Will Somalia’s Bloated Cabinet Deliver?

Mohammed Hussein Roble

Early this week, the Somalian Parliament endorsed the 71 man cabinet newly constituted by the Prime Minister, Mohammed Hussein Roble, 57 to help manage a country which has been plunged into conflict for three decades and virtually struggling to  maintain a semblance of governance, making many wonder whether this move is in synch withrealism, writes TONY IYARE  

Many, including this writer, are miffed with the appointment of a new 71 member cabinet in conflict ridden Somalia. Not many also share the optimism by its Prime Minister, Mohammed Hussein Roble, who says his newly appointed bloated cabinet will “strive to tackle the country’s most pressing issues,” particularly the smooth running of the envisaged parliamentary and presidential elections, slated for 2020 and 2021, as well as insecurity

One can hardly glean the benefit of the one month consultation and brainstorming that preceded the brewing of a cabinet filled largely with old faces, that smirks more like some old wine in new bottle, comprising 27 Ministers, 27 Deputy Ministers and 17 State Ministers. In what looked more like a re-circled cabinet, more than 50 per cent of the members of the dissolved cabinet including the Deputy Prime Minister, Mahdi Mohammed Guled alias Khadar, Foreign Minister, Ahmed Issa Awad and Finance Minster, Dr Abdurahman Dualeh Beile, are back.

Roble was appointed by President Mohammed AbdullahiFamarjo on September 17 to replace Hassan Ali Khaire, whose cabinet lost the confidence vote in Parliament on July 25. The lower house of Parliament later endorsed him on October 23rd with his new cabinet that includes 8 women, 4 minsters, a state minister and 3 deputy ministers.

It’s strange why Roble has not taken a cue from Famajo, also a former Prime Minister who had to resort to a near shoe string cabinet, which he pruned from 39 to 18, when he took over on October14th, 2010 from Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who resigned the month before following a protracted dispute with President Sharif over a proposed draft constitution

Roble himself neither evinces a deep political experience nor grasp of governance. He was born in Hobyo in October 1963 and hails from the Reer Hilowle, Sacad, Habar Gidir subclan of Hawiye, like the first Prime Minister of Somalia, Abdullahi Issa. He received a BSc in Civil Engineering from the Somali National University, and later attended the KTH Royal Institute of Technology where he completed an MA in Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Engineering.Before entering politics, he served as the member of International Labour Organization and environmental engineer.

No doubt, the task of rebuilding infrastructure, tackling insecurity and reining in some semblance of governance remains critical for Somalia. But one hardly shares Roble’s delusion that a country with a GDP of $4.7 billion in 2018 and $7.7 billion in 2019 and a budget of $459.5 million in 2020, up with $130 million more than the previous fiscal year, needs a 71 man cabnet to manage its affairs.

Since 1991 that Siad Barre was overthrown, Somalia has been in the throes of conflicts and control by different militia groups which has taken slices of the country. Although international effort which brokered the roadmap leading to the formation of the Transitional Federal Government 2004 and other transitional institutions have been active to re-establish stable governance, the Islamic militia groups still maintain their hold of much of the country.

Located in the Horn of Africa and bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Kenya to the southwest, Somalia has the longest coastline on Africa’s mainland. Its rich terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains, and highlands.Hot conditions prevail year-round, with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall.

Somalia has an estimated population of around 15 million and has been described as Africa’s most culturally homogeneous country. Around 85% of its residents are ethnic Somalis, who have historically inhabited the country’s north while ethnic minorities are largely concentrated in the south. The official languages of Somalia are Somali and Arabic. Most people in the country are Muslims, the majority of them Sunni.

By mid-2012, the insurgents had lost most of the territory they had seized, and a search for more permanent democratic institutions began. A new provisional constitution was passed in August 2012, reforming Somalia as a federation. The same month, the Federal Government of Somalia was formed and a period of reconstruction began in Mogadishu. Somalia has maintained an informal economy mainly based on livestock, remittances from Somalis working abroad, and telecommunications

With the end of the transitional government in 2012 and the creation of formalised government which later saw the creation of the Independent National Electoral Commission which organised the election that produced Famajo as President in 2017, it was heart warmng that the country was gradually getting back to the path of stable democracy.

