"The farther back you can look the farther forward you are likely to see." (Winston Churchill)
by Abdirahman Gutale and Daud Ed
Presidential candidate Hassan Sheikh Mohamud casts his vote on September 10, 2012
Friday, September 06, 2013
newssinsideAfter twenty two years of protracted conflict in Somalia, again Somalia was at the crossroads of history on September 12, 2012. The peaceful election of President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, a newcomer and former activist and academic was largely supported by majority of Somalis. This was a major step forward! The celebration of gunfire erupted following the vote, given that not many political commentators predicted his sudden victory. For once the bullets did not force Mogadishu residency into panic. The jubilation was marked in many other cities in and out of Somali borders. Somalis were hopeful again. The new government gained unlimited political capital and enjoyed the goodwill of large majority of Somalis.
The sense of euphoric fervor slowly melted away over the months that followed the election. Government progresses slowly become lethargic at best. The government did not capitalize on military achievements. Situation was further worsened by sharp decline of US dollar. The government looked weak and unable to meet these challenges. While there is no united opposition to the government, individual actors begin to criticize government’s lack of competence to even implement the presidents six pillar policy in four years.
This paper attempts to evaluate the performance of Somali Federal Government’s first year in the office. First, we evaluate two key decisions, appointment of Prime Minister and reduction of cabinet ministries. Next, we examine public perception of parliament members and ministers performance. Third, we look at three key areas such as economy, security, and regional reconciliation. We conclude with overall perception of the government and emerging opposition.
To gauge public perception author conducted online survey. This was not a randomly selected or representative. Rather, it was a thermometer style measurement to capture snapshot of public opinion. To get largest possible and diversified opinion, survey was posted on social sites as well as Somali sites.
Majority of participants (59.2%) supported President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud’s decision to appoint Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon (Saacid). This sentiment is also backed by parliament vote confirming the PM with 219 votes. A year passed there is no disagreement between the two highest officials of the government. This is a positive progress compared to prior transitional governments which were plagued by struggles among top government officials. The relationship between the executive and legislative branch have been more harmonic compared to prior governments. Parliament called government officials to testify and no public quarrels have been reported.
The President made second key decision to reduce number of ministers and increase government efficiency. Small majority of respondent (51.7%) supported President’s decision. International partners hailed the decision as a positive step forward. However, it has long been rumored the top three officials privately discussed to increase the number of ministries. The supporters cite large number of ministries is a necessary to move the reconciliation forward. Decenters cite the cost of having too many ministries for a small, post-conflict country that cannot afford to pay the cost of running large number of inefficient government bureaucracies.
The survey respondents were asked to rank cabinet ministries from one to ten based on accessibility, productivity, and performance. H.E. Maryam Kassim, the minister of social development led her colleagues with overall vote of 4.21 closely followed by Abdirisak Omar Mohamed, the minister of Natural Resources.
Overwhelmingly majority of respondents 74.1% disapprove the work of the parliament. They describe parliament members as inaccessible or inattentive to public needs. This sentiment holds true and is espoused by Somalis everywhere. The parliament leadership fails short of public expectation and representing the interest of their constituencies.
There are three key challenges that face the government and have fallen short of public expectation. The first is security. Respondents strongly believe security is worse today compared to the same time last year. Since the new government took office, several large scale and well planned attacks shock the trust of the public. Some of these attacks include; Mortar attacks around the presidential residence; suicide car explosions at Al Jazeera Hotel; suicide bombers hitting Village Restaurant (Guriga Hooyooyinka and Near KM5); the siege at the courts that took over several hours to put off; car bomb at UNDP headquarter and heavily guarded Turkey Embassy. Al-Shabab uses these threats and intimidations to prove their point which is, the government is not in charge.
The second challenge is the economy. Over 70% of respondents believe the economy is worse than same time last year. Since taking office the government has not put forth concrete policies to boost the economy. Sharp decline for U.S dollar negatively impacted the economic outlook. The majority of the people relay on overseas remittance and drop of the U.S dollar evaporated their purchasing power. There has not been any serious attempt on the part of government to create jobs or to collaborate with the private sector to improve the job market. The private sector has picked up in large part on construction boom and created many jobs. Some of the businesses are little on edge fearing taxes and over-regulations as well as other bureaucratic red tapes such as bribes that stifle their business. Some student at Mogadishu University conducted a research interviewing business – large exporters, medium retailers, and small shop owners. All across the board, business are willing to pay tax but are anxious about future regulation that may negatively impact the free market they enjoyed for so long. More importantly, the government didn’t take any credible action on combating rampant counterfeit money industry that act as expansionary monetary policy and as result create inflation.
