They see him as the one president who could usher the demise of Somalia which, as they see it, can only favour their enclave’s recognition as the only functioning viable regional State from “Ex- Somalia” (as the secessionists call it). For all these reasons, Hassan Culusow is their man.

He can also expect support from another quarter: For all the countries that have their fingers in Somalia’s affairs, Mr Culusow is their favourite candidate given his proven track record as their reliable puppet (more so than the competing placid and lack-lustre but equally corrupt and compliant Omar Abdirashid). In addition, the fact that he has broader political base in the capital more than most gives him an advantage.

If his re-election looks assured, his survival in Parliament during his second term is also secure. Thanks to the money he amassed before, or in office when re-elected, he would be able to beat off any attempt to unseat him as he did in the past. Like Culusow, MPs have also paid for their seats through their noses, not for the love of serving their country but, like him, to make money through selling their votes. So long as Culusow has the financial wherewithal (and he has plenty of it), he can sleep well knowing he is safe in his job from Parliamentary ambushes.

The former President has every reason to be pleased with himself as he envisions a second rosy term ahead of him. But where does that leave poor Somalia on which he preys mercilessly to the bone? In specific terms, will the presently fragile and fragmented country for which he is largely responsible survive his relentless bleeding and the inherent centrifugal forces that could pull it apart?. Or to be sanguine, can one see light at the end of the tunnel under Culusow and foresee Somalia still able to weather his battering and bruising or is that just wishful thinking? One can only surmise as this article does and ask whether the present crisis have similarities with those in the past and if so what are the lessons?

And when it comes to the past, our current troubles under Hassan Culusow and his outgoing Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, and in particular the presidential and parliamentary elections, are unmistakably a throwback to the last one-man-one vote election in March 1969 and the crisis revolving around them. Ironically, it was another Sharmarke, (the father of Omar Abdirashid) and his Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal who were running the country at the time.

PM Omar Abdirashid

Sharmarke and Egal took over from President Aden Abdalla Osman and Prime Minister Abdirasaak Haji Hussein in July 1967 who handed them a nascent democratic and well-run country that was a shining example to the rest of Africa in those days. That was the compliment Somalia used to receive in those days in the British media as I recall as a BBC announcer in London. And no less glowing was the accolade it got as the only one country in African in those days where free and fair elections took place and the losing leaders handed power to their successors peacefully. Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke and Egal took over a country cruising on an even keel, on the road to progress and development.

Unfortunately, the promising legacy left behind by President Aden Abdalla Osman and Prime Minister, Abdirasaak Haji Hussein was ruined in no time by their successors. Within two years, the country was adrift heading for the rocks. The one-man-one-vote parliamentary election in March 1969 was flawed and openly fraudulent. It would be remembered for the multiplicity of participating parties (64 of them), all, with the exception of one or two, created just before the election and led by one man. They were simply a means to get elected and once successful simply joined the dominant ruling SYL party.

Vote rigging, and in some cases outright dispossession of some communities of their seats, were some of the high-handed irregularities of that election for which President Sharmarke was personally blamed for it and in the end paid for his life when he was assassinated in Lascanod by one of his body guards hailing from those wronged communities in what is now eastern Puntland. It is ironic that his own son, Omar, should, in his capacity as Prime Minister had to blatantly rob from the SSC communities their election rights to choose their MPs in their own regions and bestowed that right on his clan and their regional capital- Garowe (this predatory streak seems to run in the family – like father like son as they say!!).

The tumultuous event in Lascanod has rocked a budding country already reeling from intolerable misrule, though, to keep things in perspective, that misrule would pale into insignificance compared to what prevails now under Hassan Culusow, Omar Abdirashid and company, the cabal I referred to in another article as “Ali Baba and his thieves” (Letter from Mogadishu). Times reflect the mores and mindsets of the period. Thus, what the Somali people of that period under Sharmarke and Egal, found unacceptable manifested their sense of pride and patriotism. What saved Somalia then from an uncertain perilous destiny was the intervention of a strong disciplined national army in partnership with a united nationalist public.

What the past crisis teaches us is that a nation can overcome its predicament if it has a patriotic people, a strong national army, or the right leader- either separately or in combination. Unfortunately, Somalia presently has none of these requirements. Building a strong a strong national army able to defend the country from its enemies, inside and outside the country, not on the cards since the powers that control Somalia would have none of that.

