Thursday, July 18, 2024
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The views of President William Ruto of Kenya on Nepotism contrasted with those of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia: Part II

Dr Aweys Omar Mohamoud

This is the second of a series of articles pertaining to the contrasting views on the issue of nepotism between President William Ruto and President Hassan Sh. Mohamud. Part one contained a definition of nepotism and an analysis of President Ruto’s video clip. The focus of this piece is on President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s contribution to this debate and the public perception of his stance on nepotism and corruption. 

President Hassan and President Ruto, Nairobi

To recap, here’s what President Hassan Sh. Mohamud said when asked why he had appointed his daughter to a senior position in government: “But I want to say to the Somali people: ‘the leaders are citizens and you appointed them leaders’; their relatives, their children and their families are also citizens. My daughter, my son, my brother, my nephews and my nieces will still have their rights as citizens and won’t lose them just because I became President. They have a right: to attain positions/roles on the basis of their education/skills; to get engaged in trade and business, if they want to; and to keep going with their lives, etc. So I believe as I said before, and say it again to [government] leaders: just ignore [the clamour of those who say] ‘so and so is related to him [the official], and so and so is related to so and so [& get on with it]”.

I don’t know whether President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will be too proud to admit that he was wrong in answering the question asked in this way, but we can be sure that very many people who saw his video clip thought the President’s concepts of right and wrong had traded places. Many would have seen his remarks as a cynical intellectual dandyism and an assault on equity and fairness principles. His call for other government officials to follow suit, egging them on to indulge in nepotistic acts was improper and morally repugnant.

In contrast to President Ruto’s forthright stance on ‘family nepotism’, President Hassan Sh. Mohamud is making a deliberate effort to obscure or obfuscate the real issue or perhaps, more worryingly, has no understanding of how nepotism and perceptions of nepotism can seriously undermine the values and practices of equitable and fair procedures necessary for a country struggling with questions of political legitimacy and social contract.

Despite all the sophistry the President has employed during his Q&A session, his administration is said to have become a family affair, reeking of nepotism and patronage. Unfortunately, it’s not only the President’s office that displays favoritism based on kinship and family ties. Across-the-board, the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and widows of former and current officials are strongly in evidence. The real question was whether not only the President’s daughter (apparently he also gave jobs to a son and various in-laws) but all the other officials’ offspring and relatives that had been employed had gotten their jobs over the heads of other more qualified applicants on the strength of their family ties. Evidently, the answer would be yes.

In effect, favoritism based on kinship and family ties can be considered a form of unethical behavior. An important aspect of this unethical or improper behaviour is the element of inequity – injustice or unfairness in the process of hiring people. There are also other elements, such as conflict of interest, abuse of authority, and general unwillingness on the part of nepotistic leaders or officials to adhere to proper rules of conduct in line with standards of the institutions under their stewardship.

When a leader hires a son or a daughter to an important position on the basis of kinship disregarding the qualifications required for that position and failing to consider other more qualified candidates, then that constitutes an act of nepotism. If, on the other hand, a leader hires the best candidate for the position based on merit (qualifications and experience) and the selected individual happens to be the leader’s son or daughter, then that does not constitute an act of nepotism.

The problem here is how can ordinary people trust that government leaders/officials have made a decision on the basis of equity and fairness? How can they determine if an appointment decision made the president or other officials was based on a candidate’s skills, talents, and abilities without letting personal feelings and biases of kinship influence the decision? If we follow the logic of what President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in the video clip, ordinary citizens will find it very difficult to trust that government leaders and officials’ perceptions regarding their family and kin members’ skills, talents and abilities won’t be inherently more biased than judgements they make on the qualifications and experiences of individuals who are unrelated to them.  

To understand an issue, it must first be situated in its context. The big elephant in the room here is the context: Somalia, a country where corruption and nepotism are extremely rampant. According to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world. The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, scoring on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Somalia with only 12 points is at the very bottom (No 180), and has been designated as the most corrupt nation. Kenya on 32 points is at No 123. Ethiopia on 38 points is at No 94 along with Tanzania and several other countries.   

