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Somalia: The smiling president and the final showdown

By Abdul Ghelleh

Twelve months ago, a largely unknown former NGO operative called Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, became the president of Somalia, elected by a group of MPs that was selected (not elected) by Somalia’s civil war corrupted traditional leaders. When his name was pronounced winner at the voting venue, he smiled for the cameras, all white to the wisdom teeth. Mr. Mohamoud flashed a very wide mysterious smile, which he would famously sport, around the world for the next twelve months.

The newly elected president giggled and cackled wherever he went. Unimpressed by his country’s folks, the president of the world’s most failed state continued his near hysterical state of mind all the way to the White House. Although most Somalis and the international community had nothing to rejoice about, knowing full well the pitfalls and the treacherous conditions ahead for the troubled country, Mohamoud continued smiling, even when no one spoke around him, let alone crack a joke.

Hassan_CulusowThe Somali people never hesitate to hand down nicknames to any individual they meet, and they often do it within the first few hours of an encounter, no matter whether you like it or not. Some people acquire several nicknames during their lifetime. In the 1950s, villagers at the Sheikh secondary school near the northern city of Berbera once called a British colonial teacher ‘Gacamadheere’, which means the ‘long armed fellow.’

With couple of nicknames under his belt already, Somalis promptly dubbed the new Somali president ‘Qoslaaye’ (roughly translated: the laughing one, in this case the laughing president). He even flashed smirks at every turn during the London Conference on Somalia in May 2013. In fact other conference participants – numbering more than fifty countries and leading organisations, reluctantly showing up for the meeting through arm-twisting not by Mr. Mohamoud but by an important economic and political partner, the prime minister of the United Kingdom. No one was there for small talk, given the huge demands and government businesses that they put on hold while meeting with the ever so happy, smiling president; they were simply pleasing Mr. David Cameron of Great Britain. Basically, the quarrelsome Somalis were an issue they would rather forgo.

I was so embarrassed to watch a TV clip when president Mohamoud smiled broadly while sitting next to David Cameron. Something within me urged me to shout to the TV, “Don’t!  I said he is an Eton boy. He knows more about you than you know about him. What do you know about the guy in letting your guard down so easily? Hassan, listen to me! Mr Cameron unleashed torrents of racist vans onto our neighbourhoods here in London. Don’t you remember the ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’ words, which were scrawled on the side panels of these hated vans? And what’s more, his party is anti-non-white British, and you are not even black British. And unbeknown to you, he has his own strategy for inviting you to Britain. I shouted some more while swerving the seat from right, left and forward, and backward too, slightly hitting the wall behind me. Hassan’s laughter continued intermittently at every opportunity, and my words disappeared into the one-way speakers situated at either side of the television set.

Mr Mohamoud even stamped his unsolicited signature smiles on some of his cabinet ministers. While in Beijing earlier this year, Fozia Sh. Aden, his foreign minister, took into the infamous cracking. And almost certainly the Chinese were baffled about the way she undiplomatically conducted herself during official meetings there. Remember, the Chinese are clever, keeping open mind about the possibility and the potential danger of the mental state of individuals at close proximity!

Fozia was doing it again in London when she met William Hague at White Hall. Charles I. was executed in the vicinity of this building in 1649. And I recalled from media reports when this sharp- minded bold man delivered that remarkable key note ‘Young Conservatives’ speech at the Tory party conference in 1977, securing his place as one of Britain’ most notable future leaders. He was 16 years old. The moment Fozia entered the centre of Her Majesty’s government, Bill Hague, as some British tabloids refer to him, knew that Fozia’s second home is a council house in West London.

Nearly two months after President Hassan selected Abdi Farah Shirdoon as prime minister, completing the state’s most important executive organs, all three – the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament – stood on a single platform – hand in hand, and they vowed never to quarrel among themselves as their predecessors did. It was too good a speech to be true. ‘The scuffle is over; we are here through thick and thin, all the way to 2016’, they declared. At that point, I knew that either something was seriously wrong or someone was pretending. Team Hassan at that gathering displayed an unprecedented level of dishonesty and a wholesale un-Somaliness. Subsequently, the Somali people were suspended for twelve months. But like the rest of the politically literate world, which Somalis are, they weren’t fooled; they knew their usual Somali thing – aaah that Somali thing – will appear sooner or later. Oh, yes. They waited and they were vindicated.

While in Nairobi earlier this year, I informally – and unsuspectingly – interviewed few people who know – or are close to – Hassan Sh. Mohamoud, to find out the secrets behind this president’s leadership style, or the reasons for the lack of news from his inner circle (I mean that civil war-created culture of riff raff stuff that every Somali person got used to.)

One memorable encounter during my stay in Kenya was with a guy who is a frequent flier to Mogadishu, and who is highly literate with the going-ons in Villa Somalia. Another of my contacts was a 1990s militia commander in Kismayu, the southern port city. To my horror and contrary to what many believed following Mr. Mohamoud’s election as president, the militia leader stated that Hassan Sh. Mohamoud was indeed a member of Aideed’s youth wing. He further stated that Mohamoud was also exposed to some combat operations in the early nineties civil war. He went further and said that Mohamoud was wounded in the right leg while fighting alongside General Aideed at a place called Araarie, about 30km outside Kismayu.

No wonder that this president had spent the better part of his first year fighting tooth and nail, even falling out with neighbouring states, over Jubbaland. Few other people confirmed this story, but it’s one of many – yet conclusively unverified-Somali civil war story. But we can’t disprove it either: most of the former Somali leaders, one way or another, actively took part in Somalia’s two decades old nasty clan and religious civil war. And bear in mind if you don’t mind, president Mohamoud grew his feathers under successive Somali warlords in South-Central Somali since 1991.

