Puntland President-elect can learn a lot from his predecessors if he owns up to his business-political baggage, argues Liban Ahmad
Mr Said Abdullahi Deni will be the sixth Puntland President when takes office soon. His win proves the rota-based system, that makes the Puntland Presidency rotate among candidates from Qardho, Garowe and Galka’yo, is hard to beat. What made this election unique is that the two candidates in the last round happen to hail from Qardho. Why has Puntland been unable to conduct one person, one vote that Somaliland held for the first time in 2003, twelve years after unilateral secession from Somalia? By this logic, Puntland should have conducted the first one person, one vote elections in 2010. An attempt by President Abdirahman Farole to introduce multi-party system in 2013 ended in failure. His government was introducing political parties to boost its chances to stay in power.
Puntland is a federal member state based purely on clan identity. This fact militates against the creation of political institutions accountable to the electorate. It is a strong message to those aspiring to conduct one person, one vote elections in Somalia in 2021. Except for the three-month hiatus of caretaker President Mohamed Abdi Hashi, Puntland election outcomes have followed a pattern exemplified by the years 1998, 2005, 2008, 2014 and 2019: two Galka’yo-affiliated Presidents; two Qardho-based Presidents and one Garowe-born President. Many Puntlanders prefer not to discuss this power asymmetry; they know such a discussion will neither improve governance nor instil a sense of accountability in the political class; it would only replace one brand of political opportunism with another. Puntland hasn’t even given green light to the creation of political parties to contest the 2021 one person, one vote elections slated to take place in Somalia.
Said Deni has got strong connections with the Puntland business community. He is the first Puntland President with diverse business interests in Somalia. While he can learn a lot from legacies of his predecessors, it is the reign of Qardho-affiliated President, Mohamud Hersi, that stands out as an exceptional political lesson. President Hersi’s reign lasted four years. Union of Islamic Courts and Majiyahan Incident were two challenges Hersi had had to grapple with. His decision to exploit minerals in Majiyahan area triggered clashes between Majiyahan community and Puntland forces. Many analysts have come to the conclusion that Puntland radicalised a large segment of its population through attempts to lease mineral-rich territories to foreign companies without wider consultations. The lesson Deni can learn from Majiyahan fiasco is that a leader beholden to businesses can only deepen a culture of political entrepreneurship.
In a fragile political context political entrepreneurs benefit from unaccountable political institutions created on the basis on primordial ties at any level instead of citizenship precepts. President-elect Deni is a business man. How can he prevent his office from becoming a means to enrich his business associates? For a start, addressing this contradiction will assuage worries that President-elect of Puntland will bring with him a baggage that notorious business cliques of successive Puntland administrations could exploit. How the new Puntland administration will deal with the Inter-state Cooperation Council created to undercut the influence of Federal Government of Somalia remains a mystery so far.
Not less challenging is the Puntland-Somaliland stand-off at Tukaraq. Dr Abduweli Gaas assumed power without the full federal representation privileges of people in Disputed Territories although Somaliland conducted elections in those territories except Buuhoodle. President-elect Deni will have assumed power amid tense political conflict between Hargeysa and Garowe. War may not be averted as long the standoff remains. Puntland President-elect could benefit from his connections with Somaliland political community to propose talks with Somaliland about Disputed Territories. By abandoning the claim that Disputed Territories are a part of Puntland, the new administration will face impeachment. Somaliland government will face accusations that it abandons its sovereignty claim if it makes a territorial compromise to Puntland. Somaliland and Puntland can find a middle ground based on a win-win deal.
As a Planning Minister of Federal Government of Somalia Said Deni promoted a controversial Population Estimation Survey devised by Federal Government of Somalia under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud whose inner circle, Damuljadiid, maintains strong ties with Puntland President-Elect. This is the least appealing aspect of his short-lived foray into federal politics between 2014 and 2017.