EDITORIAL: Could Khaire’s international contacts revive his political bid?
EDITORIAL | Former Somalia Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire surprised pundits last week when he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Khaire lampooned for delaying Somalia’s electoral program and who was ousted as PM back in July plans to seek Presidency when the country holds polls in February next year.
But his contest was initially seen as a scorpion fight against a man who had him fired. Coming from a smaller Morursabe sub-clan of Hawiye (whose major sub-clans are Abgal and the Habargidir), Khaire is routinely seen as one without a thin ethnic backing on home soil.
As a former refugee, however, Khaire rose to become an oil executive at Soma Oil and Gas which allowed him contacts in high places. Add that to his dual Norwegian nationality and it possibly allows him to travel to dozens of countries across the world including Russia (both Norwegians and Somalis actually need visas to enter Russia, but it is easier if you have Scandinavian nationality too).
So how did the meeting with Lavrov go? A dispatch from the Russian Foreign Ministry said there had been an “exchange of views” on opportunities for strengthening Russian-Somali cooperation especially on “the promotion of mutually beneficial trade and economic ties.”
Russian officials also confirmed that Moscow was keen on supporting the efforts of Somalis to “form democratic institutions of power in the country.”
This was the second such meeting between Lavrov and Khaire. The first was in September 2017 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Lavrov had then promised support for Somalia’s war on al-Shabaab as well as “commitment to expanding cooperation in the political, trade-and-economic and other areas,” according to a dispatch released by Khaire’s office then.
The difference between then and now, however, is that Khaire is no longer head of Somalia's government and hence was incapable of commanding the official position of relations between the two countries. In fact, pundits on social media were curious that a civilian like Khaire was meeting a top Russian diplomat to discuss bilateral issues.
Between 2017 when President Farmajo came to power and 2020, Russian officials have met with Farmaajo, former PM Khaire, and former Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad on separate occasions. And last year in October, Farmaajo became the first Somalia President since the Cold War years to travel to Moscow when he joined 40 other leaders for the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit.
So what do we read from Khaire’s trip? Some pundits say Russia has lagged behind influence in the Horn of Africa. Of all the major powers of the world (China and the US), Russia has no resident embassy in Mogadishu. Its accredited ambassador Mr. Mikhail Golovakov operates from Djibouti and has to shuttle from time to time to and meet with leaders on appointment. His trips have largely remained unpublicized.
“At present, Russia, as a major producer and exporter of oil and natural gas, does not need new supplies of energy from Africa. On the other side, to enhance its control over oil and natural gas and lines to support its own economic and political influence is more important strategically all over the world,” writes Dr. Mehmet Cem Oğultürk, in a recent paper in Rising Powers Quarterly.
“Nevertheless, Russia is still trying to improve its economic situation from the global financial crisis, due to existing sanctions and other foreign policy priorities. In this respect, Moscow’s relationship with the Horn of Africa still remains in the un-desirable level as in the rest of the continent.”
Somalia, then the Somali Republic, began off as a communist-leaning country with allies in Moscow during the Soviet Union era. The policy shifted rapidly in the 70s as Mogadishu sought support for its war against Ethiopia, whose Derg regime was getting support from the Soviets in the Ogaden war.
Somalia turned to the US and the West in general and Moscow lost influence. Russia became weaker as its republics splintered off to form new countries after the end of the Cold War.
Today, the US, Turkey, and the Gulf countries have competed for influence as Russia lags.
Despite Russia's apparent lag, however, Khaire’s ability to meet on personal terms with Lavrov could imply his strength in international connections.
“Clearly, Hassan Khaire has distinguished himself from the competition with this show of international connection. How does one get to dine with the foreign minister of Russia on a friendly basis? Khaire is practicing politics, a level above the rest,” argued Twitter user Badri Rashid.
With a nationalistic Somali politics, where most politicians have lived outside the country but campaign mostly by arousing Somaliness, Khaire has kept meeting with foreign leaders in foreign capitals. Over the last two months, he traveled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Turkey, and the Gulf.
It may be unknown for now what he has gathered for his political ambitions. But it may also imply that Somalia’s open politics where foreigners assert one type of influence or another, this coming politics will be no other.
“[It] seems that every country is taking advantage of the divisive nature of our politics. Western Powers, Ethiopia, Kenya, Qatar, UAE, and now Russians? prepare for the worst days ahead,” Mahamed Ahmed, another Somali political enthusiast wrote on Twitter.
With Western leaders often terming those opposed to the popular initiatives as ‘spoilers,’ perhaps Khaire showed last week that there are more and more powers keen to see how the Somalia elections go and are willing to prop up different candidates.
It is a shopping season in Somalia!