The Covid-19 story
It’s been said that every nation is three meals away from a revolution. This
principle had never before been tested in so many countries simultaneously as
it was in the 2020s.
At first many held onto the hope that everything would soon go back to
normal, but as the long term realities of the decade set in, more and more
people would come to the same startling conclusion: the ‘authorities’ were out
of their depth. There was no exit strategy. The situation was not ‘under
In the early stages of the crisis, when the first few governments were
collapsing, very few realized how the confluxes of economic, geopolitical and
social variables were coalescing in a perfect storm. But when G20 nations
started dropping like flies the phenomenon it became impossible to ignore. Like
dominoes falling, the collapse of one major economy destabilized every country
connected to it. In the age of globalization very few would be spared.
What began as a trickle suddenly accelerated as the downfall that
precipitated an unprecedented shock to global supply chains. Imports ground to
a halt all around the world. In countries dependent on outsourced food
production and manufacturing this translated into widespread shortages and
social unrest. In these environment extremist movements of all stripes
A small handful of nations would weather this storm peacefully. Rather than
tearing themselves apart from within or transforming into totalitarian
dictatorships, they would unify and adapt. As economic and monetary shocks
disrupted global supply chains and trade, these countries would quickly
reorganize their economies to replace imports with local production starting
with food and essentials. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels was an important
element of this transition.
To accomplish this feat every aspect of modern life was reimagined. Lawns
were replaced by gardens; golf courses converted to orchards. Waste streams
were recuperated to minimize losses. It wasn’t easy, but these countries pulled
through, and before the decade was over, they were building regional trade
networks that hadn’t existed before the crisis.
A lot of wealthy countries didn’t do so well in the second phase of the
crisis; the part where real hardship kicked in. Populations accustomed to easy
living and constant entertainment had a very short fuse. As shortages and
rationing became the new normal and homeless encampments grew, protests would
morph into riots, armed uprisings and civil wars.
Governments that were ill prepared for these challenges crumbled quickly;
some into the hands of populist movements, others to military juntas. In most
cases the replacement was more brutal and repressive that the old system. The
underlying paradigm was rarely questioned at all.
Many regimes would extend their lifespan by totalitarian means. Emergency
powers established under lockdown would prove invaluable here. Policies
previously justified by public health would now be implemented in the name of
national security; control mechanisms adapted and repurposed to crack down on
It was every petty dictator’s wet dream: granular control over every aspect
of human behavior and interaction. No one allowed gathering in public without
permission. Every contact tracked and traced. If you’re outside you better be
prepared to show your papers.
This approach was most effective when the latent fears and hatreds of the
population could be rallied against an enemy. Convince a people that they are
under attack and it’s easy to unify them under a flag.
Rather than rioting in the streets, impoverished youth can be conscripted
into the military. Their identities shattered and remolded; conditioned to
obey; trained to kill on command. Send them abroad to steal land and resources.
Use them at home to crush dissent. War is after all the health of the state.
Regardless of which axis prevailed in these conflicts the result would be
the same. A new totalitarian order was the universal prescription; the only
cure for the chaos.
The world’s first truly global currency would replace the notes. This
currency would be completely digital; coins and bank notes phased out. Every
single transaction conducted using this currency would be recorded on a block
chain. Unlike the original crypto currencies this block chain was controlled by
a central authority and monitored with AI. Economic privacy became a thing of
It was the holy grail of ruling elite, the precursor for global governance
with teeth, but before they even had time to properly congratulate themselves,
their house of cards was already catching wind.
As living conditions deteriorate, and fear and uncertainty prevail, certain
psychological forces are always unleashed. These forces are like the incoming
waves of a tsunami. Once they gather momentum there can be no stopping them.
Throughout history there have been individuals and movements who rode these
waves; channeling the tides of human sentiment towards a course of action.
Though the science of crowd psychology is complex and nuanced, the application
of its principles is mind bogglingly simple. So simple in fact, those
intellectuals typically recoil from them, while bonafide idiots wield them
easily (and to great effect).
Like riding a tsunami on a surfboard, attempting to redirect the momentum of
a society is highly dangerous. The crowd can lift a leader to great heights,
but one mistake can leave them hanging from a lamp post. Those who manage to
navigate these forces usually guard the formula carefully. Failure to do so
would threaten the foundations of their power. This time around however,
humanity flipped the script.
