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Mogadishu mayor challenges stodgy status quo as key reform plans take shape

Making reforms in Somalia where corruption had long posed a major challenge to state-building process appeared an impossible mission for leaders, thus opting to give a helpless blind eye thus preserving the status quo at the expense of the troubled nation, rather than moving to challenge it for the better.

By John Thiongo, john@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – Too often in Somalia, new leaders with a radical agenda have started off with rosy promises for a better service delivery, only to petrify into ineffective double-dealers.

Making reforms in Somalia where corruption had long posed a major challenge to state-building process appeared an an impossible mission for leaders, thus opting to give a helpless blind eye thus preserving the status quo at the expense of the troubled nation, rather than moving to challenge it for the better.

But things are now turning in order decades later, thanks to the post-war sweeping reforms pushed by the new Mogadishu mayor Thabit Abdi, initially viewed by many in his city as a compromise candidate. But less than eight months into the office, his radical reforms have the horn of Africa nation in awe.

Having been appointed as the Mogadishu mayor, Mr. Abdi, the youngest mayor the city ever had has immediately sought to build bridges, vowing ‘positive’ contributions for the city’s 4 million population within a short period of time.

It wasn’t an easy goal, but he remained steadfast in his resolve for making much-needed changes to allow Mogadishu’s long-overdue transition to a new era of development and goal-driven progress, turning the stumbling blocks into stepping stones, a drive which started to early success.

Acting upon his initial promise, the Mogadishu mayor has immediately proved his critics wrong through his work by dispelling potential sparks of comparisons with his predecessors, having unwrapped boldest set of key reforms, a strategy which sought balancing the demands and expectations of the people with interest of the government.

THE DECISIVE RESULTS

Embarking on his new reforms, the Mogadishu mayor’s daring attempt to break cultural taboos against women who have been almost entirely excluded from political and judicial structures in the country has taken the country by the storm.

Mogadishu mayor Thabit Abdi has started the new reforms by appointing Maluko Abdiqadir as his first deputy followed by the appointment of another woman as the administration’s secretary.

Fighting against the stigma around women joining politics in the conservative horn of Africa, Thabit Abdi has made sure women made a political foothold in his administration, appointing two women as his deputy and the first secretary of the local government, making him the first mayor of Mogadishu to do so.

The move which has drawn praise among the public is seen as an attempt to bring to an end the systematic discrimination against women in Somalia.

Despite women’s struggling of gaining ground in the male-dominated Somali politics, Mr. Abdi had more plans to empower women and change the scant female representation in the government.

Among the new reforms implemented by the Mogadishu mayor Thabit Abdi is the appointment of five women as district commissioners.

Just one month after he took office, he appointed 5 women as district commissioners, an unusual step that raised hopes for women to make through the country’s hall of power.

DROPPING CORRUPTION TAG

For years, Somalia has repeatedly topped the world’s most corrupt states index, a problem long attributed to its leaders’ tolerance towards corruption by civil servants and officials, but Mogadishu’s current mayor was buoyant in his new battle against corruption, which has shown an early progress.

For months, he talked tough about dealing with endemic corruption that has weakened his country for so long; something which has apparently prompted him to implement rigorous anti-corruption measures that officials said helped enhance the accountability and transparency efforts.

Several senior officials implicated in corruption charges have since been dismissed.

Mr. Abdi who believes that the corruption would boost the weakened rebel group, Al Shabab which is fighting to topple the UN-backed government, says that tackling corruption a key priority for his administration.

“It’s a menace that must be brought to an end sooner than later.” He said.

TRANSPARENCY INDICATOR

For many years, local government’s employees have been paid in cash, a scenario which officials believe made easier for corrupt officials and supervisors to steal their hard-earned monthly salaries due to lack of transparent mechanism that also created ghost employees owing to weak verification process.

However, a new payment system implemented by the Mogadishu mayor who pays employees through their bank accounts appears to be eliminating once recurrent complaints of missing payments by public servants and restored confidence among public workers.

HUMANITARIAN POINTERS

In Somalia where over twenty years of conflict has led to the condition of abject poverty, with the destruction of infrastructure, economy and institutions, poor patients with special health conditions that require a more sophisticated medical attention abroad than that their country’s medical system can provide often die in silence due to lack of funds to cover their medical expenses.

Mogadishu mayor Thabit Abdi bids farewell to a child with specific health conditions, having arranged his trip and medical packages.

The wealthier fellow citizens and government officials have rarely bothered to come to their assistance. But for them, signs of hope have surfaced in recent months, thanks to the Mogadishu mayor who stepped in, arranging the medical and trip expenses abroad for several terminally ill patients with serious health conditions

“We shall stretch our hands to the needy people as far as it goes – that’s all we can.” Said the popular mayor who has recently become a unifying figure for his troubled nation soon after the country lost nearly 1000 people in the deadliest attack in the Somali capital on October 14.

Shaken by the powerful bombing, Mogadishu residents had their leaders behind their back at that time round.  As the country’s president and prime minister rushed from hospitals to the others, Mr. Abdi has moved to comfort relatives of blast victims, covering medical expenses of dozens of victims and donated his blood to the hospitals overwhelmed by the blast causalities.

POLITICAL BATTLE

Besides his humanitarian work, Mr. Thabit is also waging a political battle aimed at securing his city’s political space in the face of opposition by regional leaders who argued that Mogadishu should merely maintain its capital status, a suggestion which would effectively exclude Mogadishu from the country’s decision-making process, an idea refused by him.

The mayor who regularly attends meeting with leaders of the country’s regional states is confident that it’s a matter of time that Mogadishu retains its political status.

PAST GLORY CHASE

Under his administration, Somali capital has also re-established working relations with capital cities in Africa and beyond, with the mayor of Rome has recently sent an official invitation to the Mogadishu mayor. The two men who discussed about ranges of issues have reportedly agreed to strengthen their ties.

Despite challenges, the new reforms by his administration spurred by the government’s catchphrase ‘Peace and Life’ have had a significant impact on the lives of many, with 1000 young men have been employed by the local government in a new job creation initiative to ease employment challenges facing the country’s young generation that continue to flee the country by taking dangerous journeys in the sea to Europe or Middle East in a desperate attempt to get a better life.

“We have undertaken more important projects including road construction projects, promoting youth and sports and solving land disputes.” Mr. Abdi said of some of his administration’s latest development undertakings.

(Additional reporting by Alleastafrica reporter in Mogadishu, editing by Judy Maina)

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