By the Editorial Team:
Mogadishu, Somalia –
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addressed the issue of corruption in a speech delivered after Friday’s prayer service at the Villa Somalia Mosque. He emphasized that the government is taking active measures to tackle corruption. However, critics have pointed out that the President should start with his own corruption issues before preaching about them to others.
In his Friday speech, the President of Somalia called upon the nation’s religious authorities to accommodate more space in their sermons to anticorruption topics: “Sheikhs of the whole country are required to talk about it [corruption] in the mosques on Fridays. If they go to a radio station, let them talk about it. It is good to talk about heaven and the hereafter, heaven and hell, but ignoring talks about what would take a person to hell, is bad.”
He urged those facing corruption-related accusations to face the court and present their defence instead of fleeing the country. The President was hitting upon a scandal of high-ranking government officials accused of corruption, who allegedly escaped from Mogadishu in the wake of impending arrest warrants. He stated that standing before the court and proving innocence should not be considered a crime, emphasizing the importance of due process.
Moreover, Hassan Sheikh defended his government’s anticorruption actions: “We can’t remove all the people at once, but we are committed to working on it. Any person who steals the property of the government or the public, who steals or robs, will be brought before the law and will face whatever the law states.” However, what if it is the President and his family who steal the nation’s wealth?
People living in glass houses should not throw stones
Critics have long argued that the President should first and foremost start with himself and his own family when addressing the fight against corruption.
Last year in June, the President agreed to resume the import of miraa (also known as khat) from Kenya to Somalia. The deal set the price at $4.5 per kilo of miraa. From July 2022 until the present, it is estimated that approximately $48 million of the revenue generated from these imports has ended up in the pockets of the President and some of his relatives.
Observers have pointed out that the extra money added to the price of miraa is not an official government tax intended to contribute to the country’s economic system; instead, it is distributed elsewhere. The lack of transparency in investigating where this money ultimately goes raises concerns. Critics argue that this clear lack of transparency and preventing relevant agencies from investigating who benefits from this “top-up” is a glaring indication of high-level corruption, with many implicating the President of Somalia and his family.
The second example involves visa fees for foreigners entering Somalia. The Auditor General has stated that the responsible office is deeply involved in corruption, with the proceeds allegedly having already been embezzled. Since Hassan Sheikh assumed the presidency of Somalia, a company owned by one of the nation’s first ladies has reportedly been receiving a portion of the visa fees. In a blatant display of clientelism, it is alleged that the President’s wife’s company receives 30% of the visa fee, amounting to $18 per visa.
The President and his family have more to explain than it might seem at first glance. He should rather refrain from preaching to the public about corruption, as people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Besides, the two examples above are not isolated incidents.
Crucial commissions dissolved
President’s Friday speech, which some called ‘hypocritical’ for the reasons stated above, comes shortly after officials accused of corruption charges had left the country under highly suspicious circumstances. The Somali Digest’s sources within law enforcement suggested that these officials were tipped off about their impending arrests, and measures were taken to ensure their safe exit from the capital city astonishingly through a government-controlled airport. The fact that these officials could abscond under such circumstances casts an alarming light on the integrity of the nation’s legal and law enforcement institutions, which the President is the ultimate head of.
It should be underlined that Somalia used to have institutions in charge of fighting corruption – the Judicial Service Commission and the Anticorruption Commission. Both were dissolved by the President in October last year, claiming they had been built unlawfully. It has been more than a year since Hassan Sheikh Mohamud last tried to establish anticorruption bodies so that the country could counter corruption more effectively.
The controversy further deepened in February this year when the Auditor General was replaced with a politically exposed individual of questionable qualifications. The move was widely condemned and cast serious doubts about the impartiality of future audits. The arrest of some officials on corruption charges, seen as performative, did little to calm fears as the practices persist.