One year ago, Somaliland citizen went to polls to elect a new president to fix and strengthen the rule of law, tackle the soaring inflation and currency depreciation, create jobs, provide the basic economical infrastructures (roads, bridges, ports, schools and hospitals), route out the crony capitalism and quotas in the business for the few in the expense of the many and to pave the dysfunctional Somaliland foreign policy into a new direction.
In the election days, the election fever was high and the campaign trail was marred by demagogic taunts, defamation, feuds whereby tribal cards were played by presidential hopefuls to garner political support to clinch the power. In addition to this, the political machinery in the election days experienced a relatively a commendable side as parties presented their manifestos for the voters and confronted a widely watched presidential debate. Although the voters’ options for a perfect candidate were limited yet their faith on candidates was not bad. Voters kept green boughs in their hearts. They knew that the road for presidential palace was ugly and a candidate must go through the dirty, so when he gets in, he cleans the mess, heals the wounds of division and strengths the unity and the confidence of the citizens on the government across the country.
Kulmiye, the ruling party won the presidential election in a landslide victory which the international observers hailed as a progressive step in Somaliland election evolution. The landslide victory gave Muse Bihi – the president-elect a mandate to form a government that fulfills his party agenda that symbolized “moving forward”.
One year after the election, I examine if we moved forward by revising the domestic affairs, economy, security and foreign policy.
On domestic and security affairs
Although the president inherited active inter-clan conflicts in Sool and Sanaag regions. Behi’s government has failed to contain the inter-clan enmities in Sool. In October, more than 50 lives were lost, and 80 persons were wounded in inter-clan fighting in Dhumay village in Sool region by a time the government had the mechanism to prevent the atrocity to happen. The aftermath of the horrific loss of lives; loss of properties and injuries, the Somali region in Ethiopia took the role to resolve the inter-clan conflict in Somaliland in Jigjiga when Hargaisa has failed to do so in its soil. On the other hands, the inter-clan conflict in Ceel-afwayn was contained but the byproduct of the conflict resulted so called “rebel group” formed by an army chief who defected from the government’s armed forces for what he called the grievances of the government injustices in the political representation, resource distribution and unfair military ranks. The group is hosted by Puntland. The group attacked Ceel-afwayn district at the onset of Behi’s visit in Sanaag region.
After bitterly fought presidential election, the political climate is polarizing. The election wounds were not healed and the post election tension was not cooled down. The political parties are at odds. The president is playing a political football with the opposition parties on their demand to dissolve the electoral commission. The president failed to cross across the aisle in the spirit of compromise and resolve the electoral commission issue with the opposition parties to avoid the local council and parliamentary elections to be delayed. As a result, the local council and parliamentary elections are postponed which undermines Somaliland democratization process under Bihi administration. On the other hand, the president’s decrees/nominations are seen to incline to the president’s base. In fact, the current administration lags a fair political representation and resource distribution across the country which is a precast for the good faith of the citizens in the government.
“A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF, CANNOT STAND”Abraham Lincoln
Former President Silanyo passed the torch to Bihi to finalize Somaliland–Khaatumo deal that Silanyo administration initiated and negotiated with Khatumo’s leader – Galaydh. The historic unity deal signed in Djibouti included the reform of the constitution to ensure fair power sharing and the integration of Khatumo soldiers into the Somaliland national armed forces. Behi’s year in power, the unity deal was left on the desk and any interest to clinch a deal with Khatumo . The avenue for deal is not the horizon in the near future. As Lincoln has said “a house divided against itself, cannot stand” Somaliland needs unity more than ever to get a united front to face the fast changing geopolitical, economical and security dynamics in the regions. Therefore, a deal with Khatumo is building blocks for strong Somaliland case should president Bihi adopt the deal.
Somaliland and Puntland clashed in Tukaraq in different occasions in a year of Behi’s incumbency. Somaliland accused the Federal Somali Government (TFG) for fueling the armed conflict. The conflict in Tukaraq is active, economically costly, politically troubling and the deadlock is far from settlement. The conflict in Tukaraq has clout to the political fight in Sanaag region waged by Puntland as an extention to Somali Federal Government. Recently, Puntland president and TFG ministers paid visits to Badhan and Dhahar districts in different times for their first time to flex their political muscles inside Somaliland borders. Ironically, president Behi’s visit in Ceerigaabo coincided with President Gas’s visit to Dhahar. In addition to this, Puntland administration taxes Qat/Mira in Badhan, Sanaag region brought by jets from Nairobi. This is a redline for Somalinad case that should not be crossed yet president Bihi was not decisive to put political and military force to keep this on hold.
On the Economy
During the presidential debate with other presidential hopefuls, the president stated his stand on the economy which majors to fight the inflation, currency depreciation, focusing on agricultural production for food security and to attract investors by giving assurance for their investments to ensure the economical engine running.
