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The Political Legacy Of Mohammed Ibrahim Egal
By Ahmed M.I. Egal
The aim of this essay is to piece together the political philosophy of the late President of Somaliland, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, into a set of principles and values that underpinned his political outlook and his actions. This fifth anniversary of his death provides an appropriate context to examine Egal’s political legacy, with the distance afforded by time, hopefully, enabling a measure of objectivity in the analysis. As with all such endeavors, this enterprise is fraught with the dangers of simplification of complex domestic and foreign policies on one hand and over-analysis of actions dictated by the practical exigencies of the day on the other. In this context, we must remain aware that Egal always viewed himself, first and foremost, as a practical politician and was generally suspicious or skeptical of the grandiose claims of political ideologues. Nevertheless, it is a fact that, his flair for realpolitik and focus upon practical governance notwithstanding, Egal believed passionately in certain philosophical principles which grounded his political beliefs and guided his policies, and which can and deserve to be presented as a coherent political philosophy. It is this underlying essence of his political legacy that this essay will attempt to explore and elucidate. For want of a better phrase, we shall call this set of core, political beliefs and principles, or philosophy if you will, Egalism.
A major constraint in the research for this essay, not to mention a sad loss for students of Somali and African politics, is the woeful dearth of published work by Mohammed Ibrahim Egal himself. Much of the research for this essay is, therefore, based upon Egal’s speeches, letters to various organizations and individuals, conversations with the writer over many years after his release from prison, correspondence with the writer during and after his stints in prison, and discussions with his friends and contemporaries. It is a great pity and a tremendous loss for scholars of African politics and history that Egal was not able to finish a book he had long been planning on Africa’s post-independence political history and his vision for the continent’s future. His detailed and personal knowledge of many of the principal players in Africa’s post-independence political history, not to mention his personal participation in many of the defining moments of post colonial African history, would have provided his views with a unique and definitive insight.
Somali Nationalism & Pan-Africanism
Anti-colonial nationalism was certainly one of the principal foundations of Egal’s political ethos and evolution. He spent the late 1940s and early 1950s studying in Britain and was exposed to the anti-colonial fervor prevalent throughout the British Empire at the time. Among the African students he met at this time with whom he became close friends and who would go on to lead the independence struggle in his own country (much as Egal did in British Somaliland) was Tom Mboya of Uganda. Egal also got introduced to the Pan-Africanism of Nkrumah, the tenets of which seemed to him to offer an African and nationalist remedy to the problems inherent in the colonial borders bequeathed the continent by the European powers. Indeed, Egal was to strike up a close friendship with Nkrumah that was only broken years later by the exile of Nkrumah and the imprisonment of Egal.
After completing his formal education in Britain, Egal returned to the British Somaliland Protectorate in 1957 and immediately got involved in the nationalist struggle for independence, quickly becoming the leader of the Somali National League (SNL) - the independence party of British Somaliland that formed the first government of Somaliland. The people of British Somaliland were very susceptible to the idea of political independence and the drive for independence from Britain found fertile ground in the national psyche.
The SNL was not the only political party agitating for independence in the British Somaliland Protectorate. There was also the United Somali Party (USP) which had a socialist perspective. Although, there was a clan element to the differences between the SNL and the USP, it is also true that there were ideological differences. The philosophical orientation of the SNL in ideological terms was pro-western and in favor of market economics, while that of the USP was pro-eastern (i.e. USSR and China) and favored a socialist, command economy. This leads us to one of the defining principles of Egalism – a belief in market economics and the limitation of government in economic activity principally to regulation and supervision. Another important difference between the two parties relates to Somali nationalism and Egal’s different perspective to most, if not all, of his contemporaries regarding union with Somalia and how to achieve the dream of Greater Somalia. Egal opposed the immediate union of Somaliland and Somalia which was promoted by all the other nationalist leaders of Somaliland and which was enthusiastically supported by the public. He had found the leaders of the Somali Youth League (SYL), the principal nationalist party of Italian Somalia, somewhat cooler to the idea of union and he found their proposed conditions for the proposed union effectively subsumed Somaliland into Somalia.
