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Somalia: When Corruption Incapacitates State

by Abdirahman Nur-Hashi
Thursday May 25, 2023

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN described corruption as “insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies, it diverts funds intended for development, undermines the ability of governments to provide basic services, feeds inequalities and injustice, and discourages foreign aid investment”. According to Transparency International, Somalia has been at the bottom of the Corruption Perceptions Index since 2007, in other words, the most corrupt nation on earth. Corruption has started to exacerbate from 2012, which heralded the end of the transitional period and formation of the federal government of Somalia. That was when the incumbent president Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud was first elected. Since then, the federal government has become the embodiment of “grand corruption - the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society”. Unfortunately, the concomitant ills of corruption has not stopped at the federal institutions but permeated the social fabrics of the society, posing a real threat to the stability of the country.

From 2012, with the assistance of the international community, public sector reforms were introduced to combat corruption. In the same year, a joint Financial Management Board was put in place to ensure government and donor funds are both managed with transparency and accountability. Furthermore, in 2013, the federal government adopted a new Public Finance Management Policy (PFMP) in order to convince the donors that it is serious about establishing a financial system that is accurate and transparent. Unfortunately, the reforms were counterproductive because the top government officials were not honest about fighting corruption but acting contrary to that, which led to unprecedented misuse of power in the public sector. In July 2013, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea accused Somali government officials of misusing the central bank as their “patronage system” where 80% of the bank’s withdrawals were exploited for private motives. As usual, the government rejected those accusations.
The  fiasco led to the appointment of Abrar Yusuf to the governor of the central bank. Abrar immediately faced interference and intimidation to accept illicit deals that were infringement of the rules, which led to her resignation within three months. She announced her departure outside the country for security reasons. Abrar’s resignation was a big blow to president Mahmoud and his collaborators. To appease the donors, government officials continued to undertake fake approaches in curbing corruption. In 2014, a number of initiatives were undertaken: Parliamentary Finance Committee to monitor withdrawals from the central bank was created; Public Procurement, Concessions and Disposal Act was passed; and the Office of the Auditor General for auditing all government institutions was also established. Furthermore, the government launched a public awareness campaign to curb corruption similar to Mahmoud’s current rhetoric while he is allegedly involved in massive theft of public assets and worst forms of nepotism and patronage.        

Despite the aforementioned anti-corruption measures, corruption continued to proliferate in the public sector. In July 2014, the UN Monitoring Group in Somalia and Eritrea once more raised serious concerns about corruption by top government officials. Muse Ganjab, a Somali businessman and advisor of Mr. Mahmoud was accused of misappropriating part of the frozen state assets repossessed from abroad. The government was also accused of being involved in big dubious contracts associated with the management of ports and oil explorations. The companies identified were the Turkish company Favori, British Soma Oil and Gas Firm, and American Shulman Rogers Firm. Because of concerns raised by some donors such as the World Bank, the government agreed to either cancel those contracts or renegotiate to remove all unethical elements. 

President Mahmoud’s infamous leadership in his first term was not confined to massive embezzlement and fraud. He was also engaged in insidious political corruption by appointing incompetent individuals to the most prominent positions such as the prime minister and the cabinet. As if he was a dictator, he usurped all the powers of the federal institutions including the legislature in order to do away with the fledgling federal system in favour of a kleptocratic regime that functions under his dictates. This negative mindset has incapacitated the federal government as well as its member states, creating a contentious atmosphere filled with distrust, enmity and rivalry. When attempts to dismantle Jubaland’s state building process that was at its final stage failed, Mahmoud turned his focus on building clan based federal member states in his favour. Leaders in Addis- Ababa that he was very loyal to were onboard with his idea. Hirshabelle and Galmudug states were contrived despite local resistances. Grievances of Hiran people are unresolved and the legitimacy of Galmudug state is pending as it falls short of two full regions (half of Mudug region is under Puntland), a prerequisite for becoming a federal member state as per the constitution. When the Puntland state challenged the Galmudug case, Mahmoud resorted to violence as means to subdue Puntland by instigating two armed conflicts in the city of Galkayo. The loss of lives and property on both sides were lamentable, but neither Mahmoud nor his close friend Abdikarim Guled (head of Galmudug at the time) have faced any legal charges for those atrocities. Addis-Ababa intervened and convinced Puntland to accept Galmudug as it is until such time that the temporary federal constitution will be revisited.

Foreign entities, particularly the oil rich gulf countries are the biggest bankrollers of vote buying along with the endorsement of inept corrupt individuals in Somalia. In 2012 and 2017 federal elections, Qatar is believed to have financed the campaigns of both Mahmoud and his successor Farmajo through intermediaries. When Mahmoud left office peacefully that was miraculous, the country was in a big mess. Morale was very low, tribalism and disunity were rife, corruption was rampant, governing institutions were weak, violence was ubiquitous, and foreign entities had unlimited access to natural resources. “Great leaders create more leaders'', and of course, corrupt leaders create more rubbish. Farmajo was also corrupt but not as arrogant, selfish, self-centered and stubborn as Mahmoud. Farmajo appointed his campaign manager/financer Fahad Yassin (agent of Qatar and ex Al Jazeera journalist) to be his National Security Advisor, then the director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). Fahad immediately turned NISA into a coercive agency that empowered him as the de facto president. Capitalizing on a generous financial aid from Qatar as well as secret alliance with Ethiopia and Eritrea, the two naively tried to shape a new Somalia reminiscent of the military autocratic regime that ignited armed resistance. Unlike Mahmoud, Farmajo and Fahad employed both soft and hard power. They spent a great deal of  public money on massive propaganda lies to project an image embellished with nationalism that paid off to a certain degree, but did not materialize their objectives.  Like Mahmoud, Farmajo and Fahad usurped as much power as they could to shape up their narcissistic agendas by invalidating the constitution (to dismantle the federal system) and disempowering the federal member states to the greatest extent. Jubaland and Puntland remained resolute, culminating in the failure of Farmajo’s comeback, an evidence of how federalism is crucial in this critical time in salvaging the country from a total collapse.

Given his bad record, Mahmoud’s reelection in 2022 was a stark fact of the magnitude of corruption in Somalia, how the governing institutions including the electoral system are so broken, and how the country is so susceptible to foreign influences. The United Arab Emirates contributed to Mahmoud’s comeback, a prognostic of disaster that seems to be unfolding faster than anticipated. In the first year, the country  is witnessing a replicate of his poor leadership and brazen corruption. The role of the prime minister and his cabinet is undermined; the legislature and other institutions are also severely impaired; the major donors have halted crucial financial aid including the debt relief,  all of which are a threat to the stability of the fragile nation. The top-down aid is not working for Somalia as the corruption in Villa Somalia is incorrigible. Empowering the member states seems to be the most reasonable option in building a stronger, transparent and accountable federal government in Somalia.

Abdirahman Nur-Hashi


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