In the age of the internet the science of crowd psychology and color
revolutions had been available to the public for some time now, but very few
saw the utility in studying it. However as the 2020s progressed, and it became
more and it became more clear that that those in power were pushing
civilization toward a dystopian nightmare, a contingent of activists would
reverse engineer the tools being used against them. The work of Gustave Le Bon
and Edward Bernays would be modernized and tempered with a cultural code: the
positive application of human instinct.
The instinctual psychology of species can be harnessed for good or for evil.
In the modern era it has been weaponized by the military industrial complex for
regime change, and by corporations for marketing and public relations. The same
principles however can apply to create rather than destroy. Visions and values
can spread like viruses from mind to mind, and from place to place. The
contagion of a single idea can inspire generations towards a new paradigm.
To topple a government is surprisingly easy when conditions are right.
Silver spoon politicians who’ve never served or worked a day in their life can
easily lose the respect and obedience of military and law enforcement. When
that happens, it is game over. The question that always comes up in such events
(usually as an afterthought) is what will you replace the old system with?
There is nothing more dangerous than armed men with utopian dreams.
Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. History provides many
cautionary tales. To avoid the trap of oppressed rising up to become the
oppressor the paradigm that facilitates this dynamic has to be questioned.
The vast majority of modern governments, businesses and organizations
utilize a social structure called vertical collectivism. Vertical collectivism
is top down system of organizing human groups which amplifies power by stacking
layers of authority in pyramids. The result is a highly stratified society
where those on the bottom have little or no say, and are left to fight over
scraps from above.
Vertical collectivism is apolitical. Capitalists companies and Communist
regimes both use it without contradiction, as do republics that call themselves
The vertical model was born of military strategy. A general or warlord alone
can only control a small army, but by using subordinate officers in layers of
rank, a single individual, or a small ruling class can dominate millions of
people and vast territories. This is why a state is often defined as the
monopoly on violence within a region.
Vertical collectivism didn’t spread to every corner of the globe because it
improved peoples’ lives. In fact modern anthropologists acknowledge that the
transition to this way of life was associated with reduced life expectancy and
a decline in virtually all measures in health (up until very
recently). Vertical collectivism spread like a cancer because it is brutally
effective in the in the context of war. Every culture that it encountered was
either crushed on the battlefield or forced to copy the model to survive. The
dawn of civilization as many euphemistically refer to it is a story of conquest
and colonialization that began approximately 10,000 years ago and continues to
this day. This was not however, the beginning of the human story.
For over 300,000 years long before the first empires of Asia and Europe
began to absorb surrounding tribes humans organized themselves using a very
different model. Rather than building top down, stratified societies that
concentrated wealth and power in the hands of an upper class, these cultures
Organizing horizontally didn’t mean that there were no leaders. The
authority and instincts are far older than humanity. Like all social animals,
our species is hardwired to follow those who demonstrate courage and
intelligence. However in horizontal societies disparities of wealth and power
were significantly smaller. The leaders and councils responsible for group
decisions were not insulated by armies and law enforcement conditioned to obey
without question. Defense and order were maintained by an armed citizenry,
bound by a code of conduct. This dynamic forced leaders to be directly
accountable to the population. Their power was rooted in their ability to
communicate with the people, build consensus and chart a course of action to
the benefit of all.
The fact that horizontal societies required leaders to work with the public
in such a personal way had one obvious disadvantage: it limited the size of the
group. After all, why would someone voluntarily follow
someone far away that they never met?
There is however, a way around this limitation. By forming federations
horizontal societies can expand their sphere influence significantly. An
example of this adaptation can be found in the Iroquois confederacy which
unified 5 tribes for hundreds of years in the region that came to be called New
York. Each member tribe in the confederacy had their own culture and internal
governance, but a set of shared values enabled them to cooperate economically
and militarily. If one tribe was attacked they quickly mounted a common
Many historians believe that Somalia federal system was based on the
Iroquois model. One significant difference however, was that the Iroquois had
no central government. There was a central council comprised
of representatives from each tribe, but this council had no power to enforce
its will. Each representative was tasked with building a consensus that would
resonate with their people.
