07.09.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud became the first President in history of Somalia to be given the opportunity to serve a second term.
There was mixed emotions and reactions to his re-election as President of Somalia. His critics have called him weak on foreign policy and pointed to his track record on corruption and the military. His supporters have rejected such claims, highlighting that it was during President Hassan Sheikh first term that both the ICJ case and the debt relief programme began.
Irrespective of which side of the fence you are on, President Hassan Sheikh entered Villa Somalia with the campaign slogan, Somalis in Agreement & In Agreement with the Globe. The President spoke of a ‘peace train‘ and an inclusive government.
So 100 days on, has the President actually worked on his campaign slogan? Let’s take a look at the different issues facing this Federal Government and how it has handled them so far:
The appointment of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet had a frosty reaction from Federal Member States. The appointment of the Prime Minister was mainly opposed by Said Deni from Puntland. Deni had reached a political agreement with Mahmoud during the latter stages of the Presidential elections which ensured Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud’s victory against Farmaajo at the Parliamentary polls. It is reported that Mahmoud promised Deni the role of Prime Minister or at the minimum influence on the appointment of an individual. Instead, Mahmoud appointed Hamza Abdi Barre. Barre hails from the Ogaden clan and has close relations with Kismaayo rather than Garowe.
Backlash from Deni emerged when he travelled to Addis Ababa to attend a secret meeting with leading Ethiopian officials before he was visited by senior Ethiopian military officials in Garowe only weeks later. Interestingly, reports surfaced that Deni refused the arrival of a delegation led by PM Barre. He also denied entry to Puntland for the 1st Deputy Speaker of the House of the People, Sadia Yasin which resulted in a number of deaths. Nevertheless, he would welcome President Mahmoud to Garowe where they held talks behind closed doors beyond the schedule timeframe.
The appointment of Abshir Omar Jama as Foreign Minister of Somalia has also caused a rift. Mr Omar previously served as the Secretary General of the main opposition party in Puntland, Mideeye.
Mideeye defeated Deni’s incumbent political party during the 2021 direct elections in Qardho district among other places.
South West State
Despite the visit by President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud to Baydhabo being his first outside Mogadishu which indicated positive relations, relations between Baydhabo and Mogadishu have hit the lowest point in years.
Since earlier this year, there has been a coalition of politicians that originate from South West State that have been engaged in the preparation of the removal of President Laftagareen. Some members of this coalition include former Lower House Speaker and South West State President, Sharif Sheikh Adan, Former Lower House Speaker Jawaari, current speaker Adan Madobe and even the Somali Defence Minister, Abdulqadir Mohamed Nur. It is reported that President Hassan Sheikh has provided indirect support for this group.
His government would release the former Al-Shabab Deputy Leader and Spokesman, Mukhtar Roobow – a man that was in direct competition with Laftagareen during the 2018 elections before his detention by the previous administration.
In fact, Roobow would be offered a senior cabinet post in the new government led by PM Hamza Abdi Barre, a decision that has sent shockwaves in Baydhabo.
Some analysts have argued that Villa Somalia has the intention of replacing Laftagareen with Roobow in the upcoming elections as we have began to see Roobow embed himself within the opposition coalition aforementioned, giving a speech during an event held for him in Mogadishu by the group.
Roobow originates from South West State, having previously hid in the Bakool region alongside his militia of fighters he led following his rift with Al-Shabab at the time. It is reported that militia is still present in Bakool and has allegiance to Mr Roobow. So to Laftagareen, the empowerment of Roobow is a direct threat to himself and administration.
The appointment of Ahmed Fiqi as Minister of Internal Affairs has been considered a direct challenge to incumbent Galmudug leader, Ahmed Khaire Qoor-Qoor. Fiqi was previously regional security Minister but was sacked by Qoor-Qoor for his support of ASWJ. He advocated peace talks rather than a battle.
Fiqi has condemned Qoor-Qoor ever since and has been his fiercest critic as of late.
Therefore, his appointment can be considered a poke at the Galmudug leader and could potentially be Villa Somalia’s candidate to replace him.
Upon his election, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud pledged to reshuffle the security leadership in Mogadishu. Mahmoud continuously criticised the Somali Police Force, Somali National Army and the National Intelligence Agency for what he called “political interference”.
