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Somalia: President Sheikh Ahmed: The Man in the Mirror

By M. J. Farah

March 12, 2010

Sheikh SHARIF Sheikh Ahmed, a former Commander in Chief of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), became the 7th President of Somalia on Saturday, January 31, 2009. During his presidential campaign, he promised to bring much-needed reconciliation to Somalia’s warring tribal factions. The Somali people held a degree of trust for him because he came from the religious community, the most successful constituency within Somalia. Somalis from everywhere welcomed his election. Moreover, the international community applauded his victory, and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described him as the “best hope” for the war-torn nation of Somalia.

The U.S Government went further by embracing President Ahmed’s administration with diplomatic cover and financial backing. With this enormous political capital from the Somali people and the international community, the question is, what has President Ahmed done with this political capital?

He was elected a little over a year ago, and it is now apparent to everyone that his administration is on the verge of collapse. It is important to place President Ahmed’s policies up to the mirror, and learn from his missed opportunities in order to put this fractured nation back together.

In retrospect, the ICU was made up of various tribes who reside in Mogadishu. They were tired of the conflict, and therefore went back to the one thing that unites them five times a day, the religion of Islam. People congregate in the Mosques to pray the five daily prayers, and those who are regular attendees develop a degree of trust. With this trust in hand, various tribal factions agreed to hand over the security of Mogadishu to the religious community. This was a wave, a political movement from the local people. He caught this wave at the right time, and became the leader of the ICU movement.

Upon his election, President Ahmed had ninety days not only to form a government, but to also start building trust and confidence within the stable and the unstable regions of the country. He could have flown to those regions, and learned what the locals do best, rather than his embarrassing trips to foreign countries.

His opponents are not foreigners or terrorists as he claims. They are largely made up of locals. They do not trust President Ahmed’s administration, as he has shown himself to be a politically naïve individual, judging by his reckless political moves which has further weakened his administration. President Ahmed’s government control small blocks in Mogadishu, and he is, in fact, under the protection of African Union peacekeeping troops.

In October of 2006, he declared a religious war against the TFG, and its then backer of Ethiopia. On June 22, 2009, he asked the neighboring countries including Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen, and even Ethiopian government to send troops to Somalia.

While Ahmed was fighting against the former President Yusuf’s administration, and the Ethiopian army, he organized many of liked minded fighters. As he used the nationalist card, and waved the religious flag, his strategy was to attract individuals with any inclination to fight against his opponents, regardless of their long-term political motive. The fighters did not need to have any special skills or subscribe to a nation building. They just needed to pick up the Kalashnikov, and fight against the intended target, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its main backer Ethiopian army in the capital, Mogadishu.

Once Ahmed was elected president, he continued to use the same strategy, and filled important government positions with those who do not possess credentials for their positions. He failed to realize that he needed to change strategy, and hire the country’s top experts who could engage the various regions within Somalia, including Puntland, and the self-declared autonomous Somaliland region.

There are two powerful constituencies in Somalia, the religious community, and the tribal groups. He has failed them both. Furthermore, he has failed to engage with the local fighters in Mogadishu, as he constantly labels them “terrorist” or “foreign fighters”. He utters anything that is politically convenient, without considering his words’ long-term implications.

When Somali people placed their support behind him, they expected him to travel within the country, make peace deals and bridge gaps. The late Thomas P. O’Neill’s quote comes to mind “All politics is local.” It is essential that he travel, and build strong international partners. But, the Somalis will judge him upon things he has accomplished locally.

Tribes are nothing more than a constituency with their own interests. Of course, in Somalia, there is a degree of mistrust between tribes because of the civil unrest for the last 19 years. This mistrust is expected as a result of the conflict, and it is curable with the right leadership.

President Ahmed has yet to demonstrate the leadership courage, and the conviction necessary to put peace deals together between Somalis in order to move the nation forward. Somalis everywhere, as well as the international community, welcomed his election. But, he failed to deliver on his promises, and history will judge the legacy of his administration, if there is any. He has squandered his political capital and he will soon vanish into thin air. However, important lessons have been learned, lessons that can help us move forward, save our country, our women, and children from the humiliation they are enduring in the refugee camps all over the world. Policies and decisions should be made keeping in mind the painful plight of our people everywhere.

M. J. Farah is an independent analyst, lecturer, writer, aspiring entrepreneur, and he currently reside in the Unites States.

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