10 questions Somalia’s prime minister should answer in Washington By Michael Rubin
Somalian Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire begins a visit to Washington on Monday. Meetings are tentatively scheduled at the World Bank and either at or with senior officials from the State Department, Treasury Department, and the United States’ intelligence community. Khaire, who has just begun his third year as prime minister and who was previously a refugee in Norway, was appointed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (“Farmajo”) who himself was selected by a parliament chosen by hand-picked Somali elders in a process marked by fraud and vote-buying.
Khaire’s visit comes at a crucial time for Somalia. In 1991, after the fall of dictator Siyad Barre, Somalia collapsed. Rival clans and warlords fought over the institutions of the state, hijacking or looting them in order to benefit their own narrow interests or trade patronage for power. As the Western media broadcast photos of starving Somali children, then-President George H.W. Bush ordered Marines into Somalia to distribute aid and to try to avert famine. The aid, however, simply exacerbated conflict as rival militias fought over its distribution to ensure their followers received support and their competitors starved.
After the Black Hawk Down episode, President Bill Clinton, who inherited the mission, ordered U.S. forces home the following year. The rest of the U.N. peacekeeping force left soon after, and Somalia again descended into chaos.
For many American policymakers, history is an inconvenience to diplomatic ambitions and plans. But in Somalia, the precedent of government formation, military action, and aid policy is crucial to understand Somalia’s tipping point.
After the U.S. and U.N. withdrawal, warlords rose and fell. In August 2000, clan leaders met in Djibouti and elected Abdiqasim Salad as Somalia’s first president in a decade. Somalia’s warlords did not accept Salad’s authority, however, nor that of the Transitional National Government. Somalia might have had a president in theory, but it did not have one in reality, at least outside of a handful of neighborhoods in Mogadishu.
In 2006, the Islamic Court Union took Mogadishu. While some Somalis hoped that the group might restore security, much as the Taliban briefly stabilized Afghanistan albeit, under a brutal social order, an Ethiopian intervention ended Islamic Court Union rule. Chaos returned as Ethiopian and African Union forces in support of the Somali government battled Islamist militias seeking to seize the capital. In Puntland, meanwhile, young men, often acting under the patronage of local politicians, began engaging in piracy.
In 2009, al Shabaab, an Islamist group that absorbed previous members of the Islamic Court Union and subsequently protected al Qaeda members, seized the southern port of Kismayo and launched a siege of Mogadishu. Kenyan forces, meanwhile, entered Somalia to counter al Shabaab after the group staged several attacks in Kenya. Al Shabaab began to falter, even as Somalia’s theoretical government-controlled little outside the blast walls of Mogadishu’s international airport. In August 2012, Somalia elected a new parliament that operated from the airport; few if any parliamentarians actually traveled to the regions they theoretically represented, even as they drew salaries which, by Somali (and even international) standards were wildly inflated.
While under African Union Mission to Somalia protection, the Somali government had established a loose foothold in Mogadishu and, in theory, elsewhere in the country, as the AMISOM mandate expires, it is not certain the government over which Farmajo and Khaire preside can maintain its grip on power. Already, as AMISOM has withdrawn from towns and villages near Mogadishu this year, al Shabab has resumed its control — sometimes just miles from the capital. Meanwhile, the Somali security forces seem unable to prevent attacks even in the heart of the capital.
Accordingly, here are some questions any responsible official in the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, U.S. Congress, White House, and State Department should demand Khaire answer satisfactorily if he wants aid to continue and here are the questions:
- Why should Somalia receive any more international assistance?
The U.S. has increased its contribution to Somalia to more than $900 million, after several years of giving at least $500 million. Of course, Somalia receives even more from the international community. Is there any metric by which Somalia has improved in proportion to money received? Security? Territorial control? Economy? Education?
- Why are salaries in Mogadishu so high?
One of the ironies of Somalia is that salaries of its bureaucracy are exponentially higher, but services and efficiency so much lower than those of Somaliland, the breakaway northern region of Somalia which operates independently. If Somaliland authorities can do a better job with less, why can’t Somalia?
- What’s the plan to address corruption?
The academic literature is clear: Corruption and looting of resources was not only primarily responsible for Somalia’s collapse, but also for transforming drought into a devastating famine. And yet, Somalia has been at the bottom of Transparency International’s corruptions perceptions index for more than a decade. Why should the U.S. or international organizations provide money to a country consistently more corrupt than Venezuela, Afghanistan, or North Korea? What has your government done in practice to reduce corruption? How many ministers or aides have you fired due to corruption?
- Why does Farmajo travel so much?
