President Farmaajo rode on a populist upsurge. He appealed to voters fed up with a broken system, a state captured by war profiteers and a neoliberal order that was not rightly in sync with the people. He spoke to the anxieties of a society transiting from a dangerous era of warlordism to a representative democracy based on federalism.
He preached about sovereignty by returning Somalia to its glory days. Clearly, four years later it’s discernible that he meant the dark days of Siad Bare military dictatorship or the bloody civil wars.
The reasons for his reactionary mode are quite easy to understand. He represented a broader trend in international politics, towards what has been labeled populist nationalism, or as Larry Diamond puts it, the politics of resentment. His ideas were derivative of the prevailing material conditions by tapping into the widespread discontent in the people. In the west, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and others exploited capitalist contradiction, in Somalia, Farmaajo was exploiting the troubled history of the country… and boy, did he do it!
It was joyful to watch 2017 election night, people were singing everywhere, it was akin to the 2008 Obama presidential victory. Celebrations broke out at every corner of the world. It was a testament to the power of hope and resilience inimical to the dark history of the country.
For Farmaajo, it’s power without responsibility
However, that detente came to an abrupt end as we watched with utter disdain the dictatorship in the man unravel. Slowly, the future of the country looked like episodes from its dark past. He lost it, the country lost him, he was no longer the people’s guy.
Four years later, his presidency, striking in its callousness, resulted in yet again a failure of authoritarian populists just like Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, Trump et cetera. From the beginning, he was completely unequipped to run a complex behemoth that is a federal government, which partly explains why he openly antagonised federal states.
He promised to be a pacifist yet tragically became one of the most polarising figures in Somalia’s history. Typically playing a populist playbook, he kept feeding the flames of division within the country. Farmaajo even incomporated hysterical social media conspiracy theorists to weaponise ‘sovereignty and statehood’ against his adversaries. When his misadventures fail, he blames his opponent or shadow box some foreign countries.
Today, the country is at a tipping point. He looks more like a crazy scientist and the country is his laboratory. Narrow populist nationalism is destroying a fragile country recovering from deadly civil war. yet in the frenzy world of his Facebook and Twitter bots, the man can’t be put to account. For Farmaajo, it’s power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot!
Abdifatah Ali Bakaal is a communication practitioner and Law student at the University of Nairobi.