On Sept. 9, Somalia’s government announced that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed who is better known as “Farmajo,” would make his first visit to the United States as president, first visiting the United Nations General Assembly before traveling to Washington, D.C. This trip will be a homecoming of sorts for Farmajo who, after the collapse of Somalia’s government in 1991, sought asylum in the United States and worked here for years.
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Somalia receives only peripheral attention in the U.S., but it nevertheless receives approximately a half-billion dollars of foreign aid annually, far more than any country in Latin America and the majority of Africa. Even against the backdrop of budget cuts, U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto has sought nearly to double that funding. But Somalia has little to show for U.S. aid and diplomatic investment: Every year of Farmajo’s administration has seen corruption continue and insecurity increase.
While Farmajo has avoided serious discussion of Somalia’s future in Mogadishu, his visit to the U.S. provides an opportunity for him to answer some basic questions. Below are a few questions Farmajo should be asked, grouped by subject:
Mr. President, you retained U.S. citizenship until earlier this summer, when you voluntarily renounced it. Did you file income tax each year during which you were an American citizen? Even Americans living abroad without tax obligations must fully report their income.
Your wealth and fortune have increased tremendously since you became Somalia’s president in February 2017. Will you release your filings to show the sources of this wealth? If you have not fulfilled your filing obligations, why not? When you step down from Somalia’s presidency and no longer have diplomatic immunity, will you be able to step foot in the United States? Or would you face charges for tax delinquency from your time as a citizen?
Mr. President, Somalia receives upward of a billion dollars annually in aid, yet Transparency International has ranked Somalia as the world’s most corrupt country for well over a decade, more corrupt even than Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, Yemen, and Afghanistan. “Bribery, stealing of public funds, and profiteering by authorities is an everyday fact of life” in Somalia, it found.
Do you believe Transparency International’s assessment of Somalia is wrong? If so, why? If Transparency International’s findings are correct, however, does that signal that the federal government of Somalia lacks the capacity to manage the aid it receives? Why should American taxpayers support sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Mogadishu when most of it is wasted and when corruption remains rampant?
Mr. President, it almost seems that terrorist group Al-Shabaab strikes into the heart of Mogadishu, Kismayo, and other supposedly-secure areas of Somalia on a monthly basis, and the problem only appears to be getting worse. Why? Can you show anywhere where you have made progress?
Is the government of Somalia able to maintain security as the African Union Mission in Somalia winds down its mission? How do you assess recent videos emerging showing Somalis seeking absolution from al-Shabab or swearing allegiance to the group?
There have been multiple reports that Al-Shabaab forced workers to cease construction on the Mogadishu stadium. Your government has denied this, despite evidence to the contrary. How, then, do you explain the failure of so many projects to be completed? Corruption? Incompetence?
- Human Rights
Mr. President, can you speak to the strengths and weaknesses of the Somali constitution? Since you came to power, there have been many killings of opposition activists, and many more have been imprisoned.
An unarmed demonstrator in Baidoa was murdered. Independent journalism has declined under your watch, not only because of repression but also because of financial co-option. What are your human rights priorities? Can you outline a plan to address many of the problems that have emerged under your rule?
Mr. President, when you campaigned for the presidency, you criticized your predecessor for his frequent travel abroad. After all, there was so much work to be done in Somalia, the president was needed at home. And yet, once in office, you have traveled more than many other foreign leaders do.
Over the past year, for example, you have visited Ethiopia at least three-times, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Burundi, Eritrea, Japan, Turkey, the U.S., and soon Russia. This travel doesn’t include that of Somalia’s foreign minister or Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire. How much has such travel cost? Can you point to any trip that could not have been conducted by the foreign minister instead?
As a side note: On this current visit, you originally planned visits to see the Somali communities in Minnesota and Ohio, but canceled them after learning of planned protests. Why not listen to the protestors’ concerns directly and, if you believe them unwarranted, debate them head-on?
