By Isaac Muhammad
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, you’re now the tenth president of Somalia and the first leader elected twice as head of state in the nation’s history. After your election victory, you vowed to lead a nation at peace with itself and with the world. This message is well-received and captures the hearts and minds of the Somali people. The words “peace,” “agreement,” and “stability” in politics and security have an important place in the minds of the Somali people, who have not seen a stable and peaceful country in the last thirty years. President Hassan, you’re widely considered easy to get along with and someone with a steady hand. Those who follow Somali politics believe you very well understand the current predicaments of the nation and, therefore, can be a source of hope and a statesman who can bring the country together. Many believe that you have gained much experience during your tenure as a President and in the last five years of Farmajo’s presidency and can now be a veteran leader.
One of the main issues facing Somalia is lack of trust—lack of trust in the government and institutions, lack of trust in the army, lack of trust in politicians, lack of trust in clan dynamics, and lack of trust in one another. I hope, Mr. President, you understand your place in the nation’s history and the current opportunity staring at you. The nation has spoken, and clearly, the country has missed you and given you a second chance and the mandate to defeat the man who beat you five years ago. Somalia is eager to have the soothing touch of a statesman and a political doctor with a therapeutic hand. Therefore, building trust should be your top priority.
In his book Trust: Creating the Foundation for Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries, Harvard professor Tarun Khanna describes how trusted government institutions move societies forward by playing two essential roles: dramatically simplifying daily life and enabling new collaborative solutions. In other words, trusted institutions are the grease in the social machine.
Somalia now needs a president who understands its root causes and intends not to govern, but to heal—in other words, solution-focused! However, Article 90 of the constitution grants the President the authority to appoint the Prime Minister and dissolve the federal government only if it does not get the required vote of confidence from the House of the People of the Federal Parliament by a simple majority (50% + 1). The above article doesn’t grant the President the constitutional authority to dismiss the Prime Minister he voluntarily appointed—making it impossible for Somalia to have a stable government—this is the source of the problem in the Somali government’s political instability. How can a President who has been campaigning for years and is given the mandate to govern can accept bowing to a person he has appointed without any public mandate? Unacceptable!
The quest to heal this nation starts with you selecting your Prime Minister. This step is the first test and the most critical to understanding the kind of government you plan to run and the kind of legacy you intend to leave behind. This step will define whether you plan to keep the status quo or bring about a dynamic change. It will provide a clear picture of your priorities and concerns. Because the Prime Minister is the presiding and actual head of your government—implementing your vision and ensuring the country’s institutions are run properly and the public is served justly—your selection for Prime Minister will show your intentions: whether you’re concerned with your political survival by choosing a close ally, a family friend, someone close to your other close friend, someone to please someone else to cool of political pressure, someone you can trust, or a loyalist, as known to former Somali presidents; or whether you’re concerned with the nation’s wellbeing and are prepared to take a risk to get the best and the brightest amongst us—a competent leader who can deliver. A leader who has the nation’s best interests at heart and can help you move this country forward. A leader who can easily bow out should they not see eye to eye with you because they understand that you were elected to lead this nation and not them. But most importantly, a leader who cares for this nation so much that they cannot put it through political infighting.
So how do you balance trust, loyalty, and governing and delivering services? This is the dilemma you’re in now, President Hassan. Can you think outside the box holistically without trying to reinvent the wheel? Great leaders can transform a nation. Our living example is former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the legacy he left behind. As prime minister for Singapore’s first three decades, Lee raised a poor port known for its mudflats from the bottom rungs of the Third World to a World class nation in a single generation. Under Lee’s guidance, Singapore developed a real-life playbook for how an impoverished country can flourish. When Lee became prime minister in 1959, Singapore’s per-capita income was little more than $400. Today, Singapore is an ultramodern metropolis with a higher per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) than the United States.
Since I have a solid business and public sector background, I will mirror private companies as a nation to show how Lee’s methodology and vision worked and whether Somalia and its current President can take a play from it. Prime Minister Lee insisted that governance was, first and foremost, about results. As the saying goes, “Hope is not a strategy.” A company’s goals are just goals until they are executable plan that considers an organization’s strengths, place in the market, and trends that create opportunities or challenges. These factors will generate measurable results in line with the set of goals. In other words, yes, we must make our numbers for this quarter and the year, but we also must be placing big bets—with conviction and investment—for the next five to ten years ahead of us. To paraphrase Lee’s words, “The acid test of any company is not the greatness or the grandeur of its ideal concepts, but whether that company can produce long-term results.” The same applies to government management and leadership. A leader’s success is measured by their achievement and results, not the length of their tenure.
Great companies demand that their leaders put the company’s greater good above their own personal or career interests. Why wouldn’t our President do the same? The same should apply to your government and the leaders who you choose to work with. That is precisely what Lee demanded from his leaders. His requirement was both intellectual and moral superiority. Former American President Harry Truman once famously said, “The buck stops here,” meaning that the President could not pass the blame to anybody. No one else can decide for him. That’s his job. Or, as business acumen states, “Tone at the top,” to encourage leaders to lead by example and show an ethical climate. Leaders set the gold standard and an example for everyone in their country or organization. This shows up not just in their words but also in their deeds and how they interact and make decisions each day.
Mr. President, you can set an example for the future presidential hopefuls and how they conduct themselves, but you also can set a precedent for what kind of leaders they will associate themselves with to provide public services to this nation. What is your priority? What legacy do you want to leave behind? You have an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of Somalis eager to see a functioning government that is competent, genuinely cares about its public, and earns the trust of the nation. You also have an opportunity to change the way the Somali government runs, streamline processes, improve the quality of services, and bring forth accountability and responsiveness.
You have an opportunity to guarantee equality of opportunity for all on a level playing field that allows everyone to achieve their maximum potential. Your government’s objective should be to “build up a society that will be rewarded not according to their clan or the amount of political pressure they can assert on you, but according to their active contribution to society and their qualifications, competency, and commitment to public service.” Go with your head, not your heart, and choose a capable Prime Minister whom you genuinely believe can supplement, support, and help you shine. I am sure you plan to serve your vulnerable population and better their lives. Change is tough to accept, and many will object if you come up with a holistic change. It will not be easy, and you will make a lot of political enemies. However, if you have good intentions and are honest, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals.
Isaac Muhammad is a Doctoral Candidate in Public Administration, a writer and political analyst based in the United States.