Is Shirdon an Asset or a Bust?

President Mohamud and PM designate Mr. Shrdon with Speaker Jawari and his deputy
Thursday, October 11th, 2012 (Moment Media Group) An unusual confluence of events transpired in Mogadishu last week. Last Monday, President Mohamoud visited Baidoa and asked a crowd there whom they wanted to be prime minister. “Farmajo fadaane,” (We want Farmajo) was the answer. A source told me a few days later, on Thursday night, the Abgaal imam and the ugas of Hawadle dined with President Mohamoud. The two chieftains told the president that they had come for two things: “Faataxo iyo Farmajo” (Fatiha and Farmajo). Fatiha is the first and the most important chapter of the Quran, and Farmajo was a former prime minister. The request before the president was simple and straightforward: appoint Farmajo as prime minister, and we will recite the Quranic verses and pray for you. The president was respectful of his guests but remained non-committal. On Saturday, Mohamoud named Abdi Farah Shirdon as his prime minister. Shirdon, if approved, will be the sixth prime minister since 2004 and the fourth since 2009.

Shirdon, 54, is not the most qualified person the president had interviewed for the job. When George Bush Senior selected Dan Quayle as his running mate, he received a scathing criticism from many, including some powerful Republicans. What shocked Americans was Bush’s response, when he described Quayle as the most qualified person for the job. Quayle was anything but qualified to be vice president. A comedian aptly summarized it when he said, “Why is everybody against Dan Quayle? He has done nothing!” As my colleague Mukhtar Omer has eloquently articulated, the month-long waiting for the naming of a mediocre prime minister was, at best, disappointing. Shirdon graduated from the Somali National University in 1983 with a degree in economics. Apart from a two-year stint in the ministries of finance and agriculture as an economist, Shirdon has no experience in government. He was a businessman for many years, although the nature of his business is not clear. The official biography about him that Villa Somalia has issued to the media is a half-page and pathetic. For one thing, it is bereft of any details about what Shirdon did, not to mention that it is full of basic grammatical errors.

Shirdon’s appointment has received little popular support for several reasons:On April 28, 2012, Shirdon founded the Rajo (Hope) Forum. The only interview he has ever given was with Somali Channel TV after the formation of his group.  He outlined his philosophy and his proposed solution for Somalia’s problems. His talk was a blend of nationalism and political realism. Shirdon said Somalia had become a battleground for foreign troops (AMISOM) and Al-Qaeda forces. “Somalia is for Somalis,” he stated. Shirdon wants the number of foreign troops reduced −the same forces that are currently protecting both him and the president−but offers no concrete plan in securing Mogadishu. He gave lukewarm support to the Roadmap, and instead emphasized the need for a more comprehensive plan by the Somalis themselves. Shirdon favors a plan that will restore confidence and hope in the people and guarantee security in the country. How that is going to happen is never addressed. At the very least, he was somewhat truthful when he said that Rajo Forum is based in Nairobi, Mogadishu, and the central regions of Somalia.

