The stage seemed set for a ceremonial rubber-stamping of the status quo. Some of the new parliamentarians, many of who came through a corrupt process supported by domestic and foreign elements, started to arrive late and, at times, act unprofessionally on the floor.
Key officials, including the speakers of both chambers of the Federal Parliament, were awkwardly seated under the stage where ballots were being cast for the most important election in Somalia’s history. And the event itself was being conducted in Halane district, a geographical space that is physically located in Mogadishu, but in reality is entirely a different world – it is a type of a “Green Zone” for UN agencies, diplomatic missions, and private security.
But, we now know that bad optics don’t always result in bad outcomes.
Unlike what the beneficiaries of the status quo were expecting, February 8 has turned out to be a day of triumph for a nation that has fallen into a state of hopelessness and a day that would permanently be engraved in Somalia’s history. Against all odds, and in line with the public sentiment, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) was elected president of Somalia.
But what caused this public euphoria, and what does it mean in the grand scale of things?
The will of the people
The inter-clan and intergenerational jubilations across Somalia, the neighbouring countries and within the Somali diaspora demonstrate that the new president’s reputation transcends clan loyalties and that he has a clear public mandate. Both sides of the divided city of Galkayo celebrated, as did the city of Beledweyne. In both of these cities, brothers and sisters have been kept apart due to inter-clan hostilities.
Make no mistake: From the public perspective, this is a time of reckoning. This was not just a referendum against domestic evils of corruption and pathological looting of public resources and national assets. This was the roar of a nation that reached its tipping point.
First, it was a total rejection of clan-based federalism that kept Somalia dizzied and in a downward spin of discord, violence, and hate. This was a system engineered by foreigners and institutionalised by the “Yes, Sir” corner of the Somali political elite.
Second, it was a rejection of the injustice of the so-called 4.5 clan power-sharing system, which clusters all Somali minority communities into a less-than-a-whole-clan category – in other words, a flagrantly discriminative system that sidelines all minority groups, regardless of population sizes, and penalises them for never having their own clan-based militias.
Third, it was a rejection of all types of foreign exploitation and foreign domination. Especially, against the subservient role that the current class of Somali politicians have succumbed to, in relation to Ethiopia and, to a certain degree, Kenya.
Fourth, it was a rejection of all those too familiar foreign-orchestrated and funded pseudo-reconciliation powwows that almost always end up with phoney handshakes in Addis Ababa. It was a public demand for genuine, Somali-led and funded national reconciliation to close a bloody chapter that corroded “Somalinimo” – the collective sense of inclusive patriotism.
Fifth, it was a rejection of what I call the tripartite of squanderance – the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and international NGOs that gulp down almost all of the funds contributed by donor nations to help Somalia get back on its feet.
Somalia under trusteeship
In its current status, Somalia has been under what looked like, felt like, and smelled like “trusteeship” without any trustee accountability.
The implementation authority was divided between and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and UNSOM, which would give the tacit, and sometimes flagrant, support to politicians who would never question or second-guess their decisions vis-a-vis the interest of their nation.
I urge the new president to consider reaching out to our brethren in Somaliland by extending a state apology for their suffering under the military government and taking the flag to them as they have done after independence.
Somalia became a lucrative project and the only way to sustain that project was to keep it on perpetual dependency on handouts funnelled through international NGOs which spend most of the aid monies on “overhead”. They also subcontract local NGOs, which duplicate the same formula.
Meanwhile, due to lack of an interconnected and unified security force that could be referred to as a national army or defence force, the government, and the nation as a whole, rely heavily on AMISOM and other paramilitary groups ranging from clan militias and contracted mercenaries, who are accountable to no one.
Though in the beginning of its mission, AMISOM contributed to the stabilisation of Somalia, it became a hopelessly failed enterprise the minute Ethiopia and Kenya became part of it. Now, AMISOM is operating on a different agenda. Ironically, its timeline for withdrawal is set for 2020, when the next election will take place.
The road ahead
The new president is charged to lead a nation that has systematically lost its national identity, trust, and common purpose; a nation that has been running on empty when it comes to patience; a nation that has very anxious expectations.
Knowing the new president well and having worked with him, I am confident that he will put Somalia’s interest before all others’. He is a champion of an enlightened patriotism that is optimistic and relies on itself to restore the corroded dignity of a self-destructive nation.
The sustainability of his legitimacy, popularity and his vision for a viable Somali nation would depend on the sacrifices that he makes for genuine reconciliation and transformative change.
On this, I urge the new president to consider reaching out to our brethren in Somaliland by extending a state apology for their suffering under the military government and taking the flag to them, as they have done after independence.
I believe such timely symbolism could inspire a new generation of peacemakers, set the stage for genuine national reconciliation, and help patch together this broken nation.
Editor’s note: The original version of this article contained incorrect information about the make-up of Farmajo’s cabinet when he was a prime minister.
Abukar Arman is a Somali political analyst, writer and former diplomat.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.