The much-delayed national election is in the corner. In this short article, we look back closely at Mr. Farmaajo’s reign and how he fooled the nation with his theatrics by beating the drum for nationalism.
On the dawn of February 8th, 2017, many of us were inspired and hoped that the newly elected president, Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo, would bring the change and patriotism the nation was yearning for and take it forward. We thought that the election of Farmaajo signified the birth of a new dawn for our country.
How wrong we were!
Because Somalis were fed up with widespread corruption and clan politics; Farmaajo seized the opportunity by playing the nationalist card and preaching patriotism. Thus, Farmaajo gained the full support of the nation at home and abroad. But the questions arise here of why Somalis gave Farmaajo an unwavering backing? Why did they not back his predecessors as they supported him?
As we know Somali society is based on clan politics. People are expected to endorse those closest to them from the clan’s perspective. According to the clan tradition, there is no shame in supporting your cousin over others, even if your relative is less qualified than his/her opponent. But Somalis broke that barrier to give Farmaajo an advantage over the other candidates. What was it that Farmaajo told and promised the nation to acquire their unswerving support?
To answer this question and others, come with me on an adventure of exploration about the political journey of President Farmaajo. In other words, let us explore who Farmaajo the politician is? Why did he become a politician? Why did he swap his safe home in Buffalo, New York, for the most dangerous city in the world, Mogadishu? Was he looking to become rich quickly, as many join politics for that reason? Was fame and prestige behind his motive? Was there something else that we do not know which motivates him?
Farmaajo left the country in the early 1980s to become a secretary for the Somali embassy in Washington and remained in the US until he was appointed as the TFG’s premier in 2010. Before he was appointed as Somalia’s PM, Farmaajo had no prior political career. After graduating from the University of Buffalo, New York in 1993, he held various civil servant positions in New York state, the most significant and the longest being the Commissioner for Equal Employment for the New York State Department for Transportation in Buffalo.
Some analysts say that because Mr. Farmaajo left Somalia in the 1980s as a vintage, and peaceful country, where its institutions were functioning properly, and it was ruled by a military decree. For him, the time stopped the minute he left the country, and when he came back, he attempted unconsciously to start his political career at the point he left Somalia. It seems that for Farmaajo, the military rule between 1969 and 1991 is a standard to measure not only for his leadership but also for any Somali administration. Put differently, Farmaajo’s general demeanour and the way he conducts his politics make it seem that he is not fully aware of the hardships and the civil war the country had gone through in the last 30 years. This is because, contrary to the deafening reality on the ground and the desperate situation the country was pulled from, Farmaajo is more interested in reviving the former military regime’s rites than, for example, fighting terrorism. So, let us look back at how Farmaajo became a politician?
In 2007, Farmaajo became the leader of the Somali community in Buffalo. However, according to a recent article in the New York Times, Farmaajo manipulated the election process; as a result, the community broke up into two groups.
In October 2010, the relatively unknown Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was appointed as the nation’s prime minister by the former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. According to political commentators, Farmaajo had a torrid working relationship with the TFG’s most senior officials, the speaker of the house, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden and the president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. As a result, he was forced to resign after a mere six months in the post.
Before the parliamentary election victory in 2017, Farmaajo ran an unsuccessful election campaign in 2012 where he was eliminated in the first round.
So, let us explore and seek answers for the above questions, particularly about how Mr. Farmaajo gained the nation’s unwavering support.
Farmaajo: A Patriotic or an Exploiter of the Nation’s Frailties?
In his 2017 election speech, Mr. Farmaajo told the nation that “Somalia is not for sale” before adding that he will not accept a foreign backing, as he accused some of the candidates being supported by a foreign country. To be frank, however, it is an open secret that Farmaajo was backed by Qatari money who bought votes for him—and without their backing, he would never have become a president.
Moreover, he criticised the administrations before him and made a long list of pledges and promises that include:
- To improve security and fight Al-Shabaab head-on—as he emphasised that the war is one-sided and only Al-Shabaab is involved. He described the government’s (the Hassan Sheikh’s administration) role in the war as only “to condemn the terrorists and commiserate the victims,” he said.
