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Somalia's Prognosis: Leadership Deficit Disease (L2D)

Somalia has been ill since its inception as a country. The illness has been progressing slowly, consuming the country and its people; pushing them to the edge of human existence. Among others, the Somali illness has been attributed to tribalism, ignorance, dictatorship, warlordism, arrogance, greediness, and selfishness. While all of the above may be true, I contend that the malady that I refer to as L2D is the single leading ailment responsible for the misery existing in Somalia today. In Somali language, L2D roughly translates to "Bukaan Hoggaan Xumo".

Let me define leadership before explaining why I maintain unequivocally that L2D is the leading cause of the dire state of Somalia today. Leadership is the ability to lead, unite, inspire, and guide others towards the achievement of shared goals and objectives. Did the majority of Somalis after more than forty years under various leaders with different leadership styles achieve the simple goal of obtaining basic human needs?

Sixty years ago Psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced his now famous Hierarchy of Needs. These basic human needs include physiological such as food, shelter, and water; safety such as moral and physiological security; social and belonging; self-esteem; and self-actualization. Even though we are in the 21st century, the majority Somali people have not yet obtained the most basic human needs - physiological, safety, and security. Indeed, while most of the world's population is sitting on top of the human needs pyramid, our people are stuck at the bottom fighting for mere survival. Our children, elderly, and women are dying daily due to war, hunger, malnutrition and disease. At this very moment, Somalis are living in dire circumstance and abject poverty with many being killed in a vicious cycle of violence. Suffice it to say, our leaders have failed us miserably in every way imaginable.

Those who have vowed to lead us have failed to put forward a vision for our country and our people. They have failed to become the moral authority necessary for the development of the character of our youth and that of our future leaders. Further, they have failed to lead our country to peace, prosperity, and stability as is expected from good leadership. To the contrary, the leadership in Somalia has brought only misery and despair to the Somali people. They fostered a culture of tribalism, corruption, and nepotism. They bred an environment replete with injustice, oppression, wickedness and immorality. They relegated the Somali people to a bare existence where hunger, disease, terror and destruction are the norm. Sadly, Somalia has become an embarrassment to the world under its leadership.

The Somali leaders have lost many critical opportunities for effective, strategic leadership since independence. To fully grasp this idea, it is necessary to examine the leadership of Somalia from an historical context. For simplicity, I divided the political life of Somalia since independence into three major stages: The Civilian Rule Era; The Military Rule Era; and the Anarchy Era.

Civilian Rule Era - 1960-1969

Leadership had its best chance in this era. Somalia was a new nation. The Somali people were optimistic about the future. There was great hope, energy, and a desire to build a new nation. This was the high time for Somalia to emerge as a strong and independent nation. This was the time to set a firm foundation for the country. It was the time to build onto the spirit and the goodwill of the people. It was the time to demonstrate leadership qualities and to set the tone for the future of the country. It was the time to set the standards for moral leadership built on honesty, integrity, ability, accountability, and fairness. This was the time for the leaders of Somalia to put forward a vision for the people and the country.

But the Somali leaders at the time fell far behind the aspirations and the expectations of the people. Mismanagement, greed and selfishness ruled the day. Tribalism, nepotism, and regionalism created an unfair and unbalanced distribution of wealth and power among Somalis. Leaderships wielded government power to advance personal and tribal interests at the expense of the individual and the country. Somalis became cynical of their leaders and their intentions. The rare few good honest leaders turned out to be indecisive or undermanned and overwhelmed by the unscrupulous majority. The leadership deficit during the Civilian Leadership Era has set the stage for the next era of Somali politics - The Military Rule Era.

