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Hassan Sheikh’s profit and loss account: the first 100 days

The new president ushered in politics of reconciliation rather than confrontation, calming the mood of the country. It is a good start but would not be enough on its own.   

by Abdi Ali
Monday August 29, 2022

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s (HSM) historic second-time incumbency had political costs and benefits: people already knew who he was, what his failings were and what he needed to do differently. This is the reason he became president. At the time, the presidential election was about the survival of the country and not a contest of political ideologies or economic plans - a sign of low-expectations rather than high achievements. HSM offered a simple contrast to his predecessor – politics of reconciliation rather than confrontation which is what the country needed at the time. While this was not a particularly high bar to clear, his victory pulled the country from the brink.   

In this context, the president’s first 100 days showed laudable flashes of restraint. He calmed the political mood of the country and engaged with grievances through discussion. Intrinsically, he is a believer in the doctrine that we are more likely to solve our problems by talking to each other, than through the barrel of a gun or a late night “Wiifto”. However, such good work would be worth very little on its own if the government does not have a plan for the country or forgets about the other pressing issues facing the nation.

This is why a simple change of government is never good enough to take Somalia out of the current economic and security predicament. It needs much more than that. Nor is talking about your predecessor’s record be substitute for an effective governing strategy. People’s goodwill is not a deep reservoir that would last for ever and they want to see tangible change. They need to see a president in a hurry who does not only describe problems, but offers real solutions and has a plan for the country. In his first 100 days, the temptation has been to try to deal with every problem, which is impossible and could deplete HSM’s political capital.

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On security, not much can of course happen in 100 days. The Hayat atrocity shows the daily terrorism savagery that our people face. This also highlights that relentless optimism about a change of government will not save lives. There are still worrying lapses of accountability and leadership at different levels within the government and security services - something that HSM has been slow to address or prioritise in his first 100 days. Dispiritingly, very little seems to have changed in the one area that matters the most. Mogadishu is the umbilical cord through which the country’s lifeline flows. Whether he appreciates it or not, what he does about Mogadishu’s security offers important lessons for what he can achieve as a president. Mogadishu should not fall off the radar again.

On foreign policy, HSM steered Somalia away from an “axis of autocracy” but should be careful not to be pulled into a new “Orbit of Interests”. There is nothing wrong in asserting Somalia’s sovereignty and recalibrating alliances to Somalia’s national interest – the president is right to do that. However, the political calculus in relation to foreign affairs is often fraught with dangers and strategic foreign policy ambiguity may serve Somalia well, rather than staking out clear positions that may be difficult to sustain and could then be used against Somalia. On this score, HSM should be lauded for showing his diplomatic backbone and standing up to regional bullies, but must tread carefully not to bare his teeth too often or be dragged into regional squabbles. We have enough issues of our own to deal with without adding to them.

On Federal Member States (FMS), he is right to work on improving relations between the government and member states. He is working within a “federalism” structure that is deliberately designed to generate endless strive to weaken Somalia in the long-term. As such, he should not confuse real with apparent problems here – a mistake he made in his first term. He should resist the temptation to spend political capital on a merry-go-round with FMSs, sapping his energy. He should focus on delivering on the people’s priorities in member states – security, economic development and political choice by working with those that want to make a difference.  

On the economy, we have not seen an emergency budget to deal with the drought that is ravaging the country.  Somalia’s debt relief is due to conclude in the first quarter of next year, pending the successful completion of the outstanding reform milestones which would require significant institutional heavy-lifting.  Somalia also has an important financial risk assessment in just over 18 months’ time. All of these have a consequential impact on Somalia Plc. This is the time to think through and analyse key strategic investment priorities for the country and funding needs for infrastructure, schools and hospitals. The pace of economic reform needs to be accelerated.

Salka Dhulka Dhig…

Crisis leadership is not the same as leadership mired in crisis – the former is what the country needs now, the latter is what the country got in HSM’s first term in office. For now, HSM’s profit and loss account seems to be at break-even point. The political mood has calmed down, moving the focus away from the whiff of civil war on to more prosaic day-to-day issues - security, justice and economic development. That is an achievement in itself. The government must now be clear about what it seeks to achieve in the short, medium and long term and set clear objectives for pursuing those aims. HSM – as second-term incumbent, Salka Dhulka Dhig, monitor progress of what is happening in the country and don’t let the ball drop again on Mogadishu. This time, the stakes could not be any higher for you and the country

HSM’s government cannot solve all of Somalia’s problems at a stroke. Equally, trying to measure future success, based on one’s first 100 days in office, is hardly scientific. What is clear though is that he enjoys the goodwill of the people for the time being and is expected to deliver on his promises.  However, we will see whether he is prepared for the difficult trade-offs he has to make, and the self-discipline to push through the difficult institutional and economic reforms needed to turn the country around.  

Overall, a reasonable start to his first 100 days. As ever, only time will tell whether this is a harbinger of more good things to come or if it is yet another false dawn.


Abdi Ali
[email protected]


 





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