The historical context is equally important especially as it pertains to the argument that the ultimate cause of the civil war can be traced to Somali people’s predisposition to clan nepotism, a tendency that successive governments, their leaders and officials as well as the rebels who have overthrown the government have exploited to the hilt. My argument here draws on the sociobiological theory of ‘ethnic nepotism’ which explains why ethnic conflicts are so common in ethnically heterogeneous countries. Infamous examples of conflicts spawned by ethnic nepotism include the resurgent ethnic nationalism in the 1990s that has led to genocidal violence in Rwanda, and the Balkans—a violent form of particularism that ultimately springs from the nepotistic preference for one’s own cultural, linguistic, or religious group.

Sadly, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud doesn’t seem to be attuned to neither the historical nor the contemporaneous context of nepotism and corruption in his country unlike President William Ruto who has displayed robust self-knowledge and self-critique plus the virtues of openness and humility to gain the trust of his people. And, let’s remember, whereas Somalia went the whole hog into civil war, Kenya came back from the brink at the beginning of 2008 when, following opposition leader Raila Odinga’s claim that he had been cheated out of victory in the elections, violence erupted in protest demonstrations that soon degenerated into rape, looting, and indiscriminate murder by machete in scenes reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994. Has that anything to do with having an authentic leadership as opposed to inauthentic leadership?

What I’m proposing here is that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is not an authentic leader. He’s derivative in style and content. Authentic leaders act as change agents that can successfully lead institutions under their stewardship out of a nepotistic environment in several ways.[1] First, they inculcate a strong sense of self-awareness within themselves and within their peers and followers to generate a better collective understanding of how nepotism and perceptions of nepotism can have an impact on institutional elements and outcomes. By generating such a shared sense of understanding, they prepare their followers and colleagues to deal with any persisting issues resulting from prevailing nepotistic practices.

Second, authentic leaders initiate processes of change to transform nepotistic environments into institutions that value and practice equitable and fair procedures by advocating adherence to a positive moral perspective. By providing a new moral backbone to a nepotistic environment, they will be able to realign the values and practices prevalent in society and its institutions, and set the course towards the creation of a culture that gives preference to qualifications, hard work, and experience versus membership to a family and kinship or a particular group.  

Third, authentic leaders ensure fairness in decision making by putting in place mechanisms that objectively evaluate the decision-making process through multiple methods and sources. They use standardized procedures to assess everyone objectively by obtaining information from multiple sources, and allowing the information to be evaluated by multiple decision makers so that the process of decision making is fair and involves minimal bias. 

And finally, authentic leaders ensure fairness in decision making by making the process completely transparent. By doing so, they create a transparent institutional culture where everyone focuses on achieving openness and truthfulness in their relationships with each other. This would ensure that every concerned stakeholder in the decision would have knowledge regarding how the decision was made and will have the opportunity to raise red flags in case the decision-making process indicates a departure from equitable principles. This can bring about a changed environment where information is communicated and shared openly, with high levels of interpersonal trust and commitment among all concerned.

In sum, why is President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud encouraging nepotism in his government? Doesn’t it fly in the face of his public commitment to equal opportunity and merit? One theory has it that nepotism is more likely to occur when the level of power (and wealth) is greater and there’s no accountability. Powerful leaders are reluctant to lose their strong power base. Therefore, they strive to maintain control over their power resources through kinship and family ties. There is also some evidence that the more power individuals have, the more likely they are to engage in self-serving behavior – meaning they will have no concern for the needs or interests of others. So one can imagine that the greater the power, the greater the tendency toward nepotism. The proverbial saying ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ befits the current position of the Somali president, at least as public perception goes.

Stay tuned to read my analysis of people’s perception of President HSM government’s cronyism and corruption in Part III.

Dr. Aweys Omar Mohamoud
Email: [email protected]

Read part I: The views of President William Ruto of Kenya on Nepotism contrasted with those of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia


[1] I’m immensely grateful to Mhatre et al. for these ideas. Here’s the full reference: Mhatre, Ketan H., Riggio, R. E., Riggio, C., ‘Nepotism and Leadership’, in Jones, Robert G. (2012) Nepotism in Organizations. New York, London: Routledge (pp. 171-198).    


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