By Abukar Arman
In recent weeks the confluence of many issues and events of different shades and dangers made Somalia’s political situation more complicated. This being the last year of the current administration, challenges of that nature are not entirely new, but the intensity and volatility of these developments are.
However, this piece is not an attempt to chronicle each one of said challenges and lay the blame on one political actor or another, but to illustrate how the dirty and notoriously impulsive local politics that dominate the discourse has been turning the attention away from Somalia’s national interest and international predators that are elbowing each other for zero-sum booty control.
The most critical being the American guerilla diplomats’ covert coup against their British counterparts that has been protecting Soma Oil and Gas’ exclusive interests. These diplomats adhere to no international laws and often employ shady tactics that neither the U.K. Foreign Office nor the US State Department would be willing to acknowledge.
Who Didn’t Start The Fire?
On Saturday July 25, the Lower House of the Somali parliament has held an extraordinary session passed a vote of no-confidence motion to oust Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire amidst electoral rancor that kept the federal states drifting away from the center.
Interestingly, the ousting came only a few days after he successfully orchestrated Dhusamareeb Agreement signed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and the federal states and when there was less than six months remaining from the current government’s term.
After the election related items on the agenda were discussed, the Speaker of the Parliament, Mursal Mohamed Abdurahman, literally rammed in a no-confidence motion that was not even part of the agenda, ignored the ‘point of order’ raised by some MPs, and continued the hand counting. Within an hour or so, the surgical removal was complete: 170 ‘yes’ & 8 ‘no’. After ensuing commotion by the objecting MPs, the Speaker gaveled out of the session. Mission accomplished.
Cold War Beween Partners
Despite the popular perception that this was solely driven by that all too familiar ‘xilligii kala guurka’ (time to part ways) politics, this was the last phase of the diplomatic cleansing of the U.K. influence- Khaire. He was Soma Oil and Gas’ East Africa man whose initial appointment this analyst has vehemently opposed.
It was the culmination of a systematic, delicately executed overthrow to end UK’s dominance of the Somalia affairs. It started with the recruitment of Qatar to directly counter-balance against UAE and bankroll Farmajo’s election. It was not a hard sell under since Qatar was under a long simmering UAE/Saudi Arabia led aggression since the Arab Spring. Moreover, it may be worth noting that Qatar already had on the ground a network of brokers who in the past provided dark money to former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s administration for other projects.
Once Farmajo became the president, the systematic process to cut off all advisors, technocrats, security experts, and members of the Council of Ministers who were from or were associated with UK began. In a parallel process, the relationship with UAE had to be suspended. This was critical for mainly two reasons: One, it would get rid of UK’s cash cow of corruption. “Let me call our friends” was the notorious code of reassurance used by British diplomates that UAE embassy will be delivering the cash. This under the radar process kept their hands clean. Two—perhaps more important than the former—it would pull the plug off on the (UAE-funded) ICJ maritime case.
Though locally it is considered a patriotic initiative taken by former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, this was a Soma Oil and Gas project. ICJ rule in favor of Somalia meant another corrupt giveaway to this shady company that illegally owns Somalia’s natural resources. Farmajo is on board with a behind the curtain deal to pull the case out of ICJ and settle for a ‘negotiated’ deal with Kenya that brings in new partners. This may explain why there were multiple postponements of public hearings- something that, contrary to the Somali government’s claim, could not have been unilaterally done by the court. Hence, an official announcement after the extension is secured should shock no one.
Going back to the first major step; it was followed by the takeover of the command center- UNSOM. Merely two months into his new position, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Nicholas Haysom, was accused of interfering in a sovereign state’s internal affairs. Tough I was never a big fan of the dubious role that the British diplomatic team and their field commanders at UNSOM played before Haysom, I was critical of the persona non grata charade and I suspected it being a “a cover up”. So Ambassador Haysom was shortly replaced by an American, Ambassador James Swan.
This was followed by pressuring Qatar to drop Prime Minister Khaire from the recipients of the electoral facilitation cash that brought him and President Farmajo to power. Khaire and his network of predatory capitalists spent two weeks in and around Doha meeting with certain elements in the (useful) king-making business. The answer was simple: the game has changed and you are on your own, old partner.
