Yusuf Haji: a strategist in resolution of crisis


Mohamed Yusuf Haji. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Career administrator Mohamed Yusuf Haji also known as Maxamed Yuusuf Xaaji is a man so well-versed in government and political affairs that it is never surprising when he is tasked with coming up with solutions to challenging situations.

The 78-year-old Garissa senator has endeared himself to friend and foe alike by not shying away from controversial issues that are troublesome to resolve.

Kenya has in different but tricky situations relied on the services of Mr Haji and his sons, Abdul Haji, and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Mohamed Haji in a bid to turn things around.

Kenyans were impressed with Mr Abdul's fearless confrontation of the Al Shabab militia that stormed Westgate Mall in September 2013, killing more than 70 people.

And the ongoing fight against plunder of public resources, wanton abuse of public offices, failure to pay taxes and human rights-related abuses, among other ills, is being spearheaded by the media-shy Mr Noordin.

The senior Haji who chairs the Building Bridges (BBI) Initiative taskforce spent the past year crisscrossing the country where he listened to 7,000 people and received various memoranda. BBI report was handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday.

Mr Haji is a quiet but strategic schemer who has always kept close to State House since his days as an administrator between 1970 and 1998. He was later nominated to Parliament and elected unopposed in 2002 and 2007 as Ijara MP. Mr Haji, now in his second term as Garissa senator, always speaks his mind no matter the situation. In the BBI report, Mr Haji’s stand that some MPs be appointed as cabinet secretaries has been included.

“The current non-MP cabinet secretaries have lost touch with the people and can hardly advise the president properly about problems in rural areas. In fact no one has been to my home constituency of Ijara like the former MP-cabinet secretaries used to do. The current CSs hardly travel outside Nairobi,” he said.

At home in northern Kenya, Mr Haji moved fast to tackle the Al-Shabab menace that saw the Kenya army personnel raid Al-Shabab turfs in Somalia.

On the homefront, Mr Haji openly advocated a conciliatory tone where local elders and elected leaders were actively engaged in seeking intelligence about the proscribed grouping.

In 2015, Mr Haji, then serving as Defence minister openly criticised Kenya’s move where police raided manyattas (traditional huts) in hunt for the insurgent group’s members.

This, he said, was a losing strategy and proposed that all government functionaries including local government officials must endear themselves to local communities living along the Kenyan border with a view to collecting credible intelligence.

“You cannot win this kind of a war by coercion, threats or mistreatment of the people from whom you want to get information. When people are mishandled, the only information you get is the information you want to hear,” he said.

“You can get credible intelligence when you engage local people who speak that language and risk their lives to penetrate the militia ranks and go to places that are not easy to access. This can only be done by local people,” he said.

Mr Haji has always vouched for heavy State investments in the northern frontier areas to facilitate education and technical training which he believes is important in redefining the future of the region.

During his tenure as a provincial commissioner, then President Moi used Mr Haji’s negotiation skills to calm warring factions in the late 1990s.

Mr Haji recently teamed up with former National Assembly Speaker Francis ole Kaparo to spearhead peacebuilding efforts among Degodia and Garre communities living in Wajir and Mandera counties.

All these challenges that he has taken head on demonstrate that Senator Haji is a valuable negotiator wherever conflict is found. His latest BBI role can only serve to cement his legacy as a go-to man in times of political crisis.