A modernized adaptation of this Iroquois model gained traction in the mid
2020s as the gears of globalization ground to a halt. While governments proved
incapable of solving the most basic problems, decentralized networks were
replacing the system from the ground up. They would start by organizing local
food production in their communities and gradually expand cooperation to other
Their revolution was driven by an idea worth spreading. Not only was it
possible to live on this planet without destroying it, this way of life was
more abundant and fulfilling than the alternative. There was no need to wait
for governments to act. Humans are perfectly capable of organizing themselves.
Those that succeeded became epicenters of a new renaissance; attracting
skilled workers and artists from all around the world. Some of these travelers
would put down permanent roots. Others would return to their homeland to plant
seeds of their own.
From the fragments of fallen empires new nations would be born. From the
ashes of dying cultures new cultures would rise. The great collapse of the
2020s was not the end of the world. It was the end of an era, and the dawn of a
Time to Flip the Script
Remember how we said this story has multiple endings? We’re going take one
of them to a literal extreme; and we’re going to do it in the real world.
Now if you’re living in a crowded city center, maybe pushing the boundaries
starts by planting a garden in your front yard, organizing a community compost,
or speaking out against a war. However it’s important to understand that in the
era we have entered the stakes are rising, and the trajectory we’re on needs to
be altered significantly. This implies fundamental changes in the way we live,
not just gestures in right direction.
Those who piece together the clues get through the filters, and pass
quarantine will at some point find them standing here.
You have to decide what kind of story you and your family want to be a part
of. In some cases this might involve immigrating to another country. Others
will be more inclined to stay, and fight to change the outcome at home. One way
or the other you’ll want to be in a place where you can grow food and you’ll
want to be set up to do this without agrochemical inputs or fossil fuels.
You also don’t want to be reliant on the grid. Utilities can and will go
down. Some will be shocked by how long they can stay down.
These are not the kind of lifestyle changes you want to make at the last
moment, or put off until you can do something large scale. It is far better to
start transitioning to a new way of life right now. Do what you can with what
you have. Join forces with others to amplify.
The learning curve for this kind of transition can be steep. There are a lot
of practical skills that we should be taught in school but are not. Most kids
when they graduate… don’t know how to build a house, or grow a garden, or even
how to make bread.
The best way to learn this stuff isn’t really in a classroom anyway. People
learn best by example, anchored with hands on experience.
Don’t Blame Me for Delaying Somalia’s Elections
To avoid a power vacuum after my four-year mandate as Somalia’s president ended on Feb. 8, Somalia’s House of the People passed legislation in 2020 to ensure that the political transfer of power rightfully happens only through elections. This means that the current elected officials have to remain in office until they are reelected or replaced through the electoral process.
Somalia’s elections have been delayed not because I wish to cling to power, as some have falsely argued, but because of a political impasse that has led to a division between Somalia’s federal government and some of its member states on the way forward.
At the core of the disagreement is a conflict between my government’s goal of universal suffrage through direct elections and those who insist on an indirect election model that empowers elites and denies ordinary citizens a vote. It is time for the international community to ask: Why must a select few clan elders and leaders of the federal member states hold the Somali people hostage every four years? And why must the private interests of this small elite silence the voices of the millions of people they claim to represent?
In Somalia since 2012, all presidents, including myself, have been elected to a four-year term. But given that the country’s future leadership must be determined through an inclusive democratic process, the 2021 elections were delayed to fulfill this requirement. In the last two elections, Somali clan elders played a major role in selecting the political representatives for entire communities under a strict clan power-sharing formula.
These clan elders represented, and still do, the five major Somali clans that share governance powers within Somali society. Since all previous elections were indirect and concentrated enormous political power and influence in the hands of 135 clan elders, I was keen to prepare an improved model for elections rather than maintain the status quo. The fact that there were sequential peaceful transfers of power in Somalia in the past, despite the delays in all previous elections, is a testament to the increasing political maturity of our fragile state.
In Somalia, our federal model also necessitates a strong partnership between the federal government and the five federal member states, namely Puntland, Jubaland, South West, Galmudug, and Hirshabelle. These federal member states play a key role in the national electoral process. Given that Somalia is a representative democracy, the federal member states are vital constituencies for political representatives in both the House of the People and Senate, with the latter solely representing their interests at the federal government level.
