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HASSAN KHAIRE: A PORTRAIT OF A CON ARTIST

Article

By Guled Hagi Hersi

A narcissist who always demanded a praise from his underlings. Failure to do so meant midnight sacking letters for an unspecified corruption.

A few months ago while on a business trip to Oslo, I met a Norwegian humanitarian professional who used to work for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an international NGO renowned for its impressive work. She asked me if I had known Hassan Ali Khaire, the Prime Minister of Somalia. I admitted that I never met him in person.

Hassan A Kheyre

What she revealed to me next triggered my quest to dig deeper into the PM and write this profile. This woman, who has since joined the private sector, had worked directly and indirectly with Khaire for about a decade. She had known him since he joined NRC in the early 2000s when they desperately wanted a Somali person to kick start their operations in Somalia. She mentioned that Khaire was recommended by the Ministry of Foreign of Affairs of Norway, for which Mr. Khaire “advised”—a code word for spying on the Somali community.

After a short period in Oslo to be familiarized with the NRC, she said Khaire was deployed to Nairobi to work in that office, and lay the foundation for NRC’s presence in Somalia. Mr. Khaire would cultivate friendships and networks in Kenya, before ultimately making his foray into Somalia around 2005 or 2006.

The future Prime Minister made contacts with the then vibrant civil society in Mogadishu. But it would take him years before he actually opens an office in the capital. He claimed that he needed years of relationship building and significant financial investment to establish NRC in Mogadishu. Eager to establish a foothold in a country with growing humanitarian needs, NRC pumped substantial amount of money to Mr. Khaire, who claimed that he was using the funds to “curve out a space for a Norwegian NGO in a volatile environment dominated by Muslims NGOs,” according to this woman.

Ultimately, Mr. Khaire opened the NRC office in Mogadishu, but he asked headquarters in Oslo that he is given “complete and unimpeded autonomy” to hire his staff due to security and political sensitivities. There, the woman said various reviews and audits have found his hiring practices and, more importantly, his contracting habits in a clear violation of the organization’s policies and procedures. But the organization looked the other way because they were so happy to have finally established an office in Somalia. According to this woman, “Khaire was even celebrated as a success story within an organization.”

Hassan Kheyre at the center with his security guards

Within few years, Khaire was promoted to the regional office where he would make a meteoric rise to become the Regional Director based in Nairobi. With Somalia and few other countries under his portfolio, Mr. Khaire intensified efforts to hire friends and family members to various positions. Most importantly, he greatly benefited from his position financially. He installed Kassim Gabowduale, another Somali-Norwegian who worked under him at NRC for a while as the head of NRC Somalia.

Following that discovery, I made few more contacts with people who have either worked with the PM at NRC, or worked in the sector and have known him professional and personally. I found many people who have known him while in Nairobi. Two former NRC officers and another professional who worked for a rival international NGO, pointed out a very specific case to illustrate the deeply corrupt practices of Khaire while at NRC.

The Mogadishu Schools Project

A number of colleagues raised the Mogadishu school rehabilitation project as the most blatant example of Mr. Khaire’s scandalous abuse of power and corruption. Around 2012, NRC made a proposal to the Somali Government to rehabilitate several schools and hospitals. One particular school was 15 May School, just around the corner from Villa Somalia. Eager to revive public education, the Government allowed NRC to rehabilitate the school merely months after Al Shabaab were ejected from Mogadishu.

Together with other schools in Mogadishu, the tender for the project was advertised, in line with NRC regulations. However, the contract was ultimately awarded to two companies owned by two of Mr. Khaire’s close relatives: Ismail Gooni, a well-known businessman in Mogadishu who currently owns Dayah Hotel, one of the largest hotels in the capital, and Asha Shaur Ugaas, a prominent women activist who had no previous business experience. The rehabilitation of the schools would cost millions of dollars. But what is ominous to this day, most of the schools remain unused by the Government or anyone else for that matter.