But whether this is anchored on political and social realism is perhaps a different kettle of fish. It’s still some wonder why the political elite of this war torn country felt it was wise to settle for a bicameral legislature when a country like Senegal, one of Africa’s most politically stable countries had to do away with their upper house just to save money.  

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Somalia by 2012 had some of the lowest development indicators in the world, and a “strikingly low” Human Development Index (HDI) value of 0.285. This would rank amongst the lowest in the world if comparable data were available, and when adjusted for the significant inequality that exists in Somalia, its HDI is even lower. The UNDP notes that “inequalities across different social groups, a major driver of conflict, have been widening”.

Somalia’s economy consists of both traditional and modern production, with a gradual shift to more modern industrial techniques. According to the Central Bank of Somalia, about 80% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists, who keep goats, sheep, camels and cattle. The nomads also gather resins and gums to supplement their income.

The World Bank says its economy has suffered as a result of the state failure that accompanied the country’s civil war. Interetingly, some economists, including libertarian Peter T. Leeson, have argued instead that state collapse has actually helped improve economic welfare, because the previous Somali state was largely predatory.

It may be premature for the international community to assume that Somalia which is still largely donor dependent,can be left to fend for itself including leaving it to take a path which may lead to a relapse into conflict. The 2017 work of Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-director, African Security Initiative and senior fellow, Foreign Policy, Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology, titled, “The Hard, Hot, Dusty Road to Accountability, Reconciliation, and Peace in Somalia: Amnesties, Defectors Programs, Traditional Justice, Informal Reconciliation Mechanisms, and Punitive Responses to al-Shabab, should provide a guide..

Since 1991, Somalia has been battered by undulating phases of a civil war playing out among the country’s many fractious clans, larger entities aspiring to statehood, warlords, and Islamist groups. State institutions, including the security apparatus, have experienced a profound collapse.

Despite extensive international efforts for three decades to rebuild state institutions and stabilize the country, Mogadishu-based national governments have had limited operational capacity and physical reach into much of the country. Critically, they have been debilitated by parochial political competition among the country’s clans and powerbrokers.

Thus, the official state has been mostly unable to deliver even a modicum of governance to local populations while battling strong and agile military opponents and separatism. Characteristically, the most effective, even if brutal, stabilizing actors in Somalia have been Islamist groups. More than other contestants for power, they have been able to rise above clan divisions and administer a uniform rule, protect marginalized minority clans, and deliver swift, predictable, and non-corrupt justice.

Yet because of their connections to global jihadist movements, including active participation in vicious terrorism abroad and in Somalia, and significant human rights abuses, rule by the country’s jihadi groups has been unacceptable to the international community as well as resented by Somalis. Nonetheless, when international or Somali military efforts have liberated territories, clan infighting and discrimination have often broken out, and the state has often failed with adequate and equitable governance,” she argues.

Why Roble thinks that a bloated cabinet is what he requires to takle the problems of this near failed state is intriguing.Sometimes we tend to take our joke too far on the African continent. Experiencing multiple iterations of jihadi groups able to control large territories amidst state collapse, the government of Somalia is currently battling the Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, commonly referred to as al Shabab, and its splinter faction, the Islamic State.

At its peak, between 2009 and 2011, al Shabab controlled most of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu. Since 2012, an international military intervention by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), composed of forces from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Djibouti, in combination with Somali clan militias and the vestiges of Somali national forces (SNF) supported by the larger international community, has succeeded in wrestling control of large parts of Somalia from al Shabab.

But since 2015, military efforts against al Shabab have stalled, the capacity of Somali national forces remains minimal, and AMISOM is reducing its presence. Meanwhile, al Shabab, because of its delivery of pan-clan governance, remains deeply entrenched and undefeated. So the prospect is for conflict to intensify and insecurity to worsen.

Iyare, Communication & Development Consultant is also an International Relations Analyst