By definition, leadership is the ability to mobilise and connect people’s energy to a leader’s vision and goals in order to bring about social transformation to a better condition. This means that leadership is primarily associated with social changes. Leadership is molded and influenced by three main aspects, which are: 1. a leader’s personal characteristics, 2. followers’ characteristics, and 3. situation characteristics. A combination of these three aspects produces the type of leadership that reflects any given society.
Social norms are ongoing changes; however, there are smooth and predictable changes in some societies in contrast to drastic and unpredictable changes in others. Since its independence in 1960, Somalia has experienced a series of drastic changes such as, a) independence from colonialism, b) the adoption of a culturally unfamiliar governing system drawn from colonial legacies, c) a military coup copied from the Soviet communist system, d) the collapse of the military regime, e) a prolonged civil war that produced the era of warlordism, f) clan-based 4.5 political formula, and g) an ideologically driven jihadist war. All these forceful and radical social changes necessitate the reimagining and examination of the characteristics of leadership and who is capable to handle and address these multilayer social alterations. Even though knowing which historical failures and successes can be used as a torch to see what the future looks like, the reality is that the leadership style in Aden’s Abdulle Osman’s era or General Siyad’s era do not address Somalia’s accumulated complexities and the chronic political disease.
This short piece is a humble attempt to reimagine the leadership characteristics relevant to Somalia’s unresolved and multifaceted challenges. The article is based on the situational leadership school of thought. I have been following, with a lot of interest, Somali people’s discourse, debates and dialogue on leadership, and governance for the last couple of months through social media, websites, TV, BBC, VOA and so on. Additionally, I have been clarifying some friends’ perspectives on the leadership qualities that Somalia deserves. This article has been drawn from all these accounts. The article consists of 14 major characteristics, which I hope Somali MPs and Senators will consider when voting for the long-awaited president on 15th May, 2022.
Characteristic 1: Visionary (Aragtidheer/hiraal). Somalia needs a leader whose vision can be similar to a bird’s eye view or helicopter’s/drone view. A visionary leader sees the bigger picture and thinks about the long-term without negligence of the short-term. A visionary leader maps and oversees the key social needs, similar to a bird’s eyes view or helicopter’s/drone view that hovers over an area to get a bigger picture and capture beautiful and authentic, landscape images from afar, which our eyes cannot catch.
Characteristic 2: Integrity, sincerity and authenticity (Hufnaan, daacadnimo iyo runnimo/asaalah). Protracted violent conflicts and corruption are two sides of the same coin. Somalia has suffered with corrupt and bogus leaders. It is time that our MPs and Senators elect a leader known for his/her integrity and substance ‒ not a hollow leader. “May the Curse of Allah be upon the briber and the bribe recipient” (Hadith).
Characteristic 3: A reconciliatory leader (Hogaamiye dhab-u-heshiineed). Somalia needs the kind of leader who acts as a doctor by curing a society bruised and battered psychologically and socially by a prolonged, brutal civil war. A divisive leader who can only see through black and white lenses, not hybrid and mosaic perspectives, will be unable to remedy and treat emotional injuries and reconcile social divides. We need a leader who can be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
Characteristic 4: Well-experienced leader (Khibro durugsan leh). Somalia faces extraordinary challenges and, therefore, needs a leader who is up to these challenges and has extensive and relevant experience locally and globally. A leader with a sense of curiosity to understand, learn and identify internal and external challenges that enable him to develop a suitable process of resolving violent conflicts.
Characteristic 5: A leader with a sense of self-awareness, and self-evaluation (Hogaamiye wacyi u leh, yaqaanana naftiisa). Leadership scholars confirm the importance of self-knowledge as a quality for successful leadership. Having such a quality will help him build on his strengths, improve on his weaknesses, and develop a learning culture. “May Allah be merciful to the one who knows his own limits”. “Tiisa daryeele ayaa tu kalena ku dara” (Somali proverb). Who cares for himself, can care for others too.
Characteristic 6: A leader with proactive attitudes (Dhanka wanaagsan wax ka eega). The protracted civil war has eroded social trust and positivity, replacing them with a negative and violent culture. The best example is the fadhi-kudirir phenomena, appalling social media and clan-based websites that promote clan-biased narratives. Therefore, we need the type of leader who is able to offer alternative proactive and positive attitudes by his words, actions and general leadership style. Leadership studies indicate that 95% of leaders’ influence comes from their actions and not from their empty words.