Military Rule Era - 1969-1990

The leadership deficit during the Civilian Rule Era was partially responsible for the Military Rule Era that followed. Most Somalis were not surprised and somewhat relieved when the military took control of Somalia in October 1969. There was an outpouring support from some of the public for the military junta in the early years of its rule. However, the honeymoon with the military rulers was short-lived for most Somalis. The military leadership failed to capitalize on the demise of the Civilian Rule Era and on the dissatisfaction of the people under the civilian rule. The same leadership deficit that beleaguered the civilian rule has surfaced again. In addition, the Somalis have had to deal with dictatorship, communism, and state terror, which were all alien to the Somali culture. Very soon Somalis realized that mismanagement, greed, selfishness, tribalism, and nepotism have blossomed once again but they also lost some of the basic freedoms and security they had taken for granted under the civilian rule.

The leadership of the Military Rule Era had many opportunities to establish an effective government and to steer the country toward a democratic future. They could have limited their involvement in the day to day running of the country and established a competent civilian workforce to assist them as a caretaker government. They could have set the stage for the return to a true democratic civilian rule free from tribalism, corruption, and nepotism. They could have formulated an exit strategy rather than allowing the country to collapse into complete lawlessness. The leadership deficit of the Military Rule Era set the stage for the next era of Somali politics - The Anarchy Era.

Anarchy Era - 1990 to present

The Anarchy Era is the most challenging atmosphere for competent leadership to emerge. Immediately following the collapse of the military dictatorship, Somalia descended into anarchy resulting in a country that is fractured, tormented, and more dysfunctional than ever before. Chaos and lawlessness replaced what little order was left after the Military Rule Era. The militia leaders who fought the military regime turned to warlords and competed for power and domination. Former politicians, religious and tribal extremists, and devious businessmen started jockeying to fill the power vacuum, thus turning Somalia into a series of mafia like fiefdoms.

However, even in this turmoil, the warlords still had ample opportunity to reorder their agenda, relinquish power and contribute to the re-emergence of Somalia as a stable viable nation. Former politicians and businessmen also had many opportunities to positively influence the ever-deteriorating situation in Somalia as well. But, the old leadership deficit disease has resurfaced again. The current Somali Transitional Government, dominated by the warlords, is not showing leadership either, and is equally ineffective.

Of particular concern is the President of the Somali Transitional Government, Abdullahi Yusuf. He has not shown the ability to lead, unite, inspire, and guide Somalis towards the achievement of shared goals and objectives. He has not formulated a vision for solving Somalia's problems peacefully or for moving the country forward. He is blinded by the same old problems of tribalism, arrogance, nepotism, and incompetence. Moreover, his administration has the leanings of a dictatorship and authoritarianism. His tenure in office has only resulted in more fighting and in increased tension in many parts of Somalia. The most memorable achievement of his administration during its tenure is the frequent desultory trips he and his prime minister take to Addis and other parts of the world. Will Somalia survive as a nation if we don't change the course? What will be left of us and what will they become?

The leadership models outlined in this article have been tried and have failed. Furthermore, we cannot let the extremists and the tyrants become our voice or position themselves as the alternative to the disgraced warlords. We need to think outside the box and be creative in finding alternative leadership. We need to plant the seeds for new leadership that does not include the tyrants, warlords, fanatics, and self-appointed strongmen. We need not accept the status quo leadership of the very groups who have instigated and profited from the destruction and the demise of our country.

Unfortunately, many of the same players are still in control of Somalia and her resources and enjoy the support of the international community to the dismay of the Somali people. History has taught us that support afforded to tyrants and despots for short-term gain increases the likelihood of political and religious extremism with dire consequences for all the parts involved in particular the civilian population of the subject country.

Therefore, the Somali people need to team together and demand new leadership. And this would not just be a new government in name alone. This new leadership must emerge from a grass roots effort and have the needs of Somalia and Somalis as its agenda. I am convinced that the leadership deficit disease (L2D) is so severe in the latest Somali Transitional Government that even if the warlords and their President unite they will not move Somalia an inch toward meeting the most basic human needs mentioned above and will only prolong the suffering and the agony of the Somali people.