Farmajo entered office criticizing his predecessor for traveling internationally too often, rather than remaining in Mogadishu in order to manage the capital and country’s recovery. And yet, two years after his election win, Farmajo is now traveling abroad at a record-setting pace, enjoying luxury flights and surroundings while his country teeters. Why does Farmajo need to travel abroad? Isn’t that the job of the foreign ministry? While Farmajo is abroad, who is managing day-to-day efforts to repair Somalia’s damaged fabric?
- Will Somalia survive the end of AMISOM?
AMISOM was meant not only to battle al Shabaab but to give space for Somalia to rebuild its army. But the army has complained that its salaries are lost (see question 3) and soldiers are unwilling to fight for free. Accordingly, as AMISOM contingents begin to head home, Somalia is left without a functional army. Who has been prosecuted for embezzling the soldiers’ pay? Do you expect Somalia to resist al Shabaab if the army is unwilling to fight?
- If you want U.S. support, why lease your country to China?
You are in Washington demanding more aid, but your government has leased fishing rights to China. Do you believe China is altruistic toward Somalia? If not, what are its interests? While piracy is a complicated issue, does allow China into Somali waters enhance the employment of Somali fishermen or undermine it? If Somali fishermen can’t make a living, do you risk reigniting piracy in the Horn of Africa? Where has the money gone from the China deal?
- Why ask the International Court of Justice to mediate Kenya dispute and then not wait for the decision?
The Somali government has asked the International Court of Justice to mediate a maritime border dispute with Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya, and yet they went ahead with a secret auction of gas exploration rights in the disputed zone. Don’t you undercut the legitimacy of the process when you initiate it and then ignore it? Is it wise to antagonize Kenya when Somalia has relied on Kenyan troops for security for much of the past decade?
- Why is Somalia bothering with the Israel-Palestine dispute?
In recent weeks, Somalia has fired Abdullahi Dool, a foreign ministry official who has said that enmity toward Israel is not in Somalia’s interest. Could you explain the firing and why you believe it is in Somalia’s interest? Likewise, could you explain the recall of Faduma Abdullahi Mohamud, Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland, after she abstained on a U.N. resolution condemning Israel? Are reports that the recall happened after a phone call between Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad true? Aren’t Omar and Awad from the same subclan, and haven’t they previously collaborated on policy issues?
- Do you believe that Turkey is a stabilizing force for Somalia?
On one hand, Turkey has invested heavily in Somalia and you are using Turkey to mediate Somalia’s dispute with Somaliland. But on the other hand, Turkey has built a military base in Mogadishu and its paramilitary SADAT appears to be offering training and assistance to Islamist extremists inside Somalia. Under such circumstances, and especially reports of Turkish ties to al Shabaab, is Turkey really a stabilizing force for Somalia? Given the corruption inherent in both Somalia and in Turkey, would you be willing to publicize the terms of the deal and transparently account for all funding that has resulted from the airport management and base lease deals?
- Why is reunification with Somaliland a goal?
Somaliland has been de facto independent since 1991 and has thrived while the rest of Somalia has descended into chaos. Why do you expect Somaliland (which, between 1988 and 1991 was subject to a genocide coordinated out of Mogadishu) to ever reunify with the rest of Somalia when Somalia’s own house is not in order? How do any parliamentarians in Mogadishu “represent” Somaliland when they were not elected in Somaliland and don’t step foot in the region? Wouldn’t a more responsible strategy put the Somaliland issue aside until Somalia has tackled basic issues of reducing corruption and restoring security? If you claim your government is legitimate across all of Somaliland, why do you not provide 30% of the aid you receive, in direct proportion to Somaliland’s population, to the province? Wouldn’t that better win hearts and minds that are necessary if reconciliation is to work?
Simply put, foreign aid is not an entitlement and, as the history of Somalia shows, when offered carelessly, it can do far more harm than good. Perhaps, Prime Minister Khaire should return to Mogadishu with a simple message: Account for aid already offered and demonstrate an ability to improve anything in Somalia before any more funds are given.
Arab politics, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Horn of Africa
Bio & Experience
Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.
A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units.
Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).
Dr. Rubin has a Ph.D. and an MA in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a BS in biology.
- Foreign Military Studies Office: Contract Analyst, 2012–present
- Naval Postgraduate School: Senior Lecturer, 2007–21
- Middle East Quarterly: Editor, 2004–09
- Coalition Provisional Authority (Baghdad): Political Adviser, 2003–04
- Office of the Secretary of Defense: Staff Adviser, Iran and Iraq, 2002–04
- Council on Foreign Relations: International Affairs Fellow, 2002–03
- Hebrew University (Jerusalem): Fellow, The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, 2001–02
- Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs: Fellow, 2000–01
- Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan): Visiting Lecturer, 2000–01
- Yale University: Lecturer, Department of History, 1999–2000
- Iranian Studies: Assistant Editor, 1994–97
Ph.D. and MA in history; BS in biology, Yale University
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