By Ilyas Mohamed
On Saturday morning, I have flown from Mogadishu’s Adan Adde International Airport with a group of delegates and Villa Somalia staff lead by H.E President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. Our purpose was to attend the inauguration ceremony for the recently elected President of Puntland H.E Saed Abullahi Deni.
Personally, flying to Puntland’s Garowe was quite thrilling since Puntland is supposedly the Federal State which I’m from. Many close friends and relatives of mine were in the town and I had the pleasure of meeting them despite the tight schedule and duration of our visit.
Upon landing at Gen Mohamed Abshir Airport of Garowe, we have been warmly and extraordinarily received by Puntland officials lead by the newly elected President H. E Saed Abdullahi Deni, and various groups of the society including youth, traditional elders, religious leaders and women. The openhearted and genuine reception accorded to us at Garowe has once again served as a clear indication and testimony of how Puntlanders are very welcoming and hospitable in nature.
The Inauguration Ceremony
In the Saturday evening, we have all gathered at a well organized, wonderfully designed and fairly decorated venue at Puntland State House where the long awaited inauguration ceremony would take place. In the beginning, we have been entertained by popular Somali musicians and singers who warmed our hearts and let us take a rest from the baffling and puzzling nature of Somali politics—though for a very short period of time until the ceremony officially opened and speeches started.
All those who got the chance to have their remarks at the inauguration ceremony congratulated the new President, urged him to address the different challenges and obstacles faced by Puntland and prayed for his success as a President.
Surprisingly, the ceremony brought together different officials from both the current Federal government, all Federal member states and opposition parties. Both camps—government and opposition—exchanged jokes and had warm discussions full of laughter and mirth. They have showed the public that there is no personal animosity and hatred in Politics but only a difference in opinion and interests. Hence, its important for the Somali youth to abstain from getting involved in meaningless arguments full of hatred for the sake of the political groups/persons they support. Engaging in a healthy debate on the faith our country is nevertheless indispensable but this can only take place if we focus on principles and values instead of individuals.
Prior to his election, Deni was a successful businessman with number of businesses in Puntland and other Somali regions. He was also active in the education sector where he owns number of private schools. Moreover, the President was a politician who served as Somalia’s Minister of Planning during Hassan Sheikh’s tenure. He also contested for Presidency in the last Federal election where he unpredictably won a good number of votes. Unknown to many, Deni is also an Islamist and a member of Islah—Somalia’s Muslim Brotherhood wing. Al-Islah members are very active in Somali politics and it seems they’re winning important political positions in both Federal and State levels.
There is a tough work ahead of President Deni
Saed Abdullahi Deni is officially the President of Puntland for the next 5 years whether one likes it or not. Therefore, I urge all Puntlanders to closely work with him and support his administration so that Puntland can thrive and flourish. But this doesn’t necessarily mean neglecting the very responsibility of the society which is to watchfully monitor the actions of the President and hold the administration accountable when required.
From the President’s side, he needs to come up with a clear vision and coherent plan on where he will lead Puntland. Otherwise, he will utterly fail as his predecessor and finish his tenure while in total confusion and lost of direction.
I have outlined below few important areas that deserve special consideration from the President.
1. The Cabinet
One of the first steps Deni is going to take as a President is the formation of a new cabinet. This cabinet will give us a clear picture of the direction Deni will lead Puntland, since the cabinet will be the base for his success as a President. Therefore, the new President should be careful with who he appoints as a cabinet member.
In order for Deni to succeed in reforming the state and leading Puntland into prosperity, he should select professional, capable, educated individuals with leadership qualities as state ministers. Although, clan and traditional elders play a major role in the selection of the cabinet, Deni could target competent individuals from each clan thus pleasing the clan and at the same time fulfilling his selection criteria.
Furthermore, since youth had an active role in Deni’s campaign substantially contributing to his success in the elections, he should consider a good number of talented and qualified youth in his cabinet.
Lastly, women and members of marginalized clans who were traditionally discriminated against in both political and social spheres should be considered as potential candidates for a fair number of cabinet positions. For instance, Puntland has only one female member in its newly formed House of Representatives. Thus, Deni has the chance to correct this mistake and prove to the world that Puntland values the contribution of its women.
2. Terrorism and the rise of ISIS
Puntland is praised for viciously resisting the spread of terrorists into its regions. For instance, Alshabab has tried to attack Puntland forces in many fronts so that they can establish bases in Puntland but met a fierce resistance. However, both Alshabab and ISIS have found a way to enter and mingle into the strategic mountains of Golis in Bari and Sanaag regions, particularly Galgala. They were able to do this by taking advantage of local tribal conflicts. Currently, ISIS is strong in Bari region to the point that they assassinate people in Bosaso and carryout suicide attacks. I have personally visited Bosaso before 3 months and when I have asked locals about ISIS, they have told me that the group takes extortion money from major businesses and whoever resists this is hunted and assassinated on a broad day light.