He, therefore, proposed that Somaliland defer the proposed union for a period of six months during which period the two sides would negotiate terms for union which would be acceptable to both sides. He envisaged the creation of Greater Somalia as a process whereby each specific territory would unite with a core Somali Republic (to be formed by the union of British Somaliland and Italian Somalia) through negotiations on the terms of such proposed union. Accordingly, he believed that it was essential that Somaliland and Italian Somalia negotiate terms for union which would serve as a template for the other territories that would accede to the union in the near future, i.e. Djibouti, NFD and Haud & Reserved Area. Upon the independence of Somaliland, when the SNL won the elections to form Somaliland’s first government, Egal’s political opponents decried his proposal as an attempt to cling to power at the expense of the dream of Greater Somalia. As the independence of Italian Somalia on 1 st July 1960 approached, the nationalist fervor in Somaliland became an unstoppable torrent that could not be contained, and Egal reluctantly acceded to popular demand and Somaliland united with Italian Somalia unconditionally on 1 st July 1960 to create the Somali Republic. The terms of the union were those proposed by the SYL which Egal had found unpalatable.
Egal’s vision of a Republic established through negotiation and dialogue and characterized by power sharing, regional autonomy and equality was replaced by the voluntary takeover of Somaliland by Italian Somalia. The inequitable terms of the union soon became apparent to the population of Somaliland, once the heady effect of the nationalist fervor of independence had abated. The union had to be ratified by the people of both Somaliland and Italian Somalia through the adoption of the constitution of the new Republic in a national referendum in 1961. While the new constitution was overwhelmingly ratified in the erstwhile Italian Somalia, it was soundly defeated in Somaliland evidencing the dissatisfaction of the populace there to the terms of the union into which their nationalist fervor had precipitously impelled them. While his opponents had characterized Egal’s opposition to the terms of the union proposed by the SYL in the context of his personal political interests, the fact is that his opposition was motivated not only by the inequity of the terms of union, but also by a different vision of Greater Somalia. Egal understood much more clearly than his fellow Somali politicians the great difficulties that would be faced in obtaining the acquiescence of other African nationalist leaders to the creation of Greater Somalia.
He understood very clearly that that both Ethiopia and Kenya would characterize the quest for Greater Somalia in terms of an irredentist Somali Republic seeking to annex contiguous regions of it neighbors in direct opposition to the central tenets of the African nationalism, i.e. Pan-Africanism. He believed that the only way that Somalis could successfully make the case for Greater Somalia within a Pan-African context was by reference to the core anti-colonial principle of self determination. To this end, he proposed that the Somali people had been divided by the colonial carve up of Africa and that with the liberation of Africa, the Somali people themselves freely and voluntarily wished a union of the territories they inhabited. On this basis, Egal reasoned that it would be impossible for fellow Africans to deny Somalis their inalienable right to self government. For this reason, he argued that the Republic established through the union of Somaliland and Italian Somalia embody this principle by enacting a constitution that guaranteed a significant degree of regional autonomy through regional assemblies and protected the rights of minorities. He was convinced that this was the best way to attract the other Somali inhabited territories to join the union voluntarily and also overcome the objections of other African leaders.
However, events overtook the internal debate over the union as Britain reneged on its promise to hold a plebiscite supervised by the UN in the NFD on union with Somalia and to then abide by the wishes of the majority in the territory as evidenced by said plebiscite in the independence negotiations for Kenya. The result of the vote was an overwhelming majority in favor of union with Somalia, which the British government ignored by granting independence to Kenya without making any provision for respecting the wishes of the people of the NFD. The new Republic of Somalia responded by walking out of the British Commonwealth amid condemnations of “the perfidy of Albion”. Tensions between the new Republic and Kenya and Ethiopia steadily worsened and in 1964 the first war between Ethiopia and Somalia over the Haud & Reserved Area, which Britain had ceded to Ethiopia, despite promises to the contrary to Somaliland prior to independence, broke out.
