On December 19, the long-awaited presidential election in Southwest state finally took place. The government supported, and long-term minister and current member of the House of the People, Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed aka Lafta-Gareen was elected as the second president. The new president is considered as a person who has a deep understanding of how the government works considering his years of experience as a government official.
The electoral process was arduous and contentious one. The former deputy leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Robow was one of the leading contenders for the presidential post before he was arrested and transferred to Mogadishu on December 13. The government accused him of not meeting “requirements to vie for the presidential seat” and considered him a threat to national security. The statement released by the Ministry of Internal Security reads; first, “Mukhtar Robow should abandon his extremist beliefs, explicitly and unambiguously denounces the extremist ideology, and expresses support for the federal government; second, he should not engage in any activity that can harm the governance system and undermine the federal government and its member states.”
However, the federal government move to put the former al-Qaeda affiliated group leader under house arrest was seen as a sign of the country’s political headway. That anyone who committed an egregious act of terror against Somali people has to pay the price. Robow’s arrest eased by Ethiopian forces in Baidoa created chaos and unrest that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 civilians. Spilling of innocent Somalis blood was unacceptable, and it shouldn’t have ensued.
Politics of confrontation
Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, the first and former president of the regional state, was seen as a controversial figure who was at loggerheads with the federal government. The state under his leadership conducts its foreign policy business; this was unconstitutional as foreign policy issues fall under the domain of the federal government. He entered into an agreement with foreign countries, and this created a disagreement between his administration and the federal government. He eventually resigned from presidency.
The former regional state leader should have utilised his time in office in developing the region, and establishing good relations with federal administration. He should have fixated his energy on reopening of Baidoa –Mogadishu road (it was impassable for too long), take the governance structure to towns and villages liberated from al-Shabaab, and improve public service delivery. All the issues mentioned above are in the jurisdiction of the regional administrations.
However, Sharif and other regional heads were engrossed on a rivalry with the federal government for power. The politics of confrontation won’t help the state to reach the level of development that it anticipates attaining. It must have good relations with the centre for it to prosper. The state should also embrace moral politics of post-conflict reconstruction of one unified Somalia.
The new leader’s vast experience in governance will benefit the Southwest residents who had poor regional administration that had never-ending brawls with the federal government for too long. The president should focus on rebuilding governance institutions, fighting poverty and cyclical droughts that hindered the progress of the people; and avoid politics of confrontations with the centre that will derail the development of the regional state. He has to eschew unconstitutional task that might lead to a political gridlock with the federal government.
Politics of reform
The federal member of parliaments who were against Lafta – Gareen election are now congratulating him and requesting residents of Southwest to embrace peace. This shows how Baidoa residents are willing to rebuild their region and support the federal government.
Southwest state faces a plethora of problems including recurring droughts, poor governance and economic development, high level of poverty, insecurity (Al-Shabaab controls a large swathe of lands and the main road between Baidoa and Mogadishu) and high level of unemployment of among youths. Put simply, as long as Southwest administration allied with the federal government constitutionally it will benefit vis-à-vis budgetary allocation and other development-oriented actions to address those challenges.
Somalia is going through a period of intense transformations politically and economically. The text case of economic development leaps are the returns of the major international and regional airlines to Mogadishu and possible economic integrations of Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea soon. All these signal one thing: Somalia is open for business. And therefore it is the responsibility of the regional leaders not only of the Southwest administration to benefit from this economic progress that the country is experiencing.
Politically, the country is rebuilding its institutions at the remarkable pace despite occasional hiccups. The recent motion against the President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was ditched.
The presidential election in Southwest is the litmus test for the other regional states especially Puntland and Jubbaland which will have presidential polls in January and August 2019 respectively. But we only hope that it would be free and fair elections without chaos and destructions.
What should the federal government do?
First, the federal government by acknowledging the conflict and disorder that has risen during the election process in Southwest state has to emphasis on building the confidence of the Baidoa residents in government. Many residents believe that Mukhtar Robow was unjustly detained.
Second, it should also develop quick relations with new regional administration and start development projects in the state – building governance structures, security, roads and humanitarian and emergency centres. Similar development strategy can be applied to other regional states.
Finally, the federal government has to support free and fair elections in federal member states, and they should work with federal members in delineating boundaries as outlined in the constitution. Both federal government and member states must focus on good governance and public service delivery rather than a power struggle.
Abdi Moalim, Political Analyst.