Mr. President, your administration has moved Somalia’s foreign policy into a much closer partnership with both Turkey and Qatar. You recently promoted Fahad Yasin, a former Al Jazeera employee, to be Somalia’s intelligence chief, even though as deputy intelligence director, he reportedly bragged that he was Qatar’s bagman and the maker and breaker of Somali political fortunes.
Is there truth to Yasin’s claims? Or to allegations that Yasin has multiple passports? What do you see as Qatar’s goals in Somalia? Can you account for all Qatari aid? Does it all get channeled through you, or do other Somali officials receive Qatari funding directly? Can you shed new light on reports of intercepted phone calls showing Qatari direction of some terrorist attacks inside Somalia?
You have crafted tight relations with Turkey, even providing Turkey a military base in Mogadishu. Turkish officials, however, make clear that there is a quid pro quo to Turkish outreach to Africa. “We have to help them develop their system of educating Muslim clergy who will not only serve the people but also teach the people the true Islam in its purest form,” one of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s court journalists explained.
Do you agree? Erdoğan approaches Islam through the lens of the Muslim Brotherhood. Within Somalia, however, Islam traditionally embodies very different exegesis. Do you agree with Turkey’s religious imperialism? As for the base, can you explain the presence of SADAT, an Islamist paramilitary which has regularly armed and trained Islamist and insurgent groups? How much Turkish money gets distributed without any Somali audit?
British Somaliland gained its independence in 1960, but then voluntarily joined with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia. In 1991, after facing genocide at the hands of Somali dictator Siyad Barre’s regime, Somaliland re-asserted its independence. It has had repeated presidential elections, its own security forces, its own currency and, unlike Somalia proper, it has security.
Mr. President, under your leadership, Somalia has increasingly sought to compel Somaliland to re-subordinate itself to Mogadishu, seeking a stop to international aid to Somaliland, an end to Somaliland’s control of its airspace, and reassertion of Mogadishu’s control. Given all the problems Somalia faces, though, should a political or military fight with Somaliland really be your priority?
Is the conflict with Somaliland part of a strategy to utilize nationalism to deflect attention from Somalia’s own failures? More basically, if Somalia’s goal is unification, wouldn’t it be better to convince Somaliland to rejoin by ensuring Somalia outperforms it? If security and standards of living are higher in Somaliland than in Somalia proper, why not replicate Somaliland’s success rather than try to smother it?
- Prime Minister Khaire
Mr. President, Prime Minister Khaire visited Washington, DC, less than six months ago. Much of his visit appears geared to positioning himself to replace you. To what extent is the jockeying for position between you and he impacting re-construction? If Khaire becomes president, will you feel safe remaining in Somalia? If not, what does this say about rule-of-law inside Somalia? Are you satisfied with Khaire’s stewardship and his cabinet?
Mr. President, it is widely believed that there is significant oil in Somali and Kenyan waters. Somalia has taken its maritime dispute to the International Court of Justice. Many experts believe the ruling falls in Somalia’s favor, although the presence of a Somali judge who did not recuse himself may given Kenyan authorities a way to dispute it.
Can you reveal details of the auction held for oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters? Why did you not wait for the court’s ruling? If the oil is found, what mechanisms have you planned to ensure it does not fuel further conflict within Somalia or get siphoned off into officials’ overseas bank accounts?
In short, Mr. President, welcome back to the United States. You have an incredibly difficult job, but that should not mean a blank check. Can you assure Congress and the broader public that Somalia is better off under your leadership and that its trajectory remains positive?
Does aid do more harm than good? Or is Somalia destined to another decade or more of state failure?
More than two years into your administration, the questions above remain unanswered. Your visit to the United Nations and Washington, D.C., provides an opportunity to address them, and frankly, due diligence requires that you do.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he researches Arab politics, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, Iraq, the Kurds, terrorism, and Turkey. He concurrently teaches classes on terrorism for the FBI and on security, politics, religion, and history for US and NATO military units.
A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre- and postwar Iraq, and he spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books exploring Iranian history, American diplomacy, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “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 M.A. in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a B.S. in biology.
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