As soon as it became clear to Khaire that he could neither be part of any extension that may be granted to his partner (Farmajo) nor could he expect cash-loads coming from Qatar, he had to resort to a political kamikaze operation labled as a peace process. He reached out to the federal-states, especially Puntland and Jubbaland that lost trust on the central government, as his most viable partners; hence the Dhusamareeb Conference.
Dominance and Its Risks
Farmajo went to participate in the Dhusamareeb conference with his own uncompromising agenda: grant me a term extension of two years so I could marshal the nation to ‘one-person-one-vote electoral system’. After Dhusamareeb One and Two, the federal-states and the central government reached an agreement: Farmajo will get no extension and a technical committee made of all stakeholders would determine the kind of election and it would be unveiled and ratified at Dhusamareeb Three.
On Aug 13, with Khaire out of the way and Farmajo seeming to have gained a momentum for his term-extension agenda, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto’s office tweeted this:
“@US2Somalia is eagerly waiting for #Dhusamareb 3 Mtg results. The need for wide spread consultations & genuine compromise is key. The election model needs broad based support from FGS, FMS, Parliament, & other stakeholders. Timely elections, no mandate extensions. #Somalia.”
And on Aug 20, as soon one-sided Dhusamareeb Three shenanigan to ensure the extension concluded, the same office tweeted:
“@US2SOMALIA has worked for inclusion of all views at the table in #Dhusamareb3, but can’t help those absent. Spoilers withholding participation sacrifice democracy for own ambitions. Parties will need to move forward with timely model agreed.”
Though these statements are reminiscent of a bygone era known as the ‘transitional period’ it supports my last article that Somalia is under a dysfunctional trusteeship, I venture say it was intended to serve, on the one hand, as a reassurance for UK and other donor nations that US is not supporting an extension; on the other hand, to put a thumb on the scale and coerce the federal-states to march behind Farmajo. It is the only way to harvest what was sowed a few years earlier. But, since the term extension appears to be like striking a matchstick over a pool of kerosene, it must be done through a legitimate process- the federal parliament.
Meanwhile, following Trump’s patented method of appointing care-takers to a number key posts to avoid congressional scrutiny, Farmajo appoints a Care-taker Prime Minister with a free-hand to exercise full authority over the Council of Ministers. This flies in the face of the very constitution that Farmajo often references to underscore the power vested in the federal parliament. So exercise and expedite to the max is what the care-taker did.
Immediately upon assuming his new post, the care-taker Prime Minister, Mahdi Guled, dashed through the approval of a few international projects and appointed the Somali Petroleum Authority without any transparency, without capacity and integrity review of the members of this highly critical body of trustees. This same questionable authority is all of sudden set to make a critical decision that could haunt Somalia for generations. The method, the timing, and the haste should raise a red flag.
Who Owns It?
These controversial events of the past three plus years that shook the foundation of Somalia’s political structure confirm a looming danger that some analysts were warning against- a perfect storm emanating from resource curse, geographical curse, and clannism curse.
There are two things that one must keep in mind when conducting any political affairs or developing any strategies for domestic or international end:
One, there is no such thing as ‘spontaneous combustion’ because all things political are driven by an overt or a covert objective, or both. Two, if you are not interested or are not able to assess behavioral patterns or connect the dots, you are better off finding another career to pursue.
2021 is here and not much has changed since the last election. The political situation is in total disarray, drone attacks reached the danger zone and security continues to worsen, corruption still remains a skill in high demand, sovereignty still remains a pie in the sky, and many hands continue to operate inside the cookie jar of resources. So long as the dominant political discourse remains on clans, personality politics, and methods of transitioning power, expect the wheel of exploitation to gain more ground and the predators to get more emboldened.
Somalia still remains a political prospect that is between a romantic ideal and corrosive reality; between conformity with clannism and the reformation toward statehood; between a living idea and a dying potential; between yearning for liberty and enabling the subjugators; between individual interest and collective benefit.
An enlightened intergenerational movement to reclaim Somalia is needed more than ever; also, leaders with vision and strategy that transcend the clan mentality in order to reimagine a new nation and put the common good and national interest before all others.
*Abukar Arman is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. You may follow him via twitter @Abukar_Arman.