Furthermore, what most Somalis have absolutely no doubt about today is that Mohamoud’s career development spans through several decades of death and destruction as he had spent all of his life inside the war-torn country, except for short spells in the Kenyan capital, and for that reason he has everything to smile about. Mr Mohamoud seemed to relish his foreign trips, taking several in a single month including one in the company of the United States of America president in the West-wing of the White House. And who can blame him. Most hands-on experts have little clue on how to undo a failed state or, perhaps, the task at hand itself is far too monumental for him to do anything about in this fragmented society.

This brings me back to the subject at hand. On November 12, 2013, exactly one year to the day when Mr. Mohamoud appointed Farah Shirdon as his PM, smiles were all over sudden – and abruptly – wiped off the face of Hassan Sh. Mohamoud. On this all too familiar day, as news hungry Somalis discovered – to his surprise and well before the rest of the world was alerted – that the man behind the mask has been unveiled: he wanted the Prime Minister and his long time dear friend and colleague out.

Surely Mr Mohamoud knows very little about the way in which a highly informed global community functions. Not too long ago I shared with readers that he; the president may have some sort of a personality disorder. Well, lunatics are people too, and they are often intelligent and articulate in their own ways but President Mohamoud hatched his misplaced plan in order to acquire absolute rule over and to exert his authority on well-informed, politically literate and highly enterprising society. Right from the start, he did what he knew best: do what you deem to be right and just keep smiling, he told himself. He handpicked close friends, former colleagues from his child soldiering days and former partners in business and NGOs to important government posts, no matter their qualifications or suitability for their chosen posts. And in doing so Mr. Mohamoud overlooked or disregarded the people’s opinions of him. He surrounded himself with members of his family and friends, even once taking nine members of his own clan to a government conference in Tokyo, effectively treating the trip as an all-inclusive Far East exotic family holiday.

In most similarly arranged government structures in the developing world and certainly under the current Somali constitution, the president is the head of State, and the Prime Minister is the head of the government. But throughout his premiership, PM Shirdon seemed to have been somehow hypnotised – perhaps through a prenuptial agreement – by Mr Mohamoud, and he became a lame duck PM, securing Somali people’s gold medal for the worst prime minister in the history of the country. Farah AbdulQadir, the presidency minister and close family member of Hassan’s clan ran the government while, in the words of the Somali men and women, the PM slept on the job. Farah flew around the world acting as the PM, even signing highly sensitive agreements including the Jubbaland memorandum of understanding at Addis Ababa earlier this year. Rumours has it (most Somali rumours are confirmed within days as being true) that in fact Farah AbdulQadir is the one who wants PM Shirdon out rather not so the President.

Although there is little sympathy for Shirdon among the majority of the Somali people because of his abdication of his constitutional rights, other whisper about him say that Mr. Shirdon is furious this time with both the foreign and interior ministers because of their disrespect of him by directly reporting to Farah AbdulQadir instead of his office, and all of it with the president’s blessing.

In another twist to the story of Mr. Mohamoud’s infamous year in office, the UN Eretria-Somalia Monitoring Group report released on July 12, 2013 says that Shire Ahmed Jumaale, an ordinary cashier at the central bank, withdrew a staggering twenty million and five hundred thousand US Dollar in his name, without even producing a hand written petty cash docket. (see this link for more details page 157.) And in her resignation letter to the president last month, the former governor of the central bank, Yussur Abraar, implicated the president and his inner circle (of course this includes Farah AbdulQadir) of threatening her at gun point if she did not assist them in a bonze style scheme of state funds by way of wire transfers to private bank accounts based overseas.

This weekend from the Shisha parlours of Nairobi to Khat chewing dens of London, traditional Somali current events commentators and ordinary folks alike will have a field day as the political theatre of the past year comes to ahead. Al Shabaab leaders are equally excited, as the talk of the town is no longer about an oncoming offensive on their way. And unfortunately tonight, the Shabab is strategically positioning their forces and lying-in wait to strike at the right moment. The showdown between PM Shirdon and president Mohamoud is expected to climax on Saturday. The Shabab have plenty of time to prepare.

Whether or not President Hassan will be able to succeed in ousting PM Shirdon on Saturday, it doesn’t matter; he has already wounded himself by misplaying his cards and in the process sweeping the rug from under himself. Indeed he didn’t play his cards well and today the wide smile has been placed by a furious pout knowing full well the West no longer trusts him and he is looking weak and no longer seen as the charming leader the world welcomed unconditionally albeit prematurely.

And whatever the outcome from that makeshift warehouse near Mogadishu airport, the Brussels billions, which I suspect created the rift between the two men, will never come their way. If these squabbling guys in Mogadishu had hope for the half a million refuges in Kenya, and would have protected and served them, and if they didn’t take to the horrific sport of arresting young rape victims, the majority of the Somali public and the weakest in society in particular would be singing a different tune about them. But their infighting had discouraged everyone and they had instead become political buffoons that have not secured the support of the people.

If president Mohamoud and Company thinks that they can exploit helpless refugees by signing non-binding bilateral return agreements with the Kenya government, the world is watching. This past week, journalists who visited Dadaab, including UK based Channel 4 and Al Jazeera English, reported that almost none of the refugee community members there would choose to return to President Hassan’s Somalia. They placed all their hope in the hands of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

This world body although incompetent in many ways are at least accountable to some one and guard their careers and reputation. These two men have no careers to safeguard, and certainly have disrespected the highest offices in the land to the extent where even refugee are weary of them.

As for this weekend’s boxing match between Mohamoud and Shirdon, whoever wins the show in Mogadishu, the Somalia’s chronic illness is bound to continue for many years to come. And I, along with many others, won’t be smiling. And Life goes on.

Abdul Ghelleh
Email: [email protected]

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