He saw the likes of Police Chief General Abdi Hassan Hijaar and SNA Chief General Odowaa Yusuf Raage as having close relations with former President Farmaajo and accused the latter of using the security apparatus against the then opposition group known as the Council of Presidential Candidates.
We all famously remember Hassan Sheikh pleading with the Gen. Raage, Saadiq Joon and Farhan Qarole to leave their posts and join the opposition which would eventually see Banaadir Police Chief Saadiq Joon resign from his post in a pre-recorded video.
So, what leadership changes have been made since his election?
Prior to the appointment of Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre and his cabinet, PM Mohamed Hussein Roble and his cabinet nominated MP Mahad Salad as the new director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). A decision that shocked many as Mahad Salad remained a controversial figure throughout the election campaign and had said some of the most unprofessional and outlandish remarks.
Additionally, he was also accused by his predecessor Fahad Yaasin of having ties to senior Al-Shabab commander, Mahad Karate however such accusations have not been substantiated and only remain allegations. Some have accused Fahad Yaasin of being a disgruntled former NISA Chief that was forced into political battles with former PM Roble and his entourage whereas others support the claims by Mr Yaasin.
Upon his appointment, Mahad Salad began an all-out witch-hunt against all former allies and colleagues of his immediate predecessor. In fact, Salad ordered a raid on Mr Yaasin home within weeks. It was clear that despite the promises made by President Hassan Sheikh of an inclusive and open government, there was a purge against all former allies of the previous administration.
Dozens of NISA officers lost their posts with senior leadership being replaced with new faces that align with and support Mahad Salad. Many have highlighted that this major reshuffle and purge within NISA played a significant role in the failures and shortcomings of the organisation during the Hayat Hotel attack.
Aside from NISA, there have not been any other major changes in the security leadership of Somalia. For the past month, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud Office has continuously released statements that the senior heads of security will be replaced, which demotivates commanders and shifts focus away from the matters at hand.
What about the security of the country?
Al-Shabab has stepped up its attacks in recent months. Since the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, there have been an estimated 136 terrorist attacks conducted by the group in Somalia if we include the attack on Somali Galbeed from Bakool. There have been estimated 500+ victims in these attacks with over 300 injured.
Just recently, we have seen over 20 people killed near Beledweyne. These people were simply carrying supplies to drought victims in Mahaas, a town in which Al-Shabab had burnt all the water wells.
The group has been waging war in the Hiiraan region for months now, with locals being forced to pick up arms and fight the group themselves due to the lack of government support. Albeit, PM Barre, Defence Minister Nur and SNA Chief Gen. Raage were among senior officials that visited the local militia known as ‘Macawisley’.
It seems as though Al-Shabab is strategically taking advantage of the disarray and political battles within the upper echelons of the Somali government to make gains on the ground and demoralise the Somali public.
The worst attack in recent years at Hayat Hotel saw Al-Shabab fighters also firing mortars in the Hamar Jabjab area of Mogadishu which killed 4 civilians and wounded dozens more including many children.
It was July when Al-Shabab militants engaged in their most daring and ambitious operation in years by attempting to attack Somali Galbeed and on to Ethiopia. Over 800 Al-Shabab fighters were deployed to the battlefront and many people were killed. Despite the fact that Al-Shabab would eventually be defeated, it demonstrated their ambitious drive and willingness to engage in such large scale operations.
The group also claimed the attack in Jowhar, the regional capital of Hirshabelle State. The fighters attacked Noor Duub hotel – a popular hotel in the regional capital frequented by state government officials. Much like the attack on Hayat Hotel, the militants used the same tactics of car bombs and storming the building. 3 individuals would be killed with another 7 wounded. The Jowhar attack happened only 2 weeks prior to the failed Al-Shabab offensive in Somali Galbeed.
Aside from Al-Shabab, Mogadishu has also seen a recent increase in criminal gangs that were attempting to engage in armed robbery. We saw the unfortunate murder of Hibo Qasim who was killed by an armed robber.
According to recent independent figures, it is reported that there have been over 51 assassinations across Somalia that exclude Al-Shabab attacks since May 2022.
