The New Scramble for Somalia: The Role of Diaspora Somalis with dual citizenship
Hassan A. Keynan
Becoming an American citizen through naturalization requires taking the Oath of Allegiance, loudly. The first part of the Oath of Allegiance reads, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” Mr. Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo did exactly that when he took the Oath of Allegiance and became a US citizen some 30 years ago. On 8 February 2017, he was elected President of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
President Farmaajo is not alone. His administration is packed with diaspora Somalis holding dual citizenship, who returned from Europe, North America, and Australia. Diaspora Somalis from these continents represent less than 30 percent of the estimated 2 million Somali immigrants abroad; and about 5 percent of the total Somali population. However, politically they disproportionately dominate state institutions, at federal and state levels. For our purpose here, attention will be devoted to the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). Details are sketchy, as government officials do not feel or believe that they ought to disclose their association with foreign powers through citizenship or any other affiliation. Nevertheless, information compiled from different sources indicates that they have established and maintain a firm foothold in all branches of the Federal Government (FG), especially the executive and legislature.
The American Camp: Somali-Americans occupy the most powerful position in the Federal Government of Somalia. The President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, who is also the head-of-state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, leads the Camp. It also includes holders of important cabinet posts: Minister of Finance, Minister of Religious Affairs, Minister of Women and Human Rights, and Minister of Fisheries. American citizens of Somali origin also hold other important positions in the Federal Government.
The Norwegian Colony: Norwegian citizens of Somali origin prominently feature in the business of the FGS. They occupy two of the top three most powerful positions in the country: The Prime Minister/Head-of-Government and Speaker of the People’s Assembly. In addition, they hold the positions of the Minister of Defence and Minister of education and Culture. A few are members of the Federal Parliament.
The Canadian Corner: Somali-Canadians preside over the largest number of ministerial portfolios, including some of most coveted posts in the cabinet. They are: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Minister of Planning, Minister of Transport and Aviation, and Minister of Labour.
Lone-star portfolios: Dual citizens hailing from Australia, Britain, Denmark, Nederland, and Sweden also hold cabinet posts. Each has one ministerial position: Energy & Water, Health, Posts, Telecom & Technology, Disaster response, and Internal Security.
Concerns about dual citizenship: divided loyalties and conflict of interests
Acquiring dual citizenship is a personal decision. It bestows a variety of opportunities and benefits on the holder. Most importantly, it is perfectly legal according to the Provisional Constitution (PC) of Somalia. However, countries vary greatly when it comes to laws governing dual citizenship. Some reject it completely, while others permit dual citizenship with certain conditions and restrictions. It becomes particularly problematic when dual citizens seek and/or hold the highest public offices in a country. Concerns about dual citizens holding high political office primarily emanate from issues related to divided loyalties and conflict of interests.
Even big and powerful countries warn their citizens not to rush to professing allegiance to a foreign power. According to an editorial piece by the Los Angeles Times (December 26, 2014) the U.S. State Department warns American citizens from ‘retaining or applying for citizenship in another country.’ The most important reason given was that dual citizenship could be seen as a security threat, creating a situation in which dual citizens could be barred from obtaining employment in some diplomatic and intelligence/security positions considered to be highly sensitive. More recently, issues relating to dual citizenship have turned Australian politics topsy-turvy as many MPs lost their parliamentary position for failing to disclose and renounce their status as dual citizens before they stood for election. In Ukraine, a country in which more than 100 members of parliament are dual citizens, MPs “flaunt the laws of the country, route their money into hidden accounts in tax havens, and generally enrich themselves at their country’s expense,” according to an article published on Forbes webpage (July 31, 2017). The article also mentions the case of a former Prime Minister who was travelling on a foreign passport and detained in Switzerland ‘for money laundering,’ and that of another senior official in the Ukrainian fiscal service, who ‘may be tried in Britain on corruption charges due to his British Citizenship.’ The practice in most countries is that dual citizens are either barred from occupying top national leadership positions, or they voluntarily renounce their second citizenship.
The special case of Somalia
The situation in Somalia is both different and rare. Somalia has just started the process of moving out of the degrading and deeply humiliating legacy of a failed state. Its Provisional Constitution (PC) is in disarray and highly contested. In fact, the Somali people have not been consulted about the provisions in the PC that allow dual citizenship. Its institutions are fragile and extremely vulnerable to infiltration, destabilization, corruption, and even takeover by internal usurpers and/or external predators with vested strategic and geopolitical interests. Moreover, dual citizens have and wield immense executive and legislative powers in a context characterized by lack of accountability and transparency, coupled with debilitating capacity limitations. How these enormous powers are used or abused and in favour of whom and against whom is therefore a matter of utmost importance. Somalis and informed foreigners who closely follow the events unfolding in the country express concerns that are many, deep, and legitimate.