Therefore, President Deni must come up with a clear strategy to wipe these terrorists out of Bari and Sanag regions before they establish strong bases in Golis mountains. Deni can do this by reforming the security sector and establishing a strong military that is unified. Currently, the military is fragmented and is composed of tribal units with no strong central authority. For example, every clan has its own unit within the military and can decide to walk out of battle any minute as occurred in Tukaraq lately.
3. Reforming the Economy
Puntland desperately needs economic reform and a strategy to fight and tackle the widespread corruption in its institutions. The economy of Puntland is presently in a bad situation due to lack of proper regulation. For example, the inflation rate is very high in Puntland compared to Mogadishu due to the high exchange rate. This is because Somali currency is illegally printed by Puntland government which increases the number of Somali Shillings relative to dollars, thus causing inflation and high exchange rate. For your information, Somali Shillings used in Puntland is not accepted anywhere else within Somalia.
The economy of Puntland and the revenue of its government relies mostly on Bosaso port which is in Bari region. The port is not only used by Puntlanders but even traders from Galmudug and Hirshable states. Unfortunately, the management of the port has been transferred to DP World under a deal signed by Abdiweli Gaas with the UAE government. Since DP World took over Bosaso Port, locals told me that the port relatively performed poor. Therefore, reviewing the DP World deal is essential and Deni must see this as a priority.
4. Focusing on the infrastructure
Infrastructure in the bases of any economy. Without vibrant roads, ports and airports Puntland’s economy will barely flourish.
Therefore, the new President should focus on building the necessary infrastructure, specifically roads and ports for Puntland economy to grow and develop. For instance, there are ongoing infrastructure projects in various parts of Puntland including Garowe—Eyl and El-dahir—Erigavo roads which are both under construction now. Finalizing these two big projects should be a priority for the President. Furthermore, the construction of Gara’ad Port is expected to kick off soon. Major investment of constructing this strategic port will come from private Somali individuals who will have a share in the port. Hence, the new President should do his best to make sure that the construction of Gar’ad Port becomes a reality.
Nevertheless, the President and his administration must introduce their own infrastructure initiatives and heavily invest—with the help of the Federal government, International Partners and the wider public—in the basic infrastructure of Puntland thus paving the way for economic growth and development.
5. Democratizing Puntland
One of the most important and yet challenging tasks ahead of President Deni is to fully democratize Puntland as he has promised in his campaign days. Puntland, unlike other Federal states in South Central Somalia, is relatively safe and can hold “one man one vote” elections in its constituencies. In fact, this could have been achieved a long ago had the previous Puntland Presidents were serious and sincere about this cause.
However, President Deni can demonstrate to us that he is a man of his words by quickly introducing political parties and preparing Puntland for “one man one vote” elections which is the aspiration and dream of every Puntlander. If Deni achieves this noble goal, in the next election, Puntlanders will surely go to the polls and reward him with a second term!
6. Avoiding unnecessary confrontation with the Federal government
We as Somalis and Puntlanders in particular expect from President Deni to avoid unnecessary political clash with the Federal government as his Predecessor Abdiweli repetitively did. Puntland is the mother of Somalia’s Federal system and needs to both respect and safeguard the very system it has proposed and defended from the first place. Somalis are tired of seeing their Federal and Regional leaders constantly at loggerheads for no meaningful reason.
It should be noted however that Somalia can’t move forward as a nation if in-fighting between the Federal government and its member states become the norm. Somalia will only succeed if both Federal and State leaders respect the constitution, acknowledge their powers and limits and closely work together. Puntland, therefore, should take the lead in this regard. The Federal government also needs to closely cooperate with Puntland and support the new President so that he can work for the interests of all Puntlanders and Somalis in general.
In summary, there are countless challenges faced by Puntland that deserve the new President’s attention. The President is inheriting a government with fragile institutions marred by corruption and misconduct. The whole political system of Puntland is based on clans who are competing for the control of major sources of revenue. The economy of Puntland and thus the revenue generated by public finance institutions is very low. Terrorism poses a big threat to the security of Puntland.
All these complex problems and more will hamper the aspirations and ambitions of the President. This is where Puntlanders will test Deni’s leadership quality: if he stands bold and over comes the obstacles, he will be recognized as a great leader who transformed Puntland despite the challenges. On the other hand, if Deni fails as his Predecessor and surrenders to the current system in place, he will be remembered as an incompetent and weak leader who have people of Puntland.
Finally, lets congratulate the new President and hope him all the best!