President Muse Bihi was sworn in as president on December 2017. He took over a politically divided country with a shattered economy. This article looks at the key challenges facing President Bihi and his government and offers recommendation as to how to overcome those challenges.
1) A Divided Nation
After a polarized election campaign at the end of 2017, the people of Somaliland are divided more than ever; divisions that one could accuse Bihi of further entrenching. During the election campaign, Bihi disingenuously accused his rival, Abdirahman Irro, the then Wadani Party presidential candidate, of receiving support from Mogadishu. By questioning Irro and his supporters’ loyalty and aspirations for an independent Somaliland, Bihi, the then presidential candidate of the ruling Kulmiye party, offended Wadani supporters, many of whom have since started to question whether their future lies within Somaliland.
Since elected to office, President Bihi has done nothing to make amends. He came to power through the continuation of clan alliance system established in 2008 along with his predecessor, Ahmed Silanyo. Popularly known as Jeegaan (Rainbow), the alliance is composed of two major Somaliland clans and has been forged to rotate the office of the presidency amongst themselves. Since 2010, the Jeegaan alliance has consolidated political authority and almost half (45%) of President Bihi’s recent cabinet and other political appointees are members of these clans. To push the envelope dangerously further, it is widely believed that the alliance is now pursuing for consolidation of economic power. Arbitrary government regulations have been routinely used to hinder major corporations, such as Telesom, a company that is not wholly owned by the alliance. By restricting Telesom’s business operations, many observers believe that the government is creating an entry point for Jeegaan owned companies to not only penetrate the market but also to increase their market share. This has created two opposing camps in Somaliland, the haves and have-nots in terms of power, wealth and influence.
Furthermore, Bihi is also yet to work on the ratification and the successful implementation of the agreement signed by the previous government of Silanyo and Khatumo.
2) A Battered Economy
According to the findings of the Somaliland’s House of Representative, powerful members of Silanyo’s government printed Somaliland Shillings notes for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 without the authorization and the consent of the Central Bank, an agency constitutionally mandated to control the money supply in the market. The exchange of this money with Dollars was facilitated by and laundered through a certain money transfer company in Hargeisa. Sadly, the ill-gotten money eventually ended up in overseas bank accounts. The flooding of the market with new Somaliland Shillings resulted the depreciation of the Somaliland Shilling from 6,500 to 10,300 against the Dollar between 2010 and 2018, respectively. As a result, the current inflation rate is extremely high and the worst affected people are the fixed income earners such as government employees including armed forces and police as well as other private sector workers. Moreover, the overall cost of living skyrocketed and people lost faith in the local currency. Furthermore, unemployment is extremely high, especially, among the job seekers under the age of 40.
3) Erosion of the Administrative State
Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, the second president of Somaliland, is widely credited for laying the foundation for a modern administrative state. His successor, Dahir Rayale Kahin, consolidated state institutions and the bureaucracy. These gains are, however, believed to have eroded under Silanyo whose government ran the country by fiat. Somaliland’s public sector today is devoid of qualified civil servants and, therefore, ineffective in addressing the country’s development challenges. In addition, there is a very high level of public’s perception of corruption and those who occupy government offices, whether civil servants or political appointees, are seen to be advancing their self-interests rather than public interests.
4) Weak cabinet
Most observers believe that President Bihi appointed a cabinet whose members will tell him what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to. There is hardly anyone in his cabinet that can bravely give him unsolicited advice. For this reason, the President routinely consults with heads of opposition parties and chairmen of Guurti (the upper house) and the House of Representatives. The President should respect the separation of powers among the executive, the legislative and the judiciary branches that is enshrined in the constitution. Instead, he should search for and select of well qualified and experienced people within the executive branch that he may consult with for major decisions and issues.
The Way forward
It is not too late for President Bihi to take responsibility for his actions and apologize for his past mistakes, including the election campaign gaffe because this is, perhaps the best way to unite the nation. Otherwise he will continue to be mistrusted by a large proportion of the population that he had alienated for different reasons. To be seen as a credible leader, he needs to switch gears and move away from the practice of “winner takes all.” The Jeegaan alliance has been useful for getting him into office but continuing to strengthen it economically and politically at the expense of other Somaliland clans will ultimately backfire and endanger the existence of the country in the long-run. Moreover, Bihi should work towards the successful implementation of the agreement with Khatumo.
Regarding the economy, the President must appoint economists as heads of relevant institutions such as the Central Bank and Ministry of Finance. He should help set up advisory bodies, such as a national economic council, composed of experienced economists to recommend sound economic policy proposals and options to tackle, among other things, the growing inflation and unemployment. In the short-run, the government must conduct Monetary Policy’s Open Market Operations that ensures infusion of sufficient cash Dollars in the market and the withdrawal of equivalent amount in Somaliland Shillings. In the long-run, however, the country needs major structural economic reforms.
Lastly, the president must surround himself with highly experienced cabinet and seasoned advisors who can give him both candid and diverse views on the pressing issues facing the nation. Moreover, the Somaliland Government needs to seek, in good faith, an external technical assistance to build the capacity of its weak public sector institutions.