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Somaliland & Somalia: The Gathering Storm
There is a lot of hoopla and celebration in Nairobi over creation of the so-called Federal Government of the Somali Republic. Alas! Isn’t this all premature?
This is not a cynical question. Nor do I mean any malice towards the Southerners assembled in Nairobi. This is a careful and insightful assessment of the outcome of the years-long conference that was supposed to bring back peace and sanity to Somalia. Alas!
I hoped that after this conference the Somalis would get their house in order. I hoped that they will follow the shining example of Somaliland by reconciling the differences that exist between their different communities and regions. I hoped that, like Somaliland, they will form a democratic and inclusive government that will return security and tranquility to their country. Alas! My hopes turned out to be only wishes.
Instead the seeds of further tragedy and mayhem have been sown at Nairobi. The discord between the Somali-speaking peoples has been reinforced. The scourge of tribalism which had brought Somalis nothing but disaster has been given new license. The warlords who had only been the proprietors of death and destruction in Somalia have been not only given a badge of legitimacy, but also further empowered. It doesn’t inspire much cause for rejoice that foreigners including their armed forces will be given sway in running the affairs of the country. This is the beginning of a gathering storm that will wreck havoc in Somalia and perhaps might spill over into Somaliland. The enemies of the Somalis must be hurting their sides with laughter.
Who is to blame? Essentially the Somalis. Perhaps the most extraordinary blunder that bode ill for the whole exercise was to hold the talks in yet another foreign country and especially in Kenya, which historically had conflict with Somalia. One does not have to be a political scientist to know that, given the history and demographics of the Horn of Africa, countries like Kenya and others in EGAD view a strong Somalia as a threat. Kenya has a large ethnic Somali minority who, because of oppression and economic disenfranchisement, had instigated for self-determination and possible coalition with other Somali-speaking lands when such was in vogue. For tiny Djibouti, economic concerns are paramount in its policies towards Somalia and Somaliland. It suffers from a paranoia called Berbera. None of these countries are impartial and disinterested or without ulterior motives. Their protestations to the contrary are like shedding crocodile tears. Holding the talks in Nairobi and giving the hosts and other IGAD countries the freedom to play important roles was a recipe for courting failure. Only Somalis could turn themselves into sheep and then seek sanctuary in the fox’s lair.
Concord Under A Tree :
Like Somaliland, they should have had conducted these talks in one of their cities: Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidabo, Gorowe, Bossasso, Belet Wein.....… etc. Of course there are no smart hotels in those towns for the warlords to have a whale of a time. And there would not be good Samaritans (European and Arab conference underwriters) in front of whom to extend an up-turned palm in the hope that it will be greased, monetarily that is. Nevertheless when one wants to secure one’s future, what are three-course meals, a double bed and hoodwinking a few dollars from well meaning donors got to do with it? As it turned out, when the famously corrupt Kenyans inevitably got into the act and predictably exceeded their customary 10-30% cut, money frequently dried up. For lack of bill payments, Somali delegates often found themselves evicted from hotels and were even sometimes denied any meals regardless of the number of courses. What a humiliation!
In fact, had they had followed the old Somali tradition of resolving their problems in the shade of a tree in their own land, the outcome would have been a blessing. At any rate, nobody squats under a tree for weeks or months on end without a serious and meaningful purpose. They would have owned the whole process instead of being told what to do. If they needed arbitrators and mediators, they could have called on disinterested statesmen with reputable integrity like Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter or countries with proven peacemaking track record like Norway. How could they trust mafia-run Italy which still considers Somalia its colony, or Kenya and IGAD which have axes to grind? When you let the arsonist become a fire-fighter, the consequences are obvious.
And the consequences are that they selected (rather were imposed on them) as “president” a notorious warlord and as parliamentarians even more notorious warlords, illiterates and vagrants. The civil society, professionals, traditional community leaders and women were sidelined. Tribalism has been invigorated. Foreign interference in their internal affairs has been given carte blanche. In short, everything that could go wrong in Nairobi actually did.
A Donkey and Horses :
Three year ago [five years] in Djibouti, history was made. In October in Nairobi, it was repeated, a kind of a record. The tragic-comic charade first played in Djibouti and then in Nairobi has no precedent in the annals of governance or creation of nation states. Of all the peoples of the world, only Somalis would, with unashamedly straight face, set up unrepresentative elements and institutions of government including presidents, prime ministers, ministers, parliaments, military and police commands etc in a foreign country and then try to import and transplant it in their land.
