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HomeEditorialPresident Hassan Sheikh's 2-Year in Office: Balancing Progress and Pitfalls

President Hassan Sheikh’s 2-Year in Office: Balancing Progress and Pitfalls

Introduction

On May 15, 2022, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected as the President of Somalia for the second time, defeating incumbent President Mohamed Farmajo in the final round. This makes Hassan Sheikh the first person to be elected as President of Somalia twice. While his election did not gain widespread public support, the country’s elite viewed his second term as an opportunity for improvement. Known as a knowledgeable and experienced leader, Hassan Sheikh previously served as President from 2012 to 2016, and many hopes he will address and rectify his past mistakes.

The president was elected based on 29 key promises. Among the most critical were combating and eradicating Al-Shabaab, finalizing the Transitional Constitution, advancing federalism and fostering good relations between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and the Federal Member States (FMS), achieving meaningful reconciliation, democratizing the nation, increasing domestic revenue, upholding freedom of speech and thought, and strengthening foreign relations. Let’s now examine the outcomes of the president’s major pledges.

Security efforts against Al-Shabaab

The war with al-Shabaab in Somalia took an unexpected turn with the election of President Hassan Sheikh. His administration initially collaborated with anti-al-Shabaab groups, notably the Maawisley militias who engaged in an unplanned war with al-Shabaab. Under the leadership of General Odawaa and General Bihi, significant victories were achieved by SNA, particularly in the Hirshabeelle and Galmudug states.

However, the momentum shifted when these successful commanders were replaced by less experienced leaders. In President Hassan Sheikh’s first year, notable progress was made, with al-Shabaab being expelled from many areas in the Hiran region of Hirshabeelle and the Mudug region of Galmudug. This success, however, waned by August 2023 following defeats in the Galgadud region, especially in Elbur, Awsweyne, and Gal’ad. Al-Shabaab managed to reclaim numerous territories previously lost in 2022 and early 2023, marking a significant setback for the government.

Reports indicate that during Hassan Sheikh’s two-year term, Somali military casualties, including high-ranking officers, reached unprecedented levels. Despite claims of killing over thousands of al-Shabaab militants through various operations, the defeat at Awsweyne on Aug, 2023 severely impacted the Somali National Army’s (SNA) morale. Corruption and supply mismanagement within the military further hampered their effectiveness, exacerbated by irregular salary payments.

In contrast, the government’s efforts to secure Mogadishu have yielded positive results, with a notable decrease in al-Shabaab attacks in the capital over the past two years. Nonetheless, high-profile attacks, such as those on Villa Ross and Hotel SYL, continue to raise questions about the attack of prominent politicians.

Additionally, the al-Shabaab threat appears to be growing, fueled by the recent MOU between Somaliland and Ethiopia and the anticipated exit of ATMIS in October 2024. Meanwhile, Daesh has strengthened its presence in Puntland’s eastern region, claiming full control over the mountains after driving out al-Shabaab forces.

Finalization of the Constitution and NCC Agreements

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, at the outset of his term, addressed long-standing issues in Somalia’s Transitional Constitution and federal system, which had remained largely unresolved since the federal system’s adoption in Mbagathi in 2004. In his first year, the President focused on priority areas, including debates on power-sharing, national security, the judiciary, fiscal federalism, and the electoral system.

During the National Consultative Council (NCC) meetings in June and October 2022, it was agreed to hold discussions on these issues in December 2022. There was a consensus among leaders of the southern Federal Member States—Galmudug, Jubbaland, Southwest, and Hirshabelle—and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on extending the terms of the Federal Member States’ leaders. Villa Somalia was tasked with drafting agreements related to these debates. By the NCC meeting on December 22, 2022, agreements on power-sharing and the judiciary were presented, centralizing significant powers with the Federal Government. Puntland, disagreeing with the southern states, left the meeting, emphasizing the need for clarity on the power-sharing agreement and adherence to the interim constitutional powers of the Federal Government: Foreign Affairs, Defense, Monetary Policy, and Immigration.

In March and May 2024, with Puntland absent, further agreements on fiscal federalism, national security, and elections were reached, consolidating crucial powers with the Federal Government. These agreements led to swift constitutional amendments reflecting the new accords. President Mohamoud faces accusations of his main objective to amend the Chapter 4 in the constitution was concerning elections, to potentially extend his tenure.

The move to amend the constitution without the consensus of all stakeholders, including Puntland, former national leaders, the public, civil society and opposition politicians, has been met with strong opposition. Critics argue that the Federal Government’s constitution is a consensus-based agreement intended to foster social cohesion and mutual understanding for at least 20 years.

