The 17th-century English political philosopher, John Locke, once said,” to understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men naturally in.” Locke, who is widely regarded as an inspirer of European Enlightenment, argued in his Two Treatise of Government that government is obligated to serve the people. He was rather eloquently talking about the state of nature which is crucial to us as human beings, in order to make sense of political power.
Four years ago, Somalia was swept by a contagious fever of Farmaajo-Mania largely driven by huge public dissatisfaction with his predecessor’s dysfunctional and inept government. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s administration was accused of being ridden with systematic corruption, political patronage and deeply-structured nepotistic culture that can only be defined as a transactional quid pro quo for political support.
Farmaajo, who was a presidential candidate then with undisclosed Qatari financial backing, tapped into the public’s broader frustration and used it as a primary weapon to mobilize his political base. Soon after he was chosen as president in February 2017, Farmaajo said, “this is victory for Somalia and Somalis” to Somalis MPs packed like sardines inside a hangar at Aden Adde Airport in Mogadishu for precautionary security reasons.
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During his 2017 presidential campaign, Farmaajo promised to comprehensively dismantle Somalis highly kleptocratic system which permeates all levels of the country’s governmental institutions, closely work with Somalis federal member states, and liberate areas still controlled by Al-Shabaab terrorist organization in south and central Somalia. Weary Somalis exhausted by decades-old political conflict greeted these noble promises with tremendous optimism and hope.
Unfortunately, the president, perhaps overwhelmed by his unreasonably sycophantic supporters, developed a grandiose view of himself and saw himself as Somalis latter-day Siad Barre. The man hailed as a prudent statesman with almost panacea powers to remedy the nation’s illness has waged a war against the country’s adopted federal system that is enshrined into Somalis provisional constitution.
His blatant anti-federalist political doctrine has soon put him at loggerheads with Puntland state which is one of Somalis powerful member states that lies in the north-eastern part of the country. The semi-autonomous region of Puntland has won a chorus of praises for its locally-led reconciliatory conferences, its bottom-up built governance system coupled with its tangible institutional reforms by harmonizing the role of influential tribal leaders with modern state mechanisms. Puntland sees federalism not only as its own brainchild innovation but also as an effective form of government for a country acutely traumatized by prolonged armed conflict.
Farmaajo’s popularity upsurge has often been linked to his apparent populist politics that pits the federal government against not only its member states but also against neighboring countries with often far-reaching political consequences. He sees Somalia largely through the eyes of his role model Siad Barre whose dictatorial and repressive regime crumpled under the pressure of tribal militia in 1991. While it’s abundantly clear that Kenya has been the most flagrant violator of the good neighborly relations between the two countries, nonetheless, the president’s inner-circle clique deliberately politicized the Kenya-Somalia maritime delimitation dispute to rally his hardcore followers sucked in by his cult personality.
Due to his fanciful aspirations to mold this already fractured nation into his own image, there’s a genuine risk of a new explosion of the Somali civil war and the president’s utter refusal to hold the country’s elections that were scheduled for three weeks ago makes this risk even riskier. The president’s official term in office expired on Feb 8 with new elections expected to be held within the timeframe mandated by the country’s provisional constitution in order to prevent Somalia from descending into unchartered waters. Strong emotional allegiance to the opposing political factions exacerbated by the fact that Somalis are more divided along ideological lines than ever before, makes this election enormously sensitive.
A president who came to power on a string of promises including that he would eradicate the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization which still retains control over vast swathes of southern Somalia, unite a profoundly polarised country, restore Somalis pride and build democratic institutions is determined to cling on power at almost any cost. But, as English historian John Dalberg-Acton better known as Lord Acton once said, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The recent brute force against a peaceful protest organized by opposition parties including two former presidents and a prime minister has once again shown that president Farmaajo is not afraid to deploy security forces to remain in power at any cost. The Ankara-trained Turkish-speaking Somali special forces have been propping up his administration with the brutal force since the expiration of his official term.
Turkey has the biggest overseas military base in Somalia which reportedly cost $45 million with 400 hectares for training new Somali cadets in an intensive Turkish language course before they’re flown to Turkey for further military training. While the vast majority of Somalis support Turkey’s involvement in training the Somali army and equipping them with modern Turkish made MPT-76 assault rifles and armored personnel carriers to defeat the Al-Shabaab terrorist group, there’s however a growing concern that the incumbent’s continued army deployment to suppress the opposition parties for his own benefit, may potentially split the newly-trained army along clan lines when the existential threat of Al-Shabaab is omnipresent.
The president has a serious legitimacy crisis which could possibly, if not wisely managed, plunge the nascent state institutions into a political abyss. Somalia’s historical relationship with the Arab world is at its lowest point ever since Somalia implicitly sided with Qatar on the Gulf political crisis to reciprocate Qatar’s financial backing during the 2017 election that saw Farmaajo getting elected. His obsequious gatekeepers keep portraying anyone who doesn’t fall into their fake patriotism orbit as traitors seeking to sell out Somalia. This alarmingly belligerent narrative has become the dominant political discourse since Farmaajo began cozying up to dictators including Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea while at the same time, undermining the historic relationship between the sister countries of Somalia and the Republic of Djibouti.
If Somalia is to be saved from sliding back into political instability again, the country’s opposition parties must come up with a master plan on how best to dislodge him from office. Unfortunately, the opposition parties seem to be lacking clearly defined exercisable strategy that can set the stage for radical change. There’s one man however who can mount a serious challenge to Farmaajo’s re-election aspirations with broad-based public support and well-oiled ideological state apparatuses. Said Abdullahi Deni, better known as Deni, is the president of a relatively peaceful semi-autonomous region of Puntland in the north-eastern part of Somalia. Unlike the rest of south and central Somalia whereby decades of communal conflict deeply eroded the cherished interwoven social fabric, in Puntland, communities and their successive local administrations used indigenous methods of traditional conflict resolution to bring peace, stability and social harmony.
Somali political observers and those familiar with Mogadishu’s intricately complex dynamics consider Said Deni as a masterful strategist who has already drawn Farmaajo into spider’s web during the recent political discussions between the Federal and Member State leaders in Dhusamareb to resolve the electoral impasse. Deni has not made his electoral intentions clear as yet, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s the only potential candidate with strategic brilliance to outmaneuver Farmaajo’s grand plan to cling to power.
If opposition parties want to unseat Farmaajo and salvage the fledgling federal institutions, then they must form a credible coalition of hope which not only attracts people of different political persuasion but also the wisdom to withstand the Qatari financial backing for Farmaajo. Once dubbed Somalia’s most powerful post-conflict president, Farmaajo is now being left looking like a salmon gasping on a riverbank in diminished figure after he has been disowned by powerful regional leaders and having run out of fresh air of legitimacy. If this is not a spectacular failure of Somalia’s tarnished jewel, then frankly, the true definition escapes me.