Is President Hassan’s reign about NGO politics and pious racketeering?

Losing the “spontaneous consent” of the moment

Those Gramsican “moments” when “spontaneous consent undergoes a crisis” due to a crisis of command and leadership have arrived in Somalia even before the occasion for commandant leadership has started. The spontaneous consent, that suffered a brutal setback only four weeks after the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, initially surfaced as the result of genuine national desire and desperation for the rebirth of a functioning State in Somalia. In time, President Hassan may turn out to be a good leader and invalidate our caprices about his leadership mettle, but he can no longer count on that “spontaneous consent” to be led and ruled by him, which Somalis across the world so visibly demonstrated through sheer outward jubilation and inward ecstasy soon after his coronation. That consent is now gone, finished and kaput, leaving scorn, resentment, and enervating national mood on its wake. And the President has only himself and his amateur advisors to blame!

It is now very clear that President Hassan cannot function outside his loyalties and personal predilections; or more accurately, that he operates inside the choices and dictates of his NGO alumni. His actions, inactions, ungainly utterances and inexplicable selections of the last four weeks sum up the politics of patronage he personifies, and its NGO provenance. It is owners of ill-gotten proceeds of predatory humanitarianism that sketch State decisions at Villa Somalia.  It is educo-preneurial syndicates that design national focus and priorities.  The ascetic frugality and devotional hardship that used to define men of god has long given way to parasitic venality and Sybaritic pleasures, and the religious fraternity in Somalia has steadily mutated into an institution of vapid corruption, materialism and sheer self-aggrandizement.

It is this deadly nexus between NGO politics and pious racketeering that has taken a firm grip on Somalia’s politics and it does not require any clairvoyance to predict the direction of events henceforth. Already, while the President and his team are comfortably riding on fumes of a false sense of met diligence, everyone else is talking about how big business interests and the politics of friendship, with its attendant vices of corruption, cronyism and mediocrity, have crept into the palace. Here we are, facing a collection of man and women who limped out of the humanitarian industry, some from Western charities, others from Islamic philanthropies, wafting leisurely in the edifices of politics, emanating the placatory scent of embezzled riches, cheeks drooping and stomachs sagging, all their faces now shorn of the roughness of yore, for something remarkably suave!

It is unfair to generalize and smear all of the men who allegedly call the shots at the palace. There are genuine nationalists who displayed valiant dedication to the cause of Somalinimo in so many instances when the very existence of Somalia came under attack. There are men of exceptional moral pedigree among “the new blood” group which is advising the President. But the “new blood” is not the alpha and omega of Somalia’s finest men and women. They are also not the only patriots who care about the country. They cannot arrogate to themselves the role of anointing who is a nationalist and who is not, who is a traitor and who is not. The President needs to look beyond his NGO associates and these ideological comrades if he wants to succeed.

Early inadequacies and chaotic priorities

In only one month, the President has given enough clues about his governance style, which it seems Somalis will have to stomach for the coming few years. From the little we have seen, it looks the dallying traits of “NGO participatory democracy”, mountains of good-for-nothing paperwork, and zigzagging bureaucracy will be the order of the day under his tenure. If that is what Somalia is to get in the coming four years, one cannot be rebuked for exhibiting candid pessimism. One does not have to be a malcontent or a mischievous spoiler to note and list the many early inadequacies and chaotic priorities of the new President either.Early inadequacies and chaotic priorities

First, the President is not only moving with snail’s pace, or metonymically, with NGO pace. He is not coming up with decisions that justify the time he has taken to make them.

Second, it is very clear that so far President Hassan did not demonstrate that he puts the interest of the nation before the narrow sectarian interest of his advisors. If you are serious about national redemption, you do not waste four weeks to name a Prime Minister on this bland artifice called ‘consultations’, only to prove that the ‘consultations’ were actually less about consulting and more about conning the public. You do not expect people to mistake this crafty political cat-walking for sincere ‘consultations’.

You do not sift through more than 40 CVs, interview intellectuals of note and men of impeccable social and political standing, stealthily deliberate over the mere naming of a competent head of government as if you are developing a debilitating nuclear weapon, and then come out and re-issue a tired catch, a tired man, and hope for some political reverberation.