Despite the absence of Puntland and Somaliland, the bicameral Parliament voted to amend four chapters of the Constitution. This decision drew criticism from former Presidents Mohamed Farmajo and Sheikh Sharif, along with other prominent politicians. While the implementation of these amendments remains uncertain, President Hassan Sheikh has declared political victory, despite the two-year impasse with Puntland, which officially severed ties with the Federal Government on March 31, 2024.

Puntland and the Federal Government relations.

Puntland, a key player in Somalia’s federal system established before the Federal Government’s formation in Embaghati in 2004, has faced significant political isolation under the Farmajo administration, which included being excluded from donor-funded development and humanitarian projects. Despite this, Puntland was instrumental in advocating for electoral processes that led to the election of President Hassan Sheikh. Although Puntland President Said Deni was a successful candidate, he supported Hassan in the third round of elections, contributing to Hassan Sheikh’s victory.

However, conflicts have emerged between Puntland and the Federal Government. Expectations that President Hassan Sheikh would address Puntland’s concerns and unblock development and humanitarian projects were unmet. Tensions escalated when Puntland, anticipating that the Prime Minister would be appointed from their region, saw the position go to Jubbaland instead. A personal disagreement between President Hassan Sheikh and President Said Deni intensified, particularly when the Federal Government became involved in Puntland’s elections, supporting opposition figures such as Hassan Shire Abgal. Puntland accused President Hassan Sheikh of exacerbating conflict, as evidenced by the June 2023 clashes that resulted in over 30 deaths.

The January 8, 2024, Puntland election saw Saed Deni re-elected, a development contrary to Villa Somalia’s interests. Despite inviting President Hassan Sheikh to his inauguration, Hassan Sheikh’s return to Mogadishu reignited tensions, particularly over the constitutional amendment process promoted by Hassan Sheikh. This process alienated Puntland, leading to its severance of ties with the Federal Government on March 31, 2024.

Puntland’s stance is supported by Article 142 of the Transitional Constitution, which allows for the harmonization of regional constitutions with the federal system, and Article 4 of the Puntland Constitution, which asserts Puntland’s right to consider its federal status if a consensus on government structure is not reached. Puntland has claimed that humanitarian and development projects worth over $150 million have been blocked by the Hassan Sheikh administration and targeting Puntland positions in the Federal Government.

Simultaneously, there is growing friction between regional administrations that signed the National Consultative Council (NCC) agreement—Galmudug, Jubbaland, and Southwest—and the Federal Government over the implementation of the NCC agreement and the upcoming elections in November. Federal member State presidents and the Federal Government, excluding Puntland, a meeting is underway in Mogadishu.

Foreign Affairs

During President Hassan Sheikh’s tenure, which began amid conflicts with Djibouti, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Somalia has seen notable diplomatic shifts. Although he initially improved relations with these nations, a setback occurred earlier this year when ties with the UAE deteriorated, leading to the UAE withdrawing its support and presence from Mogadishu. Conversely, Somaliland and Puntland have maintained positive relations.

A significant diplomatic success under President Hassan Sheikh’s administration has been the handling of the Memorandum of Understanding between Somaliland and Ethiopia, earning praise for the federal government’s approach.

Somalia’s longstanding alliance with Turkey has been further strengthened under President Hassan Sheikh. A historic Defense and Economic Agreement, along with an Oil and Mining Agreement, has been signed, reinforcing the decade long relationship between the two countries.

However, Somalia’s policy towards the Gulf states has faced instability during this period. Relations with these states have worsened, partly due to Somalia’s growing ties with Turkey.

Despite these challenges, President Mohamoud has achieved a historic milestone: the lifting of Somalia’s arms embargo on December 2, 2023, after 31 years. Additionally, Somalia’s diligent efforts to secure debt relief culminated in the clearance of over $5 billion in debt on December 13, 2023.

Somalia has become the eighth member of the East African Community (EAC), unlocking new opportunities and access to a fresh market.

In other developments, despite the Somali government’s initial abrupt decision to terminate the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) in May, this was quickly reversed within two days. Tensions between UNSOM and the Somali government, particularly between Envoy Catriana Liang and President Mohamoud, have been apparent. As Envoy Liang’s term ends this month, ‪Former U.S. diplomat and ex-UN envoy to Somalia James Swan, is set to return to Mogadishu temporarily to lead the UN mission in Somalia until its closure, following a request from the Federal Government of Somalia.

Ethiopia’s Ambition and FGS Response

In a surprising turn of events at the beginning of the new year, Somaliland President Muse Bihi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have reached a controversial agreement in Addis Ababa. This deal involves leasing land in the Awdal region of Somalia, specifically in the Zeyla district, granting Ethiopia access to the Red Sea for 50 years. The agreement has caused significant unease among Somalis, who perceive it as a threat to national sovereignty.

