Is “Good Leadership” the Panacea that Somalia Needs?
Posted Feb 6, 2009

Is “Good Leadership” the Panacea that Somalia Needs?

by Abukar Arman


Granted, the Somali political conundrum is multifaceted in nature. And, one of these facets and indeed most frequently cited element perpetuating Somalia ’s violence and anarchy is the lack of good leadership capable of ensuring good governance.


After all, according to the official account, this very element is what toppled the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).


The indicators of TFG’s fatal incompetence are many; however, the one that highlights it the most is their decision to usher in the broadly loathed Ethiopian occupation, and for callously becoming the instrument that executed Ethiopia ’s brutal free fire policy.


It goes without saying that there is no good governance without good leadership; and, of course, there is no good leadership without a holistically competent leader who is morally grounded to set the high standards.


Good governance requires setting in motion the necessary process that allows good decisions and policies to be effectively framed and implemented as well as setting up an objective system of accountability. And particularly for Somalia , it also requires the facilitation of a systematic process that ascertains the establishment of genuine civil societies free from clan politics and non-sectarian Islamic institutions. Among other things, these institutions could play the critical role of reforming an entire segment of the society that is suffering from the residual effects of a prolonged civil war and state of anarchy.


A few days ago, in order to inspire a fresh paradigm conducive to peace and reconciliation, the newly expanded parliament (the outcome of the Djibouti peace accord) elected Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as Somalia ’s new president.


Is he the right leader to rehabilitate this failed state?


“The ascendancy of Sheikh Sharif provides an opportunity to create an inclusive coalition governing from the center outwards,” says John Prendergast, co-chairman of the Enough Project that studies the Horn of Africa.


Based on his short but high profile presence on the Somali political stage, the new president might have what it takes. He stands in sharp contrast with those who have been jostling for power in the past several decades when politics became a vile enterprise and a deadly zero-sum game.


In his essay ‘Faithless Power versus Faithful Authority in Somalia ’, Prof. Abdi Ismail Samatar describes the said era with this observation: “Any sense of imaan (faith) vanished from the ethos of those competing for public power as the nation descended into an abyss. Civic-minded and faithful Somalis kept a low profile and failed to mobilize the population.” 


While his peace strategy that led to his election has been challenged as it created division within the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia—a coalition that he was representing in the Djibouti peace conference—few question the worthiness of his vision, the sincerity of his commitment, and his willingness to sacrifice for his country. He often cites an episode in Islamic history when Prophet Muhammad negotiated and signed the Treaty of Al Hudaibia—a lopsided deal favoring his enemy—in order to secure peace and stability as the source of his inspiration.


In his acceptance speech and his subsequent interview with the Saudi Gazette, the newly elected president hit all the high notes, so to speak. He promised to diligently guard the responsibility entrusted on him; to reach out to all Somalis and make peace and reconciliation his priority; to reject nepotism and deal justly with all Somali clans; to stop militant extremism, and to cultivate peaceful relationships with neighboring countries.


Many analysts consider this too tall of an order for any transitional leader to accomplish; however, with the right team and the right prioritization, the new president has a reasonable shot of set a momentum toward lasting peace. 


Meanwhile, the first task awaiting the new president is finding the right person to hand the most pivotal position of the soon to be new government. Rumors are heavy towards the appointment of the former Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galeydh who served in the first Transitional National Government (TNG).


While Dr. Galeydh is considered by some as a polarizing figure who comes with certain political baggage, most would agree that he is a giant among the current candidates. He is a diplomatically astute individual who is capable of stitching together a competent government ready to deal with a volatile and a rapidly changing world, and persuade the hardliners within the opposition to coalesce with the new government.


Galeydh’s main political base might be the resistance movement with all its diverse shades as he took a firm stance against the Ethiopian occupation.


The second most pressing task is to extend an olive branch to the Asmara wing of the ARS and Al-Shabab. However, it is important to note that, unless a profound gesture of goodwill is extended to them for confidence building, mere symbolism and empty rhetoric might have a counter-effect. The international community, more particularly the U.S. , can set this in motion by removing Al-Shabab and Hassan Dahir Awes off the terrorist list since they are not charged with specific crimes. Such a list has only proven to further radicalize people.


President Ahmed’s election comes at a time when the majority of the Somali people have come to the realization that the “Islamists” are the only group that have proven to possess the moral rectitude required to restore peace and order and work for the common good. Equally important, at a time when the pendulum of the American politics is swinging back to the realm of reason, realism and pragmatism. And while this creates a fertile ground for peace and reconciliation, the looming specter still remains for Ethiopia and its cronies to resort to their all too familiar sabotaging tendencies.


Abukar Arman is a writer who contributed to groups such as Foreign Policy Association, International Herald Tribune, Aljazeera, Scoop and the Journal of Turkish Weekly.