As a year passes, the inflation remains high and the national currency remains depreciated. In the monetary perspective, tackling the inflation and reversing the depreciation of the currency needs substantial reforms. However, there’s no substantial fiscal and monetary reforms made to change the course other than premature hasty steps to limit the amount of mobile money (Zaad and Edahab) to be used as Shillings to tackle the currency devaluation. On the other, there’s a strong argument that the currency depreciation was attributed too much Somaliland shillings in the market against the dollar, weak/less regulatory oversight by the Central Bank to the financial institution; the commercial banks, remittance companies and and mobile money companies and excessive hard currency exported to overseas. The Central Bank is failed to absorb Somaliland Shillings from the market to control the currency exchange and release Dollar to the market to regulate the exchange rate in a way favorable to the shilling and inject USD dollar into the market. Also, the Qat which is economically a destabilizing factor for the national currency that forces Qat traders to move out the hard currency to the neighboring countries for the purchase of the narcotic product. This made the dollar strong and the national currency weak and depreciated. Besides this, there are no significant investors to create jobs/employments and infuse cash in the country to stabilize the economy since Bihi was inaugurated. Therefore there is no economical engine to ease the problems. This speed up the dramatic fall of the purchasing power causing many businesses to close across the country and chronic unemployment become on the verge of explosion unless immediately reverted.
The tangible achievements that can be credited to Behi’s year in power include the resumption of Erigavo-Burao road construction which is expected to be completed late 2019 and the plantation of large swathes in Wajaale and Xaaji plains to produce 25% of the principle food that Somaliland imports as the president stated. These achievements can be counted his major signature in his first year in power to fulfill his agenda, the blueprint of Kulmiye party campaign.
The Rule of Law
Behi’s adminstation was credited the steps to renationalize Berbera port oil terminal and storage and to strip private enterprises from the management and the security of Egal International Airport and parking facilities. On the contrary, the the Public Accounts Committee Chairman MP Nasir Ali Shire was dismissed after he delivered a corruption observations annual report to the Lower House of Parliament that accused former Silanyo minister the involvement of public funds. The accused minister had stamped for Bihi during the campaign trail. The ruling party is a majority party in the parliament yet they did not intervene the case and the government remained passive in the matter. This resulted a public outcry that sees that the government is not serious curbing the corruption and enforcing the rule of law.
In December 2017, the president signed the Police Act into a law that creates an oversight body independent from the police and subjects the police to the jurisdiction of civilian courts and expressly bans the police from using live ammunition against unarmed civilians. However, the government per se proposed ironfisted amendments to remove the independent oversight body, and conduct arrests without court warrant which MPs voted for. The human right defenders labeled that the amendment will make the Police serve as a draconian.
In Behi’s year in power, the government arrested dissent voices as simple as posts like “the president is local” on social media and the media is censored. This is an alarming signal that tells that the new government is not tolerating the voices critical to the it nor embracing the freedom of speech.
In matter of fact, if the increasing powers of the executive over the legislatives that makes the laws and judicial that interprets the law continue the check and balances of governance and our democratic principles will be in peril.
Foreign Policy – Somaliland Direction
President Behi’s agenda to reform the dysfunctional reactive Somaliland foreign policy into a proactive aggressive seductive policy to sell Somaliland case into the region and internationally has yet worked. Somaliland is a country that has a geostrategic importance to buy a political and economical capital for its prime location in the Red Sea. Somaliland’s 30 years concession to UAE to operate Berbera port and run the military base in Berbera, Somaliland’s pirates fight for the safety of the Red Sea, the terrorism fight for the stability of region and the world and the security protection for Ethiopia-Somaliland border are a strong bargaining chip to buy a substantial political capital to achieve Somaliland quest for recognition. These cards have not been used by Behi’s administration in his first year in power. Besides this, the recent sweeping changes in the region led by Abiy Amed to foster economic and security integration gave an amble opportunity to president Farmajo to use megaphone diplomacy of hot air to undermine Somaliland’s reach in the region. Hence, Behi’s administration has not yet countered this using the security, economic and geostrategic advantages as easy chemistry to play a role the sweeping changes in the region and to keep in check Farmajo’s delusional agenda to weaken Somaliland case.
Finally, in the quest for recognition, Somaliland-Somalia negations are the shortest, easiest and safest path to end the quarter century of political bleeding for Somaliland. Somaliland has a strong legal and political argument for its case. Yet, president Bihi is unwillingness to proactively and aggressively push Somalia to sit down at the negation table is prolonging Somaliland case to be sorted out and to end the political bleeding continue. In the meantime, Behi’s administration has not established/re-established or strengthened other backdoor channels to foster diplomatic relations with IGAD, AU, EU, US, GCC block and other friends for Somaliland case. As John C. Maxwell said “ a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way” president Bihi should not wait a better prepared stronger Somalia to come for settlement, but he must take multifaceted ways to take Somaliland case into the region and internationally and unlock the diplomatic padlock and other potentials by putting the right leadership, resource, empowerment and people to Somaliland foreign policy.
Abdinasser Ahmed is the deputy chairman of Kulmiye party in Sanaag region. He is a a political activist based in Hargaisa Somaliland.
He can be reached on twitter @AbdinasserAA or facebook.com/sanaag