NIS Foundation

While at NRC, Mr. Khaire was also planning his exit strategy. Together with the former Special Envoy of Norway to Somalia, Jens Mjaugedal, Mr. Khaire established Norwegian International Support Foundation, widely known as NIS Foundation. It was founded around 2013. Khaire told everyone that NIS was his shop. Mjaugedal has told many diplomats and friends in Mogadishu and Nairobi that Khaire was his protégé—a fact reiterated by Mr. Khaire himself to so many people.

Immediately after NIS was established, Norway, represented by Mr. Mjaugedal, had approved an unprecedented direct financial support to the Government of Somalia. Known as the Special Financial Facility (SFF), the fund was the first of its kind in post-transitional Government. Millions of dollars was pumped through the SFF, a fund engineered by Mr. Mjaugedal in his capacity as Special Envoy, and was implemented on the ground by Mr. Khaire through his friendship with the Hassan Sheikh Government.

NIS foundation, which was retained as an implementing partner of SFF, hired Abdi Said Muse Ali, the current National Security Advisor, as its first Country Director. Abdi Said and Khaire had been friends in Nairobi for a while. The organization selected Jazeeera Hotel as its office and residency for key staff. Not so coincidently, Jazeera Hotel is managed by Khaire’s first cousin, Abdikarim Gaambe and his brothers. In addition to the SFF money, NIS foundation was quickly seen by many donors as a capable, nimble and trustworthy organization that can implement projects in Somalia. One such project was the installation of the solar lights across Mogadishu, and other cities.

Most strikingly, NIS Foundation subcontracted a company owned by Abdi Addow, another Somali Norwegian who happens to be Mr. Khaire’s first cousin. Mr. Addow has not only installed solar lights across Mogadishu, but he also installed them in many other cities in the country. It was an open secret in Mogadishu that Khaire owned the company, since Addow had neither the educational background nor the professional experience to do it. (Addow was a bus driver in Oslo).

Abdi Said and Khaire had a major fallout over corruption and mismanagement. When Abdi Said was fired by NIS Foundation under pressure from Khaire and Mjaugedal, he was then hired by the EU Office for Somalia, from where he used his position to malign Mr. Khaire as corrupt and linked to Al Shabaab. In 2015, the UN Monitoring Group claimed that Mr. Khaire had links to Al Shabaab, and used emails leaked to them by Abdi Said. The Monitoring Group ultimately retracted that claim and apologized to Mr. Khaire.

Following Abdi Said’s departure, NIS Foundation hired Kassim Gabowduale from NRC to be the Country Director. It was the second time Khaire hired Mr. Gabowduale. He remains the director (and just a few months ago, he married a cousin of Mr. Khaire). A loyalist and now a relative of Khaire, Gabowduale is known in Mogadishu for dolling out lucrative contracts to Khaire-sanctioned projects. A quick review of his Twitter feed will reveal that he is no humanitarian professional, but a political hack who pays on behalf of Khaire.

SOMA OIL

In 2014, Khaire abruptly resigned from NRC and was appointed “Africa Director” of a new, mysterious oil company based out of London. According to SOMA Oil documents, Khaire bought a two million dollar share in the new company (No honest NGO executive would ever be able to save that much money in five years). I found out that it was Mr. Mjaugedal, the Norwegian Special Envoy at the time, who connected SOMA Oil to Mr. Khaire.

Founded by a Lebanese businessman with a checkered background and financed by a Russian oligarch under sanctions in the USA (whose son still sits on SOMA Oil board), the company had all the hallmarks of an upstart designed to steal vast amounts of money from a poor country. The company began its exploration immediately, and started selling the data to big oil companies. It is unclear how much it made, since it remains a private company.

By then, Hassan Khaire had an unhindered access to the Somali Government. In Mogadishu, many people told me that he was known as the best friend of Hassan Sheikh and Farah Sheikh Abdulqadir, the former close advisor. Khaire rented an auspicious villa near the airport. His villa was considered the marquee spot to dine and gossip about Somali politics. For many politicians and businessmen, Khaire was the key to Hassan Sheikh.Meanwhile, the US and other Western governments grew wary of SOMA Oil and its murky business deals. Most people assumed that people in the upper echelon of Hassan Sheikh’s government were deeply involved in SOMA Oil.

