Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Somalia's Leader: Look Past the Hype

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Somalia's Leader: Look Past the Hype

Article excerpt

Hassan Sheik Mohamud may be the darling of the West, but he has a lot to answer for.

One can't talk about recent news from Somalia -- the deadly attack by Shabab militants on a U.N. compound in June, the decision in August by Doctors Without Borders to pull out of the country, the massacre last month at a shopping mall in Kenya, for which Al Shabab took responsibility -- without in some way speaking about Somalia's president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud.

Just a year into his presidency, Mr. Mohamud has become a darling of the West -- his is the first Somali government officially recognized by the United States since 1991, even though it controls only a fraction of the country -- and of the oil-rich Arab rulers who want security around the Horn of Africa.

But when I last visited Somalia, in April, my friends thought that Mr. Mohamud didn't have the determination to lead the country, nor the hardiness to stand up to clan elders who have contributed so much to the two-decade-plus civil war and still dominate the country. A former prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, has called him an incompetent novice.

In fairness, nothing Mr. Mohamud does will appease all Somalis, who are notorious for their petty-mindedness, their tendency to focus on their grievances, their constant warring.

As a Somali, I share in this frisson of self-blame. I was troubled that Doctors Without Borders felt compelled to quit Somalia after the murders of two staff members, Andrias Karel Keiluhu and Phillipe Havet, in December 2011. "Acceptance of violence against health workers has permeated Somali society and this acceptance is now shared by many armed groups and many levels of civilian government," the group, which tries to stay above politics, said in explaining its decision to withdraw from Somalia after 22 years.

What's appalling is that the killer was identified: Ahmed Salad Farey, himself a former Doctors Without Borders worker. He was convicted last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison. But mysteriously, a panel of appellate judges ordered his release after he'd served about three months.

A government source whom I trust told me that the government did not open a public inquiry or even an internal investigation. My source also told me that Mr. Farey has lived openly in Guriel, his hometown in central Somalia, since his release, although the president of the Supreme Court has signed a new warrant for his arrest.

You would expect the president of a dysfunctional state like Somalia to move with greater alacrity to bolster confidence in the rule of law. Mr. Mohamud has not done so. It's not his only deficiency. He has lost credibility among the countries contributing to the 17,700-member African Union mission that is propping up his regime. A United Nations monitoring group has accused associates of his of fleecing the central bank. …

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