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Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’ s First Anniversary in Power: A Year of Milestones
by Deeq S Yusuf
Thursday May 25, 2023

Background

On the first-year anniversary since Somali Parliamentarians overwhelmingly handed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) a second mandate to lead the country, Somalia has made important strides in numerous spheres, notably in the security sector where the offensive by the Somali National Army (SNA) backed by local militias popularly known as Macawisley has dislodged Al-Shabab from large swathes of territory across south-central Somalia. The relentless onslaught against the Al-Qaida linked terror group marks a significant breakthrough in the 16-year war. With much of Central parts of the country liberated, the government is embarking on a secondround offensive in the Southern regions aimed at wiping out the Al-Shabab menace from the face of Somali territory.

During his May 2022, acceptance speech, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud proclaimed he wanted to build a new Somalia “at peace with itself and at peace with the world.” His overall vision is driven by his long-held principle to secure domestic peace within Somali borders as well as pursuing peaceful relations with its neighbours and the global community at large. In saving the country from a near abyss, President Hassan Sheikh understands that only a nation at peace with itself, can guarantee security, stability, and prosperity for its people, and in turn, successfully navigate the international system, contribute to global peace and democracy while taking its rightful place among the community of nations. 

More importantly, Hassan Sheikh demonstrated true statesmanship, extending forgiveness to members of the previous regime making it clear he was not driven by revenge or settling of scores against the preceding leadership or anyone else for that matter. In a nutshell, Hassan Sheikh’s vision is to build a peaceful, viable and prosperous, fully democratic federal Somalia.

The War on Al-Shabab

Under HSM, the war on terror in Somalia has entered a crucial stage as Somali security forces backed by allied civilian fighters continue to wage an all-out war against Al-Shabab taking back large swathes of territory, liberating villages and towns across central Somalia. As the military operations to stamp out Al-Shabab gains momentum each passing day, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s calls for the elimination and total defeat of the terrorists has received plaudits from security analysts in Somalia and across the world.

Galvanized by their President’s commitment and tough, no-nonsense approach to eliminating terror, the entire Somali population has put their weight behind the President with some even taking arms joining the fight in the frontlines. The organic uprising against the terrorists represents a turning point on the war on Al-Shabab, as the Somali security forces and allied civilian fighters step up their efforts to rid the country of all forms of terror and violence.

Why did HSM turn to local militias in his declared total war on Al-Shabab? Aren’t militias harbingers of instability that weaken state authority and commit brazen human rights violations? Contrary to common belief, governments have since World War II effectively used militias to help defeat heavily armed insurgents. The logic of utilizing militias is informed by the fact that armed non-state actors are known to be flexible, highly mobile, and effective in fighting in difficult rural terrain including forested areas, rolling valleys and treacherous mountainous regions where deployment of heavily mechanized army units poses a strategic and tactical challenge. Militias are easy and fast to deploy and can ferociously overrun terrorists owing to their familiarity of local territory and intimate knowledge of the whereabouts and movements of the enemy.

According to Seth G. Jones, governments turn to militia “when policymakers believe militia can help pacify key areas of the country, especially rural areas where state control is minimal or nonexistent[1].” Seth further argues that historical evidence suggests that government perceptions on utilization of militias are fairly accurate because such militias have often been effective in helping defeat insurgent groups, though the outcome of insurgencies is determined by a range of factors, not just the performance of militia.[2]

To be effective over the long run, Seth adds that governments need “to establish tight control mechanisms that prevent militia from challenging the state and committing human rights abuses that can undermine local support.” In short, well-regulated militias like the Macawisley appear to be an important – and perhaps an essential – part of a counterinsurgency campaign. Consequently, the emphasis of policymakers should be on the quality of regulation, not on whether a militia is inherently desirable or undesirable[3].” 

During the American Revolution, George Washington was known to have used militias alongside his continental regular army. At Saratoga in the South and in New Jersey during a 1780 campaign, militias became essential fighting forces. By the end of the war, Washington and others in the continental army command used militia as support for the regular army and they “were a crucial component in the ultimate victory[4].” 

Starting April 2023, the Mozambican government formalized the use of self-defence militia against militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) in the conflict-prone, northern Cabo Delgado Province.5 In the Somalia case, it appears that HSM has applied a proven formula that ensures the Macawisley militias are well-regulated outfits that do not constitute any threat to national security and social order. Simply put, HSM’s use of the Macawisley is a masterstroke that has seen the Somali National Army (SNA) backed militias help take back control of large swathes of territory in south-central Somalia formerly held by Al-Shabab while inflicting heavy to the terrorists.

