Farmaajo betrayed the nation’s hopes and saw “Qabyaalad” and hostility in everyone and at every turn. He leaves behind a deep reservoir of venality, countless bereaved families, a plague of venomous politics and vicious insecurity. The de-Farmaajofication of the country will not be easy.
On the 19th of February 2017, three days after Farmaajo formally took office, there was a terrorist car bomb in the Wadajir district of Mogadishu, killing an estimated 69 people and injuring over eighty others. Three days later (23rd of Feb), Farmaajo was off to his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, celebrating his election – an auspicious start to his presidency.
The Zoobe mass murder happened a few months later (14th of Oct 2017) – the worst one-day terrorist carnage in Africa in which more than 2,500 innocent people either lost their lives or suffered life-changing injuries. Rather than taking the lead in the country’s response, Farmaajo was off again to his foreign trips (Uganda and Ethiopia, 22nd of Oct) in the midst of the country’s worst-ever terrorist atrocity. Yet again, on the 28th of Dec 2019, when the Ex-Koontrol terrorist massacre claimed the lives or wounded more than 350 people, Farmaajo was off to Eritrea (10th of January 2020) for a chinwag with his mentor.
The point here is not so much he was out of the country more than any other president in modern times as the fact that horrific as these massacres were, Farmaajo was always indifferent, often leaving the country, or staying abroad, in the midst of national trauma and mourning. It meant what was happening in Mogadishu over the last few years – within a few miles within his presidential compound – never seemed to have troubled his conscience, let alone mattered to him.
For many people, the idea of a president conjures up an image of a specific type of person: one who can lead, show empathy and do everything he can to protect his people. It is why the events of the 19th of February 2017 were prescient, foreshadowing the character of the man who was about to lead Somalia at such a critical period. It was this event, Zoobe and countless others over the years, that would later define him as someone seemingly immune to the horrors of the deaths and destruction around him, prioritising his dictatorial ambition over people’s lives. He is the only president in modern Somali history who became a willing spectator to immense suffering. Under his presidency, not a single one of the thousands of lives lost in Mogadishu and elsewhere had ever been investigated.
Faced with a country that was grabbling with serious terrorist threats and aggravated by political deadlock, Farmaajo did nothing. Instead, he prioritised his own dictatorial agenda by making sure insecurity was embedded, the political discord was poisonous and social and economic reconstruction of the country were left to crumble.
The fact that there was large-scale corruption under Farmaajo is hardly new. What was particularly distinctive to Farmaajo’s time in office is how pervasive and deeply-ingrained corruption became, and all in plain sight. Billions of budgetary support were squandered on building personalised paramilitaries; buying off politicians, creating servile parliamentarians and reviving the old “Kacaan” paraphernalia. Prized national infrastructure assets were signed off in secretive deals with neighbouring autocrats and foreign firms for off-the-books income, the scale and cost of which is hard to quantify. There had never been a single year of budget reconciliation for the billions of dollars raised and spent by the government during the last five years. There was not a single school or hospital opened in the last five years; the economically-important reform of the Somali currency – which started in 2015 – stopped and significant milestones for the debt relief were shelved; no effort was ever made to build adequate economic institutions; and in every one of the past five years, Somalia languished at the bottom as the world’s most corrupt country.
There are more “Duufaan”, “Haram Cad” and “Gorgor” paramilitary units than there are hospital beds or school desks, showing Farmaajo’s true priorities. The country’s entire economy was subordinated to the needs and whims of one man and his goons, feeding off Mogadishu and its inhabitants as a cash cow.
In last week’s African summit, Farmaajo said with a straight face that Somalia was ready to take over security, and under his leadership, terrorist threat diminished. He knows that vast swathes of Mogadishu are no-go areas where terrorists operate freely unmolested. That is why he can never leave Villa Somalia without Ugandan troops in tow. Fearful for his safety, he never visits any of Mogadishu’s districts or attends public events outside his compound. His assertion demonstrates the remarkable mindset of a man devoid of reality.
The security personnel Farmaajo touted at the summit are the animal-themed paramilitaries that are used to suppress and brutalise the people and politicians. The threat he talks about are the political opponents, the rule of law and democratic norms, not terrorists. The booming domestic flights reflect how the country became islands of insecurity as none of the roads is considered safe. The security dividend Farmaajo inherited in 2017 is lost and large areas of key towns of the country are under terrorist control.
The consequences of this are felt right across the country and Mogadishu in particular: Businesses in Mogadishu – from the small street hawkers to large corporates – are having to pay terrorist levies in broad daylight – funds used to support the terrorist threat; the city is largely blockaded, cutting off the livelihoods of millions. Up and down the country, the security threat is much worse than it has even been for a decade and daily terrorist outrages are creating countless bereaved families and orphans without a future. The people are mentally as well as physically drained.