The Somali people have paid a heavy price and have suffered greatly for decades as a result of ruthless, corrupt and ineffective leadership. The critical question now is where do we go from here, and how do we effectively eradicate the leadership deficit disease that had plagued our nation? The good news is that there is a cure. I believe that the spirit of the Somali people is strong and, although it will not be easy, through our collective effort we can replace the malaise and the dysfunction rampant in Somalia today. I believe that we can reverse what I call the "D" plagues that have eaten deep into our flesh, soul, humanity, dignity, and future (D plagues: death, danger, destruction, disease, dysfunction, despair, discord, distrust, division, disintegration, and last but not least the source of all the plagues leadership deficit disease). I believe that we can rebuild a Somalia that can take its rightful place among the nations of the world and can shed away the disparaging gloom perception of us by the world.

We need to think beyond the current despots and plan to set the foundation for effective, efficient and ethical leadership. We should never have outsourced the direction and the future of our country and people to IGAD or any other organization or country. We need to find a Somali solution to Somalia's problems and then seek help from the international community to implement and sustain our solution. We need to commit to a fresh start as a nation, fresh start as people, fresh start as individuals, fresh leadership, fresh energy and spirit, and most of all fresh vigor and devotion to claim back what is rightly ours - our beloved country. To that we will leave the dark past behind us and wake up to a bright new dawn for Somalia and sing to the Somali song lyrics "waabaa baryay bilicsan arooryo baxsan maalin boqran... a bright new dawn have risen, a fantastic sunrise/morning, a celebrated/treasured day…"

I encourage all our readers to think about and work hard toward finding a lasting solution to Somali's chronic leadership deficit. Leadership is about finding intelligent solutions to complex problems. For all those inspiring genuine Somali leaders, finding solutions to Somalia's problems is your ultimate challenge. This is not to suggest that we take up arms and start another round of fighting with the warlords and the tyrants. Our first priority should be to stop immediately the bleeding of our nation and people and thus stop the perpetrators. We should abandon the appeasement and the engagement of the warlords and their President but try to find an exit strategy for them, convince the international community to support alternative leadership, and then plan for how we can collectively move the country forward. Somalia is ripe for a new generation of leaders with new ideas, approach, style, and vision. This is the time to come forward and step up to the stage to help Somalia's hour of need.

I see a glimmer of hope in an alliance with the Speaker of the Somali Parliament and other non-warlord parliament members. After all, if they stay united for the long treacherous journey ahead and manage to avoid L2D infection on the way, they would create a majority; especially if to take into account the elders, young members, women, and minority members in the parliament. I also see a crucial role for Somali Diaspora communities and civil society in defining the direction of our country. Warlords and extremists have short life span due to the entrenched violence and self-destructive behaviors that engulfs them daily. Our nation, people, identity, and values must find a way to outlast them while we collectively search, discover, and apply cure to the unrepentant leadership deficit disease that has bedeviled our country.

In closing, I appeal to my Somali brothers and sisters across clans, regions, gender, and age to unite and work toward the emergence of Somali leadership capable of leading, uniting, inspiring, and guiding us towards the achievement of our shared goals and objectives. This new paradigm must be the driving force if we are not to fail our children and future generations as our past and present leaders have failed us. Poor leadership can be a reflection of its origin - the people. Perhaps this is the time for each of us to examine our morals, our beliefs, our priorities, and ourselves and gets them in order. Somalia will have a better chance of producing strong, effective leaders, and emerge as a strong, vibrant, and dynamic country, if each individual will embrace these ideals, have them manifest in our lives, and then demand nothing less from our leaders.

Soomaaliya Hanoolaato !!!
Long Live Somalia !!!

Hassan Warsame
Somali Diaspora Network
Email your comments, suggestions, and ideas to this email address (

The writer lives and works in Virginia, USA. He holds B.S in Computer Science, M.S in Business Technologies, and Graduate Level Certificates in Management. He has over 20 years of experience in information technology, business, and management. He enjoys technology, internet, politics, reading current news, outdoors, and community and cultural activities. Most of all, he has a special interest, passion, and affection for Somalia and Somali people.

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