Somaliarising after two decades of civil war and unrest by Muddassar Ahmed
This month, Somalia will finally get a permanentconstitution and government after years of transitional institutions. Despitetwo decades of civil war and unrest, the Somali capital of Mogadishu iscurrently undergoing an economic rejuvenation, with commerce, with banking andeven tourism making a comeback.
What can explain this? While the recent presence of African Union troops hasprovided greater security, allowing the entrepreneurial spirit of the Somalipeople to flourish, less recognition has been given to Somalia’s ownleadership. In particular, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Prime Minister of theTransitional Federal Government, has played a central role in Somalia’srevival.
Over the past two decades, one of the major impediments to ending the turmoilhas been the lack of strong, non-partisan leadership, with the country beingtorn apart by warring factions. More recently, the transitional government wassplit in a stand-off between President Ahmed and Prime Minister Sharmarke. Thepolitical feud brought the machinery of government to a halt and seemed to putan end to hopes that the transitional government might succeed in restoringstability. But since Ali’s appointment in June last year, the new PrimeMinister has been at the forefront of the fight for peace, prosperity, anddemocracy.
Itturns out that his sober, technocratic approach to politics was just what thecountry needed. Under Ali’s “Roadmap for the End of Transition”,representatives from across the country are working to create permanentdemocratic institutions by 20th August. For the first time, popular legitimacyis the end-goal. Under Ali’s leadership, a draft constitution has been ratifiedby a council of 825 Somali traditional elders, and will be put to a nationalreferendum, paving the way for democratic elections in the near future. Theconstitution gives unprecedented control to Somalia’s independently-mindedregions – which will even be granted powers over foreign policy – andguarantees that women will make up at least 30 per cent of parliamentarians, aswell as constitutionally enshrining their right to an abortion when themother’s health is in danger.
This political progress is all the more remarkable considering that PrimeMinister Ali came to power in the midst of the worst drought in East Africa forover half a century. Not only did he manage to push forward plans fordemocratic institutions, but his response to the crisis itself showedtremendous ability in bringing the disparate bureaucratic forces of governmentinto a single committee to tackle the issue.
His premiership has also seen the dramatic reversal of fortunes in the battleagainst the miliant Islamist group Al-Shabaab, who have been driven fromMogadishu and are now limited to parts of Southern Somalia. His willingness tocooperate with the Kenyan military in the coordinated Linda Nchi operation andongoing support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has led tonotable and continuing success against the militant group.
This domestic success has allowed him to score significant international politicalvictories as well. Under his leadership, various foreign dignitaries and VIPshave visited Somalia personally, including Turkish PM Recep Erdoğan, UNSecretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and Saudi business heavyweight Al-Waleed BinTalal – as well as the British Foreign Secretary and German DevelopmentMinister. Such visits would not have even been considered this time last year,and do much to raise Somalia’s international profile and secure much-neededpolitical and financial support for the recovery.
Perhaps the most striking symbol of his success was moving the UN Headquartersfor Somalia back to Mogadishu after 17 years in Nairobi. This was a powerfullysymbolic act for a country struggling to reassert its national identity,forcing international actors to get involved directly in the country they’resupposed to be helping.
But perhaps his most lasting legacy will be his personal example. PrimeMinister Ali shows what the new Somalia needs to embrace: a measured, moderate,and ultimately constructive approach to politics. The future of Somalileadership should not be modeled on personal heroism, but on calmly andcompetently balancing different interests to defend the general interest.
(Muddassar Ahmed is the CEO of Unitas Communications Ltd, an internationalstrategic communications consultancy based in London. He is also Chairman ofthe John Adams Society UK and a NATO Young Atlantacist Fellow.
By Muddassar Ahmed is the CEO of Unitas Communications Ltd, an internationalstrategic communications consultancy based in London. He is also Chairman ofthe John Adams Society UK and a NATO Young Atlantacist Fellow.)
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