US meddling in Somalia has gone on for decades. It has included the disastrous “Black Hawk Down” operation of 1993, the US-backed Ethiopian invasion from 2006 to 2009, the current presence of US troops, and the drone bombing campaign that began under Obama in 2011. In 2021, with the help of Minnesota Congresswoman and Somali American Ilhan Omar, it engineered the defeat of President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, aka Farmaajo., who had been trying to re-establish the nation’s sovereignty and control of its own security forces. Farmaajo was replaced by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who has done the opposite, as Dr. Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad writes here.
Dr. Abdiwahab is a Somali Kenyan and Kenyan citizen. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Horn of Africa Studies and a specialist in political science, conflict resolution, and rural development. On September 8, 2021, he was abducted by Kenyan police working as mercenaries for Somali elites. Upon his release 12 days later, they warned him to stay out of Somali and Ethiopian affairs, to stop supporting former Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmaajo, to stop opposing former Somali prime minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, and to warn his colleagues to do the same. His 12-day captivity shocked the nation.
On January 11, Nairobi Law Monthly published this essay but then removed it several days later without explanation. — BAR Contributing Editor Ann Garrison
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is at the center of a spiraling disaster, and the country is mired in a protracted self-inflicted crisis. The army is disintegrating, the economy is in disarray, and public trust in the government is eroding.
Mohamud came to power by running one of the most unconventional campaigns, rife with hate and a threat to violence. He tweeted a few weeks before the election, “If those who lead our country refuse to listen and accommodate the voices of reason, soon they will deal with those of unreasonable voices equipped with violence.”
It’s fair to say Mohamud came to power through threats of violence and was ready to risk it all to return the country to the ugly events of 1991, the year Somalia lost the central government, followed by a bloody civil war. At some point, he could not conceal his desire for violence.
“The time-proven democratic principle of the ballot rather than the bullet is what our people are eagerly waiting for now. History teaches us stability and prosperity are conditioned on VOICE OF REASON to lead the processes,” said Mohamud in another tweet.
In any case, Mohamud prevailed in the election with many factors, including direct cash support from foreign entities, and is currently in the seventh month of his term as president, half of which he has spent outside the country on foreign trips that have cost the country millions of dollars to accommodate his large entourage, primarily comprised of cabinet members – mostly members of his clan.
On a rampage
Immediately after his election, the president went on the rampage, destroying legitimate institutions, empowering clan militias, and going against anything that was in favor of the state-building process. As a result, the national army is demoralized, and the arming of the militia and the availability of government weapons to clan militia who may use them against other clans has hampered the government’s efforts to have a UN arms embargo lifted.
Abdi Ismail Samatar, a Somali senator, has warned the president against arming clan militia and dividing the army along clan lines. Samatar says, “To call for tribal groups to arm themselves and fight al-Shabaab without a national civic pact and credible national leadership repeats the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s, and may yet usher in decades of internal conflict after al-Shabaab is defeated.”
The cabinet, which the president handpicked, reveals a lot about the sort of government that now exists. A glaring unfairness is that it does not reflect on the regional and clan balance; worse, this government has rewarded a man who led a group that killed tens of thousands of Somali civilians with a ministerial position. Mukhtar Robow the minister of religious affairs, is one of the founders of al-Shabaab. Until recently he was in prison but was rewarded with a ministerial office. As a result, al-Shabaab is more confident than they have been in the past, and they have every reason to be optimistic that they can survive four years of misrule.
To evade accountability, Mohamud undid three state institutions—the anti-corruption agency, the economic advisory body, and the judicial services commission—in less than six months.
Failed uprising, insecurity in the capital
A month into his rule, a popular revolt against al-Shabaab occurred in the Hiiraan Region, in central Somalia. Mohamud used the uprising as a means to arm specific militias that he created himself, with the result of pitting clans against one another. He soon abandoned the militias which have fallen prey to al-Shabaab. The popular revolt is now on the edge of collapsing, and al-Shabaab is regaining regions.
One of Mohamud’s biggest failures is his appointment of Mahad Salad as the head of the intelligence agency NISA even though he had no experience in security matters. Mogadishu is currently in a state of disarray as a result.
