A Sobering Start for Somalia’s New President

On Monday, Somalia’s new parliament selected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country’s new president. Mohamud’s term has begun on a sobering note, with an assassination attempt on the president yesterday by three suicide bombers from the rebel movement Al Shabab. Mohamud was unharmed, but the attack claimed the lives of eight soldiers. Al Shabab, which has regularly conducted bombings in the capital Mogadishu since its “tactical withdrawal” last year, vowed that attacks will continue. Reuters (previous link) comments,

The timing of the attack showed the militants had reliable intelligence, perhaps someone on the inside. This will be a problem for Somalia’s new leadership.

A foreign ministry official, Mohamed Maie, said security staff and African Union soldiers had let their guard down.

While al Shabaab is steadily losing ground, it can still regroup and easily infiltrate government-controlled areas. More worryingly, there are still disenchanted, radicalised Somalis ready to strap on explosive belts.

Among Mohamud’s biggest challenges will be to capitalise on the security gains made over the last year and reform a disparate and badly paid security force so that it pledges its allegiance to the country, rather than rival power-brokers.

The international media is full of analyses of how difficult Mohamud’s job will be. IRIN expands on this theme with commentary from several experts, while the LA Times approaches the topic through some “man in the street” interviews.

At the same time, some observers see real potential for change in Somalia at this moment. Part of that change, some say, should involve a shift in the international community’s strategy. Bloomberg editorializes,

Americans — the State Department, nongovernmental groups and businesses — can best help by ending the welfare handouts to the central government and shifting aid and investment directly to projects that change the lives of average Somalis. With al-Shabaab mostly gone, a good first step would be for UN agencies and charity groups, which decamped from country after a rash of kidnappings, to get their peaceful boots back on the ground.

Abdi Aynte, meanwhile, writes,

For years, members of the international community have been micromanaging the politics of Somalia from afar, often in pursuit of wrongheaded policies. The exception to this is the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM), which has shown a remarkable degree of neutrality.

In order for this government to succeed, external actors must take two steps: First, they should immediately cease their appetite for meddling and imposing their will on Somali governments. President Mohamud has an unrivaled legitimacy from the Somali people. The Nairobi-based politicians should give him space to chart his own path – and make mistakes along the way.

Second, the international community ought to change the culture of supporting individuals over institutions. Much of the failure of Somalia’s institutions stems from foreign powers giving an outsized influence to unelected politicians and armed groups.

It’s also, of course, very much worth hearing what the president himself has to say. His interview with South Africa’s eNCA (sent to me by a reader of this site) is excellent. His three priorities, he explains, are “security, and service delivery, and economic recovery” – but he adds, “Number one will be security, number two will be security, and number three will be security.” He also makes some interesting remarks on the ideological struggle with Al Shabab in the context of a country that is nearly 100% Muslim.

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5 thoughts on “A Sobering Start for Somalia’s New President

  1. I’m not really sure what the outside world could have done to support institutions instead of people over the past twenty years. For a good deal of it there were barely even institutions to support, much less expect results from.

    Interesting to see no commentary on Libya from recent events. Are you still looking at the details?

      • Considering the state of post-Qaddafi Libya there’s no reason why any number of the groups prone to this would need time to acquire the weapons necessary, though there’s still the question of whether they started the protests as cover or if they simply piggybacked on what protesters were doing.

        The most important question though, is whether their actions once the protests started would require serious observation and planning over months, or if it’s possible that they simply got lucky. I would tend towards the former, but I’ve learned not to underestimate the role chance, stupidity and luck play in politics. Currently I don’t know what the layout of the consulate is, nor am I even sure how exactly the ambassador and three other died so I can’t say.

        However that’s gratitude for you. The U.S. not only ruined its ability to work with China and Russia but also discouraged any other authoritarian leaders from giving up WMDs to prevent the destruction of the anti-Qaddafi movement and this is the kind of thanks we get. I know that whatever group did this probably doesn’t represent that large a portion of Libyan society, but they definitely didn’t have any qualms murdering representatives of the nation that prevented their own brutal deaths not too long ago. At least in Egypt they can say that the U.S. wasn’t directly responsible for Mubarak’s removal.

        On the American side of things if this keeps happening it will probably leave an impact in political considerations. It might be a bit embarrassing to ignore the fate of dissidents in authoritarian nations but either party can always say ‘no more Iran’s and no more Libya’s’.

      • Qaddafi’s fall was not popular in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and post-Qaddafi treatment of blacks in Libya further alienated the Libyan regime.

        So many look at the murder of the US Ambassador (as regrettable as it is) and say “serves you right” – they blame the US for both supporting the anti-black rebels and ignoring the treatment of blacks post-revolution.

      • The group being blamed for what may have been one of two attacks (Ansar al-Sharia) is from Eastern Libya and is apparently an Arab group. Basically that might be the sub-Saharan view but the group that did this wasn’t motivated by anger over the treatment of black Africans.

        Incidentally Chavuka, what do Nigerians call ‘black’ Africans? In America we usually refer to them simply as ‘African’, or if they’re from a nation outside of Africa we say ‘X African’ such as ‘French African’ (or possibly ‘African-X’ depending on how the term sounds when spoken).

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