From the beginning of my tenure starting February 2017, my government opened the political space for dialogue in advance of any electoral process to all the federal member states, which are the main election stakeholders. In fact, it was always our clear ambition to transition Somalia from indirect elections to full universal suffrage within my four-year term, and it seemed possible after we reached an agreement with the federal member states in June 2018.
This was not immediately possible, however, because all five federal member states reneged on the agreement. Instead, they opted for a renegotiated election model, because they opposed the multiparty system based on proportional representation that returned power to the people and excluded the established monopoly of clan elders.
With much regret and dismay on the part of the main stakeholders, including federal lawmakers who wanted multiparty elections, an indirect election was negotiated and agreed to on Sept. 17, 2020, as the way to preserve and build on our national democratic traditions and aspirations.
In all post-conflict and fragile recovering states, state-building processes are constantly negotiated and shaped by dialogue and compromise. Trust is also in short supply. Understanding this all too well, I accepted the September 2020 agreement, which was finalized by a panel of technical experts representing the federal government and its member states. It was a dramatic shift from the goal of universal suffrage to return to a clan-based model simply to accommodate the continuously shifting views and needs of the federal member states.
This agreement and its implementation processes provided a clear road map and reasonable schedule to meet the election timeline. This process broke down as soon as Puntland and Jubaland leaders returned from their trip to the United Arab Emirates and Kenya—two countries which Somalia did not enjoy strong bilateral relations with—in late November 2020.
Then, last month, the Somali House of the People, in line with its constitutional mandate, decided that the only way to remedy this paralyzing situation and to preserve Somalia’s nascent democracy was to return to the aspiration of universal suffrage within no more than two years. This period was necessary to effectively prepare the elections.
Sadly, despite the independence of the lawmakers, this action was framed as an illegal term extension on the part of the federal government by the opposition and some of Somalia’s key international partners, including the United Nations, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, to name but a few. In fact, this was a perfect opportunity to end the clan model’s monopoly over Somalia’s political future.
Following the majority vote of the House of the People, I signed the universal suffrage bill, which stipulated that the elections must be held within a two-year period. Despite misguided and highly politicized national and international uproar, this was genuinely the only way to break the political stalemate and respond to the Somali people’s aspirations to shape their own political destiny.
Yet again, the federal government compromised after the outbreak of violence instigated by members of the opposition. Furthermore, in line with our commitment to compromise and the need to preserve national unity and protect the security of our citizens, we returned to Parliament and I personally requested the House of the People to revert to indirect elections, which it unanimously voted for on May 1.
By the end of this month, we will, once again, return to the table to finalize the agreement to implement the indirect elections. The process will be led by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, and we will ensure that it is as inclusive as could be within the limitations of an indirect election and that it happens at the earliest possible opportunity.
Unfortunately, the political fragility of Somalia at present defies the established practical and healthy democratic tradition of majority rule, due to demands for total unanimity. Securing electoral consensus in Somalia means convincing absolutely all stakeholders, all the time, and on all issues.
This is what makes Somalia’s extremely unique and inclusive governance incredibly challenging. Indirect elections are clearly not ideal or sustainable. They also do not represent the genuine will of the people. Nevertheless, after a difficult negotiation process, they are all Somalia has now.
As a lifelong believer in the values of democracy who has proudly worked in public service in the United States and Somalia, I strongly believe in expanding the political space to create a truly thriving, durable, and inclusive democratic politics in Somalia.
Many of the remaining challenges of Somalia’s state-building processes stem from exclusionary elite demands centered on patriarchal clan identity. This does not serve the Somali people’s democratic or developmental interests for the long term.
The recent regrettable political violence in Somalia was opportunistically presented as a measure of last resort by those instigating it, but there is no shortcut to a democratic transition in Somalia.
Somalia still faces major state-building and developmental challenges. It is evident that the top-down state-building process is not delivering universal suffrage for the people. In the future, more bottom-up approaches must be encouraged and supported. However, we are determined that our democratic transitions will always be Somali-owned and Somali-led.
To that end, we will, and must always, strive for universal suffrage while implementing the current indirect elections so Somalia escapes the painful recurrent fragility trap in the short term and all of its people can elect their leaders in the long term.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is the president of the Federal Republic of Somalia.