Saturday, December 02, 2023
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Somalia: languishing in lackluster democracy and poor recovery, country not out of the woods yet!

By Osman Haji Yusuf, Former president, Commercial and Savings Bank of Somalia.                                                                                                                 

Over a decade ago Somalia was upgraded from a transitional political status to a full -fledged Federal government. Since then, the country has gone through a change of government twice, but neither the Somali authorities nor the international partners have had any success to implement a viable plan to put the country on a path to sustainable recovery and a system of parliamentary democracy ensuring political inclusivity where people could freely cast their vote by universal suffrage in a peaceful environment, and instead settled on the least desired indirect election despite its shortcomings. The lack of political maturity and active democratic parties may have been dictated by the prevailing adverse social and political conditions in the country mainly driven by the desire of the political elite to preserve power and influence through grossly unjust clan power sharing.

What is more worrisome is that a repeat of that flawed political exercise could happen unless action is taken by the current government to prepare for a fully democratic and transparent voting system well before the next cycle. On the other hand, there seems that the parliament is carrying out its legislative agenda without substantial intellectual debate, perhaps oblivious to the national problem and hardly exercises its oversight and government accountability due most probably to the inability of many representatives to grasp the essence of their mandate and checks and balances enshrined in the constitution. The executive operates with policies and programs that produce mixed results and struggles to attain good governance to keep pace with the spread of social change and conflict resolution, respond to opportunities and meet the huge challenges it faces to alleviate economic and social hardship, implement development plans and simultaneously achieve lasting peace in the country by eliminating the threat of the insurgency, cut its sources of weapons, uncover and severely deal with their patrons. The ongoing campaign to fight the insurgency militia is the right way to get rid of it once and for all and the successes so far attained by the government forces with help from local militia for now are highly commendable.

It should be underlined the fact that successive indigenous governments have been facing complex challenges brought about by remaking and modernizing the administrative machinery devastated by protracted civil war and burdened by recurring natural disasters that required enormous resources as well as the cooperation of the stakeholders. Some progress has been achieved despite the fact that the political environment was overwhelmed with divisions, mistrust, insecurity and uncertainties. One might say that given the prevailing adverse circumstances in the country, the current government must have been distracted from carrying its plan of priorities by diverting its resources and time to fighting the insurgency in its initial phase on plan but like the previous governments it nevertheless had little success in attempting to solving internal socio-economic problems in terms of service delivery, reviving the economy and creating reliable employment particularly for the youth.

Somali leadership have devoted much time on building common sense and inclusivity especially during the last decade but discontentment among the people is widespread as they see no real progress in overcoming the challenges facing the nation. It should have been a priority for the government to earnestly steer the country on a well-though-out strategy and a path of economic development but it did succeed to strengthen its relations with international financial institutions and friendly countries thus improving its international standing. It must therefore be acknowledged that in the short time that Somalia has re-entered the world stage after decades-long of civil strife and political unrest, the country has made some headway in its external relations though sometimes uneasy with its neighbors and is making efforts to mobilize domestic resources to effectively deal with insecurity, national disasters, poor infrastructure and quicken the pace of reforms but as things stand now it is nowhere near a steady path to a sustainable recovery and adequately revived economy.

So far, the absence of robust financial institutions and a toothless Central Bank supervising a dollarized economy following its devastation by the country’s decade-long civil conflict, has kept the central bank unable to reinstitute the national currency and conduct own monetary policy to achieve growth and development oriented economy. Instead it settled on dollar-based economic transactions alongside a one-thousand-shilling note illegally printed long time ago by rouge private groups still remains in circulation which makes it somehow legal as people accept it in exchange for specific goods and services in retail business, but the Central Bank calls it fake without withdrawing it from circulation. This unwarranted action by the Bank could entail substantial losses for the poor segment of the population holding them when the time comes for a new money to be introduced.

