The Somalian leader just dealt irreparable damage to his reputation by showing that he’s willing to subordinate Somalia to Italian neo-colonialism in exchange for support in his quest to reconquer Somaliland. Far from the “nationalist hero” that he presents himself as being, he’s really just another imperialist stooge
By Andrew Korybko
Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) was interviewed by a leading Italian journalist last week during his trip to that country to attend the Italy-Africa Summit. Their conversation took place at the Med-Or Foundation, which is a top Italian think tank created by the Leondardo defense company. X user “bhlub” drew attention to his closing remarks in his post here, where HSM asked Italy to take back control of its former plantations, which can be seen from 48:21 of Med-Or’s official video here.
It’s only a little more than one minute long, but what the Somalian leader proposed was unprecedented in African history. Never before has anyone asked their former colonizers to return to take back control of their lost plantations. According to him, this will restore people-to-people ties between Italy and Somalia. In his words, “We are dreaming that we will have that level of friendship come back, so that’s the bottom line from my message”.
The larger context within which he shared his proposal concerned his efforts to court Italian support for Somalia, to which end he argued that the economic dimension thereof is required to counteract Al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts. He made this point between 23:06-29:36 of the interview when answering a question about Russia’s influence in Africa, which he condemned by comparing Wagner to Blackwater, with the innuendo that the first carries out crimes against humanity like the latter.
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Italian plantations in Somalia Italiana were huge swaths of land that colonial Italy gifted to any Italian citizen willing to move to its African colony.
Italian men employed young Somalian women to work the land for next to no pay.
Fully subtitled. pic.twitter.com/5oxrc0KHvo
— bhlub (@thebhlub) February 1, 2024
HSM made this unsavory and counterfactual comparison despite Somalia already receiving two free wheat deliveries from Moscow in recent months, with whom ties have strengthened since his Foreign Minister visited the Russian capital last May, which was a very unfriendly and ungrateful thing to do. It appears as though he wanted to imply that the local security conditions that lead to national governments inviting Russia into their countries could be preempted by more foreign investment.
Whatever his intent may have been, the way in which he conveyed his point was very undiplomatic since it hinted that Russian influence in Africa should be contained, not to mention the ominous suggestion that failing to do so could lead to Wagner carrying out Blackwater-like crimes against humanity there. Suffice to say, Russian diplomats will certainly discuss what he said and debate whether it implies an impending change in Somalia’s intended relations with their country, which could reduce mutual trust.
Regardless of whatever may or may not happen in Russian-Somalian relations as a result of his scandalous remarks, the importance in referencing them is to better understand what HSM probably had in mind when he invited Italy to take back control of its plantations. The subtext is that this could help contain Russian influence in Africa simultaneously with counteracting Al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts, but both expectations are fallacious, plus this proposal itself exposes his ulterior motives.
To explain, while there’s arguably a connection of some sort between poverty and security, it’s not true that terrorism is largely driven by economic conditions since ideology plays a much greater role. Greater local investments with more equitable dividends for the community can help reduce the appeal of such groups, but it’s not a silver-bullet solution. It therefore won’t preempt the local security conditions that lead to national governments inviting Russia into their countries.
In the Somalian context, the restoration of Italian control over its lost plantations could actually lead to a surge in Al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts, considering the group’s blend of ultra-nationalism and religious fundamentalism. The return of the same foreign Christians who previously colonized Somalia and forced the locals into a de facto form of slavery would be a godsend for that group since it would result in being able to present themselves as “Islamic freedom fighters from Christian imperialism/slavery”.
The real reason why HSM invited Italy to take back control of its lost plantations is as an implied quid pro quo for its support against Somaliland, whose recently signed Memorandum of Understanding with Ethiopia that was analyzed at length here infuriated Mogadishu, which wants to reconquer that country. He’s therefore willing to subordinate Somalia to Italian neo-colonialism in exchange for tangible backing in this quest, even if it’s only provided indirectly under the cover of anti-terrorist military assistance.
There’s another level to all this too, since the large-scale return of Italy’s ground presence in Somalia, such as what he’s proposing by it taking back control of its lost plantations, is aimed at unsettling Somaliland and Ethiopia while appealing to ultra-nationalist Somalians. The first two have terrible memories of how “Greater Somalia” was briefly imposed upon them by fascist Italy, whereas the latter are nostalgic for it just like ultra-nationalist Ukrainians are nostalgic for the Third Reich.
In other words, HSM hopes that this would instill fear in his neighbors while rallying the country around his rule, but only the second objective might succeed. Somaliland and Ethiopia are ready to defend themselves and one another from any Somalian aggression – be conventional, hybrid, terrorist, foreign-backed, a blend thereof, etc. – and are confident that they’d succeed. It’s only ultra-nationalist Somalians who believe that this fascist-era geopolitical project can be revived, though it’s nothing but a delusion.
Any large-scale return of Italy’s ground presence in Somalia, especially via it taking back control of its lost plantations, would actually discredit that country in general and HSM in particular by exposing them as Western puppets in the New Cold War. It also can’t be assumed that Italy has the security capabilities required to defend its plantations from Al-Shabaab, let alone from a rebellion by newly enserfed Somalians, who presumably have enough self-respect not to let themselves be subjugated like that.
With this in mind, his plans will likely be for naught, with there only being a chance that they’ll manifest themselves in some military aid as well as local investments that would be managed by Somalians. Even so, HSM just dealt irreparable damage to his reputation by showing that he’s willing to subordinate Somalia to Italian neo-colonialism in exchange for support in his quest to reconquer Somaliland. Far from the “nationalist hero” that he presents himself as being, he’s really just another imperialist stooge.
A Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the global systemic transition to multipolarity.
Follow him @AKorybko
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