Worse, before the “president” lays his the feet on his soil; much less govern it, before he earns the trust and acceptance of his own people and before he secures his own capital, he travels far and wide, hopping from one country’s capital to another. He talks part in conferences and summits where really legitimate national leaders discourse on the affairs of the world. He makes far-fetched claims that he has 99.99% support of the Somalis, the remaining 0.01 being a few disaffected and unpatriotic individuals in the North (Read Somaliland) and a few gunmen here and there. His authority extends from Ras to Ras, he asserts. He then comes to the point: “Give me money”.
Pomp and circumstance has its attractions. The “president” reviews honor guards. National anthems are played. He rides in motorcades. Photo opportunities with real presidents and kings are recorded for posterity. State dinners are given. Bilateral talks are held with the host leaders. In summits the “president” is invited to occupy the long vacant Somali seat. He is obviously ecstatic to be amongst the leaders of the world.
He is oblivious to famous Somali adage: “Dameer fardo la daaqaysaa inay ka mid tahay is moodaa”. “A donkey grazing amongst horses thinks it is one of them”.
But these real presidents and kings are a courteous and respectful lot. Some have even genuine concern for the Somalis. They profess their support to the “president” and the Somali people. They tell him that material help will soon be on the way. Some even name the exact amount. Then they sent him off to the airport. Another honor guard is reviewed. The real president escorts the “president” to the steps of the plane. The plane flies away. The real president releases an audible sigh of relief. “Good riddance” he says to his aides. They nod their heads in agreement.
The “president” goes to another capital; any capital except his. Like a stateless person he flies from one capital to another. After hectic many weeks, perhaps months of this utter madness the “president” recedes to an enclave of his hometown to be under the protection of his sub-sub-sub-clan. He languishes there until the next bout of wanderings hits him. This is what Abdiqasim Salad did after the Djiboutian tyrant, Omer Gelle appointed him President of Somalia fours years ago in Djibouti. This is what Abdillahi Yusuf has already started to do less a week after he was installed as “President” by IGAD in Nairobi. Their real constituencies are not the Somalis. Their constituencies are foreign capitals and leaders.
Logic requires that if one is ill, one should seek the cure for one’s illness. Nothing is gained by trying to infect your illness into others who are healthy. Somalis have not shed their longstanding and futile tendency of crying over spilled milk; the very milk they themselves had spilled.
Though they disagree on most things and can not live together peacefully within neighborhoods (never mind within a city; much less within a country), they are united on one thing i.e. “don’t let the Somalilanders look after their own affairs”.
The part of the “president’s” inaugural speech aimed at Somaliland was typically a dagger camouflaged in flowers. “I believe we all know” he said, “That the unity of Somalia is necessary and sacred. Therefore a part of my reconciliation program will be dedicated to our brothers in Northern Somalia who self-declared themselves as Somaliland. They are our brothers. Personally as a man (and I think you agree with me), I regret the hardship they went through. What is needed, after the government is fully established, is to hold peace talks with them and find ways to return them into the fold of Somali unity. And it is prohibited and will not happen that will approach them again with bullets and fight our brothers.”
Coming from the very and only warlord that had attacked, and whose militia still occupies parts of, Somaliland the phoniness of this seemingly lofty proclamation can not escape the least initiated Somalilander or a foreign scholar of Somali politics and history. The key phrases here are “The unity of Somalia is necessary and sacred”, “Ways to return them into the fold of Somali unity” and “Self-declared Somaliland”. This is tantamount to laying down preconditions for these talks. I see it for what it is: a naked threat. In the warlord-speak this means “Do as I say and desire and I might spare you”.
“Sacred”? Nothing is sacred except God’s Word and Will. “Necessary”? Why? Neither country will perish without the other. “Self-declared Somaliland”? Talk about denial mode. At any rate, who would declare us Somaliland if we do not do it ourselves? Shall we outsource this task to somebody else?
Somalilanders did not go through “hardship.” They suffered genocide and ethnic cleansing. Amazingly after they reclaimed their country, they did not seek revenge or retribution. They merely reasserted their independence (which they gained before the Somalis) in order to forestall similar atrocities in the future. But nothing the perpetrators of these crimes said and did since, have shown any atonement and repentance on their part. On the contrary, they want to impose on Somalilanders the same conditions and circumstances under which these crimes took place i.e. unity.
“Ways to return [Somalilanders] in the fold of Somali unity” means demanding reunification by offering tiny pits of Somaliland’s inalienable rights as if they were gifts from the Southerners. I would say: “Thanks but no thanks” Somaliland does not wish unity, so I don’t see it on the horizon. “Eedaadka soo maray, umulbaa ilowda” goes the Somali verse: “Only a mother forgets the pain she went through at her baby’s birth” Well Somalilanders should be well forgiven for not regarding Somalis as their children!