Fiscal Measures / Debt Relief

On 2023 fiscal measures, the IMF notes that HSM’s administration is committed to continue to improve revenue collection and make room for priority spending, while containing discretionary expenditure pressures. The Bank adds that authorities continue to advance fiscal reforms. On domestic revenue mobilization, key reforms are ongoing on customs modernization, a new income tax law, and increasing revenue collection from large businesses, including the telecom sector.[5]

While acknowledging economic activity in Somalia has been weighed down by the ongoing drought and the global economic crisis, the Bank stated public financial management has been strengthened, and improvements are ongoing on integrating all employees in the payroll system, fiscal reporting, procurement, and management of non-financial assets. “Progress has also been made on the petroleum sector legal framework. The authorities will also take steps to strengthen the strategic and oversight role of the Inter-Ministerial Concessions Committee over government contracts and concessions” said IMF’s Laura Jaramillo.[6]

In terms of debt relief, the HSM administration had by March 2023, continued the steady progress toward the HIPC Completion Point. As noted by the World Bank, impressive achievements include the recent approval by Parliament of several key pieces of legislation, including “the Electricity Act, the Extractive Industries Income Tax Law, the Data Protection Law, the Targeted Financial Sanctions Law, the Digital ID System Law, the Investment and Investor Protection Act, and the Federal Law on Fisheries. The authorities reached debt relief agreements with most Paris Club members and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) and continue to seek agreements with other bilateral creditors,” said the Bank.[7]

Drought Response

While the previous Federal government was negligent in its handling of the recurrent droughts, HSM has demonstrated empathy for the plight of millions of Somalis affected by ongoing drought cycles. Facing a humanitarian catastrophe with about 7.8 million Somalis — half the country’s estimated population — experiencing the worst drought in four decades, exacerbated by climate factors, HSM has taken strong measures to tackle the drought and lessen the overall impact of climate change. Upon assuming office in May 2022, HSM appointed Mr. Abdirahman Abdishakur, his rival in the presidential race, as the special envoy on drought response. The envoy has travelled extensively across Somalia and abroad to mobilise local and international support. 

More importantly, a dedicated Ministry on Environment and Climate Change, the first of its kind in Somalia, was established to spearhead long-term solutions to minimise the impact of climate change on the country with the Minister of climate change pledging to implement the planting of one million trees by the end of the first year as a step to counter climate change effects.[8]

To his credit, HSM’s efforts to mobilize international response to Somalia’s drought-induced humanitarian crisis has been critical in averting a potentially devastating famine of biblical proportions. On average since July 2022, food aid has reached nearly 5.5 million people per month. Aid has come mostly in the form of cash transfer, which has allowed households to enhance their resilience by purchasing not only food and water but also seeds and livestock fodder and by paying down household debt.[9]  In reciprocating HSM’s concerted anti-drought campaigns, international development partners have been urged “ to scale up immediate access to food, water, and sanitation, particularly in rural areas and areas impacted by conflict in the short term. In the longer term, humanitarian aid should be focused on protecting livelihoods (such as through the provision of cash transfers) and bolstering food production wherever possible.[10]

FGS – FMS Relations

Over the last year, relations between the Federal Government and Regional States have significantly improved. This is in stark contrast to the previous administration where Federal-State relations were beset by constant bickering, paralysis, and infighting culminating in outbreak of violence at the peripheries of Gedo, in Jubaland State. In ensuring Somalia is at peace with itself, HSM has adopted a conciliatory tone in his dealings with the Federal Member States. He has reiterated that Federal and State entities must work collaboratively to achieve progress on numerous fronts, including improving governance, countering and defeating Al-Shabab and responding urgently to the daunting humanitarian crisis.

The outgoing UN Special Representative for Somalia, James Swan noted that since winning the election, President Hassan Sheikh has taken steps to create an environment of unity and reconciliation among all stakeholders, “laying a road map for national priorities — including finalizing the Provisional Constitution, adopting a unified election model and adopting a suitable justice model.”  Swan cited the improved security and development of the economic sector as important steps, pointing towards a September 10, 2022, meeting of the National Consultative Council on a detailed road map and plan of action.[11]

Despite the regrettable absence of Puntland, the March 2023, National Consultative Council Conference in Baidoa achieved important milestones as agreement was reached on key issues including consensus on completion of the national security architecture and adoption of fiscal federalism principles including the creation of National Revenue Authority and the Appropriation and Revenue Mobilization Commission.

EAC Membership and International Engagement

In line with his vision of Somalia at peace with the world, HSM has pursued progressive policies aimed at pulling Somalia from regional and international isolation. After failed attempts in 2016 and 2019, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has re-energized Somalia’s quest to join the East African Community (EAC) creating much needed momentum that has seen the bloc’s leaders fasttrack the verification of Somalia’s application to join the group. In July 2022, HSM delivered a rousing speech during the EAC Heads of State Summit held in Arusha, Tanzania, highlighting Somalia’s key selling points including the vast presence and penetration of Somali enterprise in the EAC market. 

