Somalia: President Farmajo’s first year in office

President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo rode into victory February 8 last year to become Somalia’s 9th President following a hotly contested poll pitting among others incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and former President Ahmed Sheikh Sharif.

His win was greeted with jubilation and hope as Mogadishu residents burst into song and dance. Similar acts of excitement were reported in neighbouring Somali communities in Kenya, Ethiopia; and around the world. Somali’s genuinely had high hopes for the new leadership in Somalia.

The president immediately vowed to crack down on the rampant corruption and declared war on Al-Shabaab militants, signalling a new way of doing things. The slogan for this new way of doing things would be ‘Nabad iyo Nalool”, or “Peace and Life”.

“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against and corruption,” said Farmajo as he prepared to take over office from his predecessor Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

One year down the line, President Farmajo has achieved several positive goals while also running into roadblocks that damaged the image and confidence of his administration.

Debt-Forgiveness process

Somalia owes nearly $5.3 billion USD, most of it in interests and penalties on over three decades old loans accrued at a time the country was without a functioning central government.

President Farmaajo’s administration has spearheaded the process towards debt relief which includes meeting several conditions set out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Ahmed Abdi Hadi, a political analyst in Mogadishu says Somalia is steadily moving towards debt forgiveness by winning the confidence of the IMF.

“The country did not make amortization payment since the fall of Somali central government. Now the president and his prime minister have increased the local revenue income and carried out initiatives to relief the burden by negotiating IMF,” Hadi said.

He pointed out the corruption which paralyzed the previous governments was still ravaging the country’s economy.

“Despite showing commitment and will, the president has no capability to uproot the corruption. On the other side, his cabinet is incompetent making it difficult to rid the public sector of corruption and promote best governance practices,” he noted.

Late last year, IMF hailed the 2017-2018 budget noting the $274 million budget met set standards and terms of the global lender.

“From September until now, we see a strong commitment to reform. The authorities are more engaged on what needs to be done,” said Mohammed Elhage, head of IMF’s Somalia work who spoke to Reuters mid-December.

Speaking to Financial Times, Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheire urged multilateral lenders to accelerate the debt forgiveness process.

“Certainly, ours is a very tiny budget for a country of 10 million people, fighting terrorism needs good governance. It means providing services for our people. To do this cost money and that’s why we need international community.”

During this period, president Farmajo convinced the international community to support Somalia which has been engaged in a decade-long war with Al-Shabaab.

International donors such as UK, US, Japan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia among others have contributed significantly to propping President Farmaajo’s administration.

Turkey opened its largest overseas military training camp in Mogadishu last year with the pledge to train up to 10,000 soldiers who will ultimately take over from the African Union forces.

Freed Somali prisoners

Somali government successfully convinced the governments of Ethiopia, Seychelles and India to transfer Somali nationals serving jail terms in these three countries.

Between July 2017 and January this year, Ethiopia and India released a total 155 prisoners from their jail following extradition and bilateral agreements

Welcoming India freed prisoners at Aden Adde Airport last month, PM Kheire said his government is committed to ensuring freedom of all Somali nationals jailed in various countries across the globe.

“Our mission is to free Somali prisoners suffering in foreign countries. My government will do everything that can free Somali prisoners,” said Kheire.

Galmudug-ASWJ deadlock

One of the highlights of President Farmajo’s first year in office is breaking the deadlock between Galmudug and Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ). The two groups have been fighting one another for at least two years.

During his tour to Somalia’s central and northern regions in last month, President Farmajo oversaw the historic power-sharing deal inked by Galmudug and ASWJ which culminated in the flag of Galmudug being hoisted in Dhusamareeb town for the first time since the inception of Galmudug state.

Other achievements of Somali government include the adoption of National Security Architecture and transfer of Somali Airspace to Somali government after 27 years under the control of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Growing discontent against Farmajo’s govt

Following the extraordinary rendition of former ONLF commander Abdikarim Musa Qalbi-Dhagah, Farmaajo’s administration was faced with a public relations disaster as Somalis condemned the transfer accusing the president of betraying the cause for a greater united Somalia which many saw ONLF as championing.

Mohamed Ali Warsame, a human rights activist in Nairobi said the handing over of Qalbi-Dhagah cost the government loss of support of many Somalis across the world.

“There areseveral factors that led Somali government to lose support and the trust of many Somalis, one of them is extradition of former Somali military officer, Abdikarim Musa Qalbi-Dhagah,” said  Warsame.

The detention of opposition figures by Somali government marked another point in Farmaajo’s confidence slip.

Hadi shares a similar view with Warsame on President Farmaajo’s approach political opposition.

“Farmajo’s government deployed executive orders to silence his critics and perceived political enemies further alienating himself and losing the confidence of the public,” Hadi observed.

The deadly October 14 truck bombing which claimed over 500 lives tested President Farmaajo’s resolve to deal with run-away insecurity in the country. He managed to secure international support among them commitments from Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti to up military support against the militant group Al-Shabaab.

But winning the war against Al-Shabaab is still a long shot for President Farmaajo especially in light of phased withdrawals by the African Union as sanctioned last August by the UN Security Council.