Leadership, it is said, requires a fine balance of humility and hubris. Despite its splendid recovery, Somalia still is, sadly, a target of ridicule and hubris, an excessive pride that ancient Greeks scorned at as defiance of the gods (truth), leading to nemesis or doom.
In a televised speech to the Uganda Annual Judge’s Conference (January 28, 2019), President Yoweri Museveni, rather brashly and undiplomatically, proclaimed that “Somalia is not a state” and has no “organised authority.” The Ugandan leader did not feel morally, diplomatically or otherwise constrained to label Somalia as “stateless” despite not naming other countries with no organised authority “for diplomatic reasons”.
In a deep intellectual sense, Mr Museveni’s “stateless Somalia” remark echoes the cynical view of Africa conveyed by the polemical book, Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (1999), where Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz dismiss the African state as “weak”, “vacuous”, “ineffectual”.
As the adage goes, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. State failure, like beauty or ugliness, is in the eye of the beholder. In a 2006 book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, Noam Chomsky presciently warned that the United States was becoming a failed state, and thus a danger to its own people and the world.
Mogadishu has ignored Museveni’s broadside. “We’re a state internationally recognised and that’s why I’m now here with my Kenyan counterpart”, said Somalia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ahmed Awad.
Beyond the “failed state” polemic, Somalia is the poster child of an “Africa rising” from the ashes of civil war in the 21st century. The nation has come a long way from its dark days in the 1990s, captured in a newly published book, The Roots of the Somali Crisis: An Insider’s Memoir (2019) by Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess.
Jess, one of the key players in the events that led to the failure and withering away of the Somali State, insightfully captures Somalia’s unique challenge: “In contrast to the rest of Africa where states are struggling to become a nation, the Somali is a nation struggling to become a state.” (p.241). However, two reports this week highlight Somalia’s recovery. First, a January 28, 2019 report to the UN Security Council by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) depicts Somalia as one of the few areas experiencing violence which have seen some improvements in food scarcity and improved security. In one year, the number of Somalis experiencing acute food shortages dropped by almost half from 3.3 million in July 2017 to 1.8 million in July 2018.
Second is a January 25, 2019 survey by the Washington-based Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS), “Progress and Setbacks in the Fight against African Militant Islamist Groups in 2018”, which shows that fatalities linked to al-Shabaab dropped by 15pc from about 4,700 in 2017 to 4,000 last year. Delightfully, the world’s most protracted refugee crisis might be slowly coming to an end. Last year, a total of 122,000 Somalis returned to Somalia from neighbouring countries, about three-quarters of them from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.
Remarkably, Somalia’s recovery is a fine blend of internal reforms and a new global deal. Despite significant setbacks, Somalis are deepening their democracy. In the last 18 years, power has peacefully changed hands from five presidents and more than eight prime ministers to the respective winners.
A strategic partnership and executive power-sharing in Villa Somalia between President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre is working, and paying off. In 2018, domestic revenue peaked at over $200 million, the highest in decades. In separate deals last year, the European Union (EU) and the World Bank approved a nearly $200 million budget support to Somalia, the first in 27 years. Development is draining the swamps of violent extremism. “Economic development will help us reduce poverty and greatly contribute to our efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism,” said Khayre.
Even though Al-Shabaab remains the deadliest terror group in Africa, accounting for almost 42 per cent of all reported fatalities involving armed Islamist groups on the continent in 2018, a festering conflict between Villa Somalia and Federal States is the real existential crisis facing Somalia.
Blissfully, post-civil war Somalia is at peace with all its neighbours. Two events this week signify the new spirit of détente between Somalia and Kenya. And on January 29, 2019, Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre made his maiden visit to Kenya to deliver President Farmajo’s goodwill and condolence message to President Uhuru Kenyatta after the Al-Shabaab terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Drive.
“Kenya is Somalia’s number one strategic partner in the ongoing transformation of the Horn of Africa country”, Khayre told his host, noting that Somalia currently hosts over 50,000 Kenyans working in various sectors of its economy.
“Kenya’s efforts (to support the Federal Government) have not gone to waste,” the President said alluding to the role that Kenya has played over the years to support a legitimate “organised authority” in Mogadishu.
Second, on January 30, 2019, Kenya and Somalia held their Joint Commission for Cooperation talks, signing a cooperation and security deal to step up the fight against Al-Shabaab. But Somalia’s neighbours still have serious concerns over Villa Somalia’s ability to secure their borders with Somalia. While respecting the sovereignty of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia have maintained strategic relations with Somalia’s federal states, which has caused friction with Mogadishu.
The creation of Jubbaland as a semi-autonomous region in Somalia under former militia leader, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, is a case in point. In this context, the upcoming presidential election in Jubbaland in August 2019 will be the acid test for the Kenya-Somali détente.
Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive at the Africa Policy Institute.