As for the people, the current generations offer little hope. What moulded them into apathy, and in particular the capital, are years of upheavals, anarchy, a failed State and corrupt leaders. Nothing shows the gulf of the mores and mindsets of the times between the first Abdirashid senior and present Abdirashid junior than the different reactions to two cases of high treason against the nation. The first, in 1967, happened soon after Sharmarke senior and Egal took over when it was discovered that the former Minister for Foreign Affairs had been a spy for Ethiopia while holding the post. The revelation shook the nation to its foundations. The public was baying for his blood. He was promptly tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was lucky for if this happened during the military regime he would have faced the firing squad.

The second treason case concerns Omar Abdirashid (and other culprits) who sold off Somalia’s territorial waters to Kenya for cash while still Prime Minister. Far from facing the full force of the law, he was instead rewarded by President Hassan Culusow by making him Prime Minister for the second time, and  without also any appropriate punitive action from parliament. And to top it all, he is now one of the leading candidates for the Presidency. But this is not an isolated atypical case but representative of the prevailing venal political ethos in the country where free for all corruption and malpractices are the order of the day and accepted norm.

A population traumatised over the years to the point of being dehumanised is devoid of patriotism and national values unlike the past. The reigning apathy and impotence is reinforced by the fragmentation of the country into clan-based fiefdoms in which people lose sight of the national interest. It is not surprising therefore that they are indifferent to this so-called elections for parliament and the presidency in which they play no role and see them like a casino in which who wins is mainly decided by money stolen from them. Their daily survival is all that concerns them but otherwise indifferent to how the country is run and rarely ever protest on matters of national importance.

Of the three requirements, the key overarching one in Somalia’s current situation is the need for patriotic able leadership. Such leadership alone could break from the control of Somalia’s minders, claw back country’s sovereignty, restore national patriotism and cohesion and build the national army. If Hassan Culusow comes back on the helm again, it is good-bye to all that, and Somalia would remain stuck in its rut for the foreseeable future – if at all it remains a State.

Shared responsibilities for the consequences?

Hassan Culusow, to be fair to him, is not entirely to blame for Somalia’s predicament. Its international minders are as much responsible for it as the nominal leaders installed in Ville Somalia. A government that does not control its territory and cannot raise taxes is forced, if it has to exist, to depend on outsiders for its security and resources in which case it has to be under their thumb. That is the case with the so-called Somali government which has little income and does not control territory beyond Mogadishu (some will say Ville Somalia). It would not be even there if it was not for the protection of AMISOM which is keeping Al Shabaab at bay, though after 10 years of AMISOM, the insurgents are still in control of much of the countryside of southern Somalia and still active in the major towns including capital.

Most Somalis believe that Al Shabaab would have been defeated if a strong Somali army was created but that is something the key members of the international community who run Somalia behind the facade of UNSOM would not entertain let alone sanction it. So, why not, if they mean what they profess, namely the defeat of Al Shabaab? Call them conspiracy theorists, but these same Somalis believe that the prevailing stalemate, or better status quo, in which Al Shabaab is neither defeated nor totally victorious, is deliberate since it suits the west (and their surrogates in the region). They would argue that the threat of an undefeated Al Shabaab justifies the war on terror, the presence of AMISOM in Somalia, all the bases being built in the region and keeping Somalia under tutelage; and not least, it foils the emergence of a stronger united Somalia that would be deemed a threat to its neighbours and e a threat to the interests of their backers in the west.

Thus, the detrimental impact on Somalia of the return of an incorrigibly corrupt Hassan Culusow (or his likes) and the designs of its handlers would be mutually reinforcing and interdependent – they need him and his types as much as he needs their protection to keep him safe in Ville Somalia and free to amass fortunes, which is all that concerns him. The consequences would be to deepen the fragmentation and the corruption, as all those “elected” go all-out to recoup their expenditures and make a fast buck while the going is good. Some so-called regional federal states are likely go further away from the centre if not altogether seceded. The fragmentation could lead to disintegration.

It would be ironic if those increasingly alienated by the impasse of Somalia’s continued controlled failed state, should see Al Shabaab, the nemesis for most, as the defender of the soul of the nation and to that extent are increasingly drawn to it. Al Shabaab has good reasons to welcome Culusow’s return. It would give oxygen to their struggle. While Somalia’s current dependent state serves the interest of its minders, and, in its perverse way, Al Shabaab, only an independent Somalia with a strong army to defend it from its internal enemy (Al Shabaab) and external predators would defeat Al Shabaab and give the region the stability it craves so much. That aspiration can only happen when Hassan Culusow and his likes are out of the way and Somalia gets the leader it deserves. All that is in the hands of Parliament. Their choice for President can make or mar Somalia. Let them be on the right side of history.

Osman Hassan
email: osman.hassan2
Osman Hassan is a seasoned journalist and a former UN staff member. Mr Hassan is also a regular contributor to WardheerNews.

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