Somalia was supposed to complete its parliamentary votes this week. But problems here and there meant there will be three more weeks to conclude the polls that have delayed a presidential vote. But the delays haven’t stopped presidential contenders from putting forward their ideas.
For Jamal Haji Ahmed, Somalia’s current and past problems arose from the country trying to reinvent the wheel. He told Nation.Africa in an earlier interview that the country’s security problems have local solutions that leaders have overlooked.
“I know where the problem lies,” he said. “Somalia lacks institutional memory in government so we must listen more to our elders. To reconcile our people, we must look at our mental strength, which lies with our elders. They knew how to resolve differences.”
Somalia, he argued, is physically weak, watered down by a spiralling cycle of violence. Bu the said the country is mentally strong.
Ahmed, unlike several rivals in the race, is a relatively new face in Somali politics. He had been a diplomat, working at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), the regional bloc of seven countries including Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, three countries he says birthed, raised and educated him in that order.
His presidential bid comes as Somalia finalises a parliamentary vote that is crucial to determine the actual date of elections. Under the indirect voting system, a bicameral federal parliament of 54 senators and 275 MPs in the Lower House sit in a joint session and elect a president in a secret ballot.
In the past, first-time contenders sprang surprises and no former president has ever been elected again. It gives him motivation.
“We need to bring good minds to leadership. Somalia’s good guys aren’t volunteering to lead, and it is unfortunate. I am not blowing my trumpet but I have the good experience and institutional memory to help resolve our problems,” he told Nation.Africa last week.
“I have unmatched experience in grassroots peacebuilding. I think the missing gap so far in Somalia is that the role of the public is neglected. Their participation is critical.”
His priorities? Justice and peacebuilding, “because without that, nothing else will move in our country”. Leaders in Somalia have not led according to the law. They have been above it, he says. That has also bred a “cancer” of corruption, which he thinks has been institutionalised.
A diplomat of more than two decades, Ahmed was head of the Igad mission in Somalia where he also served as a political adviser on security, governance and sustainable development. His role at the time also included establishing nascent institutions.
One area he thinks cemented his grassroots peacebuilding credentials is leading a reconciliation mission that helped establish important administrative regions in Hirshabelle state, as well as the post-election conflict in South West state that saw it establish a power-sharing local government.
Though most of his career has been spent away from politics, he thinks he has a rich CV in the civil service as well, including as acting director in the planning ministry, where he was charged with working with donors on Somalia’s development scene.
He also served as director-general for finance in Banadir, Somalia’s metropolis that also includes the city of Mogadishu and is composed of 16 districts.
For all of Somalia’s problems, however, Ahmed says it also depends on how it relates with neighbours. “Somalia has never had a foreign policy. We have been swinging like a pendulum. I will draw up one for the country to define our interests,” he said.
“That policy will reflect our internal system too and will be based on our desire for peace, development and safeguarding our reputation as a well-meaning country,” he said.
But Ahmed will have to defeat Somalia’s continual clan politics. He comes from the Abgaal, one of the country’s largest political clans but which may have fewer constituencies in parliament.
A sub-clan of the larger Hawiye clan, Abgaal has produced presidents before in Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who are also yearning for the seat again. It means he must reach out to every voting base, regardless of clan.