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The Pantomime of Somali Parliamentary Practices

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December 6, 2013


By Mohsin Mahad


Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdoon, aka Saacid, has been sacked unceremoniously by an overwhelming majority of the members of Parliament. Incompetence has been given as the reason for his impeachment and loss of parliamentary vote of confidence. His political demise and departure was predictable once the president, hitherto his handler, has signalled his political death warrant and mobilised his supporters in parliament for the hatchet job. This affair, which amounts to a pantomime of Somali parliamentary practices, sheds light on the four principal actors involved: first the outgoing Prime Minister, secondly the parliamentarians themselves, thirdly the speaker of Parliament, and fourthly the president- the main actor, the man behind the curtain and pulling all the strings.


jawaari1Starting with the former Prime Minister, few objective Somalis will shed tears for his departure which was overdue for a long while. If there is one indisputable fact, it is that Saacid was unfit to remain Prime Minister given that he failed to act as one since his appointment. His meek acceptance to cede almost all his powers to the President and be dutifully submissive to the President whims were the very reasons which ensured his selection by the president in the first place. In other normal countries, this might sound unthinkable but Somalia is not a normal country and it is the unthinkable which rules.


Until recently, Saacid plodded along as a titular Prime Minister and remained safe in his nominal role so long as he toed the president’s line and served his interest. For some reason, he seems to have had enough of the ridicule he has been subjected to for so long from many quarters: cartoons, reflecting public perceptions of the PM, have caricatured him as a political eunuch in perpetual hibernation, allowing the president to pose or act as the superman in charge of the affairs of the State and government. His temerity to tell the President to his face that he was his own man and no longer prepared to be his obedient poodle in the end brought about his downfall.


The crunch came when Saacid presented to the president the list of his cabinet nominees for the reshuffled government, who, in the manner he was accustomed until now told off the PM and ordered him to change the list to his liking. Having stood his ground for a change, he was humiliatingly thrown to the president’s henchmen in parliament to do the hatchet job. The rest is history.


Saacid paid the utmost political price, not so much because for his proven incompetence and failure as a Prime Minister. If that was the case, he would have gone long ago and many Somalis would have applauded it. Rather, he was removed at the behest of the president who saw no use for him once he dared to be independent of him.


What happened in parliament during its proceedings can only be described as a charade, a circus. If the legislators cared about their constitutional functions in letter and spirit, then listening to the Prime Minister to defend himself and his government’s performance should have been the first step of the motions they have to go through before they take their final votes. Not only natural justice demands this, but also the public who are ultimately the body to which they, the government and the president are all accountable to. But the legislators are not mindful of, nor receptive to, such constitutional imperatives. Instead, they were baying for the PM’s head and in the end got what they wanted. They have certainly done a big favour for the president (and themseles financially) but at the cost of doing immense damage to the very institution they were supposed to serve and above all the nation which deserved better than pantomime.


Much of the blame for the disorderly unparliamentary hysteria demanding the PM’s departure falls on the shoulders of the Speaker of Parliament. To his credit, he is always soft-spoken, composed and dignified. These qualities might be appreciated among his type or in mature democracies but are out of place among the mob in Parliament. What was required of him was to do his utmost to maintain order and use the full weight of his office, sometimes acting in a pro-active way, and guide the proceedings ensuring fair play. The Speaker’s quasi abdication was certainly to the advantage of the president. Whether they were in cahoots as some conspiracy theorists would allege is a moot question.


Now coming to the president, he is the man rather Saacid who has much to answer if Parliament cared and was doing its duty to the nation: it is the President who usurped the PM’s powers and run the country like his personal business with no checks and balances; it is him who unscrupulously and shamelessly siphoning off most of the foreign aid to the country to the extent that the disobliging, uncooperative governor of the Central Bank had to flee from the country for her life. Often, he is out of the country globetrotting as if on pleasure trip. And when he is at home he is preoccupied stoking divisive regional and clan tensions. Under him, the country has retrogressed in some areas and in others is at a standstill.


It is therefore President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud who should have been in the dock and face the music for his failures and abuse of power. Instead, it is poor Saacid who has been conveniently made the scapegoat for the President’s failures, and punished by a parliament taking its cure from the President’s. As Saacid has been shown the door ignominiously, his downfall has generated an air of euphoria and triumphalism among the president and his parliamentary supporters. Demonstrators belonging to the president’s constituency in Mogadishu were out in the streets celebrating the “victory”. It is as if the nation has won a battle against an enemy. It is certainly a personal victory for President Hassan for he has came out on top and won the day when he should have been impeached and booted out. But that is a pyrrhic victory and no more.


Saacid’s departure would have been worthwhile if it was going to lead to a better president, parliament and government. Nothing quarantines this and if anything the opposite is likely to happen. For one thing, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, who yearns to became one of the grand African one-man-rule leaders would have been reinforced in his “invincibility” delusions after his victory over Saacid. Parliament has tasted its power to unseat a Prime Minister willy-nilly for their own personal or clan interest and are likely to do it again for the same reasons. The Speaker, whose performance was patently wanting to say the least, is unlikely to tame a resurgent Parliament that has tasted blood.


All in all, the only redeeming aspect of Saacid’s sacking is ironically Saacid himself. Unlike most of his uncouth parliamentarian tormentors, he has always been as a person and as Prime Minister a paragon of dignity and gentlemanly conduct – polite and gracious. And he left Office without a fuss, proud, polite and with his head high. This is the only endearing consolation to the nation from this Machiavellian, backstabbing of Prime Minister Saacid that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud has brought on the nation. One day, sooner rather than later, he too could run out of luck and friends in Parliament. When that happens, he should take a leaf from Saacid’s book and follow his example and his dignified departure.


Mohsin Mahad

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If PM Shirdon was incompetent, lets be fair so was his boss. What did Shirdon fail that Cullusow hasn't? This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. In Waqooyi they say: wa dameer iyo labadiisa damood.


Let's see what the new PM does that Shirdoon couldnt. We know Cullusow doesn't even know how to find the first gear and no matter who he names, they will not hold his hand like AMISOM.

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