Shirdon is an old friend of the president and a newcomer. He was never elected to any office nor did he hold a political position. His government experience is as thin as his resume.  Shirdon was primarily selected not to overshadow the new president and not to rock the boat. There are no indications that the new president is weak, but he is a newcomer who is overwhelmed by the demands of the office. He has been propelled into an arena with which he is not familiar. For many years, Mohamoud was at home in community activism where he rarely took any decisive action. Now, he spends an inordinate amount of time listening to competing groups and has difficulty saying no when he should. One attribute that is a killer in Somalia’s political stage is being ‘nice’ and giving each group the impression that the president is with them. It will take some time for President Mohamoud to assert himself. Shirdon is unlikely to challenge the supremacy of President Mohamoud.
Shirdon is perceived by many Darod as a token representative of their tribe. A Marehan interim prime minister, married to a Hawiye politician, and who hails from Galgudud−a region which is predominantly Hawiye− will face serious challenges from Puntland. By appointing a Marehan prime minister, President Mohamoud has made a political statement to Puntland: Drop Dead.  Puntland is a big Somali region with a large number of people from various clans. The Majertein, a sub-clan of Darod, is the predominant clan there. To many Puntlanders, this is the second time in two years that a Hawiye president has appointed a Marehan prime minister, which is a slap in the face for the Majertein. Farmajo, also from Galgadud, was hostile to Puntland and ended up alienating that region. President Mohamoud, like his predecessor Shaikh Sharif, is doing the same thing.  The Farmajo fiasco was short-lived, of course, and President Ahmed appointed Abdiweli Gaas Ali. If history is the guide, that is when Puntland started participating in Somali politics and became an important pillar in the implementation of the Roadmap. Puntland will be disengaged, once again, from Mogadishu and that means issues like federalism, political reconciliation, piracy, and sharing the wealth and the resources of the Somali people are out of the window. Puntland is not going to secede, but it will not be part of Somali politics for a while.
The recent success in Kismayo by the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) led to the expulsion of the radical Al-Shabab group from that important port city. President Mohamoud wants to appoint a new administration there which is totally against what he has recently been preaching that locals should select their own leaders instead of having them appointed by Mogadishu. When Mohamoud went to Baidoa and Beledwyne last week, he emphasized the need for the residents of these two important cities shaping their respective leadership. I know President Mohamoud was adamant about knowing what the potential candidates for the premiership thought of Kismayo and Somaliland. I wonder what Shirdon, who will be viewed with suspicion by some of the competing clans in Kismayo, said to the president. I guess we may never know all of the intricacies of the selection process.
The neighboring countries, especially Ethiopia and Kenya, are closely watching Shirdon. It is no secret that Shirdon was opposed to the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 and the policies of President Abdullahi Yusuf. Shirdon’s views about Kenya are murky. For one thing, he is opposed to more foreign troops in Somalia. Kenya has troops in the Lower Juba and has alliance with the Ogaden in that region. The Kenyan Somali politicians, especially the influential Ogaden figures, play a crucial role in how Nairobi approaches the Lower Juba region. The manner in which the Ogaden politicians in Kenya perceive Shirdon will be interesting. The days when Mogadishu could ignore Nairobi are gone. There are more Somali refugees and immigrants today in Kenya than any other country. Somali leaders, in essence, have to take that into account.
Shirdon had the key backing of important figures of President Mohamoud’s New Blood Islamic group. For instance, Farah Abdulkhadir (a presidential advisor), Kamal Hassan (Chief of Staff), and Abdi Abtidon (former Minister of State for Defense), to mention a few, were in favor of Shirdon. Does that mean Shirdon, who is not an Islamist, is captive to the New Blood?
Finally, the people in northern Somalia were hoping to see one of their own at the helm as prime minister.  A number of Somalis  from many walks of life thought Dr. Ahmed Ismail Samatar would be appointed as the new prime minister in defiance of the conventional wisdom that a Hawiye president should appoint a Darod PM, and vice versa. That did not happen and President Mohamoud made the point that the premiership is a position of the south, by the south, and for the south.

Many are hoping that both President Mohamoud and Shirdon will be given the benefit of doubt. This is not the time to derail over the progress that Somalia has made for the last few weeks. That might be the best course as Shirdon and Mohamoud have both shown willingness to work together and rescue Somalia from its abyss. The lack of experience, unfortunately, has become a fait accompli, and there is not much that can be done now. Previous Somali leaders like Ali Geedi, Abdiweli, Farmajo, Shaikh Sharif, Abdullahi Yusuf, Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, and Nur Cadde did not have experience in running the country. Abdiqassim Salad Hassan was the most experienced politician to lead Somalia since 1991, and his tenure was disastrous. While there is no substitute for experience, seasoned politicians can also be obstacles to real change because they have their myopic interests to protect.

I hope Shirdon, who is married to an activist, will give a boost to Somali women, who have been marginalized and even had their allotted slots in parliament robbed from them. Perhaps, for the first time in Somali history, there might be more women in the cabinet as opposed to a token representative who is always in charge of women’s affairs. This sexist cabinet portfolio will hopefully be abolished because Somali women do have stake in defense, education, reconstruction, transportation, foreign affairs, finance, and the security of the country. Let us all hope that tomorrow will be better than today and will give the president and the interim prime minister a chance to lead. They may shock the world and even inspire the skeptics.!


Dab aan kullaylkiisa la arag dambaskiisa lagama leexdo: Until you know how the fire burns you are not afraid of the ashes (i.e. until you know how the man is when he is angry you are not afraid of him when he is calm).  


Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s