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Year in Review: President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s First Year in Office

Wednesday May 17, 2023
By Mohamed Omar Hashi and Adan Omar Hashi

 

It is no secret that tensions and mistrust have long been the driving forces of division within Somalia’s political landscape, made worse more recently by the poor leadership of former president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo. Farmaajo assumed the presidency after an electoral victory in 2017. Instead of delivering on his campaign promises of continued reform, his administration became extraordinarily corrupt and failed to safeguard citizens against the terrorist activities of the resurgent al-Shabaab. Bare his power on foreign funding (mostly Qatari), he became increasingly alienated from local interests and progressively more authoritarian, repressing all critical media channels, opposition leaders, and local institutions, basically annulling years of democratization efforts.

The new administration assumed responsibility for resolving the ongoing challenges plaguing the population in Somalia, including the drought that disrupted the food supply and the threat arising from the terror group Al-Shabaab which is pursuing to overthrow the government. Furthermore, the new administration inherited a politically fragmented society, with the citizens often in deep disagreement over basic policies.

Shortly after the inauguration of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the president, the situation has been partially remedied, both locally and internationally. During his acceptance speech, he emphasized the need to build upon the central idea of a peaceful, stable, and widely respected Somalia. His “Somalia at peace with itself and at peace with the rest of the world” remarks have the potential to end long-standing disputes and help the citizens overcome divisions and conflicts while also giving the nation a better global stature.

Within his first year, the newly elected president showed greater willingness to work with all relevant political actors to achieve lasting peace. The president made it one of his top priorities to bring all social and political leaders to the same table, even those on the opposite end of the spectrum with whom he had disagreements in the past. With this attitude, the president introduced a more respectful atmosphere and stepped towards establishing a mature, functioning democracy. This article reviews the president’s first year in power. The paper examines the president’s domestic and foreign policy, strategies toward debt relief and economic reform, steps taken to address the country’s drought and famine crises, and the president’s new doctrine to counter the threat of terrorism.

A paradigm shift: Domestic politics and foreign policy

One of the president's key campaign promises was to be more inclusive and consider all citizens' interests when making decisions. This intense orientation towards the ordinary citizen broke with past dysfunctions when certain interest groups were favored over the ordinary citizen. The priority for the current president is to provide stability and facilitate goodwill from all sides, creating the conditions to reach a broad consensus on matters of national importance. He opened the possibility of direct cooperation by running the country with a cabinet that brought together politicians from different factions. In contrast, previously, the politics of Somalia were primarily seen as a zero-sum game.

Significant changes also occurred internationally, with the new administration cleaning up some longstanding mistakes. The military units straddled in neighboring Eritrea are one issue where considerable progress has been made. The soldiers finally returned to Somalia thanks to the president’s intervention and shrewd negotiations.

On the domestic front, the president is pursuing negotiations in good faith with different political factions, which is the new model. Instead of conflict, the president encourages direct conversations that ultimately lead to mutually developed solutions and compromises. The president is effectively using the power and prestige of his office to motivate both state and non-state actors to adopt a different, more tolerant mindset.

The wording of the main slogan, ‘Somalia at peace with itself and the world,’ demonstrates the change of approach in clear terms. Moreover, the ethos of this phrase is consistently applied to practical decisions and policy discussions. The ultimate result is gradually improving the central government's relationship with the country's Federal Member States.

It is a fair characterization of the president’s efforts to describe them as a genuine change of direction, both domestically and internationally. Including previously neglected social groups, direct negotiation on essential issues, and collaborative decision-making are the trademarks of his political impact on the country. There is already a tangible improvement in the nation’s standing on the world stage and a noticeable change of tone on domestic affairs.

Debt relief and economic reform

Several factors inhibit the growth of the Somali economy, including climate change, rising food prices, and terrorist activities. In the face of all these obstacles, the new government has already initiated the necessary measures to revive the economy. The new administration aims to maintain macroeconomic stability, implement a poverty reduction strategy, and carry out a series of reforms focused on fiscal stability, improving governance and debt management, strengthening social conditions, and supporting inclusive growth to achieve the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

Strengthening the domestic economy is another oversized item on the government’s agenda, with more consistent tax collection and responsible spending seen as solutions. To this end, reforms of the fiscal and tax systems are being completed, and new legislation is being enacted to make this possible. In particular, fair tax collection from large corporations and the oil industry is a goal that will be pursued vigorously. In parallel, public sector spending has reigned. At the same time, the regulatory institutions are given a more significant role in supervising the market and preventing illegal money transfers that could be diverted to terror groups.

Judging by the number of bills adopted by the legislature, the government has been very active during its first year. Some laws enacted in this period include the Extractive Industries Income Tax Law, Electricity Act, Investor Protection Act, Data Protection Act, and anti-corruption directives to combat corruption and foster accountability to strengthen the public financial management system. Notably, big lenders such as the Paris Club and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development agreed to more favorable agreements to reduce the national debt Somalia is responsible for.