“We don’t want to be a liability anymore; we want to be a contributing partner to this great community of nations” said HSM. “Somalia belongs to East Africa. There is no country among the seven countries sitting here that Somalia is not linked to by business, by community or by any other means,” said HSM during his well-received address. He underscored Somalia’s immense benefits to the EAC including “its pool of industrious entrepreneurs and exploiting its blue economy, natural resources such as fish and expansive coastline to boost regional economies.[12]” In January 2023, an EAC verification mission team landed in Mogadishu to assess the country’s readiness to join the bloc. In addition to the EAC region, HSM has demonstrated sound diplomatic acumen by pro-actively engaging international actors on Somalia and global issues, including the UN and other international organizations, the African Union and Arab League member states, the EU, and the donor community.

The Way Forward 

Despite HSM’s impressive record thus far, the President needs to do more on the state-building front by revamping his cabinet and bureaucracy through a much -needed reshuffle that should bring in more qualified, capable personnel into the government. Reliable sources indicate the President is moving in this direction and it is clear HSM is responding to the incessant calls from the Somali public that has been angling for the establishment of a more competent, technocratic government capable of pulling the beleaguered nation from its political quagmire and economic doldrums. It is open secret that some members of the current cabinet are miserably underperforming thus seriously impacting on government delivery. Going forward, meritocracy and technocracy should be the driving factor in key government appointments at both the cabinet and bureaucratic levels. 

For any nascent democracy to prosper, there must be a trust between politicians and technocrats. Technocracy is broadly defined as a form of governance whereby government officials or policymakers, known as technocrats, are chosen by some higher authority due to their technical skills or expertise in a specific domain. Decisions made by technocrats are supposed to be based on information derived from data and objective methodology, rather than opinion or self-interest.[13]

Somalia’s future hopes lies in its technocratic base. The country can certainly borrow a leaf from technocratic successes in East Asia that spurred the rapid industrialization of a previously underdeveloped region. In Singapore, where technocracy has been planted deeply, public servants are expected to be technically-minded, long-term thinkers and with a deep utilitarian streak.

 In other Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, the political leadership allows technocrats substantial freedom to manage the economy while in Thailand, the bureaucracy provides continuity when political processes falter.[14]

In light of the above, the Somali political elite should at the very least appoint and grant the Somali technocrats the required autonomy and independence so that they can operate in an atmosphere devoid of political interference and state patronage. Once the principles of technocracy and meritocracy take root in Somalia, the state-building process will take off leading to institutional, legal, and judicial capacities that will strengthen the Somali state and user in an era of peace, stability, economic development, and social prosperity. 

Merit-based public appointments will create a conducive environment to building a capable state that can effectively solve the myriad of problems facing Somalia. Further, a state steeped in meritocracy and technocracy will develop the institutional capacity required to rebuild federal institutions, restore peace and order, unite, and reconcile the people, and complete the constitutional review process. Ideally, the country is in need of technocratic leadership that can kickstart and revamp the economy, mend federal-state relations, forge better relations with neighbours and work collaboratively with the international community on key issues of concern to Somalia.

Deeq S Yusuf
(Deeq Yusuf is a Social Scientist based in Mogadishu - Somalia, and can be reached at [email protected])


[1] The Strategic Logic of Militia:

https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/working_papers/2012/RAND_WR913.pdf

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Militia, Minutemen & the Continental Army: https://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/popup_minutemen.html 5 Mozambique Legalizes Local Militia in the Fight Against Northern Insurgents: https://www.voanews.com/a/mozambique-legalizes-local-militias-to-help-fight-northern-insurgents/7039006.html

[5] IMF: https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2023/03/20/pr2382-imf-staff-completes-sla-fifth-review-ecf-arrsomalia

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] What Measures has Mohamud Taken to Lessen Impact of Climate Change:

https://www.theafricareport.com/232641/somalia-what-measures-has-mohamud-taken-to-lessen-impact-fromclimate-change/

[9] Famine Averted, But Somalia Still at Risk:

https://ssa.foodsecurityportal.org/node/2310#:~:text=More%20than%206.5%20million%20people,on%20average %20since%20July%202022.

[10] ibid

[11] UN – Federal, Local Leaders in Somalia Must Work Closely: https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15022.doc.htm

[12] Somalia Gets Warm Reception at the EAC: https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/somalia-getsa-warm-reception-in-its-quest-join-the-eac-3889434

[13] What is Technocracy? https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/technocracy.asp 

[14] ibid



 





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