As the 2016 elections came closer, Khaire became part and parcel of Hassan Sheikh’s re-election campaign, becoming the official campaign chairman. His job was twofold: a) beautify the increasingly ugly face of Hassan Sheikh’s deeply corrupt government to the Nairobi-based international community, and b) to serve as a guarantor of political deals between Hassan Sheikh and senior politicians, notably presidents of the regional states, with whom Hassan Khaire maintained a good relationship. Evidently, he was doing neither.

Double Agent

Despite his public persona as Hassan Sheikh’s campaign manager, Mr. Khaire was, in fact, also working for the campaign of Mohamed Farmaajo. The umbilical cord connecting Khaire to Farmaajo was Fahad Yasin, who has had extremely close relationship with Khaire for a very long time. The two own a number of businesses together. Khaire’s job for the Farmaajo campaign was to essentially steal secrets from the Hassan Sheikh campaign, including potential votes and allies. But his most important job was to financially support the bankrupt Farmaajo campaign. Several sources have confirmed to me that Khaire contributed over a million dollars to Farmaajo’s campaign through his cousin Abdikarim Gaambe. Farmaajo used Jazeera hotel as a base, free of charge.

Kheyre and his cabinet in a retreat.

Fahad promised the PM-ship to Khaire should they win. Exactly a week before the election in February 2017, Khaire secretly flew out of Mogadishu, without notifying his ‘best friend’ Hassan Sheikh. He turned off all of his known mobile numbers, and got married in Kenya. When Hassan Sheikh found out about the secret wedding, he knew something was fundamentally wrong. Khaire remained incommunicado with anyone until the election of Farmaajo.

To everyone’s dismay, he was appointed Prime Minister by President Farmaajo, who was elected on “change” mantra. While majority of the Somali people didn’t know Khaire, most political elites in Mogadishu were shocked by the appointment. How could this be “change” when the very man who was running Hassan Sheikh’s campaign is the PM? Even Hassan Sheikh’s team initially thought that the appointment was an olive branch by Farmaajo, only to find out that, in fact, he was secretly undermining them while he penetrated them so deeply.

Hours after his appointment, SOMA Oil came out with the most comical statement ever. It said that Khaire “fortified” his two million dollar shares with the company because of his new position. No one was fooled by that. That is the money Khaire used to support Farmaajo. Khaire continues to promote SOMA Oil. Last year, his cousin Gaambe was in London together with the Petroleum Minister, Abdirashid Sheekhaalow, secretly meeting with SOMA Oil. The PM is also working to expand the terms of SOMA Oil’s contract with the Somali Government. 

The Future of Khaire

Farmajo (left) with Kheyre

By now, it has become apparent to most people that the Prime Minister Khaire is a con artist of the highest order. His capacity to mask his real agenda is unmatched in Somali politics. Given how successful he crafted a fake image of a nationalist and a competent person, small wonder how he could maintain that. There are only two scenarios in Khaire’s future trajectory.

1) He will do what he is best known for, which is to fool President Farmaajo into a trap until the very last day and ultimately decapitate him. Many people told me that this was a very likely scenario. Farmaajo has always been lucky, but never cunning. Khaire has always been cunning as a fox. Khaire will likely explore the least resistant path to the presidency while he is a PM. However, that ambition had eluded the last 10 Prime Ministers.

2) Khaire will be discovered by everyone for what he truly is: a professional con artist who mastered the art of manipulation and professional heist. His political career will be short lived, much like others before him. History will judge him mercilessly for stabbing the backs of everyone who trusted him. He will leave the country unloved by everyone for cheating on them.

Regardless of whichever trajectory he takes, Khaire has already made his mark. As one of his former ministers told me recently, the man is a narcissist who always demanded a praise from his underlings. Failure to do so meant midnight sacking letters for an unspecified corruption.

Guled Hagi Hersi

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Guled is an economist by training and management consultant by trade. He can be reached Email: guledhhersi@gmail.com