Somaliland: How many Ministers are Enough?


By: Liban Obsiye & Mahmoud MatanSo who is out?

Somalilandsun – Our quiet afternoon tea in the rare British sun was disturbed by the loud shouting of a few excited old men. We looked up, smiled and asked what the commotion was about.

They looked at us surprised as if we had been living in a cave for the last century. How could we political enthusiasts of all people not have known that the President of Somaliland, Silanyo, had just announced his reshuffle?

It was of enormous importance as the development of the unrecognised nation depended on it. The 22 or so appointed champions of policy excellence in their fields were to commence their urgent work immediately. Somaliland, supposedly, is on the path to prosperity and these selected Ministers will only assist in the acceleration of this.

There must have been some tears as those Silanyo supposedly felt were least performing or unsuitable for their posts were made redundant. Those who have been appointed, kept on or have been re-assigned include the former Education, Health and Foreign Ministers.

While it is exciting to generally see a change of guard anywhere in the developing world brought about by careful Presidential consideration inspired by the requirements of the role and the abilities of the individual candidates to carry it out, it is difficult to see how most of the appointed champions of Somaliland’s future are suited to their grand roles. What is more worrying is that, while it appears as though the appointment process was well thought through as per the Presidential Office’s press release, it is shackled by tribal imbalance and bias. A fellow tea drinker at the cafe responded to the excited old men by telling them bluntly that the reshuffle looked like the re-organisation of a single family interests and alliances after internal Isaaq family disagreements. This is not a critique to take lightly for the Somaliland government which has yet to be recognised internationally despite its 22 year constant effort. If the self declared independent state of Somaliland wants to be taken seriously and not simply viewed as a one family State with a few other token grudging travellers, there needs to be greater plurality in its overall politics.

It is difficult for any Somali leader to simply govern without the complications of tribe but if there is to be hope for a better and more equitable future leaders ought to see it for the illness and divisive tool it has become to our society. Rather than promoting and fearing it, visionary leaders need to clearly state that every appointed Minister will be selected on merit and they will work for everyone. However, many backward tribal elders and a weak government have colluded to imprison the Somali people into poverty; poor leadership and continuing inter tribal violence. The mentality of “it’s our turn to eat” is still rife in all appointments and political processes in the African continent and Somaliland is no different. Despite the obvious physical peace, there are real and potentially explosive tribal tensions bubbling beneath the surface in almost all regions of Somaliland. The appointment of unnecessary few Ministers from each family, mainly the larger ones, is not going to tackle this.

Even where Ministerial appointments in general in Somalia and the self declared independent State of Somaliland were not tribe based, would Somaliland need so many Ministers and their assistants? Even the most advanced nations will be embarrassed by such a number. There just is not enough room at the cabinet table. While Education, Foreign and Internal Affairs, Health, Finance and Economics and Justice are crucial portfolios in any nation, let alone one that needs to develop and attract foreign investors, the others like Post and Communication, Housing, Labour and Technology and Research among others which were named by Silanyo are not required. They may well be in the future but for now Somaliland does not have a postal network or system, a Housing strategy or policy nor any research or technological innovations to speak of. In any case most of the rapid economic and social changes occurring today are not because of but in spite of the Somaliland government’s leadership and investment. The social and economical changes that the Kulmiye administration should be overseeing is driven largely by a private sector that is made up of mainly the Diaspora, locals and business folk that have little faith in any of the governments paper weight institutions. This is the same in Somalia and most of Africa.

President Ahmed Silanyo’s announcement would have been welcomed more warmly had he given reasons for each appointment and why exactly he thought the Ministry or Minister was necessary at this stage in his nation’s development. However, he just said in his press release that these are my Ministers. This is why all over the world where Somalis have settled most people are asking how many Ministers did”Reer Hebeel”get. This is a tragedy for an unrecognised country with serious internal political disputes with major tribal groups who resent the majority ones dominance. By simply appointing on merit, Silanyo could have made this situation better and challenged the backward tribesmen to produce better candidates next time and sent out the firm message that the appointments are his and only his to make and not theirs. The large number of newly appointed Ministers is probably not a reflection of what Silanyo himself wanted but what he was forced to create ironically because the only way to maintain the relative calm is to buy each tribal family out with a meaningless face, title and office. In times of distress, poverty and national anticipation for better, Silanyo should have held his nerve and asserted his authority. Now he truly is over staffed and has surrendered the political upper hand to unelected tribal leaders who know they just have to make a little fuss to get what they want.

It is unfair to say that in developed nations there is a total absence of nepotism or corruption in the Ministerial selection process but at least in these even the most incompetent but connected are assisted and overseen by senior civil servants who are embedded in these institutions. In Somalia and Somaliland, where institutions exist only on paper, only the best who are able to shape and advance their Ministries, should be allowed to draw a salary from the current aid dependent public purse.

Somaliland’s Parliament has shown, at best, its timidity in the face of executive appointment powers or worse, its tribally inspired support for the ballooning of Ministerial posts. They cannot even hold the President to account, what will they do about his new entourage and their tribal puppet masters?

Even if all of the appointed Ministers were exemplary, which they are not, there should not be all these posts as most can be merged with another. A better solution for President Silanyo would have been to ask the most competent of his new Ministers for whom he had no official political posts for to work as special advisers to Parliament, existing Ministries and other key institutions such as civil society. This would have legitimized their appointment in the public eyes and allowed them to contribute honestly to the capacity building processes of their nation.

It must be difficult to govern for any leader, especially one whose nation is tribal and unrecognised, but leadership has always been about vision and courage. Pushing the boat out even when the seas are rough and uninviting; been honest about hopes and dreams with the public. Silanyo instead has decided to see out his days in quiet, appeasing tribal families and not serving the ordinary people who would benefit from the most qualified been appointed to run their Ministries. This crippling cowardice and poor judgement which creates pointless Ministers and their assistants is more than a simple joke, it is probably the reason why Somaliland may never achieve recognition for this requires a herculean effort that is driven by the best of the people.

Liban Obsiye is a law graduate with a Masters in Public Policy from the School for Policy Studies, the University of Bristol. He currently is a Director of a Housing Association in Bristol, UK.

Mahamoud Matan studied at Sheffield Hallam University and has worked at senior levels in the public and voluntary sector in the UK for over 20 years.

Both writers welcome feedback. You can contact them via the below methods:

Liban Obsiye Mahamoud Matan

@LibanObsiye (twitter).

By: Liban Obsiye & Mahmoud Matan