Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is facing the greatest challenge to his leadership and credibility since his election as the president of Somalia almost fifteen months ago, according to multiple sources in Washington, London, Brussels, Nairobi and Mogadishu. Our contacts report that diplomats and regional governments are alarmed by the president’s recent actions and are regularly describing the president and his senior staff as “corrupt, erratic, amateurish and dangerous”. They see the Mogadishu-based administration as failing to meet key political, and security objectives, and wasting valuable time on clan politics that could potentially take the country back to the 1990s civil war.
Western and regional diplomats recently confronted President Mohamud and his senior staff about the rampant corruption, and outright thievery of international funds intended to support the government. These funds included millions donated to support the reconstitution of a new Somali national army, police and security services to support the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The government’s failure to account for the money and establish a credible monitoring mechanism has significantly eroded international donor confidence in Mohamud and will probably slow the process of funding development and security programs, according to senior United Nations’ officials in New York and Nairobi.
Shortly after the public resignation of former Central Bank Governor Yussur Abrar, a well-qualified and competent administrator, several Nairobi-based senior diplomats traveled to Mogadishu to confront the president and senior staff about rampant corruption and missing funds, according to a Western diplomat who attended the high-level meeting at the Mogadishu airport. The senior diplomats accused the president, the speaker of parliament, as well as the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, defense, and finance of great financial mismanagement. The president and his senior staff were directly accused of authorizing the withdrawal of millions of dollars from the central bank (CB) and failing to report foreign government donations, primarily from the Gulf States and Iran, as required.
In addition, Western diplomats and members of the monitoring groups criticized the Somali government’s hiring of Shulman & Rogers and FTI to discredit a damning UN report. According to a senior diplomat, Shulman & Rogers paid FTI to write a bogus report exonerating the government and former central bank president of corruption. In return, the government hired Shulman & Rogers and FTI to recover hundreds of millions of dollars of Somali government assets frozen in foreign bank accounts. The contact would have awarded Shulman & Rogers 33% of the nearly $700 million in frozen assets. The contract, negotiated by senior staff of the president, would have deposited the recovered funds into offshore foreign bank accounts. The remaining money was to have been divided between key staffers and other firms advising the government, with 10-15% deposited into the CB. The scheme collapsed after the new central bank president refused to sign the contract as required and reported it to the international community.
The auditors were already furious about $85 million missing from the CB. The missing funds included two payments exceeding $25 million from the Government of Qatar as well as undisclosed funds from the government of Iran not reported or deposited to the central bank as required, according to senior Nairobi-based diplomats.
Western and regional diplomats implicated senior staff of President Mohamud including key advisers in criminal activity and financial irregularities, including the withdrawal of millions of dollars from the central bank that were then deposited into private accounts or “slush funds” controlled by the president’s office. These accounts have been used to fund political payoffs, buy clan loyalty, and pay allied militias as well as pay for the recruitment and training of former clan militias and al-Shabaab fighters for a new Dam Jadeed militia controlled by the president and his allies.
Governments allege that the slush funds were also used to pay off senior members of the Somali parliament including the speaker. Speaker Jawari and senior members of parliament routinely receive secret funds directly from the president’s office in order to stop or slow parliamentary oversight of the government. The “slush fund’ was allegedly used to buy votes to oust the former prime minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, according to our contacts in Washington, Nairobi and Mogadishu.
The president, ministers and senior staff have used the “slush fund” to purchase expensive real estate including residences and businesses in Nairobi, Kampala, Dubai and Doha. The slush fund also paid for arming criminal gangs in Mogadishu to intimidate opposition members in the parliament as well as the CB staff. The CB president resigned after receiving death threats and a leading opposition figure in the parliament was recently assassinated after opposing the president’s no confidence vote request against the prime minister. The lawmaker’s car exploded shortly after leaving Somali president’s office located at Villa Somalia, according to open source reports.