Another attempt to reconcile the perceived irredentism of Somali nationalism with the continental nationalism of Pan-Africanism, which is a another defining element of Egalism, is evident in Egal’s foreign policy during his brief period as Prime Minister of the Republic between 1967 and 1969. Almost immediately upon assuming office in 1967, Egal embarked upon a policy of détente with Somalia’s two neighbors, i.e. Ethiopia and Kenya with whom relations had been tense, and often bellicose, since the Republic was established in 1960. He was successful in establishing cordial, personal relations with both Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and these warm personal friendships were translated into a significant easing of tensions on both borders. Somali trucks and property which had been confiscated by Ethiopia as well as individuals who had been imprisoned in that country for violating border regulations were freed and propaganda directed by both sides against each other was stopped. Similar confidence building measures were taken between Kenya and Somalia. Egal embarked upon a charm offensive throughout Africa designed to counter Somalia’s negative image in the continent as a recalcitrant, warlike irredentist bent upon wresting away land from its neighbors.
His close, personal relationships with many African leaders, including Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Kaunda, Nyrere and Tafawe Balewa helped immeasurably in this effort and he was largely successful in reintegrating Somalia into the mainstream of African politics. It is important to point out here that Egal had spent three years in the political wilderness in Somalia from 1964 (when he resigned from government) until 1967 when his candidate won the Presidential elections and he became Prime minister. During this time, in addition to planning and executing his political comeback, he developed a rationale for reconciling the unification of Somali people and territories with Pan-Africanism. He foresaw that the best hope for economic development and advancement for the newly independent states of Africa lay in regional groupings that would not only create larger markets with economies of scale for investment and trade, but that would also enable African countries to negotiate with foreign countries and companies on a more equal footing.
To this end, he proposed enlargement of the East African Community (grouping Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) to include Somalia, Ethiopia and Zambia. This proposal, which was positively received by his contemporaries, was to be announced at the East African Community (EAC) summit meeting in Arusha in 1968. Egal had been charged by the other leaders, namely Haile Selassie, Kenyatta, Obote and Kaunda, with the responsibility to prepare the statement however, in the event, Egal was unable to attend the said meeting in order to defeat a no-confidence vote in the Somali Parliament orchestrated by his opponents, and it fell to Julius Nyrere of Tanzania, as the host, to present the proposal in Arusha. Nyrere chose not to do so. Later that year, 1968, Nyrere announced the implementation of his personal vision of African Socialism, “Ujamaa” to the party congress of his TANU party in Arusha, and the famous Arusha Declaration that the world remembers today is Nyrere’s proclamation of “Ujamaa” and not the expansion of the EAC to reshape East Africa that was the brain child of Egal. In the context of Somalia’s quest for the union of the Somali people, Egal’s vision was as simple as it was practical. Since the Somali people were pastoralists, migrating seasonally with their herds of livestock in pursuit of pasture and rainfall, the fundamental problem faced by them as a result of their division between various nation-states related principally to crossing the borders of mutually hostile countries.
Once Somalia and Ethiopia became members of the new, enlarged EAC the immigration and customs controls at the borders would be greatly minimized enabling the nomadic Somali pastoralists to move freely with their herds across national boundaries, much as the Masai and other pastoralists move back and forth between Kenya and Tanzania. Thus, the single greatest source of friction between the Somalia and its neighbors, Ethiopia and Kenya, would be removed. Secondly, Egal reasoned that the close economic and political cooperation between Somalia and its two neighbors, which the new treaty relationship envisioned, would create the conditions that would encourage these two countries to afford their Somali regions greater autonomy. In this perspective, he was indeed ahead of his time, as evidenced by the federal constitution granting a significant measure of autonomy to the individual regions adopted by Ethiopia after the overthrow of the Mengistu dictatorship. Egal also reasoned that by replacing the constant friction over the border, not to mention the armed belligerency that characterized Somalia’s relationships with its neighbors, with free movement of people and trade, the Somali people would shed their traditional hostility and suspicion of Ethiopia and Kenya. Again, Egal was far ahead of his time, as is evidenced by the open borders between Ethiopia and Somaliland and the amity between the peoples of these countries. This is all the more remarkable since the Somaliland was the part of the erstwhile Republic that was most belligerent to Ethiopia.