The new government is nearing an important milestone in the form of the HIPC Completion Point and is rapidly modernizing its legal framework and fiscal systems. In addition to domestic revenue growth, the administration is pursuing debt reduction through direct negotiations with international institutions. All signs are pointing toward a period of sustained progress for the Somali economy and, hopefully, a successful switch to a development-based investment model.

Drought and Famine: crisis aversion and management implementation plan

Somalia faces severe consequences of adverse weather, as the ongoing drought has placed almost half the population in peril. Over a million are internally displaced, and around 300 thousand citizens have limited food access. A staggering 1.8 million infants (aged 0-5) might become malnourished as a result, with nearly a quarter of this number in danger of starvation.

The president has chosen to address these issues by invoking emergency powers and creating the Somali Disaster Management Agency as an institution tasked with alleviating the suffering of the local communities and understanding the long-term factors contributing to the problems with drought and food supply. These activities were formalized under the Humanitarian Response Plan, unveiled in early 2022 with a budget of $US 1.5 billion in aid directed to approximately 5.5 million affected citizens.

Since the situation in the field has worsened, and suddenly almost 8 million people required direct assistance with a swelling number of displaced people, the plan has been altered. Its total value had increased to over $US 2.2 billion at the beginning of 2023.
The federal government is actively seeking ways to prevent humanitarian crises from happening in the future and to strengthen the protection of the most vulnerable communities. This can be achieved through long-term initiatives, considering local conditions, and providing sustainable solutions. Financial support and infrastructural improvements under the Water and Flood Management Program are among the most important measures to prevent adverse events. Permanent monitoring is another crucial aspect that can significantly improve emergency response and ensure that it is sufficiently granular to address the needs of each community. The various elements of this system are methodically developed based on strategic assessments by the Humanitarian Country Team, which ensures a rapid and forceful response in the event of a similar problem.

The impact of the crisis on citizens has been undeniably harsh, and a large percentage of the population is still experiencing difficulties. In addition to immediate help, the government is attempting to resolve the underlying causes of the humanitarian problems and make the local population less susceptible to climate change, terrorism, and other risks. The approach involves increased investment, better coordination at all levels, and a more agile response to ongoing events.

Securing our Future: A comprehensive response to Counter the Threat of Terrorism

After coming to power midway through 2022, the new administration embarked on a program of increasing security nationwide and intensifying the fight against terrorist groups, mainly Al-Shabaab. This strategy liberated territory in the central part of the country that the militants previously held. These areas are now being fortified against further incursions and reintegrated into the government's secure zones. Military forces are tasked with providing security, opening channels for communication with the local population, and delivering essential goods and services. Such results starkly contrast the previous administration, where the government seemed uninterested in seriously challenging the terrorists.

The army is taking the lead in the war against terrorists. Local units actively support it under the president's zero-tolerance policy toward Al-Shabaab. Army units are strategically placed across the country, expelling the terrorists from settlements and preventing their return. Local self-protection units known as “Macawisley” are considered essential partners and fight alongside federal soldiers. A strong alliance between the Army and the Macawisley, with the backing of international organizations, helped to reduce the territory held by Al-Shabaab to isolated pockets.

Another critical target is the logistical and financial infrastructure that allows Al-Shabaab to keep its fighters in the field. The government tracked down numerous channels that were funneling money to the terrorist group while deterring local businesses from having any transactions with Al-Shabaab. Stiff penalties were imposed for anyone who willingly funded this dangerous and violent organization.

Based on the new administration’s strategy, phase two of the war against, the final phase, will be anytime from now. In this phase, the group’s presence in the southern part of the country will be challenged while recruiting local citizens to assist in this effort. The government's undivided attention to this issue is directly related to the victories of the armed forces on the battlefield and the recapture of valuable territories.

The president’s new counterterrorism strategy doctrine is already bearing fruit and can be expected to become even more successful. The deployment of armed forces in terrorist control areas, combined with local citizen mobilization forces, and the interruption of Al-Shabaab’s financial network have been very effective. For the first time in years, Somalia is in an excellent position to eliminate the terrorists and regain complete control over its entire sovereign territory.

Final thoughts

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has introduced a new level of stability and cooperation in national politics. The president has improved political dialogue among elites and enabled tangible benefits for all Somali citizens. His campaign against Al-Shabaab proved effective and improved security in the towns and villages of central Somalia. His economic policies could have even more impact and potentially lead to long-term progress.

Despite the progress, Somalia faces security, economic, and political challenges. The progress made in the president's first year in office is positive. It will bring real change to the people of Somalia.


Mohamed Omar Hashi was a Member of the Transitional Federal Parliament of Somalia from 2009 to 2012 and holds a Postgraduate Certificate in International Studies from the University of Staffordshire and an M.A. in International Security Studies from the University Of Leicester.

E-mail: [email protected]
 
Adan Omar Hashi is a research scholar with a Bachelor's Degree in German and English from the University Of Salford, an M.S.C in Development Management from the University of East London, and an MSC in International Project Management (Construction, Energy, and Oil and Gas).

Twitter: @ahashi19
E-mail: [email protected]



 





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