Nairobi-based senior diplomats and regional governments have adopted a weary tone when descripting the president and his senior staff. While some Western and African diplomats describe president Mohamud as a “weak and paranoid individual unfamiliar with the basics of running a government,” others allege that the president is a pawn to more powerful senior staff, clannists and organized criminal groups in Mogadishu. These groups are resistant to stability efforts in Somalia and are in no mood to return private and public properties gained since the collapse of the Somali government in the early 1990s.
These groups are active in funding the government’s efforts against the initiatives of Kenya and Ethiopia in central and southern Somalia, and facilitate the recruitment of Dam Jadeed militia from loyal sub-clans including from the president’s own sub-clan. They covertly work alongside the Somali police, military and security services, according to Mogadishu-based contacts.
The establishment and deployment of these militias as part of Somali military units, as well as the Somali government wild accusations against Ethiopia, Kenya and AMISOM forces, have strained relations with key security partners. The fundamental disagreement remains how to pacify Central and Southern Somalia. For Mohamud and his administration, the solution was the appointment of corrupt and weak leaders from clans allied with the president as governors. However, the strategy failed because of the Kenyan government’s interest in establishing a friendly state in southern Somalia that would be a buffer.
The Dam Jadeed militia’s leadership includes former senior members of the former Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) and former al-Shabaab regional leaders who have since left the group after losing an internal struggle. Some of the Dam Jadeed fighters are now deployed to areas in central and southern Somalia as part of the clan militia’s support for AMISOM. But they are there to continue the Somali government efforts designed to undermine the Kenyan and Ethiopian military and weaken the clans that are supporting them. The militias are intended to perpetuate an atmosphere of fear, and delay government actions that could stabilize areas in central and southern Somalia.
Our sources report that the president’s actions are causing governments to reassess their relationship with the Somali government. From Nairobi, Washington, Brussels and London, key policy leaders are describing the Somali president as failing to overcome his fundamental leadership deficiencies and as indecisive and lacking the confidence to delegate authority to competent subordinates.
Despite the Somali government’s promises to assemble a competent and corruption-free cabinet after ousting Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, Western and regional governments were disappointed with the president’s selection of former prime minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, who is not seen as a competent leader, according to a senior diplomat who routinely travels to Mogadishu. They assess that the new PM will likely not be independent, and the president and his senior staff will continue to run the government as usual. The upcoming administration will probably be as corrupt and inept as the recently dismissed administration, which will worsen the cycle of indecision and gridlock and lead to a sense of drift among senior officials on nearly all critical policy decisions.
Some Western and African diplomats in recent weeks have indicated to us that a clean and effective cabinet was the answer. They suggest that continuation of the current way of governing in Mogadishu will further impact their long-term commitment to Somalia. A key diplomat from a Western government who recently traveled to Somalia indicated that his government has shifted away from Mogadishu and is focused on policy that strengthens Puntland, Jubaland, and Somaliland. He said that the current government reminded him of the former Somali Transitional National Government (TNG) and he believes that it will continue to be marginalized because it is losing credibility with the Somali people. He says that the turning point “was the president’s and his political allies’ strong push to undermine the Jubaland initiative.” Many saw the president as putting on the clan hat, which was unsettling to many, according to the diplomat.
Although it’s too early to judge President Mohamud’s selection of Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, many diplomats and Diaspora members are willing to give him a chance if the next cabinet is competent and corruption free. The president and the prime minister must work together to appoint an experienced, highly educated cabinet from inside the country and the diaspora in order to tackle the serious issues facing Somalia. Many experts agree that there will be no third chance for president Mohamud if the current situation in Mogadishu does not change. It’s time for President Mohamud to stop wasting time on unnecessary and costly foreign trips that are nothing more than vacations and start focusing on leading Somalia.”
The author of this article is Mohamed Fatah. Mr. Fatah is a senior vice president for a UAE-based management consulting company and is regarded as one of the leading foreign policy and national security experts on the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Mr. Fatah is former senior policy advisor to the National Security Council (NSC) and played a significant role in the development and implementation of Somalia policy for the United States government.