Written by 5:55 am Opinion

A Copycat Strategy will not work in Somalia!

Aden Ismail

A Copycat Strategy: the Somali president is pursuing the outdated Bush Doctrine and it is badly failing him.

On October 7th 2001, shortly after the US military conducted its first airstrikes in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime, the then US president George Bush gave an address about the move. The address which was seemingly intended to source more support for the invasion and partly clarify to the Muslims worldwide that US is not their enemy called Islam a great religion. Despite Al-Qaeda striking the US soil, the president classified them as enemies of world peace. To portray the war as a just one waged by all against International terrorism, Bush declared that the US had the support of the “collective will of the world.” He also declared that there was no “neutral ground” in this war in addition to outlining an array of draconian measures including asset freezes to cripple the terrorists’ financial capabilities and disrupt their ability to get financial support.


In what came to be known as the Bush Doctrine, the president intensively made use of two elements of his grand doctrine at the beginning of the war on terror: exploiting the friend-enemy dichotomy to the maximum and the aggrandizement of the presidential authority. The former entails magnifying the threat of the enemy and framing them as an enemy not only to the government of the day but to the foundations, survival and existence of the state in its entirety and the world at large, thus drawing a clear and distinctive boundary between the enemy and the state. The global societies and citizens are left with no option but to pick the side of the war that is deemed to be just and that which guarantees their existence. This dichotomy clearly played out in Bush’s address on September 21st of the same year when he explicitly stated “you are either with us or with the terrorists” – distinctively placing the world into two camps: the friends and the enemies.


The second strategy involves depicting the president as a hero who should possess less limited authority to deliver the task of obliterating the enemy. At times even when the leader overstretches his power and authority and infringes upon the civil liberties while grossly violating human rights, it is interpreted as a move that aids the president’s fight in defeating the common enemy. This augmentation of the presidential authority is sometimes intensively politicized using it as a tool to taint the image of the government critics by portraying them as enemy sympathizers whenever they dare speak about these overarching powers of the head of state and the ills of his government.

Although president Bush led a matured democracy with power checks systems in place, unilateral decisions such as his declaration of war on Iraq, disregard of International norms and laws and gross human right violations have all been rampant during his tenure as a sign of his show of power and authority. During such times, disinformation campaigns, waves of lies and media manipulation tend to be the order of the day with media freedom and other basic principles of democracy eroding.


Keen observation of Somalia president’s latest maneuvers in his war against Al-Shabaab bear a semblance to the aforesaid Bush doctrine. While delivering a speech he termed as “a strong and persuasive argument” at the Centre for the Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC during his first visit to the United States after election, president Hassan described Al-Shabaab as “an organization based on ideology that has no border and citizenship” and which ought to be treated as an international enemy rather than seeing it as only Somalia’s. While taking reference to Al-Shabaab’s incursions into the neighboring countries, the president questioned the validity of the containment strategy that had long sought to confine Al-Shabaab inside Somalia borders and prevented it from spilling over to the neighboring countries and to the rest of the world. At the same time, he announced “a change of paradigm” after the supposedly containment strategy failed to deliver the desired goal of eliminating the terror group.

In a similar Bush-like tone while speaking in Mogadishu after the killing of the city’s police chief by Al-Shabaab, the president declared there will be no “middle ground” in this war appealing to the Somali people to rally behind him in his effort to eliminate the terror group. He termed Al-Shabaab the common enemy of the Somali people. The friend-enemy dichotomy clearly came out here when he said to the audience “it is either you are with Al-Shabaab or against them” threatening to punish those who are “aiding” the enemy financially especially the business community and promising to seal all the illegal financial channels used by the terrorist group, a commendable task at face value!


By declaring Al-Shabaab an enemy with no border and citizenship, the president seeks to magnify their threat and depict them as a common enemy not only to the Somalis but to all the peace loving peoples globally. Apparently, there is a clear-cut convergence of words here. The declaration of the president that Al-Shabaab is “a borderless entity with no citizenship” and his “no middle ground” proclamation are in direct congruency with the Bush’s “International Terrorism” and his ruling out of “neutral ground” in that war. Here, a copy of an element of Bush’s doctrine, “perception of great threats” is displayed.

Understandably, what endeared president Hassan to borrow Bush’s ideologies may not be a sign of a remarkable ineptitude of him as some may tend to believe but rather, it seems to be the last-ditch-effort of a Somalia leader to stamp out Al-Shabaab by clutching any straw for strength. In his calculations, magnifying the group’s threats may get him new allies considering the broad support Bush’s war on International terrorism received.

In his CSIS address, he indicated that Somalia has grown weary of the 15-year Al-Shabaab terror and that there will be a shift of paradigm seeking to use every means available to defeat the group. In that sense, he may be intending to shore up international support and gather allies like those Mr. Bush called the “collective will of the world.” However, the viability of this copycat mechanism in Somalia is questionable.

In yet another bold declaration the president said his government intends to undertake grand strategies and chart new pathways solely intended for the betterment of the nation and the people. By citing the Somalia of yore under the Socialist government of president Mohamed Siad Barre, the president seemed to be nostalgic about days when the command of a political power defined the leader’s authority, ruling the country by decree and thus clearly showing his intent to embrace another element of Bush’s doctrine: unilateral action when necessary.