Salad, who has also embarked on a mission to demolish the intelligence agency, began by punishing NISA workers close to the previous administration. He then began targeting individuals he thought were favorable to the former leader of NISA, Fahad Yasin, some of whom were valuable to the agency and the country’s security. Critics saw Yasin as someone with a lot of power in the government and a threat to the winners of the election.
The mismanagement and mistrust at NISA resulted in a vacuum and confusion inside the body, which just a few months before was acknowledged as being on the verge of becoming a sophisticated intelligence body.
In his first interview, Fahad Yasin, the former head of NISA, claimed that the current leader of the spy agency, Mahad Salad, has a close relationship with al-Shabaab and helped facilitate some of the group’s attacks on government officials. Salad is yet to respond to the allegation that he works with al-Shabaab.
By the time I began writing this piece, the first batch of 5,000 Somali soldiers trained in Eritrea returned – in late December – to join the country’s ongoing offensive against al-Shabaab. President Mohamud says he is happy to receive Eritrean military help despite being one of the fiercest critics of his predecessor’s military cooperation with the government of President Isaias Afwerki. Mohamud’s flip-flopping on important national security is unbecoming of a president.
The Coastline Exploration oil and gas company claims that it has revived a defunct oil production-sharing deal with Somalia’s government. While Coastline Exploration celebrated the deal and claimed to have paid $7 million as a signing bonus, the president hasn’t publicly acknowledged it.
Coastline Exploration, however, reported that it has “received final authorization for it to proceed with its exploration program from the competent authorities within the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS).”
“Today marks a major step forward for Somalia, as we look to develop our energy industry which should deliver material benefits for all Somalis. Energy independence, new tax revenues, and further foreign investment in Somalia now beckon,” its statement read.
The US company, which was established in 2018, paid $7 million for at least 12 oil blocks. Mohamud’s government signed the agreement despite the opposition of the Financial Governance Committee, a group of experts comprised of the Somali finance minister, parliamentarians, and World Bank members, which warned against signing any oil deals because the country lacked a legal framework to protect its own interests.
Insecurity and foreign naval operations in Somali waters
Some Somali legislators have called for an end to foreign naval operations off the Somali coast and called for building a Somali coast guard and national navy capable of guaranteeing the country’s maritime security. The EU has its own naval force, EU NAVFOR Somalia , in Somali waters, and it has begun training Somali maritime police, but this is unlikely to have any impact on a country dealing with insecurity and external interference, including the EU’s.
The piracy threat in Somalia began when Somali fishermen found it difficult to fish in their own waters and claimed to have seen vessels from other countries fishing unchecked. EU NAVFOR claims to operate in Somali waters for the purpose of deterring, preventing, and repressing piracy.
Last week the European Union extended its operation in Somali waters for another two years even though piracy has been in decline.
“Capitalizing on the successes of suppressing piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa and Somalia, the overall mandate of Operation Atalanta was consolidated. With this mandate, Operation Atalanta is now in a better position to contribute to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Somalia, reduce drug traffic, support the ongoing fight against al-Shabaab and its funding stream, and the progress of the government of Somalia,” the European Council said in a statement.
President Mohamud agreed to a two-year extension for the European Union to operate in Somali waters. This counteracts the previous president’s efforts to develop its own naval force to protect its own territory from illegal fishing and armed smuggling.
The EU shipping fleet is the “number-one harvester” of the depleted supply of yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean. These industrial boats take three different kinds of tropical tuna simultaneously, in addition to bigeye tuna and skipjack, whose catch limit has been disregarded for the last three years despite being overfished.
President Mohamud is not a disaster waiting to happen; he is a disaster that has already happened to Somalia. He is accused of swindling Somalia’s fortune during his first term (2012-2017), when he suddenly became one of the wealthiest men in Africa, in a country where more than half of the population rely on aid agencies for food, water, and medicine. It is difficult to predict what kind of chaos and destruction he will leave behind by the time he finishes his term in office. However, judging from what he has done so far in seven short months, the nation currently known as Somalia may no longer exist.
Dr. Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad is a Somali Kenyan and Kenyan citizen. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Horn of Africa Studies and a specialist in political science, conflict resolution, and rural development.