The third challenge facing the government is regional stabilization. Majority of respondents believe government took the wrong approach. While government gains credit for continuing Somaliland discussions in positive direction, Jubaland remained stalemate until temporary agreement is reached in Ethiopia view days ago. The President rightly noted in an interview with SomRadio that they inherited the situation in Jubaland. However, under his presidency Jubaland reached a boiling point culminating with military confrontation that claimed many lives. The government lost face when Chief Defense Force and his lieutenants were refused to enter the city of Kismayo.
Puntland regional government recently claimed to disengage with the federal government. The government cannot afford setbacks and these political missteps must be anticipated and resolved. While government cannot appease every political demand, but certainly through collaboration it is able to narrow these political differences. Finally, the government misstep occurred in its unilateral decision to appoint two regional governors such as Baydio and Galgudud without any consultation with regional leaders or their representative in parliament.
While survey respondent approve President’s appointment of Prime Minister Saacid and reduction of number of ministries to ten, they disapprove the handling of security, economy, and regional reconciliation.
The focus needs to shift from the number of ministries. Instead the focus should be on how the government can develop the capacity of core ministries to deliver goods and services and to fulfill the presidents six pillar strategy. The government staff needs to be divided into two categories. The first category is political appointees. The second category is technical staff. The number of political appointees should remain the current ten ministers, but they must be augmented with deputy ministers, assistant deputies and general directors selected on their competence and merit. The government needs to quickly build depository for talent with transparent application, interview, and selection process. The federal government like its predecessors fails to capitalize on Somali talent for technical roles.
Security improvements must remain top priority in the second year. All security personal must be moved outside of the capital unless they are on duty. Military personal must be properly registered, provided identifications, disciplined, paid reliable salaries and kept in camps. To prevent the sale of government weapons to Al Shabab, the government must introduce routine and rigorous audit of weapons inventory. In addition, the government must be praised its effort to shut down informal weapons markets. To be effective the government must also regulate private security companies. Furthermore, government must assign military personal to all government officials and stop using private, unregistered militias all together.
Government must adopt clear business friendly policies. Starting with improvement on ease of doing business, reducing corruption, offering tax incentives for generally consumed goods and create consumer protection agency to protect the public from the sale of harmful products. Furthermore, government can attract foreign investment by creating free trade zones, capitalize on longest coast in Africa, and build transportation lines to regional trading partners. The private sector holds the key to recovery in Somalia. It remained resilient, innovative and continues to grow throughout the conflict. While limited regulations are necessary, the government must be cautious and avoid any regulatory policy that stifle the ingenuity of Somali business that surpassed neighboring countries in spite of conflict.
The executive branch must hand over regional reconciliations to legislative branch. The executive branch can provide know how, technical support and facilitate discussions but only legislative branch can introduce uniform formula for current and future regional administration formation. While the government must carefully handle regional administrations, it should not give in to unwarranted demands. The best solution to regional issues is to engage regional leaders and to respect their will given that the process is inclusive; therefore, while the government can celebrate small successes, the Somali people are best served by long term solutions.
Political reconciliations and institutional building do not follow linear progress. They are messy. They require long term view. The President correctly acknowledged his government cannot resolve three decade long war in a year. The President should head to his correct vision and avoid photo ops and hastily planed events just made for TV. The parliament members must shoulder their responsibilities. All government officials must remember that history is not so kind to those who put personal interest before the public. It is the duty of every Somali citizen to hold government officials accountable. As a nation we must realize it is necessary to look backward before we can look forward.
About the Authors:
Daud Ed Osman is a policy analyst, writer and commentator on governance, security, economic development, Horn of Africa and extremism and more importantly innovation researcher. Minnesota USA. He can be reached at [email protected]
Abdirahman Gutale is a political scientist who focuses on conflict resolutions and post-conflict political institution and economic development. Kansas, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]