When I address you as Mr. President I don’t say it lightly. I feel the weight that every letter of it carries. And I am sure you feel it too. Not only as an honor that the Somali people have bestowed upon you but as a heavy responsibility that has been entrusted to you.
Mr. President, the Somali people were ecstatic about your election. Somalis at home and everywhere in the world jumped to their feet with happiness when you were declared the winner of the election. Somali youth flooded the social media with their excitement. Mothers expressed their delight with poetry. The excitement was overwhelming. Even people in breakaway Somaliland didn’t want to be left behind. Their proverbial patriotism kicked off and many of them have unequivocally voiced their enjoyment for the wind of change coming from Mogadishu.
Let me first join the people and congratulate you on your historic victory.
The question, however, that comes to mind Mr. President is whether you would seize the moment and reflect on why the people give you such unqualified support and unreserved trust without even testing you. Will you understand the awe and fear that comes with the burden that such enormous hope puts on your shoulders?
I hope you do Mr. President, but amid the jubilation and celebrations, let me try in my humble way to put this into perspective and to remind you of the issues at stake once the dust of jubilation settles down and the real test of your leadership begins.
Mr. President, as Professor Abdi Samatar said in his moving speech before the parliament on the eve of the Presidential election. The Somali nation fell from being a beacon of hope and democracy in Africa to a shamefully failed state. After 26 years of long night, of shame, of disrespect and of nearly losing our sovereignty and our territorial integrity, the people were looking for leader that would bring back Somali decisions to Somali hands after neighboring countries played with the fate of the nation for many years.
There were occasions over this long period, when Somali people experienced glimpses of hope which immediately disappeared and left them in despair. In 2000, Abdiqasim Salad Hassan received a hero’s welcome in Mogadishu. People saw hope and celebrated but the expectations were soon dissipated and the nightmare returned in earnest. So beware. In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), defeated the notorious warlords and drove them out of Mogadishu and for the first time they opened the capital’s airport and port for commercial operations. People saw hope but soon this vanished too. So beware.
In 2009, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed returned to a warm welcome in Mogadishu after the Ethiopian occupying army withdrew from the capital. People saw hope and to his credit Sheikh Sharif made some progress in removing Al Shabab from the capital, in starting to build the Somali military but the great hope invested in him was not realized. This was followed by Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud whose election was seen by many people as a remarkable beginning for a positive change but only to end up as farce. So beware.
Mr. President, when they see hope, Somali people are generous with their emotions and expression of love. We have seen it at the time of independence and unification of the country in 1960, we have seen it again when the military overthrew the corrupt and chaotic civilian government and announced the beginning of an age of accountability, rule of law and competence. The Somali people saw it as a new dawn and sang: “Waa baa beryey, bilicsan…”. The military regime not only squandered the trust of the people, but it threw us into the abyss in which we are today. So beware.
Once more today, Mr. President, the Somali people see hope in you. They are fed up with being cited as an example of internecine fratricide, of lawlessness, of extremism, of piracy, or ignorance and of corruption to the point that the New York Times described the latest Somali presidential election in which you have won as a milestone of corruption. The Somali people are sick and tired of seeing their fate decided by neighboring countries, of their political leaders genuflecting to the whims of foreign leaders and measuring their success by their degree of servitude to their bosses in Addis Ababa and Nairobi. They are fed up with belonging to a country that even its physical existence as a sovereign state is at stake let alone a member of the international community.
So you see, Mr. President, the jubilation of the Somali people on your election is nothing else but hope. Hope first, hope second and hope last. They yearned for change after Hassan Sheikh and his corrupt regime pushed them deeper and deeper into the dungeons of corruption and indignity.
Your responsibility is therefore as enormous as the hope people have invested in you. Everyone knows the difficult situation you inherited from the previous government. Al Shabab is still a threat, you and your government will still owe your protection to AMISOM and other foreign troops, the fact that the venue in which you were elected was at the airport with the protection of AMISOM forces and that generals from neighboring countries were publicly trying to intervene in the decision making process and sometimes threatening Parliamentarians to vote for their country’s favorite candidate is a proof that we are not a free nation anymore.
With all these issues at stake, the Somali people have great expectations of your leadership. For a long time they were looking for a hero, and all of a sudden you appeared on the horizon. And they applauded you. The burden is enormous Mr. President, but rest assured the people don’t expect miracles from you. All they want from you is to set an example. To be an example for honesty, a commitment for accountability, for good governance, for genuine efforts to set a momentum for building state institutions, and striving to achieve a certain level of fairness for all. The real test to this will be how you choose your Prime Minister. Whether you would be brave enough to break the wall of duopoly to borrow Prof. Ahmed Samatar’s description of the unholy power alliance in Mogadishu or you would go down the same old road.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” So if you could be that man in being honest, in setting a vision, in lifting the people’s morale both in your words and actions and in being always mindful of the great hope and trust the people have invested in you, then the people will be generous enough to understand your failures. With the few statements you delivered thus far, you have shown Mr. President that you are not a man blessed with a gift of oratory but you can compensate that with being a man of action.
Seize the moment Mr. President, the people desire to see you as a President whose decision doesn’t come from Addis Ababa, Nairobi or elsewhere. This is the people’s first and foremost hope of your government. We need our sovereignty back. If you score high on this issue, you will break new ground as a new breed of leadership. Otherwise, as Karl Marx said: “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. We have already seen the tragedy many times but if you fail the people’s aspirations Mr. President then your legacy will be history repeated in farce. So beware.