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How Somalia Was Made ‘Great Again’

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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.

Execution Express

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 former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics. Twitter: @Abukar_Arman or reach him via e-mail: abukar_arman[at]yahoo.com

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Africa

Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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