This attitude of the Bank concerning the circulation of the fake notes is tantamount to inflicting undeserved punitive action on the poorest of the society. Moreover, the lack of national currency and the non-availability of sufficient inflow of remittances and supply of hard currency at the banks coupled with the scarcity of foreign exchange earnings from traditional and non-traditional sources have led businesses and investors to shelf their important plans, constrained by insufficient financing and uncertainties thus, suppressing potential trade and investment activities and employment.

To my knowledge, plans for the printing and introduction of a national currency have been in the pipeline as far back as 2013 or earlier but these became inoperable due to a variety of reasons including the slow pace of preparing appropriate legislation, technicalities and logistics permitting the printing and issuing of national currency but also considering the opinion of partners and international financial institutions that for now the country is not prepared to handle it and effectively handle the dangers and risks involved in possessing and using it in an inherently hostile environment particularly in rural areas. How far this proposition is plausible and justified needs to be further explained and debated. On the other hand, there might have been undisclosed objections to printing money on the part of some stakeholders who might not convinced of  the government’s ability to undertake such a huge process technically and cover the financing bill to produce the stock of notes and coins needed given negligible foreign exchange reserves, poor economic performance outlook, concerns on political instability and above all because of questions regarding trust and management ability of the Central Bank to preserve and protect its independence in a much politicized and perplexed government administration.

Because of mutually conflicting factors the country is presently experiencing, it is a very difficult task for the government to find a quick fix for the enormous financial issues and to overcome the challenge it faces must seriously employ measures to further improve institutional capacity and ensure the implementation of economic and financial policies promoting trade and investment. Commodity exports – traditional and non-traditional – must be given priority to enhance the country’s foreign exchange earnings through the private sector which should be given all the assistance it needs as it plays the important role as the main engine to grow the economy, create more jobs, afford income for the people, increase revenue for the government and reduce poverty. Clearly, no government can solve all the problems of national character alone with its scarce resources and so there is a need to enhance the role of public-private partnership for socio-economic growth and development and strengthen domestic and external relations with the country’s trading partners and investors, improve the ease of doing business with the rest of the world and eliminate red tape so as to attain the status of a friendly and attractive destination for trade and investment.

A government cannot afford to persist in complacency about the management of ill-equipped public institutions incapable of fulfilling their mission and therefore it is incumbent upon it to take the necessary measures to hasten necessary reforms in an effort to improve their performance.  Thus, they meet the criteria of accountability and transparency for the good of the country and not because it’s demanded by the international financial institutions and friendly countries. It requires a bold decision to avoid anything that constitutes a hindrance to the smoothly running of government administration while firmly acting towards recruiting qualified and experienced staff, setting aside the practice of earmarking specific important positions requiring expertise and competence to the least qualified.

There is no better way to achieve good governance than hiring professionals with problem solving capabilities undertaking important tasks enabling the country to deliver services that enhance government credibility with the citizens. Existing shortages on qualified staff will further exacerbate if the traditional promotional system and meritocracy are by-passed perhaps preferring an unorthodox approach on employment which may not yield satisfactory results. Such a situation is not warranted and contradicts the goal of achieving good governance and sustainable recovery and therefore the government must appreciate that it can only achieve a functioning public administration by streamlining the administrative structures that are currently hierarchical and slow by hiring qualified and competent staff who will ensure timely and efficient delivery of services to the people.

 What most likely hinders democracy to happen and flourish in the country and slows recovery to take root is that the political elite may not have given serious thought to put in place a system of accountability and transparency to ensure efficient institutions run by capable technocrats and also earnestly pursue a democratic agenda protecting the rights of everybody to cast his/her vote in a safe environment and undertake the required preparations for the election well before the next cycle. Despite decades of both domestic and international efforts to help uplift the country and its people, politicians are nonetheless deeply immersed in fanciful thinking and distortive ideas about democracy as they surely seem to lack the will to appreciate the gains of a universal suffrage while losing sight of the possibility that a return to the discriminatory clan power sharing and restricted election will risk the country being deprived of the assistance and cooperation of the international community as a partner in peace and prosperity.

By Osman H. Yusuf                                                                                                               
Email: [email protected]

Mr. Yusuf was the former president, Commercial and Savings Bank of Somalia before the collops of Somalia central government.

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