- To reward anyone who comes forward with credible information about Al-Shabaab attacks with $100,000 and even facilitate for them to living abroad.
- To fight corruption because it is the enemy of life.
- About the reconciliation, he said, “if you elect me, I will become a ‘nabaddoon’ (a clan elderly peacemaker), and I will visit each people at their place”.
- The rebuilding of the army, Farmaajo pledged to reconstruct the various parts of the army and boost their morale by paying them good salaries.
- Also, he pledged to strengthen intelligence operations to prevent car bombs and other terrorist attacks.
- To scrap the political motions to impeach the president and/or oust the government while “bribing the MPs”.
- “All Somalis are brothers, whatever happens to some of us, it is like it happened to all of us” he said when he pledged to continue talks with Somaliland.
- To ditch the unnecessary travel of government ministers, he described this as “a bad habit that needs to be abandoned.” Also criticising his predecessor President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, he said: “the president should not be travelling three times a month; he should leave the travel for the foreign minister.”
- To unblock the capital’s roads, as he condemned Hassan Sheikh’s administration for closing the public roads under the security measures.
All of these pledges that Mr. Farmaajo submitted in 2017, before the newly selected members of the parliament were formal and not something exclusive to Mr Farmaajo—as most of the candidates, if not all of them, pledged the same. Therefore, these pledges do not fully answer our above questions, such as why the Somalis gave Mr. Farmaajo an unfiltered backing because the pledges were not unique to Mr. Farmaajo.
However, if we dig deep, we will find that his popularity with the Somali people started before the 2017 election when he cleverly adopted popular policies among the Somalis.
These policies entail:
- He beat the drum for nationalism and pledged to order AMISOM to pack their bags and leave the country within 12 months of seizing power.
- Mr. Farmaajo heavily criticised his predecessors for the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country and called it “unpatriotic.”
- He portrayed extremely “patriotism” in almost all of his public speaking, in mainstream media and social media. Thus, he revived the historical animosity between Somalia and Ethiopia.
- He strongly criticised politicians before him for their collaborations with Ethiopia in the fight against Al-Shabaab.
Mr Farmaajo knew well that these promises were unrealistic, and not only was he not going to carry them out, but they were beyond his ability. Exploiting the frailty of the nation, for Farmaajo, these pledges were a mere ink on the paper situation; more importantly, he was only interested in raising the nation’s expectation, to be seen as the “messiah” that was sent to save the Somali people, so he can become president.
In one way or another, these tactics worked for him, and Somalis “gone with the flow of music.” They bought Mr. Farmaajo’s “patriotism” claims and handed him a blank check.
Suddenly, the former bureaucrat became the most popular leader in Somalia after his popularity-seeking tactics worked beyond his wildest imagination.
Becoming popular does not mean he can lead the nation, so what did Mr. Farmaajo do with all the support he received? Did he fulfil the formal or the informal (informal pledges here, I mean, those promises he directly made in rallies, TV interviews, etc. to gain popularity) pledges and promises?
Farmaajo Under the Microscope
To be transparent and just, let us examine objectively and chronologically all those formal and informal pledges and promises that Mr. Farmaajo made to achieve the presidency. What we should be asking ourselves here is; did he fulfil the pledges and promises? If not, why did he not fulfil them?
The most important pledge Farmaajo made was to fight the terrorist group, Al-Shabab. But it seems the terrorist group quadrupled their attacks in Somalia since Farmaajo took office. In fact, in one attack alone, on 14 October 2017, they killed 587 innocent civilians in a twin truck bomb, in what is being infamously known as Somalia’s 9/11, according to the Somali government committee investigating the atrocity.
These figures do not include the military target attacks in the same year on both AMISOM and SNA military bases, killing unknown numbers. According to a recent report by Combatting Terrorism Centre (CTC), the year 2017 was the deadliest year in Somalia since Al-Shabaab launched their first attack in 2006. In addition, the report mentioned that terrorists killed over 1,000 people in that year in suicide bombings, car bombs, assassinations and “overran a number of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali government military bases”.
