EDITORIAL: Politics has made Farmaajo tone deaf to Somalia’s image
EDITORIAL | Somalia’s Foreign Affairs State Minister Mr. Balal Cusman Balal Osman was on Thursday left with an egg on his face after presenting the wrong flag when hosting Russian diplomat Mikhail Golovanov in Mogadishu.
Rather than placing the Russian miniature flag before the visiting ambassador, Mr Osman’s team placed the Dutch flag, upside down. That may have been a mistake [the flag was later changed in subsequent photographs]. But it may well be a depiction of President Mohamed Farmaajo’s government and the way it treats its image.
Mr. Golovanov’s visit was ostensibly meant to show the Western world that Somalia is capable of relating with other superpowers. And coming in the week in which donors rejected the term extension for Farmaajo, this was an opportunity to show the world the middle finger.
Mr. Golovanov represents a country that has consistently been a thorn in the flesh of the Western world. Like the Soviet Union, Moscow was one of Somalia’s earliest allies, until the Ogadeni war when the Soviets armed the Ethiopian government against Somalia. Former ruler Siad Barre changed alliance to the US and Russians disappeared from the scene in the 70s.
For him to travel from his station in Djibouti to Mogadishu (both of where he is accredited), it was probably good optics but not a free lunch for Somalia: The Russians have been seeking re-entry into the Horn, and chaos in Somalia probably presents that opportunity. The flag incident ruined it.
In an actual sense, it is Farmaajo who has been ruining it. This week, the President whose term had expired in February swiftly endorsed a decision passed by the Lower House to extend their mandate by up to two years. During this time, the legislators say, Somalia should be ready to hold universal suffrage.
Then Farmaajo went ahead with statements, insulting the donors for “misleading” statements, and argued the Federal Government would stand by the decision of the MPs.
There are obvious legal questions, such as whether a decision extending the power of a sitting President should be handled by the Lower House only. There are also questions on whether a House whose term expired in December can purport to extend its powers long after expiry.
And yet there are political questions too. This decision went ahead, despite the Senate's rejection, opposition by political rivals and two key federal states. Farmaajo argued Parliament was “restoring” power to the citizens, who have never voted in 50 years.
Farmaajo’s response to this move was embarrassing. In an earlier warning to the international community, the Foreign Ministry had said it will reject interference. True, interference is what most Somalis abhor. But Somalia’s reality is such that external influence will always come in the form of diaspora, donors, partners, or entities who feel they have a stake or interest in Somalia.
Here is how. Somalia’s diaspora sends home more than what the country collects in taxes. Somalia’s security architecture is the build of foreigners. The US trains the military, the UK and the European Union send tons of money for aid and security support and Somalia’s seas are patrolled by a foreign coalition of security forces to keep away the pirates.
If Farmaajo will have to have his cake. He must not eat it. If he is going to reject external interference, it must apply uniformly from Qatar to Turkey to the US and UK. Except he won’t do this because Qatar supports his political maneuvers, China donated vaccines and Turkey is promising to pump money in the oil sector.
Yet here is the reality. Somalia’s security problem and the menacing rise of al-Shabaab means Farmaajo has no choice but to heed what they say. With poorly equipped security forces, it would be unwise to annoy international partners because the risks of al-Shabaab will mean even the two years he seeks in extension will be insufficient to prepare anything.
What is more? The legal questions raised on the term extension have genuine grounds. If Somalia is going to stand out in the community of nations as a law-abiding country, it must begin at home. In politics; the law and sensibilities do not always go together. This is why Farmaajo must do better to resume talks and listen to political stakeholders. Seeking to parade diplomats from countries that have had little to no role in Somalia’s rebuilding is counterproductive.