Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, the President of the Interim South-West Administration (ISWA) in Somalia, is deliberately stemming the natural growth of the nascent federated state by employing “qaraabaysi” (nepotism), patronage, and misuse of public funds. After two decades of civil war, followed by years of Al-Shabaab domination, the region is still in financial and political ruins.
The administration of the South-West (SW) is in the hands of Sharif Hassan and his family. Through his imperial actions, the SW is a one-man show—he is the president, the vice president, the legislature, and the judiciary. Sharif Hassan is assisted by his brother, Madeer, who coordinates all international contacts from Nairobi, and Mohamed Abdullahi Mursal, his nephew, who does the day-to-day management of the region. With the blessing of his uncle, Mursal has named himself a prime minister and hence presides over the cabinet meetings. He has even set up fake email addresses in the name of his uncle and cabinet ministers soliciting aid from the international community. The appointed ministers, who lack education and government experience, have titles but no function. A UN official recently wrote a scathing letter to his superiors complaining about the lack of a qualified cadre for capacity building in the SW and pleaded to be transferred elsewhere.
Baidoa, the capital of the SW, is a city riven with violence and targeted assassinations. In just the last few months, prominent imams, traditional leaders, and women have been killed. These acts of violence, though generally suspected to have been carried out by Al-Shabaab, cannot all be attributed to the terror group. Some killings are politically motivated. Clan elders, according to two community activists in the SW, live in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation because they are frequently harassed by Sharif Hassan and his cronies. “We dare not to challenge Sharif Hassan,” one elder, who wants to remain anonymous, lamented. Sharif Hassan has not established security services to protect citizens. In fact, no budget has been drawn up for the security sector. It is unfortunate that Sharif Hassan himself spends most of his time either staying in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, or doing frivolous travel. Occasionally, he stays in a house in Afgooye, which is owned by the conglomerate Hormuud Telecom. Many of his ministers are also staying in hotels in Mogadishu like sitting ducks, idle, and without the faintest clue of what is going on.
Sharif Hassan has been dragging his feet on two major issues: appointing a vice president and spearheading the formation of a parliament. By showing little interest in having a vice president, he is exhibiting Hosni Mubarak syndrome, (the former Egyptian dictator ruled his country over 30 years without a designated vice president). The region also has yet to have a functioning parliament. Per the provisional constitution, a parliament must be established between 45 and 60 days after a regional state is established. This lackadaisical approach to the rule of law is disturbing. There are some sputtering attempts to form a parliament in the region. Even Sharif Hassan himself has become involved and has asked clan elders to give him a minimum of three parliament spots from each of the three regions that make up the SW so he can nominate legislators of his own choice. Recently, he met some of the elders of the Digil and Mirifle clan in Baidoa and grilled them on why they have been resisting his request. “Am I not the same person you elected as president a few months ago?” Sharif Hassan sarcastically asked. “Where does this lack of trust come from?” There is a fear among the elders that Sharif Hassan will give his requested parliamentary seats to entities that have business partnerships with him or manned armed militias. If his current cabinet is any indication, he just wants legislators who will answer to no one but himself.
Another issue is Sharif Hassan’s plan to sell the land of the Lower Shebelle. Recently, a group of Indian experts from the United Arab Emirates visited Baraawe in the Lower Shebelle to check the port for future development and to explore whether there is oil in the region. Another privately owned company, Somali Fruits, is sponsoring a trip for Sharif Hassan to go to Germany in an attempt to export Somali bananas from the SW. While encouraging investment in the region is a noble idea and badly needed, there is no mechanism to investigate the validity and effectiveness of these projects. Numerous calls by concerned SW residents to Sharif Hassan to establish “Xafiiska Hanti Dhawrka” (Bureau of Safeguarding National Resources) have gone unanswered.
A major concern for some SW residents is the fear that Sharif Hassan is indirectly facilitating the introduction of Shiism in the region. Sharif Hassan has received 200 scholarships from Iran for Somali youths to study there. Most of these scholarships have already been granted to Sharif Hassan’s relatives and members of his clan, the Asharaf. While the Asharaf in Somalia are Sunnis, the group has historically claimed to be descendants of the family of Prophet Mohamed. One similarity between the Shiites and the Asharaf is their unbridled devotion to “Ah-lul Bayt” ([Mohamed]’s family). Some Somali religious scholars have been vociferously lashing out at Iranian charities in Somalia because they fear the spread of Shiism in an overwhelming Sunni country. Recently, Somali clerics noticed the emergence of a small number of Somali Shiites in the nation.
An issue that angered many residents of the SW is the presence of the abhorred checkpoints in the region. These checkpoints, still run by armed militias, collect exorbitant taxes from residents and extort bribes from motorists. Unfortunately, instead of getting rid of these roadblocks, Sharif Hassan’s administration has introduced an additional 40 checkpoints in the region. Two of these checkpoints are near Afgooye and are controlled by Mursal, Sharif Hassan’s nephew, through his representative, a man named Daahir Sharif. According to several ministers, two of these checkpoints are falsely run in the name of “Iskaashatada Gaadiidka” (The Transportation Co-op). There is no group in the SW by the name of “Iskaashatada Gaadiidka.” The net daily income from these two roadblocks is 35 million Somali shillings ($1590 USD) and is directly deposited in Mursal’s personal account.
The absence of police force and security services, coupled with the presence of a sizable fighters of Al-Shabaab, has exacerbated the lack of safety in the state. There are still territories in the region that are controlled by Al-Shabaab. The terror group has historically flourished in areas such as the SW where injustice, marginalization, and bad governing are prevalent.
Now that the Somali president has cancelled the one-man, one-vote election in 2016, Sharif Hassan is likely to amass more wealth as a war chest to be a contender for the federal presidency or to act as a power broker. Next year, instead of people electing candidates directly, the regional state representatives will probably do the selection, a process conducive to bribery and corruption. Sharif Hassan is presiding over a region which has a lot of potential but he is not interested in providing an effective and productive leadership. In a way, he is standing on the ashes, however, the saga of the SW and its leader will continue.
Hassan M Abukar
Kala Soco Warar Sugan: Ishabaydhaba.com