First Impressions about the New Prime Minister, Saacid

On October 9, 2012, WardheerNews posted an in-depth interview that Somali Channel’s Shukri Farah conducted with the New Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, Saacid.  The interview, a friendly interview, was apparently conducted somewhere in Kenya well before Saacid became Prime Minister.  It is a significant material to peak into what type of a person the PM is.

Before I share my immediate and personal impressions about his skills and how he comes across in this in-depth interview, let me openly express that my candidate for whom I campaigned lost both the presidency and the premiership. Having that out in the open as a disclosure affords me an opportunity to objectively assess my first impressions about the new PM.  Another caveat is that my impressions are as a result of watching said interview lest I have no personal knowledge of the PM except that he was a college classmate with one of my family members.  I have gotten so many calls from certain circles who wanted to paint the PM in a different light than what an objective assessment may suggest.

Speaking ability: The PM is a well-spoken and rich in his command of the Somali language.  In the tradition of Ciid and Danood accent, often heard from Idaaja, who is a repository of Somali oral history and literature, the PM clearly articulates and enunciates his words so clear that one would not get enough doses want to listen more of him.  Although not under the pressure of being a premier when the interview was conducted, he nonetheless comes across as articulate and extremely self-confident.   In the future, at least in the Somali language, one could expect him to deliver articulate speeches.Brushing all those pedestrian commentaries about and character assassination against the PM aside, I will strictly limit my impressions to the abovementioned interview and organize my assessments in nine interrelated broad areas, some relating to his communication skills, and others addressing his political and national philosophy.

  • Articulating Somali nationalism:  Mr. Saacid also forcefully articulates words of patriotism and national oneness of his country.  His nationalist view and his approach to the rebirth of the Somali nation seem at times in complete opposition to what neighboring countries like Ethiopia want.  Most Somali people may like his nationalistic rethorics, while the giant neighbor, i.e., Ethiopia, may differ with him on this matter.  However, in the final analysis, his attitude seems to say this: Ethiopia has already hurt Somalia and we should bounce back.

Ethiopia invaded Somalia and literally occupied Villa Somalia, the Unknown Soldier’s square, Schola policia, Mogadishu Airport and all the national symbols of the country.   His party, RAJO, was incidentally conceived at the wake of the Ethiopian invasion, despite that the party was never revealed as a political party until April, 2012.  One wonders how much of his opposition to Ethiopia in the affairs of Somalia would advise the core tenants of his foreign policy and his relationship with that country.

  • Clear vision of Somalia’s problem:  Prime Minister Saacid believed at the time of the interview that Somalia is on the verge of losing its status as an independent nation state and its nationhood is slipping out of grip.  Although he welcomes the presence of foreign troops and the helping hand given to the troubled nation of Somalia by the world community, he underscores the need to establish the country’s own institutions (national army, police force, and other structures of any nation that claims to be an independent nation).  Moreover, he is keen on the potential danger of sliding back and losing the gains so far made by his predecessors under the protection of foreign troops.  But he does not mince at his words when he comments about the pending need for foreigners to leave Somalia to Somalis (see below).
  • His Party – RAJO (HOPE): Rajo is his party and, when he explains its vision and origins, he often hankers back to the need and philosophy that led to the formation of his party.  He is not apologetic that his party, RAJO or HOPE, was formed when Ethiopia invaded Somalia and put most of Southern Somalia under its boots (2006). It is clearly apparent here that the new PM opposed and disfavored the invasion of his country by its erstwhile enemy.  Until now, RAJO was the only thing he and his party clung on.  Despite the long suffering and misery of the Somali masses, he believed then in 2006 and now that RAJO is achievable and it is within the reach of the Somali masses.  But, how do you achieve hope?  What are the right public policies to help hope materialize in actual programs and workable projects?
  •  Rehabilitate the hope of the people:   When asked how he would go about rehabilitating the hopes and aspirations of this broken and maligned nation, he gives a populist answer: “Soomaliya Soomaali baa iska leh,” or “Somalia belongs to Somalis.”  He asserts that the day when Somalis are the sole masters of their ecology is within our reach. This perceptive phrase gave me a very special meaning in many ways.  In a piece that I will be publishing for an academic journal, I argue that Somali ecology has always been permanent and remained under the ownership of the Somali people, foreign occupations both past and present notwithstanding.  In my case, though, it is an academic assertion.  However, in the case of the Prime Minister, it is a populist view.  His challenge is how to translate his obvious populism into a set of workable and deliverable national and local policies.  To wit, Somalis were the owners and guardians of their land in 1990, 2004, and 2006 and beyond.  What can he do as the new PM to make sure that:
    1. Somalia establishes a national army to establish authority on Mogadishu and beyond;
    2. His government arrests the endemic corruption and malfeasance;
    3. Enough experts and skilled people are wooed back to the country, at a meager salary, to tackle the enormous challenges this nation faces.