As the government has only been in office for one month, it is difficult to have an in-depth assessment of the economic policy of the current administration as it remains in its infancy. However, we can assess recent actions that have taken place.
In a move that shocked many, Federal Member States (FMS) released a joint statement that their respective Ministries of Finance would all cut ties with the Federal Ministry of Finance which demonstrates the level of distrust between the FMSs and the FGS
The issue stems from a series of agreements signed between regional states and the central government on how donor money is to be distributed. Previous agreements stipulate that 60% of donor money were to be taken by Mogadishu whereas 40% were to be equally distributed amongst FMS. The World Bank provided $130M to Mogadishu but Villa Somalia has only pledged to give each FMS $2M which is below the agreed upon framework.
Indeed, such actions have damaged Somalia’s financial reputation and its debt relief programme as international partners look at FMS rather than FGS as the central government does not directly govern anywhere outside of Mogadishu.
International relations seems to be the President’s strongest element at the moment. He has taken a number trips abroad which have received mixed reactions from Somali political pundits.
The most successful foreign trip was his trip to Eritrea where he met with his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias Afwerki in Asmara. There, the President visited various projects and regions in Eritrea as well as visiting the military base where 5,000 Somali soldiers, he previously claimed died in the Tigray War, were stationed.
On the final day of his trip, in a surprise to all, the President signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Asmara.
The most significant point in the MoU was the advancement of cordial relations, cooperation and economic integration in the Horn of Africa which could possibility indicate a continuation of the three-way partnership between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia albeit it seems as though Ethiopian-Somali relations continue to deteriorate as the political conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia intensifies and Somalia is caught in the middle.
East African Community (EAC)
The President has also made significant strives to push for Somali membership of the EAC. The group has previously rejected Somalia’s bid however, it seems though chances are higher this time around.
It was 2013 when Somalia initially applied before being rejected in 2016. Under Presidency of Farmaajo, Somalia again attempted to join the organisation but the verification process was delayed until 2022 when EAC leaders promised President Mahmoud that they will begin the verification of Somalia.
It is important to note that this does not automatically secure membership. However, it is a positive step for Somalia to some degree especially as there has been a leadership change in Nairobi which shifts the political paradigm in a direction. This coupled with new souring relations with Ethiopia means that Mohamud’s government must look elsewhere for economic and political partnerships.
The President’s trip to Egypt has been criticised by political pundits for dragging Somalia into a political rift between two African powers. For Ethiopia, the GERD is an intrinsic part of internal policy and economy whereas Egypt sees the dam as a direct threat to its hegemony over the Nile river.
The embarrassing retracement of the statement previously made by Presidential spokesman Abdikarim Kaar that the two President’s did not discuss the Nile dispute came as a result of Egyptian pressure.
The foreign policy movement by the President is a major shift from previous foreign policy. Hassan Sheikh entered office with a bulldozer, ready to completely reconfigure Somalia’s foreign policy to resemble a vision more resonating with his image of Somalia on the global stage.
However, the bulldozer has left only rubble.
Having an enemy at our border is not what is best for Somalia. As outlined above, a hostile Ethiopia at Somalia’s longest land border is not in the interest of Mogadishu. We have seen the detrimental effects Somalia has suffered as a direct result of TPLF interference in Somali internal affairs over the past three decades.
Ethiopia has thousands of soldiers in Somalia fighting under the banner of ATMIS as well as simply representing Addis Ababa. Whereas Egypt has virtually no interest in Somalia aside from the simple fact that it needs another angle to attack Ethiopia, its current arch enemy.
While the President has shown some positive signs in terms of foreign relations, his internal policies have been questionable at the minimum. Instead of healing and unifying the nation following a divisive election period, the President has instead decided to declare a political war against FMSs.
The security situation continues to deteriorate in Somalia, especially the capital which has seen a spike in assassinations and terrorist attacks.
The President is reported to be travelling to Saudi Arabia soon, as well as Qatar and the United States. My advice to the President is focus on internal matters. Let’s get our house in order:
- Droughts continue to ravage the country
- FMS have united against the FGS
- Al-Shabab have stepped attacks the country and need a response
- Security of the capital is spiralling out of the control
- Relations with neighbours are currently rocky