Abdiweli Gaas and Villa Somalia: A Cautionary Note
By Hassan M. Abukar
Dr. Abdiweli Gaas surprised many with his victory as the new president of the regional government of Puntland. There was a general perception among many that the incumbent Abdirahman Farole would be re-elected. Gaas won by a single vote. As he said immediately after his election, the work has already begun. Villa Somalia, the seat of the Somali presidency in Mogadishu, welcomed the new Puntland president. The exuberance by President Hassan Sh. Mohamoud might though be short-lived. Gaas may surprise many with the way he will lead his administration and regarding his relations with Villa Somalia.
Gaas ran for the Somali presidency in 2012 and lost. In the last round of the election, he supported the current president, Mohamoud, against Gaas’ old boss, the incumbent President Shaikh Sharif Ahmed. Mohamoud had promised the position of premier to Gaas, if the former won, as part of horse-trading. It turned out Mohamoud had made similar promises to others including Ahmed I. Samatar. Then, after Mohamoud was elected, he gave an interview to Voice of America pleading to “his friends” not to get angry with him if he did not choose them as prime minister. His statement raised an obvious question: To how many of his friends had he promised the position of next prime minister?
Then, a month ago, according to a source, President Mohamoud told Gaas that he had reserved the position of the prime minister, which had become vacant after the ousting of A. F. Shirdon, for the latter’s clan.
Now, things have changed between Gaas and Mohamoud. While Gaas is president of a regional government, he is, in all practical senses, a co-equal of Mohamoud. Mohamoud favored Gaas over his rival, Farole. However, the dynamics of their relationship have changed for the following:
1. Gaas’ first and foremost responsibility now is to the people of Puntland, not Mogadishu. That means he should focus on the interests and development of Puntland. Each president has his own constituency. While the two can cooperate on national issues, Gaas is unlikely to kowtow to Mogadishu. President Mohamoud is not popular in Mogadishu because he has twice failed to appoint a Puntlander as the premier. Gaas will have to balance between his working relationship with Villa Somalia and his job as the head of Puntland.
2. Gaas may have to be extra careful in dealing with President Mohamoud. First, Mohamoud has a history of equivocation and breaking promises. Second, he has shown to the world that he is a dictator. It is either his way or the highway. His hoarding of power in Mogadishu is palpable. There is fear by some that Mohamoud’s goal is to make Puntland a puppet regional government that he is only interested in extracting its resources. Corruption, after all, has been the culture of Mogadishu. The recent meltdown in the Central Bank is a good example of the allegations of corruption. The UN Monitoring Group report on Somalia has accused the regime in Mogadishu of widespread corruption. The bank, according to the report, has become a “slush fund” for regime officials.
3. Moreover, the regime in Mogadishu has lost its luster and is now viewed by donor nations as hopelessly incompetent. The Western donors are leery of trusting Mohamoud with the $2.5 billion donated to Somalia a year ago. Gaas has an excellent relationship with many in the international community. He can tap some of these needed funds to help develop Puntland and make it a strong viable regional government in Somalia. A strong Puntland is not only good for Puntlnaders but also to the rest of the country. A weak Puntland government, on the other hand, is a burden on the nation. Unlike Somaliland, Puntland has never attempted to secede from the union.
4. Being one of the architects of the Roadmap, Gaas is in a position to positively influence the amending of the provisional constitution and future power sharing arrangements with the federal government. Unfortunately, there is no strong federal government based in Mogadishu. Mohamoud is unable to exert his control on many parts of south Somalia. It might be wise for Gaas to give the regime in Mogadishu time to get its house in order.
Gaas was once a prime minister of Somalia and, in his short stint, had accomplished a lot. Now that he is the president of Puntland, he will have more room to implement his political, economic and social program. He is, after all, the big fish in Puntland.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was President Obama’s first chief of staff. He decided to quit his job and run for mayor of Chicago. After winning that position, he started implementing his political, social, educational and economic program in the city. Some time ago, he was talking to his predecessor, Richard Daley. Rahm looked at Daley and said, “Rich, you lied to me. You told me this was a good job. It is actually a great job. If I had known how great, I would have [ran against] you.”
Hassan M. Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer and political analyst.