PRESIDENCY FOR SALE!

Who finances our political leaders (presidential candidates) and with which purpose?

The election season is upon us, with the presidential elections probably taking place in February 2021.

More than 300 MPs of the upper and lower chambers of government, who are yet to be appointed, will elect the president for the next four years.

It is of great value that our country has a democratic process in which the will of the people is consulted, however flawed and imperfect it might currently be. It is a right we have fought for and should not be willing to give up. But in order to maintain trust in the democratic process we need to address the elephant in the room: corruption. It is common knowledge among Somali citizens that our elections are won by the one who has the most money. In other words: our highest presidential office is
for sale!

This phenomenon worries me, since widespread political corruption is especially dangerous and undesirable in a country like Somalia.

Let me first address the presidential candidates, for all of whom I have an enormous amount of appreciation. Your political involvement is essential to our democratic system, and thereby to the future of our country.  I find your willingness to stand for election during this turbulent and difficult time extremely brave of you. I know that by running for president you are putting the life of your family and your own in peril. Partly because of your courage, I do not intend to criticize any of you personally. My concern about political corruption, the buying of power and influence, is of a general nature.
It is understandable that the political parties, or in the case of Somalia, individuals running for president, need money to finance their election campaign. There is nothing wrong with that.

What matters however, is this: where is this funding coming from? We know that most of our candidates are running as individuals. In most cases they are not put forward, and supported by a member-based political organization or party which has an official structure and a coherent policy vision. In many countries such parties or organizations would finance presidential runs (sometimes as part of a public-funded election system), ideally in a transparent way. Since this is not the case in Somalia we need to investigate who or which organization does fund our candidates.

In their 2017 report on Somalia the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center paints a damning picture of the corrupt practices in our country. Pointing to a 2016 study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, it asserts that “Systemic corruption and the large-scale misappropriation of state funds by governing officials is the
norm in Somalia”. When it comes to our presidential elections the systemic corruption is clearly visible in the way that our presidential candidates are buying the votes of our elected officials. The article outlines how during the 2016 elections our senators and MPs received bribes by presidential candidates, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. It led local anti-corruption activists to state that this was “probably the most expensive election, per vote, in history”, as reported by the BBC.
This begs the question: where is this money coming from? How are presidential candidates able to obtain the funds to both run for president and pay-off elected officials to secure their votes.
It seems that much of this money comes from outside of the country. Foreign governments, such as those of the the UAE, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia “have possibly funded the election campaigns of certain candidates”. Of course these countries probably expect something in return: most likely
favourable business deals, or certain foreign-policy decisions by our government.
You might be wondering, how high are these bribes that our politicians receive?
The U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center points to a 2017 election-analysis by the BBC, which claims that “unconfirmed reports said votes were being sold for up to $30,000 in a country heavily funded by foreign donors, and where most people are poor.”

Let’s do the calculation for this election 2021, and assume that the price to buy our MPs has become more expensive since 2016. It is sometimes claimed that a single vote will is worth at least $ 50,000. Let’s assume that you need a minimum of 175 votes to be elected. 175 x $ 50,000 = $ 8,750,000.
Is our country this cheap? That you can become the president of 16 million inhabitants for roughly 9 million dollars?

We can of course not be sure if these numbers are precise. They might be lower, or they might be higher. But this lack of transparency is exactly the problem.

Because the citizens of our country are left in the dark it is very understandable that they lose faith in our electoral system, or start to believe in conspiracy-theories. When all our presidential candidates are financed by foreign governments and companies, as well as Somali businessmen, people start wondering: who are the people behind our political leaders?

All this draws into question the integrity of our political leaders. What will be their goals and priorities once elected? Might these be based on their own economic interests? How sovereign is our country?
I therefore have three requests, in light of the coming elections. One request is for the presidential candidates themselves, one request is for our parliament, and one request directed at Somali society as a whole.

Presidential candidates, I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your intentions are pure and that you are not just the puppets of more powerful actors. But you have to be willing to show us where the funding of your election campaign comes from. I therefore call upon you to disclose all of the financial contributions you have received in relation to your presidential campaign and where you are spending this money on. Make no mistake about it: every dollar that you have received must be
accounted for. If later we find out that you have received more money than you had disclosed, we will have on record that you have misled the Somali people.

Furthermore, I ask the parliamentary committees to start an investigation into the (possible) corruption in our current elections, starting no later than today. There is no time to waste and the parliament and you should report your findings to parliament and the general public before the elections take place.

In addition, a great deal of responsibility rests on the shoulders of civil-society organizations; the media, universities and our spiritual leaders (Culumadda). I call upon you to make this issue, a main point of discussion before, during and after the election. You could organize a public debate during which all candidates are thoroughly questioned and force them to publicize their campaign finances.

They should have to justify in front of the public where their money comes from, and why they received it.
In the future, parliament and government should come up with legislation that regulates and monitors the funding of presidential candidates, other elected officials and political parties.

One of the reasons why citizens are reluctant to cooperate with their leaders is because they cannot trust leaders who serve the interests of foreign authorities or businessmen. Trust in our political system is essential, especially in these unsafe and turbulent times.
Make no mistake about it, this country does not belong to a few politicians. This country is the inheritance of millions of inhabitants. In any case, these people should and will decide the destiny for their country.
We as Somali citizens should not underestimate the consequences of political corruption and funding from all kinds of invisible and unaccountable forces. We have to make clear: our land is not for sale. “WHO REALLY RULES OUR COUNTRY?”

Ali Yahye
Yahya Peace Foundation
E. info@yahyapeacefoundation.org
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
January, 2021

Sources:
– U4 Anti-Corruption Center, Somalia: Overview of corruption and anti-corruption
https://www.u4.no/publications/somalia-overview-corruption-and-anticorruption
– BBC News, Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo chosen as president:
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38904663

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