By Faisal Roble
Electoral-based democracies in developing countries have been traveling a bumpy road. In particular, Africa’s journey to this destination has been anything but a straight line. Although democratization in the world is trending up, a significant decline has been recorded.
“In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat, see the report.
Somalia’s experience gives great lessons to the on-and-off journey toward establishing a democratic state. It has flirted with democracy, fallen into military rule, and is on track to emerge as a fragile democratic country.
For a country to establish electoral-based democracy, it requires several factors. Unlike the theories of the 1960s advanced by Western political scientists that maintained advanced economic development as the only prerequisite, leaders and their attributes have also part of whether a country’s democratic ethos is maintained. Big and small, developed and underdeveloped countries look up to their leaders for a sustainable journey towards polity democratization.
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush, a well-bred aristocratic version of America, was handily defeated by William Jefferson Clinton, an energetic “trailer trash” Arkansan raised by his widowed mother. Whereas Bush grew up in a wealthy community, Clinton was raised by a mother who had remarried an alcoholic step further.
Stressed because of his loss for a second term, Bush had unexpected convulsive vomiting on January 12 1992 while at a dinner table organized by the then Prime Minister of Japan. Watching that night on live TV, America understood that Bush was being overwhelmed by the stress of losing his second bid to win the White House. Yet, he did not resort to negative moves but arranged for his successor a clean transition.
The story was not pretty 30 years after. On January 6, 2021, America saw a shockingly different image from a losing former President. Trump organized an unsuccessful incitement of insurrection to overturn the results of one of the most successful elections in the United States where 156 million voted; about 81 million of those voted for Biden and 74 million for Trump. Unlike his predecessor who was committed to America’s democracy, Trump has autocratic tendencies and would want to remain in office despite his noticeable loss. For his action, Trump was impeached.
Somalia is not that different. It is not so much the economic conditions that retards or push forth its journey towards democratizing its third republic. It is the personal attributes and whether a given leader has the tendency to rule the country autocratically. At the inception of independence in 1960, however imperfect it was Somalia chose a multi-party liberal democracy (Lattin and Samatar, 1987). A military Junta with dictatorial tendencies overthrew that civilian government through a coup d’état and ruinously ruled it. Thirty years ago, a group of prominent opposition leaders called manifesto tried to pressure the late Siyad Bare to cede power to a transitional administration. In response, however, he started killing and arresting Manifesto leaders thus the eruption of the 1990 civil war.
Between 1991 and now, Somalia has been recovering from its devastating civil war by taking baby steps towards a parliamentarian democracy. As fragile as it is, the state has shown remarkable progress in the arena of power transfer through a peaceful means. As a matter of fact, Somalia has one of the longest unbroken streaks of democratic transition in sub-Sahara Africa; from Presidents Abdiqasim, Abdullahi Yusuf, Sharif Ahmed, and Hassan Sheikh, power has been peacefully transferred.
Reminiscing how both Hassan Sheikh and Sharif Ahmed campaigned to win their respective bid, they vacated the offices in a remarkably peaceful way in a timely manner, often giving hand to the incoming winner. The nation remembers how the two former Presidents held hands with the incoming President Farmajo in February 2017, and vowed their unconditional support. For more than three years, they and other opposition leaders tried to stay away from the limelight so as to not to overshadow the new president. Such is a feat not seen in most of sub-Saharan Africa for the last 30 years.
Unlike his predecessor, President Farmajo has autocratic tendencies where he personalizes the rule of Somalia. He sees himself as the “pivot of state power, the commanding of the presence of the political stage.” He has internalized and so propagated to the unsuspecting consumers of fake news that Somalia will be destroyed by other leaders. His new and novice Prime Minister who never has any public life until two months ago accused people like Hassan Sheikh and Sharif Ahmed, Abdirahman Abdishakur, and Hassan Khayre, his predecessor, personalities who are out there to destroy the system that had revived and worked hard on it for “30 years.”
This could not have been farther from the truth. The Prime Minister, a resident of Nairobi until recently, was unknown. On the other hand, Sharif Ahmed was part of the resistance leaders of Islamic Courts that resisted Ethiopian invasion, and, later on, captured by the US forces. From there on, he put down his gun and worked on reviving Somalia. Hassan Sheikh, himself a long time Mogadishu activist, finally won the presidential election of 2012 and left the office peacefully in 2017.
Neither the economy nor the clan structure of the Somali society is the main impediment to a peaceful transition. President Farmajo is the impediment.
1. The International Partners have lost esteem and simply projected an image of a paper tiger with a cozy relationship with the governing body. That must change and the IP pulpit power must be used for nothing other than to advance the cause of Somalia’s democratic transition.
2. The FSG must not impede peaceful demonstrations by opposition groups. If need be, permission for peaceful demonstrations can be arranged at public spaces such as the soccer stadium.
3. Somalia’s International Partners must bring all forces – FSG, FMS, and Future candidates for a comprehensive discourse on crafting an agreed timetable to hold the election within a time amicable to all sides (preferably within 60-90 days from the day such a meeting concludes).
Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.
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