Institutions of government
Farmaajo made no efforts to help finalise the country’s nascent constitution. He blocked the establishment of key constitutional pillars: the supreme court; the constitutional court; independent judiciary; the anti-corruption commission; or codify the constitutional status of the capital city. This was not simply because the circumstances were hard: He never wanted any of this to progress. This was because Farmaajo knew the constraining effect of proper constitution, and the deterring effects of laws and regulations enforced by independent courts, would stymie his ambition to build an autocratic regime.
Elsewhere, the rigging of the on-going elections is intended to ensure enablers of Farmaajo’s misrule continue to hold positions of influence in public life. That is why we see those accused of committing heinous crimes, chosen on Qabiil or were instrumental as his enablers to his misrule, parachuted to become members of parliament so that they can vote him back in. Many others are given ambassadorial jobs or rewarded with exclusive construction, import and export contracts. With a widely-rigged election, the likelihood of his return or that of another wannabe dictator who is inspired by him, grows by day.
All of this means the corrosive impact of Farmaajo’s time in office will continue to undermine the institutions of government for many more years to come.
Foreign policy – a new “axis of autocracy”
Farmaajo signed up Somalia for new “axis of autocracy” club in the Horn, making the country a vassal state. He did this under the quid-pro-quo that he would be able to use foreign troops to beat the country to docility to help realise his dictatorial fantasies. The need for a coherent grasp of foreign policy grounded in the national interest gave way to one where other countries’ interests and Farmaajo’s needs took precedence over Somalia’s. Somalia got sucked into other countries’ squabbles, sauntering into costly diplomatic isolation. Relations with long-standing allies and brotherly nations, including those through which the vast majority of Somalia’s trade flowed, soured while those that posed existential threat to Somalia’s sovereignty became new friends under the new axis of autocracy framework. Poor attempts at asserting the government’s authority meant friction with international bodies and damaging diplomatic missteps. Ambassadorial posts were reserved for unqualified goons and acolytes based on Qabiil, creating disastrous policy vacuum. Farmaajo signed countless bilateral treaties over the years which no one knows what they were or meant for the Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He leaves behind a ticking foreign policy timebomb.
The suffering of the people of Mogadishu
Much of the disarray and deadly insecurity that we see in Mogadishu is largely by design. The taxes levied on the city’s people and businesses are used to feed Farmaajo and his goons. Thousands of the city’s graduates are jobless without a future; the city’s public schools are deliberately defunded and education standards weakened; foreign scholarships are ring-fenced and denied to those with promising ambitions but fail to meet Qabiil suitability tests; the city’s best and brightest continue to die in unspeakable horrors in unexplained assassinations and bombings which is never investigated; the city has been in lockdown under emergency rule for years, crippling residents’ lives to the point they had to resort to carrying the dead and injured on their shoulders through check points. Mass murders, including those of the city’s mayor, and terrorist atrocities are never investigated, lest they bring to light the effects and culpability of what Farmaajo’s security services are up to.
Farmaajo’s power to appoint the city’s mayor is used to create a political scene which is self-defeating and obedient to his every whim. Local “Qabiil” entrepreneurs, masquerading as community leaders and prominent “Sheikhs” with useful “Qabiil” identify tags and claim to speak for the people of Mogadishu, have thrived. They are paid handsomely and housed in plush hotels, creating a buffer zone for Farmaajo. Government-sponsored institutionalised online and offline “Moryaanism” flourished, feeding a new genre of thousands of “Guulwade-type” armed ruffians singing Farmaajo’s praise and terrorising people. Social media trolls are paid to spread misinformation, hurling abuse and insults at anyone who dares to criticise Farmaajo. The local media is muzzled and unable to report on the true levels of crimes and atrocities happening in Mogadishu.
The whole city is in a bondage of fear.
The “de-farmaajofication” of the country will not be easy
Farmaajo saw Qabiil and hostility in everyone and at every turn. Taking the venomous toxins out of the political system and institutions, and halting the erosion of basic liberties, will not be easy. He is still determined to consign the country to the depths of permanent autocracy in his own image. The last five years were therefore marked by Farmaajo’s dictatorial misrule, aided by dangerous enablers, goons and ruffians at every level and a belief that he could replicate the horrors of the last “Kacaan”.
Some autocrats are fired up by the prospect of creating a legacy moulded in their own image; some take the opportunity of office to stuff their pockets; others try to engineer an autocratic dynasty that they hope would endure beyond the grave. Farmaajo tried to combine all three, hoping to rot the political system so thoroughly the country never recovers. He is not done yet.
Farmaajo was an American citizen when he became president. He had exposure to the workings of American democracy and rule of law from which he and his family benefitted immensely. In office, he became a new breed of demagogue who was perversely inspired by the destructive “21-year Kacaan” that doomed the country. It is a bleak irony indeed that while he is doing this to the people of Somalia, his family continues to enjoy the liberty, safety and opportunities offered by US democracy and the American Dream.
Over the last five years, Farmaajo’s presidency therefore came at a real cost to the people of Somalia: a deep reservoir of venality, countless bereaved families, a plague of venomous politics and vicious cycle of mayhem and insecurity. His was a truly bloody legacy.
Aloow wadankeena iyo dadkeena usoo gargaar.