It is fair to say that Egal was the only Somali politician that successfully reconciled Somali nationalism with Pan-Africanism, indeed, he went further than merely reconciling these two seemingly opposing visions. By clearly addressing their core tenets of freedom and self-determination, he was able to demonstrate that they were not in fact opposed perspectives, but instead the micro and macro-applications of the same principles of freedom and self-determination. Egal often characterized his détente policy in 1967-69 with Ethiopia and Kenya as the real politik of a practical politician seeking to achieve tangible benefits for his people, and it certainly achieved immediate, tangible benefits for all parties. However, it is equally true this policy was the practical construct of Somali nationalist firmly grounding his peoples’ quest for self determination within a continental African nationalism that bound them closer to their neighbors. It was an approach that emphasized African fraternity and unity and located Somali brotherhood within that unity, instead of outside of it. Real politik, certainly, but a real politik based upon the principles of self-determination, the sovereignty of the peoples’ will and the unity of Africa.
We said earlier that a belief in the market economics and a limited role for the state in economic activity is a central tenet of Egal’s political philosophy. Conversely, he was deeply opposed to Marxism and Socialism. This rejection of Marist ideology is due to several principal reasons. Firstly, Egal had a deep and abiding commitment to his religious faith and he found Marx’s offhand rejection of religion as “the opiate of the masses” glib and facile. Marx did not offer a rigorous analysis of religious faith and the role it plays in human history and society as part of his philosophy of social organization and development, indeed his basic theoretical constructs of dialectical materialism and historical determinism explicitly sidestep the moral and metaphysical dimension of the human experience. For Egal, this was a glaring and definitive omission in a theory that sought to elucidate human history and guide socio-political thought and organization. Secondly, he found its division of society into irreconcilable economic classes with conflicting and mutually exclusive political interests both divisive and limiting. Indeed, he often dismissed Marxist political analysis as the “politics of envy”, since it was focused upon the redistribution of income instead of the creation of new wealth and new income. This is not to say that Egal rejected the existence of class divisions, merely that he rejected the notion that they posed the defining, political divisions in society, particularly in Third World societies where class divisions are often marginal to political competition.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Egal’s rejection of Marxism came from a visceral abhorrence of the core Marxist precepts of 1) the dictatorship of one group (i.e. the proletariat) over all other groups within society, and 2) the realization of that dictatorship through the communist party which alone determined the interests of the proletariat. These core principles were theoretically refined and developed by Lenin and his cohorts and put into practice after the 1917 Russian Revolution, indeed they became the central tenets by which the Soviet Communist Party exerted its rigid, omnipresent and omniscient control over its vast empire. For Egal, coming from a society without any formal state and political structures, and which extolled the freedom and independence of the individual, the tenets of Marxist political philosophy were not only alien, but downright oppressive. Professor I.M. Lewis has characterized traditional, Somali political organization, i.e. the clan system, as “democratic to the point of anarchy”, and it is true that the Somali political tradition does not easily fit into a Marxist Leninist paradigm.
In addition to his instinctive distaste for the core tenets of Marxist political thought, Egal was also an avowed democrat who was irrevocably and indelibly wedded to the concepts of individual freedom, the legitimacy of government through the freely given consent of its people and the inalienable right of all peoples’ to self-determination. In this context, he viewed the Marxist notions mentioned above as nothing other than a facile rationale to hide the ugly brutality of dictatorship. To sum up, Egal’s disdained Marxism philosophically because it reduced man to the output of his labor, thereby negating his spirituality and creativity in discovering his place and role in creation; he disdained Marxism politically since he viewed it as nothing other than a tool for the enslavement of individual freedom and the negation of political consent; and he disdained Marxism economically since it did not seek to harness human creativity to maximize material well being in a world of scarcity, but instead focused upon stifling creativity and ensuring scarcity by the rigid application of dogma.
