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|The Poisoning Of Somaliland Politics|
By: Ahmed M. I. Egal
Since the extremely narrow UDUB victory in the Presidential elections a year ago in April 2003, the political scene in Somaliland has become increasingly polarized and more partisan to the point that there is no longer any dialogue between the government and the opposition party of Kulmiye, but instead the exchange of abuse and name calling. This trade in invective and slander is also apparent, to an even more reckless degree, among the supporters of both the government and Kulmiye as is evidenced by the increasingly acerbic and abusive missives posted on the Somaliland websites. I have personally written two articles criticizing the Chairman of Kulmiye, Mr. Silanyo, however I have never engaged in the kind abuse and vilification that seems to have become the common tender of political discourse. Indeed, while I disagree with Mr. Silanyo politically, I have met him and have always accorded him the respect due to an elder statesman.
However, the issue is not simply one of the debasement of political discourse in Somaliland, although this is a troubling development in itself, rather the matter of greater concern is that the political arena in Somaliland itself is no longer a healthy one in which different philosophies, viewpoints and policies are debated and discussed, but has become poisoned to the extent that each protagonist paints the other as the personification of evil. Thus, Kulmiye casts President Rayale and his government as faqash remnants that have no moral claim to govern Somaliland, while the government characterizes Kulmiye as a traitorous fifth column who will willingly sacrifice the country’s independence in their pursuit of office. As is inevitable in such situations of extreme political partisanship, this slanging match has degenerated to personal attack and abuse, which is not only unseemly (especially from the mouths of senior members of both sides who are expected to set an example for others), but also denigrates and cheapens the political atmosphere of the country as a whole.
It is healthy, even necessary, in a democracy for there to exist a high level of emotional commitment and partisanship in political debate and discourse. Indeed, strongly held views are the very fodder of political debate throughout the world and it is the commitment and energy of those who feel most strongly about issues that bring them to the attention of the wider public. I am not, by any means, decrying commitment and partisanship in Somaliland politics – after all I am partisan about some of my views and, at the lowest common denominator, all Somalilanders are partisan about their independence from Somalia. But it is true to say that what we now have in Somaliland is not political partisanship, but the politics of destruction. Destruction of reputation, destruction of persona, destruction of respect for each other, destruction of respect for ourselves, destruction of respect for institutions and office, destruction of political life itself.
Given the already low level of personal attack and counter-attack between Kulmiye and the government now, when campaigning has not begun in earnest, one can only imagine what the future holds with trepidation and a heavy heart for the shining example of multiparty democracy that Somaliland put before the rest of Africa and Arabia. Make no mistake, my fellow Somalilanders, the political arena that we are creating for ourselves will eventually lead to one of three outcomes:
Instability and autocracy through a succession of coups and military regimes;
A one party state that makes a mockery of democracy; or
Anarchy arising out of a collapsed state as has bedeviled Somalia during the last 14 years.
We, the people of Somaliland, whatever our political affiliation may be, must put an end to this pollution of our political environment wherein slander and abuse pass for political disagreement. We must demand an end to the descent into gutter politics where a government minister seeks to connect Kulmiye to the terrorist assault on the aid workers recently, and where top Kulmiye leaders routinely characterize the President and his ministers as faqash remnants, while Kulmiye, exclusively it seems from their statements, are the heroic Mujahids of the SNM. The government must learn to distinguish between opposition and treason, opposing the government’s policies and political perspective is not the same as committing treason against the nation. For its part, Kulmiye must learn that the government owes it no obligation to include it in policy making, they are the government of the day and governing is not only their right and prerogative, it is their sworn duty.
Engaging in childish name calling only demeans and denigrates the name callers, while disrespecting the offices of government demeans the function of government itself. Since Kulmiye hopes to be the government one day, this hurts them as much as the present holders of these offices, while doing a great disservice to the country as a whole.
It is not my aim to apportion blame for this sorry state of Somaliland
politics since playing the blame game serves no purpose. The truth of the
matter is that both sides, the government and Kulmiye, have to shoulder
their share of the blame and both of them are guilty of the degeneration of
political discourse. The world has finally taken note of Somaliland’s
unassailable claim for international recognition and we have won the
sympathy and support of many countries for our position. We are facing the
last, doomed attempts at destabilization from the vampiric warlords of
Somalia in Sool & Sanag region and we have the last test of our democracy in
the form of the upcoming parliamentary elections to complete. This is not
the time for us to stumble at the last hurdle by succumbing to the politics
of personality, kinship and character assassination. What is needed is for
the leadership of both sides to take firm, public and bold steps to rein in
their attack dogs and make clear that they will not tolerate gutter
politics. President Rayale and Mr. Silanyo have to show leadership and begin
the process of cleaning up our political environment. For our part, we the
public must punish those guilty of defamation and incitement by spurning
them and their machinations.