You do not leak names of prominent people one after the other as ‘top of the list’ to nurture the false sense that you are on a national canvassing for a competent professional, and finally embarrass  yourself by picking a man with no political or professional experience, let alone any achievement of note. You do not give the country a man who owes his political identity to the alleged intellect of his woman; a man who became taller by riding on the stilts made by his wife.

To say so is not to engage in personal attack or impute disrespect on the incoming Premier, it is to summarize the national reaction to the appointment of the Prime Minister. It is to pillory our insularity. We are ill-focused and often misread the cast and drama before us. The national debate that followed the nomination of the Prime Minister should have focused on the competency and integrity of the President, not on the inexperience or inaptness of the nominated Prime Minister.

Third, the President murdered symbolism by opting for mediocrity and letting people know that he intends to run the country alone, or together with a Prime Minister who is nothing more than a side-kick. The President forgot about the nastiness of the political platform he is operating in. He allowed others to view him as a man who represents the interest of only one clan, a man looking for a ‘puppet’ Prime Minister from the opposing clan. After all, Hawiye-Darod duopoly remains the lupus of Somalia’s politics. This backward, atavistic duopolisation of national politics, which by the way preceded the institutionalization of the 4.5 formula, has not only marginalized other communities, it remains the most lethal political fault line of the nation. The President seems oblivious to the fact the “other” clan in this repugnant duopoly wants to get a man who represents them, both literally and symbolically. Sadly, the impression created is that the President picked a man under the control of a powerful woman, a woman who represents the interest of a clan other than the one the PM is supposed to represent. That is the impression created and it no longer matters if the President is innocent or guilty or if the new PM is a man of his own or not. In politics, symbolism is as important, if not more, as the truth.

PM Abdi Farah Shirdoon

The incoming Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon (Saaciid), is said to be a good man, with congenial disposition. He needs to be given time. There are many who believe he is the right man, but it is difficult to accept that he was the best candidate for the position.

There are those who now say that it does not matter if we have a weak President; it is fine if we have an inept Prime Minister; we will be fine as long as the two men are able to put together a decent cabinet. Well, not to rain on the rhapsodic parade, but hey, this reminds me of some hilarious saying in a country that is our neighbor. “There is no bread here, but if we had little sugar, we would have made tea and ate our breakfast”. Let the lotus-eaters ride wishes, but this President is not promising at all.

The Menkhaus Paper

On a different but very important matter, does the President know about Ken Menkhaus’s “Somalia Conflict Analysis” draft paper, which the UN sponsored and whose publication coincided with the birth of a permanent Federal Government in Somalia”? In case he doesn’t know, this is what Menkhaus says about how the international community should engage the Somalia governance issue: “State-building should under no circumstances encourage governments to lay claim to resources or activities which threaten powerful local actors. That is a recipe for armed conflict and spoilers. Instead, local and national governments should be strongly encouraged to conceive of their job as that of an enabler or the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and others. This can include desirable regulation, but in full consultation with affected parties, not as edicts.”

Let us not even start to debate the cadaverous nature of the State he wishes to impose on Somalia or he would prefer to see in Somalia. How is a state that cannot lay claim to the resources in the lands and seas it claims to represent, a state that works on the mercy of “powerful local actors”, expected to govern? Is the role of the international community to perpetuate the status quo where the Federal arrangement is a subterfuge for the proliferation of fiefdoms in Somalia or is it to help the new national government to address the fragmentation of the country that followed the collapse of the central state?

Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina
Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina

It would have been far more important for President Hassan to search and assemble eminent Somali intellectuals who can conceptually and analytically challenge and defeat Menkhaus’s untested, dangerous and alien thoughts which will soon underpin the policy direction of key international stakeholders, than to waste time on thinking about which of his friends should get which Ministry. Or than waste time drafting an untidy 100-day work plan and send it to the UN to fund it. The same UN that is soon to embark working on the basis of Menkhaus’s paper which expects the Somali national government to play the role of “an enabler of NGO and private sector activities”, but not to institute laws that require international agencies to pass through national Ministries before engaging the peripheries. Talk of pitying the plumage while forgetting the dying bird. Talk of misplaced priorities.
As for Ken Menkhaus, he should know that the same thing can mean different things for different people and often have different consequences for these different people. What is ‘enabling’ for Western organized interest groups is certainly disabling for Somalia. After all, they say freedom for the lions is death for the cattle.

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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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