Will Somalia finally get a reformist technocrat to replace incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in the upcoming presidential elections and lift the country’s fortunes from decades of devastating conflict?
This is the question dominating political discussions among many Somali nationals amid deep frustrations over failure by current and past politicians to fix security, tackle runaway corruption, restore vital services and enhance good governance.
While the incumbent seeks to retain the seat, past leaders are also eyeing the Presidency including former President Sheikh Sharriff Ahmed, and former Prime Ministers Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo and Ali Mohammed Gedi. But they all face a difficult task of convincing Somalis that they deserve another chance in office.
Among the technocrats attracting growing public attention as a possible successor of the current President is 53-year-old Dr. Ali Haji Warsame, a long-time public finance management specialist with local and international experience.
The man, who served in various top private and public positions as an auditor in the United Arab Emirates and Somalia, insists that there is a serious leadership crisis in the country that is unable to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges including the recurrent devastating drought that has left at least 3.5 million Somali nationals in desperate hunger.
“The aspirants who have served as Presidents and former Prime Ministers in the recent past have failed to deliver on what Somali nationals really need. Their past record in office is a clear vote of no-confidence against them,” he said.
He further asserted: “All the different elements needed to rebuild Somalia to its former glory are there. The only element which has been lacking is a visionary and technocratic leadership.”
Dr. Warsame, who holds an MBA in Management Information Systems, from the American University in London and is an international certified public accountant, seeks to tap into his long-time professional expertise in public finance to reform what he sees as dismal management of public resources in Somalia.
He asserts that precious government resources are getting lost through high-level corruption and bureaucratic wastage, with little action from the political leadership.
“The management of the public budget under the current and previous governments leaves a lot to be desired. That’s why the security forces and civil servants go for many months without pay despite the government getting considerable revenues,” he said.
He added: “For instance, much of the funds that are received from the international community are not reflected in the official budget. There are no effective systems to ensure accountability and prudent use of public resources. This has to change if Somalia can be rebuilt rapidly.”
The technocrat, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Administration, is credited with turning around the fortunes of Golis, one of the largest privately-owned telecom company in Somalia, by injecting discipline and professional management into the administrative and technical operations of the firm.
He is also known for reforming the school curriculum during his brief term as Education Minister in the regional administration of Puntland in 2015, putting more emphasis on technical training.
Dr. Warsame expects to stage a major upset in the upcoming presidential elections against the incumbent and former top leaders who are in the presidential race.
“In the history of recent presidential elections in Somalia, no sitting President has ever been returned to office. Instead, new people have always been elected. I am confident that that trend will work in my favour,” he said.
He counts on the new crop of legislators, including a sizeable number of youths and women, whose vote will elect a new President in a few weeks.
He said many of them are well-educated and progressive in thinking, and are expected to focus more on merit of individual presidential aspirants than anything else.
“Previous elections for President were largely influenced by the financial resources of the candidates to secure votes. But in the current two houses of Parliament, merit will carry more weight, not money or clannism. Public pressure for reforms and accountability is also high,” he said.
In January 2014, the Certified Public Accountant almost became the leader of Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland, finishing a close third in the tight race.
In the subsequent run-off between the top two candidates, he became the kingmaker, rallying his supporters in the regional parliament to unseat the then incumbent leader Abdirahman Mohamud Faroole.
In terms of restoring peace and stability across the war-torn country, Warsame says he will move quickly to build a unified national army composed of personnel from all regions of the country, in order to provide security more effectively and tackle the threat posed by Al Shabaab. He said the current security forces are built along clan and tribal lines, making them less effective.
He added that he will invest heavily in providing better salaries, unified training and equipment for the Somali national army saying enough resources are available to do that but are currently being lost through corruption and poor management.
He said Somalia cannot continuously depend on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to secure their country, since the troops from neighbouring nations will not be in Somalia indefinitely.
The technocrat also raised concerns about high levels of youth unemployment, causing many of them to undertake risky journeys by land and sea to immigrate to affluent parts of the globe while many others are drawn into groups like Al Shabaab and pirates.
“Many youths lack vital skills, that’s why developing and strengthening technical training institutions is crucial. This will enable the youths create job opportunities for themselves,” he said.
He added that he will strive hard to attract investments into the country, saying doing so will create many job opportunities for Somalis.
“Somalia is rich in natural resources including livestock, agriculture, marine and mineral resources. These needs to be tapped to expand economic opportunities for Somali nationals.”
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