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UDUB Needs To Learn From Sillanyo
The recent hullabaloo surrounding Sillanyo’s meeting with Jendayi Frazer, the US Undersecretary of State for Africa, demonstrated yet again UDUB government’s complete lack of understanding of the role of opposition in a multi-party democracy. In fact the government often seems unsure and uncomfortable with this whole democracy business and more at ease with the familiar vestiges of typical 70s style tinpot African dictatorship.
This is a government that arrests peaceful opposition groups, bans FM radio stations, hounds investigative journalists and considers `bad-mouthing the president’ a criminal offence.
But perhaps it is the craving for the kind of kitsch and symbolism that accompanies dictatorships that marks out more than anything else, just how much this UDUB government has its political soul in a bygone era.
Whenever the President is leaving or returning to the capital from his ever more frequent foreign visits he expects a red carpet flanked by goose-stepping guard of honor and a brass band in full flow. Hundreds of his ministers, flunkeys and hangers-on swarm the pot-holed airport stepping on ordinary passengers’ feet. Apparently the president gets a little upset if all of this is not capped with hundreds of `ordinary’ well wishers lining the road outside the airport waving green branches from the last two trees left in Somaliland. Things got so bad on this front lately that at some point, a group of UDUB youths were organizing busloads of tribesmen from the president’s sub sub sub clan and passing them off as adoring members of the general public. The ploy worked till the president recognized few faces and went back into his gloomy sulk.
Even more telling are the sheer numbers of the `delegates’ that goes with him on these trips. Ministers for everything from `Factories’( in a country with no factories) and Tourism( in a country with no Tourists) hop on the presidential flight. So do their deputies, wives and secretaries. The selection process of these delegates seems to follow no comprehensible rationale whatsoever. Why would the Minister for Tourism visit Ethiopia when it is extremely unlikely that hordes of Ethiopian tourists will discover the parched wonders of Somaliland’s deserts anytime soon? Why is the Minister for Livestock not in the delegation going to the Gulf States when all the country’s livestock sales goes to these countries?
All this is not only a wasteful use of meager public funds but often detrimental to the national cause itself. When the President was invited to Washington for his first visit ever he took with him nearly twenty people most of them not overburdened with political or diplomatic talents. But they were also all men. This is despite knowing in advance that the highest ranking official they were going to meet was going to be a woman. It shows fundamental lack of grasp of modern politics and appreciation of the host nation’s cultural nuances. Taking all men delegation to a Western capital these days is as unwelcome as taking a troupe of cancan dancers in a visit to Saudi Arabia’s kingly palaces. Well, unwelcome publicly anyway in the latter.
It’s within this unfortunate and incompetent political time warp that UDUB’s ludicrous reaction to Sillanyo’s meeting with Ms Frazer must be seen. Apparently they think he should not have mentioned the arrests of journalists and QARAN political leaders and the occasional trampling on people’s freedoms by the government. This would have been laughable if it weren’t so worrying for any Somalilander who cares about the place and its people.
Did they really believe that Ms Frazer didn’t know UDUB arrested QARAN leaders? Did they think she was unaware of the constant harassing and the jailing of prominent journalists and the ban on private Radio stations? What, exactly did they think Sillanyo discussed with Ms Frazer that she didn’t already know?
Perhaps members of the government are unaware that the US State department still has a fairly extensive ways and means of collecting information which includes, amongst other things, reading newspapers. The same newspapers who reported the harassing and arresting of political figures and independent journalists that everybody else read.
UDUB needs to learn one basic political lesson: The role of good opposition is to oppose the government; criticize it; poke fun at its shortcomings; expose its flaws to as wider audience as possible inside and outside the country and then demonstrate how they are better – better in people, principles and plans.
Which is exactly what Sillanyo appears to have done with some panache. In other words he did his job as the Leader of the main Opposition party.
For the hapless UDUB government it is yet another unpalatable lesson in heat and democratic kitchens. They never liked either very much.
But they need not be too gloomy. If they are wise they will watch and learn from this master politician just how opposition politics should be run in a democracy. After all they may just find themselves on the other side of the table in few months time.