Farmaajo has become a spectator to Mogadishu’s bloodletting and will be remembered as the worst thing that happened to the city since the civil war.
My heart goes out to those who lost their lives or were injured in the Ex-Kontrool atrocity, and the hundreds more whose entire futures had been cruelly destroyed.
In 2019, there were at least 930 victims who were blown up, assassinated or seriously injured in explosions in Mogadishu alone. This is an average of 78 people every month who have come to harm within the city’s 5-square mile radius – almost three people every 24 hours. The first car bomb of 2019 happened on the 14th of January. As I write today, the first explosions of this year are already being reported – another car bomb in the city. Many lives will be lost again.
Whilst these statistics are likely to be gross understatements, the true scale of the daily deaths and injuries in Mogadishu is impossible to count accurately. However, these numbers are nonetheless deeply horrifying and show one thing: behind the “progress” façade of debt relief and economic reform lies a brutal reality: how a legacy of indifference and incompetent leadership has turned Mogadishu into a city of death and residents’ lives worthless.
The government is at a point where accepting the inevitability of these terrorist horrors has become so routine, doing nothing is instinctive and rehearsed. The sequence is also appallingly familiar too: an attack happens; many people lose their lives or are injured; a highfalutin wail combined with Twitter selfies with the injured follows; and all is forgotten until the next horror strikes.
Terrorism is a difficult menace to tackle at the best of times. It requires serious leadership, an understanding of the threats and the development of key enabling pillars to mitigate it. Significant gaps in the capabilities of the law enforcement agencies mean Mogadishu was always uniquely exposed and terrorist attacks within the city were not entirely new. However, the inevitability of these terror attacks, their ferocity and frequency mean something has changed: we are not seeing exceptional cases of one-off events. We are now in a world where what happened at Zoobe and Ex-Kontrool have sadly become the norm. It is utterly shocking.
Wrong place in history
On the 20th of May 2017, president Farmaajo mentioned in his first press conference that he removed his picture from his office and decided to hang the picture frame of president Aden Adde on his office wall instead. He explained that the picture will remind him every day of the honour of serving one’s people, good democracy and true value of courageous leadership. He wanted to be remembered as one of the great Somali leaders.
Like so much about Farmaajo, it is difficult to know whether he was indulging in misplaced nostalgia after the “Farmaajo II Geeya” euphoria a few weeks earlier or if he really meant it. However, this episode tells us a lot about the man’s mindset and his obsession with recognition and place in history. Unlike Sharif Sheikh, whose leadership was stress tested in war, Farmaajo craves acceptance and validation to prove himself.
Farmaajo is of course no Aden Adde and will never be – that much is clear. We also know now that leadership in a crisis was never one of Farmaajo’s strong virtues as the people of Mogadishu realised it to their cost. Unconscious incompetence is one thing – something can be done about it; indifference to daily savagery at your doorstep when you are the president, whose overriding priority is to protect people’s lives, is all together different. We are not seeing isolated failings of leadership here, rather a president whose basic conviction in humanity for his people is lacking. If the unspeakable atrocities that are happening in Mogadishu, and the thousands who have been killed or maimed in the past three years under his watch have not strained the president’s conscience, then we are seeing something that is truly troubling. Indeed, a new low for the country.
Too pusillanimous to do anything
Our optimism three years ago of a new dawn has now turned into the grim realisation that Farmaajo will go down in history as the worst thing that ever happened to Mogadishu since the civil war. The dreadful thing is not so much a president too pusillanimous to help his people as how his tone from the top normalised serial indifference to the atrocities in Mogadishu – an inaction that has inspired so many across the entire machinery of his government. That is why, as hundreds are murdered in the city, no one is ever held accountable, nor are any lessons learned. This is the enduring nightmare that he leaves behind for the people of Mogadishu.
At the country starts the final year of his presidency, there is a sense of understandable dread all round. We now have emboldened and resurgent terrorists, murdering the country’s best and brightest in unspeakable horrors; a city in permanent lock down under emergency rule, crippling residents’ lives; a president reportedly unable to venture out of his compound and paralysed with fear; a new genre of self-serving charlatans in government who are content at being spectators to atrocities and have no stake in what is happening in the city. Worse, the option to walk away from it all means it will be the people of Mogadishu that are left with the consequences.
Add this to the new group of self-interested “Maqaam Doon” whose sole purpose is the chance to turn the city into another “Maamul Qoboleeyd”, thus completing the country descent into managed mayhem and self-destruction.
The lives of the people of Mogadishu must mean something
There is no cost in expressing ambition, only in trying to realise it. One can not defeat terror by appearing to take action through a microphone within the confines of Villa Somalia. So many Potemkin initiatives on security were created, giving the appearance of good progress without the reality. It is when these Potemkin structures are cruelly exploited and exposed that the real moments of tragedy hits the people of Mogadishu. That is why atrocities like Zoobe and Ex-Kontrool happen; the reason there is no effective strategy for fighting terrorism in the country; and why Mogadishu has become a giant prison of its residents. Our naive optimism of three years ago has led to this fearful realism which pervades today.
As we look to the future, we must learn the lessons of these horrors. The real danger is to let the current state of affairs become so accepted and normalised, alternatives to it no longer come to mind – in essence, ending up with the horror of another continuity Farmaajo. We should not let that happen. The people of Mogadishu have paid an enormous price with their lives and will continue to do so. We, as a country, can and must do better than this.
We ended up with Farmaajo because he had deeper pockets than his rivals and for want of anyone better, rather than because he was a potential Aden Adde. This is a warning from history and a key lesson for tomorrow.
Farmaajo will not miraculously discover his conscience or backbone in his final year in office. For someone who craves recognition, his own place in history is already assured for the wrong reasons: Qalbi Dhagax, Zoobe, Ex-Kontrool, and of course the bloodletting in Mogadishu. It is an appalling legacy.
The people of Mogadishu may be leaderless, but their lives matter.
Aloow Wadani Wax Tara, Dadkiisa Iyo Dalkiisana Jeceyl Noo Keen.
By: Abdi Ali
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