While it is unthinkable for Somalia of today – a nation disoriented by clan discombobulation and clan-constituted federal states to revert back to the good old days of Siad Barre, the president’s declarations spoke volumes about his impending plans to aggrandize his authority. After making these grand announcements, social media went abuzz with some news media reporting the president’s intent to declare a martial law, suspend parliamentary sessions and direct all government’s efforts toward the war on Al-Shabaab. While these revelations were unverifiable from the beginning, deferring them to a convenient later date remains a damning possibility – some observers pointing to the convenient date being after the much awaited return of the thousands of Eritrea-trained Somali troops.


However, the subsequent actions of the government after this bold declaration pointedly give a clear picture of how deeply the president is obsessed with authority aggrandizement. Unlike his predecessor who rarely approved heavy capital punishment on a whim, the president ordered the execution of several convicts including a soldier who assassinated the minister of public works and reconstruction in 2017. Additionally, his government enacted what it called “Al-Shabaab anti-propaganda law” shutting down suspected pro-Al-Shabaab media platforms and ordering the Journalists not to report anything about Al-Shabaab. The government went further and branded the group as “Khawarij” – which is a term dating back to the first deviators from the right Islamic path and the fringiest. People who sought justices in Al-Shabaab controlled areas also risk getting jailed and have their property confiscated.

Expectedly, critics of the government’s move to curtail the media freedom and the government opposition were branded “pro-Al-Shabaab” leading to the arrest of the Somali Journalist Syndicate (SJS) secretary general who raised concerns about the government’s latest moves to curtail media freedom. Similarly, waves of defamation campaigns spearheaded by prominent pro-government politicians and media personalities were unleashed upon the former president and his associates accusing them of derailing the war against Al-Shabaab. These successive but quick moves suggest that the president is testing the waters before the anticipated expansion of his presidential powers.


Seemingly, this copycat mechanism fell short of meeting the president’s expectations of getting allies and friends on his side to help him fight Al-Shabaab. While the USA had more than Forty countries on its side and the good will of almost every other country including its longtime rival, Russia, the story is different for Somalia. The first test that showed the backfiring of this borrowed strategy was Somalia’s plea and insistence to the Security Council about the removal of the three-decades old arms embargo so that it can equip its army to better deal with Al-Shabaab.

The president’s universalization of the threat of Al-Shabaab appeared to be a way of instilling concern to the Security Council members so they may fast-track the lifting of the arms moratorium. but in return, the members voted to maintain the embargo with 13 members supporting the extension and two abstaining. By failing to get even one vote of the 15 members that favors its appeals of embargo lift, Somalia has tacitly been told it is the ailing and lonely man in the desert.

More disappointing for Somalia, the two countries that the president considered closest friends, UAE and Kenya, both voted in favor of extending the embargo. Since coming to power, the president has actively been working to warm up Somalia’s relations with these two, conducting his first foreign visit after election to UAE and shortly after that striking a deal with Kenya that lifted the ban on Miraa with the hope that Kenya will stand with Somalia in its bid to have the arms embargo removed. This was a quick departure from the strained relations these two countries had with the former Farmaajo administration. At long last, the combination of plagiarizing a two-decade old doctrine and pursuit of intimacy-like relations with some countries did not pay off.


The Somali president is like a waiter in a restaurant – while his presence may be vital, he lacks the means to exert command and authority countrywide. In such environment, the president has been trying hard to maintain a façade of unity and show of presidential authority in his first six months by dispensing an air of anti-terror war hysteria. The intention behind declaring a war without adequate preparation and comprehensive strategy gives the impression that from the beginning, it was intended to keep the presidency relevant and generate some support from the public that can keep the president buoyant for some time. However, with the ongoing war seemingly losing momentum despite efforts to keep it going, cracks seem to be appearing in the circles of the ruling class.


With increased insecurity in the capital to the extent that Al-Shabaab wounded the security minister, hunting him down into his hotel room, the members of parliament have been so vocal in criticizing the government calling for greater accountability. Deadly inter-clan clashes have been raging elsewhere 130 Km outside Mogadishu with the cause being the doomed strategy of arming and mobilizing clans to fight Al-Shabaab. One of the federal states’ presidents has recently accused some members of the president’s camp of sabotaging the war on terror in his region while another one is increasingly growing suspicious of the central government – an indicative of the dissipation of the unity façade that the president has been trying to show. This is in addition to a disquiet about the president’s attempts to exert excessive influence onto the prime minister’s office that is likely to degenerate into an all-out confrontation.

These coupled with general antipathy of the public to the president’s use of clan balkanization to fight Al-Shabaab, largely undermining the role of the Somali National Army, renders the president’s ambitions of grand authority as the dream that had never been.


By all accounts, just six months into his presidency, his emulation strategy towards war on terror and his foreign policy moves to allure allies into his side – have been terrible failures and comparable to chasing a mirage.

Aden Ismail is an International Relations student and a concerned Somali citizen who keenly observes Somalia’s political landscape. Contact him by mail; [email protected]

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