Professional Politics & The Pursuit of Power
With the exception of several months after his return from his studies in England, Egal was a professional politician for his entire adult life. In the modern era, where politics is often viewed as a career choice leading to wealth and fame, the notion of politics as a calling that offers relatively modest material rewards, but substantial intangible ones encompassing public service and fealty to principle is perhaps quaintly passé. However, it is from this tradition of politics as a calling to public service from which Egal hailed. He was the only child of Haji Ibrahim Egal, who was the wealthiest merchant of his time in the Horn of Africa and upon the Haji’s death in 1957, Egal inherited the largest fortune ever seen in Somali society. He immediately liquidated a substantial portion of these assets to generate the cash required to finance the Somali National League (the independence party he founded) in order to agitate for independence from Britain.
Perhaps because he was born to great wealth, Egal never saw politics as a route to material benefit, but rather as a vehicle to serve his nation and his people by changing the course of history to their benefit. He was forever consumed with keeping the ‘big picture’ as the focus of his vision and deliberations and was always impatient with what he considered the trivialities of political in-fighting and personality politics. It is very ironic that he is considered to be the master of Somali clan politics, when in reality he found it an irritating distraction from what he considered to be the proper focus for a national leader, e.g. the socio-economic development of the country, defining and securing the country’s place in Africa and the world, the prevention of war and the struggle for justice, peace and equality in world affairs.
In fact, his so-called mastery of Somali clan politics can only be understood in one of two ways, either he was the wily, Machiavellian manipulator of clan divisions that his detractors (and some of his admirers) fervently believed him to be; or his genuine detachment from inter- and intra-clan rivalries enabled him to convince each clan of the benefits to be gained by them and all the others from collaboration and collective endeavor. The simple truth is that only a leader who is genuinely disinterested in the fleeting successes and failures of clan politics can consistently persuade all of the disparate clans to cooperate in realizing the greater and permanent achievement of the common good. In short, a sectarian, clan-driven politician can never succeed as a truly national leader, and only a leader who is perceived to genuinely strive for national interests can win the trust of all the clans. Egal was no wizard possessing some arcane alchemy of clan politics, rather he was a leader who was sincerely committed to the peace, progress and independence of his people and they recognized this and trusted him.
Egal was a firm believer in strong leadership, and the political figures he admired give the clearest indication of this. Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, was perhaps his greatest hero for many reasons, including his pugnacity, his iron determination and will, his erudition and wit, and his almost religious sense of duty to his country. However, Egal admired Churchill most for his vision, which elevated him to the role of global statesman. Long before his contemporaries in England, Europe and the USA, Churchill understood the danger to the world that Hitler represented and despite his repeated and increasingly strident warnings, England and Europe continued to turn a deaf ear until Germany’s invasion of Poland blasted the wax from their ears. A weak and unprepared Britain turned to Churchill for leadership and through the force of his pugnacious personality and his indomitable spirit he made the British David believe that he would vanquish the German Goliath. After the Allied victory in 1945, Churchill once again foresaw the threat to the West and the world posed by Soviet communism, while his contemporaries pooh-poohed his vision of an Iron Curtain coming down over Eastern Europe. Again the old man was right and his detractors were wrong.