In six months, between 25th July 2017 and 17th January 2018 in the nation’s capital alone, Al-Shabaab conducted 156 attacks constituting suicide bombings, car bombs, assassinations, etc. killing hundreds of people, the CTC report found. This is just the record of six months out of the four years Farmaajo was in power.
Moreover, Farmaajo’s hesitation to sign-off executions for those found guilty of terrorism by various court levels is terrible, to say the least, and shows that the president is not serious about fighting terrorism. According to government sources, in Farmaajo’s tenure, more than 300 terrorists have been found guilty of terrorism and handed death sentences had been let out of jail and another 200 are unaccounted for. In fact, during the last four years that Farmaajo was in power, only six terrorists were executed. Even these executions were carefully designed to extinguish public anger and were coincided with major events like the two executions carried out right after the 14 October attacks.
In contrast, the Puntland State of Somalia under the leadership of President Mr Said Abdullahi Deni, from 2019 up to now, had executed more than 50 convicted terrorists. In fact, in one day alone, Puntland authorities executed 21 convicted terrorists.
Farmaajo’s number two priority was to fight the corruption that “had incapacitated the nation’s government building processes.” Although in 2020, the Farmaajo administration secured debt relief for the nation. Somalia remains the most corrupt country in the world for a record ten years in a row, according to a recent report by Transparency International. The fact that under Farmaajo’s administration, Somalia has lost revenue in the form of supplemental and budgetary support from the EU and the US due to “excessive corruption” shows how badly the regime misused the funds. Further, the Farmaajo administration misused taxpayers’ money to bribe politicians and local tribal chiefs to support him and finance troll farms and lobbyists on social media to enhance his image in the public eye, according to the latest report by the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC).
Similar to the above pledges, Farmaajo vowed to become a peacemaker, a “nabaddoon” and unite the nation. However, his consistent actions against the federal states suggest quite the opposite. As soon as he came to power, Mr. Farmaajo waged a political and financial war against the federal states and their leaders, some (the likes of Southwest, Hirshebeelle and Galmudug states) overran and managed to change their leaders and installed in their places puppets that are loyal to him. Other states that he could not reach, he suffocated financially by refusing to share the aid that Somalia received from the donor countries. Thus, was blown Mr. Farmaajo’s cover under the nabaddoon hut.
Before coming to power, Farmaajo constantly criticised the prior administration for attempting term extension and repeatedly vowed that his administration would never extend his term. However, those were empty promises and deliberately misleading to the public—as Farmaajo extended his term by two years and attempted to rule the country by decree. This led to chaos and conflicts on the streets of Mogadishu between forces loyal to him and some elements of the SNA.
The fights between Farmaajo loyalists and opposition forces in Mogadishu in April indicated that the regime’s willingness to cling to power at any cost. The potential for violence to escalate further was very real, and the country could have easily slipped back to civil war. Thus, almost everything that Farmaajo criticised about his predecessors, he did on a grand scale.
Likewise, in his pre-election speech 2017, Farmaajo blasted President Hassan’s administration for road closers in Mogadishu. However, the people of Mogadishu have run out of patience with Farmaajo after he turned their capital into an open-air prison over the last four years, obstructing all of the major roads and limiting freedom of movement under the excuse of fighting terrorism, a problem which has only worsened under his administration. As a result of the security procedures, for example, locals have been forced to walk miles to take pregnant women and the sick to the hospital and even to bury their dead.
If these malfunctions and misusing of power are not enough to reveal the catastrophic failures of Mr. Farmaajo’s tenure, then let us analyse even more and serious apocalyptic failures of Farmaajo’s term.
Betrayal After Betrayal
After few months in the helm, Farmaajo committed the biggest betrayal by handing over to Ethiopia (Somalia’s historic enemy) Mr Abdelkarim Sheikh Muse (Qalbi-Dhagax), a highly decorated military officer and a war hero who was injured during the 1977 war against Ethiopia. Illegally extraditing Qalbi-Dhagax, Somalis, including Farmaajo supporters believe that the government had committed treason.