Much have been written and said about the rise and fall of Somali “unity” and the pros and cons of reunification, so I will not dwell too much on it. Ideally it is a desirable phenomenon. Unionists site the European Union and the trend towards globalization as examples of this phenomenon. But it escapes them (or rather they conveniently forget) the fact that fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, Europe is far from being a perfect union. Though, they have a common currency (Britain and Sweden are even outside Euro), common parliament, open borders and other common institutions, individual European countries are essentially fully sovereign entities. National institutions and governments supersede the common ones. They cooperate of what they agree on and take their separate ways on what they don’t. Their different policies on the Iraq war is for instance a telling example.
But why, pray, do Mr. “president” and Somalia need to hold “talks” on reunification with Somaliland. By calling for these talks, they have inadvertently exposed yet another fallacy that had been perpetrated at Nairobi. Were they not all along claiming that delegates representing Somaliland were full participants at the peace talks and would be part and parcel of any agreement concluded there? Now, where are they? This is an explicit confession on the part of Somalis that these Somalilanders at the Nairobi meeting are nothing but misfits, disgruntled personalities or traitors who do not enjoy the slightest trust and representation of the vast majority of the Somalilanders; something Somaliland were saying all along, but no one was listening.
This revelation coming from the lord of the warlords also shows the cynicism and hypocrisy that are at the heart of their character and intentions. First they welcomed these Somalilanders for their usefulness in the scheme of things. Second while they were at it, they showed their contempt by, among other things, assigning them as part of the so-called “Dir” clan (by the way, Dir is a figment of imagination, created jointly by President Omer Gelle of Djibouti and his Somali minions). And third, after these Somalilanders had served their purpose, the Somalis unceremoniously but deservedly declared them persona non grata by calling for peace reunification talks with the real and elected leaders of Somaliland. For the Nairobi Somalilanders, the term “adding insult to injury” has never been more amazingly fitting. But worse, the obvious contradictions displayed by Somalis the matter defy basic decency and only underscores the deceit and dishonesty that are longstanding features in their relations with Somalilanders.
I do not wish to be a messenger of doom. But I will not be surprised if the following scenarios unfold in the next few months. In fact while hoping for the best, we must all be prepared for these.
I have mentioned earlier why the outcome from Nairobi was not the right resolution of the problems of Somalia: The empowerment of warlordism and tribalism; the disenfranchisement of the civil society, professionals, traditional leaders and women; allowing, nay, inviting foreigners to have a free hand in the management of the nation’s affairs. It is only to be expected that when the “president and his government” attempt to return to their country, things will come to a head. Already there are warlords who have given warnings that the “president” is not welcome to Mogadishu. Already there are tribes who profess that the presidency should have been theirs and is therefore challenging the “government”. There are already those who view the call for foreign troops to help in disarming the militias as an attempt by the “president” to attain dictatorial powers which will be directed against their interests. They will naturally oppose the dispatch of such troops. Mindful of this and the bitter experience of earlier such ventures, it is unlikely that the AU or any other entity will rush in troops.
That there is talk to temporarily relocate the seat of “government” to a provincial town speaks volumes. Problems have not been resolved at the roots. The easy route has been taken and the head has been molded without the supporting body. The warlords will not give up their power. The tribes will continue to squabble. Mogadishu will remain out of reach and chaotic. And this “government” like the similar one hatched in Arta will die a slow and painful death, but also, like the Arta one, not without inflicting further damage to the hapless Somalis.
Somaliland leaders will of course rebuff the “president’s” call for “peace talks” under the terms that he has set. He will then show his true colors. He will try to rekindle the tribal fires that Somaliland had long extinguished. Offers of high office and financial reward will be made to many Somalilanders on the condition that they sow discord in their country. The greedy and unprincipled among them will certainly accept these offers and in return will do the “president’s” bidding. Sabotage and terrorist acts will be committed. On his sojourns in foreign capitals, he will lobby for the political isolation and economic ostracism of Somaliland. Some countries will oblige him for their own reasons. And most others will remain passive bystanders as they have been for the last 14 years. This for all intents and purpose is the same thing.
Somaliland will not take all this with their hands folded. One can only tolerate so much. This time I expect that Somaliland will not only defend itself, but will also retaliate against its attackers. Of course this is not Somaliland’s preferred course and wishes, but any other alternative will mean its demise and is therefore not an option.
In fact it is incumbent on Somaliland to start mobilizing right away in order to confront this looming threat. In this regard, these are the steps that I would suggest:
The Silver Lining :
Is there a way out of this morass? Being naturally optimistic, I would say yes! Though I spoke of gathering storms, I also see a silver lining in the clouds. But courage and perseverance are needed to seize and build on these flimsy opportunities. This is what I think the relevant parties can best do to salvage the matter.
To IGAD countries I say: “Please take your fingers of out Somalis’ pie”.