Characteristic 7: A Pragmatic yet inspirational leadership (Hogaamiye waaqici/camali ah islamarkaana yididiilada dhisa). Somalia needs a pragmatic leader who has the ability to inform the Somali people of the complicated and multidimensional social and environmental challenges facing the country in inspirational ways. He must be a leader who understands and believes the strengths and potentials of the Somali people and also be able to convince and galvanise them, within the country and abroad, to contribute to the nation and peace building. Badda ayaan macaan u bedelayaa waa dhaqanka faashilka hogaamineed (Changing the ocean into honey is the style of failed leaders).
Characteristic 8: Institutional centered leader (Hogaamiye dhisitaanka haay’adaha dowladdu u yihiin udub-dhexaad). MPs and Senators should vote for the leader they if think he is committed for institutional building and not a personality cult. They should be cautious from phoney, narcissist and populist candidates who lurk behind the garment of hollow nationalism and are unable to face social challenges, and articulate their vision in “Fagaaraha” (public debate) in the presence of all stakeholders, including independent media outlets and ordinary people.
Characteristic 9: Well-informed in terms of Somali culture, clan-geopolitics and religious transformation (Macluumaad ku filan ka haysta dhaqanka Soomaaliyeed, siyaasadda beelaysan, iyo is-bedelka fikirka diineed ee ka jira Somalia). This means having a culturally sensitive leader with sounding knowledge of the changes of Islamic thoughts/interpretations in a Somalia context, for the last 50 years. Somalia is a country with multiple challenges including the misconception of Islam practiced by jihadists and perhaps some non-jihadist groups. Such a quality will assist the leader to understand how to engage with clan-geopolitics and the armed & non-armed extremist groups through dialogue and negotiation. The status quo is unbearable.
Characteristic 10: Tolerant and open-minded leader (Hogaamiye maskax-furan, dulqaadna leh). The prolonged violent conflict has eroded social tolerance, acceptance and harmony turning Somalia into a fractured, unhealthy society in terms of thoughts, social relations and territorial integrity. Thus, it is paramount to have a leader who can read, sense and tolerate all these difficulties and work hard to help them develop culture of harmony, tolerance, acceptance and respect of different views through national constructive dialogue and critical thinking approach.
Characteristic 11: A representative leader of societal conscience (Hogaamiye matali kara shucuurka dadka Soomaaliyeed). Despite political fragmentations and cracks in society, Somalis have demonstrated a resilient society that holds a shared future aspiration, and unbroken spirit. Therefore, it is timely and important to elect a leader who is conscious of societal yearning and dreams; a leader who is able to move society forward in order for its people to realize their aspirations and pass current crossroads peacefully.
Characteristic 12: An articulate leader of his policies (Hogaamiye qeexi kara qorshahiisa siyaasadeed). Somalis are an oral society and deeply impacted by verbal language. Therefore, the ‘will-be president’ must be articulate and able to clearly explain his policies and practices. He must have the ability to communicate directly to Somali society and respond to their questions and concerns. Hiding behind the walls of the presidency palace is an acute weakness.
Characteristic 13: Clear economic plan (Qorshe dhaqaale oo qeexan). Notwithstanding, Somalia being rich in terms of its natural resources, Somalis are an extremely impoverished society. Therefore, it is cardinal to elect a leader with a clear economic and development plan e.g. creating education, skills and employment opportunities in partnership with businesses and friendly international partners.
Characteristic 14: Collaboration and team building skills (Dhaqan-wada-shaqayn, mucaamalo wanaagsan iyo dad isku-wad). No one can achieve alone. Leaders’ success depends on their capacity to network, collaborate, build useful teams and delegate tasks. Without an exaggeration, such a quality was rare in Somalia leaders over the last 22 years. We need a new breed of leadership capable of working with their friends and foes for the sake of nation and peacebuilding.
The ‘will-be president’ of Somalia on May 15th 2022 may not personally possess all the 14 qualities explained above, but all these qualities can be present by surrounding himself with competent people of different professional backgrounds, who can ensure the job is done, but ultimately the leader will harvest the fruit.
By Dr. Yusuf Sheikh Omar (Yididiilo)
Research Associate, SOAS University of London