Somalia’s President Has Bad Neighbourhood Friends

By Hussein Rida’i

Mogadishu (PP Commentary) — In politics friends can prove an asset or liability. In the case of the President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, friendship and the political alliance he had formed with two authoritarian leaders — the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed and President of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki — risk putting brakes on the political progress in the war-torn country.

The friendship is based on a pipedream that goes by the acronym HAEE (Horn of Africa Economic Integration) concocted by the outgoing US President Donald Trump to cobble together an alliance of incompatibles in the Northeast Africa. When HAEE surfaced following Abiy Ahmed’s 2018 visit to Mogadishu, Ethiopia was making a name for itself as a country led by a young reformist leader who would go on to win Nobel Peace Prize. It has not taken long before the quixotic economic integration proposal to extend a superpower sphere of influence had begun to falter.

Authoritarian Leaders’ Club: President Isaias Afwerki (left), President Mohamed A. Farmajo (middle) and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (right).

Somalia is dependent on African peacekeepers, whereas Etitrea is a country ruled by an old dictator who managed to turn Abiy Ahmed into a political apprentice in the art of oppressing citizens and waging pointless wars. Unlike Ethiopia and Eritrea, Somalia is a county whose government does not retain coercive power of the state throughout the country. The political settlement of the Somali political class predisposes Somalia to remain in total dependency on African peacekeepers to prevent the Horn of Africa country from relapsing into an “ungoverned spaces” category.

What can a leader of a country that has yet to fully recover from state collapse learn from two authoritarian leaders? If President Farmajo regards Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki as his peers, Somalia is likely to give in to political peer pressure to monopolise political decision making at the national level and deepen reliance on AMISOM.

No Somali opposition politician has plucked up the courage to take President Farmajo to task for making Somalia a bedfellow with two authoritarian leaders in the Horn of Africa. Instead of strengthening relations with Federal Member States and promoting genuine political reconciliation President Farmajo opted for political grandstanding. His strength lies in the political disorientation of his rivals, who expediently share his governance outlook.

President Farmajo may benefit from heeding the old adage: don’t hang out with the wrong crowd.

© Puntland Post, 2020