In the Third World, Egal admired Sadat of Egypt for understanding that the Arabs could not defeat Israel militarily and that both parties must, therefore, negotiate a just settlement. Sadat was the first Arab leader to publicly accept that the existence of Israel was a political reality that the Arabs could not erase from the map and had to deal with. When it became clear that the Arab leaders remained wedded to the failed policy of defeating Israel and recovering all the lost Arab lands, Sadat made the historic decision not to mortgage the future of Egypt to this fiction of a policy, by making a separate peace with Israel. It is a sad fact that Sadat’s Israeli counter-part, Menachem Begin, was not also a visionary who could leverage Sadat’s historic trip to Tel Aviv and equally historic speech to the Knesset into a genuine opening to the Palestinians and a détente with the wider Arab world. Egal was also an admirer of his close friend Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana for his vision of African unity, although this admiration waned as Nkrumah became increasingly remote from his people and autocratic in his governance. Egal believed that Nkrumah’s many foreign admirers, which came to increasingly dominate his inner circle in later years, were responsible for inflating and feeding his ego to the point that his friend succumbed to the tyranny of his own cult of personality.
The common factor among all of the political leaders that Egal admired is that they each possessed a vision for their country that was global in scope and historical in its sweep. These were not journey-man politicians loyally serving their parties in anticipation of a comfortable sinecure upon retirement by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, they were visionaries who defied conventional wisdom by daring to not only dream a better future for their countries, but who also developed the strategies to achieve these dreams and, most importantly, molded and mobilized the energies of their peoples to the hard work necessary to make the dreams a reality. Egal was, and remains, the only Somali politician of modern times that was cut from the same cloth as the leaders he admired; he had a clear vision of a better future for Somalia and Somaliland within Africa and the wider community of nations and, having sold his vision to his people, he single minded and relentlessly mobilized all available resources to the realization of this vision.
Perhaps the greatest irony of his career is that while Egal never had any problem in convincing the vast majority of ordinary Somali people of his mission and carrying them with him, those that opposed his political vision were usually found among his contemporaries in the educated elite, the so-called intelligentsia. This elite was suspicious of Egal’s commitment to uphold and champion indigenous Somali political structures and the ingrained, if somewhat free-wheeling and unwieldy democracy that characterize Somali politics. He always ensured that the clan elders, the religious leaders and the civil society leaders of Somali society understood his aims and policies and he consciously sought their support. He never actively sought the accolades and plaudits of the intelligentsia, which he considered marginal to his true purpose. In return, many in the educated elite both resented and envied his easy rapport with and familiarity the common man and traditional lore which enabled him to win their respect, friendship and support.
The Re-Birth of Somaliland & A New Vision for the Somali People
When Egal was elected President of Somaliland at the Borama Conference, he assumed leadership of a country that was without a state for all practical purposes and that was governed by the rule of the gun rather than that of law. In addition, since the SNM military wing had been organized along clan lines and its cadres had not been disarmed, there was a proliferation of armed, clan militias that were loyal to their militia leaders, who were the heroes that had liberated the country from Siyad’s dictatorship, and not to the government. He quickly realized that the only way to establish state structures and the rule of law was to absorb some of these militias into a new national army while disarming the rest. Egal achieved this seemingly impossible task by bringing the militia leaders into his government as ministers and appealing to the clan leaders who had, after all, selected him as President to bring their designated quota of militia soldiers to be enlisted in the army and surrender their weapons. At the same time, he established a functioning, if skeletal, state structure with working government departments, functional municipal authorities and courts.
Egal’s strategy of securing the cooperation of the clan leaders for the disarmament of the militias through cajolement, charm and patronage inducements was generally successful. At the same time, the public began to see the improvement in their daily lives brought about by the re-establishment of a functioning state, e.g. re-establishment of utilities, hospitals, schools, a police force and municipal services. This process of normalization was enthusiastically welcomed by a war-weary population and hundreds of thousands of refugees which had fled to neighboring countries began to stream back into the country. Egal’s strategy quickly secured widespread popular support, reducing the political space for recalcitrant clan and militia leaders to seek to subvert his nation-building mission. Meanwhile, as the erstwhile militia leaders of the SNM that he had taken into his Cabinet found that their status as military heroes didn’t easily translate into success in the political arena, they left their ministerial posts frustrated politically and unhappy to be relegated to the sidelines. Inevitably, they sought to recover their power and primacy through their control over their respective militias, and soon armed clan conflicts began to break out in which the militia leaders (who had been comrades in the war against the Siyad regime) lined up against each other, and against the government.