The PM’s populist, if not socialist, theory, especially when he says that “if the Somali masses are mobilized for one unified vision and clearly defined objective, they are capable to solve their problems and withstand calamity and powerful adversity,” is a serious challenge to meet.  For example, how does the PM brings that kind of ideal unity to the humpty-dumpty lineage based Somali society? The late dictator Siad Barre did indeed organize and mobilize the entire Somali society with one clear objective – Self-reliance and national construction.  Within a short period of time, the late Barre made Somalia in some respects an envy of the rest of Africa.  But, in the case of Barre’s rule, two factors helped him:

  • He was an autocratic ruler over Somalia, and no dissent voice or scrutiny of his mistakes was permitted.
  • The world order that was divided at the time into West versus East, with each having a set of satellite states to protect and provide, helped him maintain control over all of Somalia and its borders.  Only if he did not turn against his own people (massacring the peoples of Puntland and Somaliland, history may have remembered him today in a different light.  Let us hope that the new Prime Minister (a) observes his stated progressive view of relying on the energy of the masses; and (2) not fall victim for empty populism as did Farmajo and his cabinet.  In other words, while believing and having full confidence in the masses, the new PM must also entertain a healthy dose of diplomatic reality when it comes to dealing with his cunningly powerful neighbors.   In the final analysis, his faith in the Somali people is not a misplaced strategy.

Send the foreign troops back:  Speaking as a private citizen and an opposition leader at the time, PM Saacid in this interview carefully registered with his audience the need to send foreign troops back to their home country.  He did so while recognizing the huge and impossible task AMISOM and Kenyan troops did for Somalia’s re-liberation from Al-Shabab.  The PM alluded to a scenario where Somalia would be responsible for its own security and protection of its borders both onshore and offshore.   It is not clear if said protection of the territory of Somalia also includes protection from the illegitimate and extra territorial incursions which Ethiopian troops regularly carry in Hiiraan, Gedo and Galguddud.

Government with undivided confidence from Somalis:  The PM rightly invokes here an innately western concept where the government is by the people for the people.  If attainable, this would constitute a huge feat especially for Somalis who are known for being discordant.  Unfortunately, unless some quick and immediate confidence building are not take by the PM and the President, who until few days ago commanded huge mandate among Somalia, I fear that the PM’s well-articulated vision may remain a mirage.  In the last few days, I have heard so much pessimism toward some of the early missteps that President Hassan committed, which seem to be in total contradiction to government with undivided confidence from Somalis.  The president’s insistence on establishing an administration for Jubaland, what Ken Menkhous refers as the Sarajevo of Somalia, does not sync with a philosophy of “government by the people,” or a government that would enjoy the support of the masses.
One hopes that the new PM would try to rectify some of his boss’ early missteps:

  1. Somalis feel that president Hassan Sheikh should have visited Puntland as much as soon as he did visit Hiiran, his birth place, and Baydhabo. It is not too late to correct this narrow vision and expand the support base of the new government.
  2. His insistence on establishing an administration for the Juba region is unsettling, especially to those who claim to hail from there.  A lingering suspicion by a large swath of the Somali population would undoubtedly limit Saacid’s government and its territorial influence

The president’s gaff on Somaliland does not help, and to the extent possible the PM needs to advise that his boss speak on matters that he did not digest well through surrogates.

On Secession:  The PM leaves strong and positive impression on this issue.  He endorses unity without being over powering.  “Waa wada Kaban kartaa ee makala kaban karto,” or “it can build it together but not separately.”  Listening to the new PM talk about such a fragile issue as secession, I could not help but wonder whether his belonging to the same clan that provided the late dictator, Said Barre, led him to be over cautious on this thorny and painful issue.  But my impression is that the new PM belongs to a new emergent school of thought within South Central Somalia, and I suspect the same is true with President Hassan.  This school of thought says that if we want to stabilize South Central Somalia, then one has to serious engage the only residents south of South Galkayo.  As a friend from Mogadishu told me, Somaliland and Puntland have has earned their stabile and safe regions, therefore, goes this logic, we need to deal with our own backyard – that is South Central Somalia.  If the PM’s school of thought of dealing with Somaliland and Puntland is advised by such a philosophy, then Somalia as a unified state has a long and raucous journey to travel.

Federalism and Constitution:  Although not clear, the PM does not come across as someone who believes in the draft constitution and the federalism it spouses.  Like the Prime Minister, his boss, President Hassan, may not be enthused both about the current structure of the constitution and federalism.  If this remains to be true, it may in the long run pit the new PM and his boss against Puntland’s Abdurrahman Farole.

All in all, the interview was forceful, fresh and well performed.  If any, PM Saacid speaks well and may help President Hassan in the era of convincing many Somalis in South Central Somalia to see hope at the end of the tunnel, indeed a rare commodity in that part of Somalia.

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The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.Prof.Ibrahim
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