It must be heart-breaking for the delegation of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre to learn that Somalia’s right to vote at the UN was suspended due to arrears on his first visit. The news which was made embarrassingly public today by the UN adds to the diplomatic woes of the new administration which only a few weeks ago had a letter written by the Foreign Minister, Yusuf Garaad, to the US Ambassador to Somalia seeking military assistance against Al-Shabaab leaked.
The UN General Assembly is the annual international festival of diplomacy where world leaders share their vision with the world while settling political scores in full view of the world.
Somalia has been a member of the UN since its independence and this is the first time in history that its right to vote has been suspended due to arrears. It is not surprising that Somalia is unable to pay its membership fees to the UN and other multilateral bodies including IGAD, African Union and the Arab League because of the legacy of civil war and the fragile revenue base. While Somalia is undoubtedly one of the poorest nations in the UN, it could have averted diplomatic embarrassments like the suspension of votes by simple diplomatic representation and honesty.
Under Article 19 of the Charter, a Member State in arrears in the payment of its dues in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for two preceding years like Somalia can lose its vote in the General Assembly.
However, an exception is allowed if the Member State can show that conditions beyond its control contributed to this inability to pay. Why was this clause not used as a defence by the Somali Mission in New York? Somalia has an exceptional case given the history of civil war and the fact that the UN has a humanitarian mission operating here.
While it is certainly not the highlight of the UN General Assembly for most, the Prime Minister, acting for the President Farmaajo, will be addressing the UN General Assembly within the next few days. Given the embarrassing start both this speech and the special event on Somalia organised for tomorrow must deliver to reassure both the Somali people and international partners.
Aside from the speeches, the bilateral meetings are crucial for communicating this administration’s current vision, successes and challenges. It is important that the Somali delegation give a unified message given that the delegation itself is so diverse.
The Somali delegation must demonstrate the best of international diplomacy as a result of the current disastrous divisions at home driven by some regional federal member states support for Saudi Arabia and UAE against Qatar which is in direct contrast to the Federal Government’s position of neutrality. Perhaps even more embarrassingly, Minister Yusuf Garaad must find a way to appease all the partners he isolated in his ill-though out letter to the US Ambassador seeking military and intelligence support and partnership to crush Al-Shabaab which the Government already claims in public is weak and losing.
Despite all the challenges and setbacks, the Somali Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, as head of delegation, must ensure his team delivers for Somalia. This means changing the narrative through persuasive and passionate delivery of his General Assembly speech and reassuring partners in bilateral meetings that his administration is ready for change and to manage progress effectively. More simply but crucially, the Federal Government of Somalia must also allocate a budget for paying for membership of international organisations. Where this is not immediately possible, an interim agreement to pay arrears and current obligations in instalments is easily achievable.
Diplomacy is the art of the possible and the Somali Federal Government must not be its own obstacle.