However, amidst this turmoil, the Federal Government, led by President Hassan Sheikh, has emerged as a staunch defender of Somalia’s independence and unity. Despite facing pressure, President Hassan Sheikh has steadfastly refused to engage with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, maintaining Somalia’s uncompromising stance against perceived encroachments on its sovereignty.

International support for Somalia’s position has been resolute. Major global players including the G7 nations, the European Union, Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the United States, Turkey, the African Union, China, and other allies have rallied behind Somalia, denouncing the MoU and expressing solidarity with its quest for autonomy.

Despite administrative challenges, notably the absence of a Foreign Affairs Minister for over four months, President Hassan Sheikh’s proactive diplomacy has kept Somalia’s interests at the forefront of the international arena.

On 17, Jan, the President appointed a national committee for the defense of sovereignty and territorial integrity chosen for their knowledge, ability, and efficiency. The committee includes several prominent figures known for their integrity and reputation.

Economics Performance

In the first two years of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud’s administration, Somalia has made significant strides both internally and externally. Internally, the government has focused on improving fiscal management and securing debt relief. Somalia successfully completed a debt relief program with the International Monetary Fund, reducing its external debt dramatically, which could bolster investor confidence and open doors for increased foreign investment and financial support. The establishment of a National ID system will also enhance governance and service delivery, aiding in better resource distribution and security measures.

Externally, Somalia’s accession to the East African Community (EAC) marked a critical step in regional integration. This membership will strengthen Somalia’s regional ties and facilitate economic, social, and political collaborations. Additionally, the lifting of the long-standing arms embargo by the UN Security Council was a significant milestone, symbolizing international confidence in Somalia’s capacity to manage its security responsibly. These developments collectively elevate Somalia’s geopolitical significance and will open new avenues for economic growth and cooperation.

Despite these achievements, President Mohamoud’s administration has faced several challenges. One major issue has been the ongoing conflict with Al-Shabaab. While initial military offensives against the insurgents made progress, the group has adapted to guerrilla tactics, complicating government efforts to maintain control over liberated areas. This shift has strained the government’s resources and highlighted the need for a more sustainable and comprehensive strategy to address the insurgency.

Economic challenges also persist. While debt relief has provided some financial breathing room, Somalia’s overall economic infrastructure remains fragile. Efforts to diversify the economy and create jobs have been slow, and the country still grapples with high unemployment rates and widespread poverty. Additionally, the government’s ability to implement large-scale infrastructure projects has been hampered by limited financial resources and ongoing security concerns​.

In terms of underperformance, the administration has struggled to effectively combat Al-Shabaab. Despite significant military efforts, the group remains resilient, and the government’s campaign has stalled in some regions. This has exposed deficiencies in both strategy and logistical support, as well as challenges in maintaining the gains made in liberated areas.

Furthermore, economic diversification efforts have lagged. While debt relief was a significant achievement, the broader goal of economic stability requires more robust job creation and infrastructure development, which have been slow to materialize. This has perpetuated high unemployment and left many economic sectors underdeveloped.

Lastly, political and institutional reforms have progressed slower than anticipated. The constitutional review process and the establishment of a federal system have encountered numerous obstacles, including regional disputes and clan-based politics. These delays have hindered efforts to build a strong, stable, and unified government, posing ongoing challenges to Somalia’s long-term stability and development.

Somalia’s Finance Minister, reports a significant 30% surge in domestic revenue during the initial quarter of 2024, predominantly stemming from the housing and transportation sectors.

Overall, President Mohamoud’s first two years have seen notable achievements, but significant challenges remain. Addressing these issues will be crucial for Somalia’s continued progress and stability.

Rising Corruption and Nepotism

During Farmajo’s five-year presidency, corruption was seldomly discussed in the Somali community. However, the issue has gained significant attention since May 15, 2022. President Mohamoud’s appointment of his daughter as a foreign affairs adviser has sparked criticism. Hassan Sheikh defended the move.

Reports indicate the World Bank has reinstated several positions within the Ministry of Finance, despite previous corruption allegations and the involvement of the president’s relatives. Puntland officials have expressed concerns, claiming their positions in the federal government have been deliberately replaced by the president’s kins.

In the past two years, there has been a marked increase in the auctioning of public property and land in Mogadishu. Additionally, deviation in humanitarian aid and military supplies has risen, particularly following the cessation of U.S. support to the rations of DANAB army this month. Allegations have also surfaced accusing the president’s family of monopolizing the Mira trade with Kenya.

©️The Daily Somalia

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