Egal understood that, despite their supposed clan basis, these conflicts were manufactured stratagems designed to destabilize his government, and that they would not long command widespread support from the people they were purportedly waged on behalf of. Thus, he refused to allow the government to be drawn into a no-holds barred war with the militias that attacked government forces. He insisted that the wounded soldiers of the opposing militias be accorded the same treatment as the government soldiers, thereby earning the goodwill of their relatives and kinsmen. He also ordered that the national army act defensively and avoid militia casualties as much as possible. Indeed, he dismissed one famous militia commander for being too brutal in a ‘hot pursuit’ engagement in which he had inflicted heavy casualties on the fleeing anti-government militia. Such actions and his tireless appeasement and solicitation of the very clans who’s militias were being mobilized against him, demonstrated to the public the government’s benign and national objectives, and so secured popular support for Egal and the government. Within eight months, the anti-government insurrections had fizzled out and Somaliland emerged stronger and more united, and Egal was widely credited with saving the newly emergent nation.
During this period, while certain local and foreign interests were seeking to subvert his government and destroy the country’s grass-root democracy, Egal understood that if Somaliland plunged into open warfare, its claim to statehood would be null and void. He was determined that the success of Somaliland in achieving reconciliation, peace and a functioning state under a system of traditional, clan-based democracy not be subverted by the misguided actions and political ambitions of a few. Somaliland success would be the model for a new, non-irredentist Somali political ethos that focused upon self-determination, political freedom, representative democracy, economic development and regional integration. The peaceful resolution of these conflicts and the defeat of the related plots to destabilize the country and reduce it to a similar state of anarchy and mayhem as that prevalent in Somalia was the first and crucial test of Somaliland’s political maturity and durability. Egal, with his characteristic focus upon the ‘big picture’ and his vision of Somaliland as the template of a new social contract for Somalia, quickly understood the dangers posed by these manufactured conflicts and nipped them in the bud through statesmanship.
A central motivation of this effort to articulate the essence of Egal’s political philosophy is the belief that his perspective is more relevant for Africa today than ever before. As Africa increasingly moves away from dictatorship towards democracy and accountability in its political structures; as the continent begins to comprehend more clearly that self determination and autonomy at the micro level are not incompatible with regional and pan-African groupings at the macro level; as Africans increasingly comprehend that they must develop their own unique voice in global affairs and not be satisfied with being junior partners in this or that bloc; so does the political perspective of Egalism become ever more relevant and timely. Since the nationalist movements of the 1960s which lead to the independence of most of the continent, African politics has been characterized by the sterility of its philosophical outlook. Irrespective of whether the regime in power espoused socialism or capitalism (or some ‘African’ variant thereof), the underlying reality in most African countries has been dictatorship (military or civilian) characterized by the domination of one or more ethnic, or political, groups over the rest of the population.
The much heralded African Renaissance witnessed over the last decade has seen the replacement of the old dictatorships by new regimes which seek their legitimacy through popular franchise and not simply through a monopoly on power. It is in this sense of placing the people at the centre of political legitimacy that the relevance of Egalism is at its most acute. It is a basic axiom of Egal’s political philosophy that the legitimacy of any government comes directly from the consent of those that it governs. Any form of government that does not secure its right to govern from freely given consent of the people whom it governs is not a legitimate government, and thus forms an autocracy. The adoption of this perspective by the architects of the African Renaissance places them firmly in the same philosophical tradition as Egal. This is but one of the factors that strongly militate for the notion that Africa is now open to Egalism; that the time of this political perspective of peace, inclusiveness, legitimacy and political consent has finally come in Africa. Of course, Egal’s personal characteristics of honesty, integrity and a deep and abiding commitment to public service form an integral part of his legacy, but these qualities are God-given and cannot be mandated or manufactured.
04 May 2007