Domination of power: There is not any country in Africa or elsewhere where so much power is concentrated in so few individuals with dual citizenship. The numbers are staggering. Access to the reigns of power is quick, easy and unfettered for dual citizenship. They hardly go through appropriate background checks. This has become a source of frustration and resentment among non-diaspora Somalis, who feel exploited and marginalized in their own country. Current events indicate a disturbing trend regarding the manner in which state power and authority has been exercised. Contrary to the principles of the PC, the power and resources of the state are concentrated in a few federal entities based in Mogadishu, causing a huge and deepening crisis between the FGS and Federal Member States (FMS). This is a serious, even dangerous, matter which, if not resolved, could squander the limited gains made, or even cause the entire fragile federal edifice to collapse.
Obsession with external legitimacy: There is evidence that the FGS looks towards external powers for legitimacy. This is bizarre in the context of established norms underlying state sovereignty and legitimacy. But in the peculiar and befuddled state of Somalia, it is seen as a normal practice. Since the presence and authority of the Federal Government across the country are very thin or non-existent, it finds it easier and more convenient to seek and depend on external actors not only for legitimacy but also for resources. The UN, EU, World Bank, IMF, AMISOM, IGAD, AU, UAE, USA, UK, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti have replaced the Somali people as the principal source of legitimacy for the Federal Government of Somalia. Shuttle visits to and weekends in Nairobi, Dubai, Ankara, Brussels, Washington, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Riyad, and Cairo have become easier and more frequent than spending time with and serving the citizens in Baidoa, Kismayo, Brava, Marka, Jowhar, Beledweyn, Dhusamareb, Galkayo, Garow, and Bosaso. Somaliland does not even feature in the business of the FGS except when Somaliland authorities seek or secure promising investment deals and development opportunities. Success and progress are measured in terms of pledges from the EU, promises from the World Bank, projects from the UN, and secret deals with both sides in the messy and deepening conflict in the Gulf.
Corruption and scramble for Somalia’s strategic assets: The strategically located Horn of Africa region is in the throes of a new and fierce scramble. Somalia is at once a strategic beachhead for the new, enterprising mission; and a principal target if the price is right. The new scramble for Somalia involves a wide range of competitors. The motives and interests of the scramblers vary greatly, as are the tools, narratives, capabilities, and resources deployed in the service of the business. The scramblers have their eyes focused on the country’s main strategic assets: ports, airports, marine resources, and areas with promising oil and mineral wealth. There is also a tough competition for other lucrative sectors, especially security, logistics, infrastructure, and service provision. As indicated in recent reports, the country is being fleeced openly and with total impunity. Diaspora Somalis have been implicated in a number of dubious, even illegal, deals either as brokers, lobbyists, shareholders, or facilitators. Concerns are also expressed regarding attempts by powerful forces in the FGS to bend, pervert, or flaunt existing laws or tamper with new legislative endeavors in the service of greed and corruption. The Institutions of the Federal Government of Somalia are saddled with a host of lethal afflictions. The one that is most pervasive and most corrosive is corruption, a scourge that the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) recently referred to as ‘horrendous.’ Reports from the UN, World Bank and other credible sources have documented in great detail the horrendous levels of corruption and embezzlement during the past seven years. These reports indicate that “70 percent of funds that had been earmarked for development and reconstruction in Somalia were unaccounted for.” On 2 March 2014 the Daily Nation in Kenya published a summary of an audit report that alleged an estimated $700 million, mostly from Arab countries, basically ended in the pockets of senior government officials between 2000 and 2013.
Role of the International Community
For over a quarter century, the International Community (IC) has dominated the affairs of Somalia and the lives and future of Somali people. Billions have been spent to help Somalia navigate the arduous journey form protracted and bloody civil war, to failed state, to transitional state, to fragile state, and finally to a fully sovereign but bankrupt state. This was an unprecedented engagement and a rare experiment in the annals of international cooperation. For the IC, cracking the Somali conundrum has been a constant and messy struggle, involving a great deal of experimentation and improvisation. Some progress has been made. But the achievements have been too little, too slow, and uneven. Most importantly, there is very little to show for the billions of dollars spent to date. A huge chunk of the financial resources earmarked for the country went into the pockets of private individuals and groups many of whom occupied top leadership positions in the government. Things are so bad that ordinary Somalis are beginning to doubt if they have a country any more. The current government has made serious efforts to address the scourge of corruption that blighted the country for decades. However, given the combined and deadly impact of weak government, fragile institutions, and powerful and entrenched networks of corruption, it is hard to even contemplate a satisfactory resolution anytime soon. It is therefore high time for the IC, the UN in particular, to realize that it cannot continue financing an expensive fiction forever. The monster the IC has been feeding and protecting for more than two decades might end up destroying whatever is left of its credibility and integrity, and in the process leave an entire nation feeling betrayed, humiliated, and profoundly angry.