This was the first time a Somali government handed over a Somali national to a foreign government. And this will undoubtedly be the Farmaajo’s legacy which will be forever remembered for. Because of this act, all of a sudden, President Farmaajo’s popularity turned him into public enemy number one. Remember Farmaajo preached that he is the most patriotic Somali alive, but his handling of Qalbi-Dhagax case showed his true colours.
President Farmaajo and his team have mastered how to seduce public emotions – mainly overzealous youth – with magnificent clichés such as “justice, peace, and accountability,” without any substance of how they are going to fulfil these pledges. It became common to hear President Farmaajo make statements such as: “ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We are accountable to the people.” But, when Somalis were outraged by the government’s decision to illegally extradite Qalbi-Dhagax and demanded answers, the president “of the people” sought refuge in silence in the Government villa’s banker.
As of today, four years later, he is yet to make a single statement concerning the Qalbi-Dhagax debacle.
Similarly, on February 19th this year, protestors took to the streets of Mogadishu demanding the government to hold elections as the Farmaajo’s term ended, they were met with the security forces opening fire on them indiscriminately.
Farmaajo’s Special Relationship with Ethiopia
Besides, after all, Farmaajo has come to power at the back of strong rhetoric against Ethiopia. I am not saying his views about Ethiopia then were right or wrong, however, when Farmaajo came to power, not only did he retract his negative beliefs about Ethiopia, but he announced a “brotherly cooperation” with Ethiopia – after he became a quite close friend of the Ethiopian Premier, Mr Abiy Ahmed.
This unforeseen special relationship between Somalia and Ethiopia, or should we say between Farmaajo and Abiy came to light after the charming tactics of Abiy dazzled Farmaajo. Ethiopia and Abiy got the better of this relationship, as they walked away with access to four Somali ports after the two leaders signed a memorandum in 2018.
If you were appalled by Farmaajo’s betrayal of Qalbi-Dhagax, then wait until you hear how Farmaajo secretly sent Somali military trainees to fight Tigrayans on behalf of Abiy’s administration. Although it is painful to write about and even to contemplate, honouring his closeness to the Ethiopian leader. Farmaajo sent approximately 5,000 Somali military trainees to fight alongside the Ethiopian army against the Tigrayan rebels. A recent report by the United Nations Human Rights Council confirmed “that Somali soldiers were moved from military training camps in Eritrea to the front line in Tigray, where they accompanied Eritrean troops as they crossed the Ethiopian border”.
Although the Somali government denied that Somali troops are participating in the Ethiopian civil war, the report said that “Somali fighters were present around Aksum (a stronghold for the Tigrayan rebels)”. Thus, Farmaajo, whether unwittingly or ignoring (as was the case most of his big decisions) the consequences of his actions, involved the Somali army in the Ethiopian civil war. First, this created a new enemy (although an existing one raised the level of animosity) and second, our boys died in vain, in a foreign land and for a cause that has nothing to do with us. The parents of those Somali youngsters sent to fight the Tigrayans are yet to know whether their children are alive or not, despite protesting continuously.
At the end of his term Farmaajo rounded up his favours to Ethiopia by giving green light to implement the trilateral multifaceted cooperation between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea signed in 2018. From that pact, however, recently, Somalia and Ethiopia signed what was called “khat for fish pact” in which Somalia swapping one of its most precious resources for internationally recognised a Class C drug, khat. Somalia’s Minister of Fisheries, Abdiaziz Hajj Bashir and Ethiopian Ambassador to Somalia, Abdifatah Abdullahi Hassan and marked off the 5000 tons of fish last month.
In the final analysis, as the country is preparing for a presidential election, politicians should know that our country is not a political guinea pig, where want-to-be presidents test their political theories. We have learned this the hard way, thanks to President Farmaajo, after we entrusted our future and the future of our kids to a politician ignoring reality and instead obsessed with fantasies. As the well-known universal proverb goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Therefore, we should never be fooled again by the antics and claims of any politician, whoever they may be. As for Farmaajo, Somalis are now well educated about him, and I think we should be very careful and not be fooled again by his theatrical antics.