Oh! The less said about the Arabs the better. I say to Somalis, don’t count on them.
The UN earmarks millions of Dollars to Somalia and Somaliland. Almost all of it is spent in Nairobi and Djibouti. The best the UN could do for the Somalis are to relocate its staff to the peaceful areas in Somalia and in Somaliland. Perhaps, some of this money could get to those supposedly intended for. Political help can fellow then.
The US and Europe claim to be untiring promoters of democracy, free and fair elections, free enterprise, free press, independent judiciary, human rights etc. They urge governments to be fiscally responsible by balancing budgets and reduce external debts. They profess that countries which adhere to these policies can count on their support.
Well, there is one country in Africa, arguably the only country in Africa, where all those attributes exist. Additionally, this country has achieved all this by itself without any assistance from the outside world; in fact despite conditions which in essence amount to political and economic sanctions. This country is Somaliland. And yet the EU and US have turned a blind eye to this country for thirteen long years. Now, this country is under threat that might endanger its very existence. Let us see if EU and US are true to their proclamations.
--END OF ARTICLE--
I wrote those words exactly a year and half ago. I am reminded of a 1960s poet some of whose relevant verses I would like to share with you:
Mar waa weey At one point, I say it is my woe
Marna waa wadhi At another point, I feel glee
Marna inaanan waaleen At yet another point, the proof of my sanityis:
Waxaan sheego la arkaa My predictions always come true
--Aw Jama Haji Hassan (Great Poet of the “Mitid Fame”
Mitid Fara Yar Midhii Bataa Kama Macaashaan;
Determined Few Are a Much More Numerous Foe’s Equal Match;
Mar Haddii Mashiinado Qarxaan,
If Guns Start Blazing;
Mowdka Loo Siman ,
Death Is Mutual
In “Mar waa weey” odes, the poet was referring to the Vietnam War at his time. As is now well known, a small country, Vietnam, faced the strongest nation on earth, the U.S. in battle, held its ground and ultimately won the war. He felt woe because death and destruction were raining on both sides. His human instincts could not condone these needless and avoidable suffering. He felt gleeful because might was not making right. And above of all he was gratified that his earlier, though unrelated to Vietnam prophesy in “Mitid” was vindicated.
Now, not unlike this poet, I feel woeful about what is happening in Somalia. Let us put aside the fundamentally flawed, ill-thought and illegitimate process that culminated in the initial formation of the so-called TFG in Nairobi. Can it show one single good thing it has brought to Somalia in the two years it has been in existence? And it is deniable that things have gone from bad to worse during that time? As I write, fighting is raging in Mogadishu. Tribal clashes are the norm in many other regions in Somalia. The TFG itself have split into different factions that are belligerent to each other. There more warlords, more fighting, more corruption, more animosity, more foreign interference, more marginalization of civil society (I could go on and on, but I am tired) now than two years ago. My heart goes to the children, the women, the elderly, the feeble and innocent ordinary Somalis to whom this undeserved calamity is befalling. I pray to Almighty, the All-powerful, the Merciful, to relieve them of this cataclysm.
Unlike the poet, with due respects to him, I am not gleeful. Not that I disagree with the poet that might does make right. But in as so far as the relevance of the raison d'être for his glee concerns my subject, the bigger losers are those who least deserve it as mentioned above. The “president”, the “prime minister” the “parliamentarians” and the warlords, having falsely felt empowered by the Nairobi farce, may be feeling disappointed that their selfish expectations have been frustrated, but they are at least living in relative security and prosperity (Although the “prime minister had two close shaves). Moreover no good neighbor can be gleeful about the misfortunes of another neighbor, which is different than what the poet might have felt about folks who are thousands of miles away. Still, having said that, if one consciously goes the wrong way and ignores those who benevolently caution one against such action, one has only oneself to blame for the consequences.
Now, I am not good at prophesies as gifted poets, who by virtue of their God given talents are perceptive scholars of human societal behavior. But any ordinary and ordinarily interested witness of the events in Nairobi and its aftermath could not miss how things would play out in their implementation phases. Though not gratified, I see everything that took place in the ensuing period after Nairobi as confirmation of the predictions in my original year-and-half-old paper:
In my earlier paper, I said that I didn’t want to be a messenger of doom. I didn’t want to be dismissed as a fault-finder or just an armchair analyst. In that spirit, I tried to contribute with what I hoped were specific suggestions would help salvage a bad untenable situation and misplaced priorities. I do not need to repeat them here now as the reader can go back a few pages to see what they are. None of these suggestions were heeded by those to whom they were sincerely given in Somalia. Nonetheless, I believe they are as relevant and useful today as they were a year and half ago. Perhaps it is not too late. But opportunities are not known for their patience.
Ahmed I. Hassan