The Somali Federal Government’s statement dated January 1, 2019, designating the Special
Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) of the United Nations-Mr. Nicholas Heysom-Persona Non-Grata, is a crossing the Rubicon paradigm shift in post-conflict Somalia. Since this new development has generated different perspectives on right or wrong, the fundamental question that we should be asking ourselves is: who has the authority to direct or question the performance of a federal minister? We need to reflect on how the raging debate is taking shape. The question of government accountability, which is equally important, needs to be examined and addressed separately as that my convolute the issue on hand.
Although the status of transitional administrations ended in early 2013, the office of the SRSG never fully embraced, or ceased procrastinating, the change from political oversight to a mostly humanitarian and institution capacity building partner. To his credit, after his administration was formally recognized by USA and other nations, former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamed took a firm stand against international community’s intention to mediate between him and his prime ministers declaring their litigation is best settled internally by the appropriate authority-namely the federal parliament. This was both a welcome change from the ubiquitous top-down transactional vis-à-vis with the international community, and has also set a precedent in post-conflict Somalia. Consequently, President Mohamed Abdullahi “Formaggio” ran on similar platform with the promise of curtailing external interference in national matters. The reaction from Somali society was overwhelmingly positive and has eventually catapulted him to the highest office. In light of this newly emerging trend, the federal government’s reaction of Mr. Heysom’s letter to a federal minister could have been anticipated and avoided. Although some of the content of the letter is valid, the hasty unilateral approach he pursued without prior consultation with appropriate offices defeated the purpose.
Mr. Heysom hails from notable legal background and experience ranging from his days as the chief legal and constitutional advisor to late President Mandela of South Africa, to his involvement in Burundi and Sudan peace processes. He is a veteran of high profile diplomacy since early 1990. Yet, his course of action last week raised questions since nowhere in his mandate stipulated issuing directives like his correspondence dated December 30, 2018 telling internal security Minister Abukar Islow to “immediately investigate” internal matters of the country. The office of SRSG office is mandated, among other, to “help investigate and report violation of human rights”. It is not by happenstance that “help” precedes “investigate” as this emphasizes the need for partnership, mutual respect, and shared understanding. The letter from Mr. Heysom portrayed worrisome image of usurping unchecked control instead of assisting government institutions perform requisite functions including investigating allegations according to the letter and spirit of the law. As a sovereign country, should not internal matters be the responsibility of the national authority?
Equally important is the issue of accountability for that cannot be overlooked or placed under the cloak of safeguarding sovereignty. Advocating for full sovereignty does not mean condoning verifiable atrocities from government forces or multinational peacekeepers. One cannot, and should not, try to defend or absolve the federal government or federal states of their role in possibly perpetuating chaos and lawlessness that results in loss of lives. The tragic incidents in Baidoa preceding recent election could fit this scenario. It is absolutely imperative to investigate and determine what happened and how it happened. However, it is also important to agree first on a) who has the authority to ask the administration appraisals pertaining to armed forces? b) Which entity can appropriate and then direct the administration to provide necessary resources? and c) whose role is it to ensure applicable policies and laws are in place? It is incumbent upon the federal legislative branch, not a foreign entity, to direct and hold the administration accountable for any willful negligence or flagrance. This approach has been effectively deployed before and has produced not only a better outcome but also a sustainable solution. A good example is the aftermath of the raid of opposition leader Mr. Abdishakur’s residence in which several of his bodyguards died, or when Senator Qeybdid’s house was investigated despite his parliamentary immunity. A similar episode was the reaction from handover of former Colonel Qalbi Dagah to Ethiopian government in 2017. Although the administration has initially downplayed or stayed silent on these incidents, the parliament, with the help of different sectors of the society inside and outside of the county, kept the issues percolating until the administration finally relented and admitted mistakes. This is an important testimony to the power of functioning institutions where the objective was not to win political points or settle score with an individual political figure, but a national cause the society fully has embraced. A meaningful national agenda has the potential to unite and lead the country to a better future.
My main argument is to be wary of diminishing national sovereignty at the expense of accountability. These are two important but separate concepts necessary for perseverance and effective governance. The ultimate authority of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty rests solely on Somali government institutions. The statement from the office of Somali foreign minister labelling the current SRGS Persona-Non-Grata is the extension of that effort. Should there be a lapse or failure of governance, other federal institutions, especially the parliament, should step in and dispense their fiduciary duties by holding accountable whomever might be at fault. If all fail, it is up to citizens to seek change. Governments were voted in and consequently can be voted out for lackluster performance. After almost sixty years of formally gaining independence, soliciting or supporting foreign entities to manage our internal affairs is not the panacea to the country’s many challenges. There is no excuse to abdicate or outsource the country’s sovereignty which our forefathers have paid dearly to obtain.
Ibrahim Abikar Noor, Ph.D.