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SIWB’s Call Is A Recipe For Appeasement And Capitulation
The captivating paper by the Somali Intellectuals without Borders (SIWB) on the current situation in Somalia, which recently appeared in Wardheerews and Ethiopian websites, is to be commended
The thrust of the paper is that it has pronounced unambiguous judgment on the opposing sides fighting for power in Somalia. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has been depicted as the “proponents of anarchy” who “adhere to the support of most radical forms of terrorism and the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians under most dubious and phony pretext of defending the country from Ethiopia”. On the other hand, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been cast as “ the only choice left for Somalia” for the simple reason that “it is a conscious choice between a glimmer of hope and a total chaos and anarchy…” More controversially is SIWB‘s sanguine perception about Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia as being for altruistic motives for the interest and welfare of the Somali people!!. Many Somalis will beg to differ with one or more of these judgments.
A. The Islamic Court Union
Much as the ICU has a lot to be blamed for, yet the SIWB have gone overboard in their sweeping damnation. Indeed, the SIWB contradict themselves since they have grudgingly acknowledged elsewhere in the paper that what it calls these “clan-warlord-turned Islamists” did “bring briefly a semblance of relative peace in Mogadishu but it is fallacious to equate the whole of Somalia to Mogadishu”
If there is one thing that the international community and all objective Somalis agree on, it is that the ICU, far from being the proponents of anarchy, were on the contrary the ones who restored peace and stability to most of Southern Somalia after it had been plagued by lawlessness and anarchy for over a decade and ruined by rapacious warlords in cahoots with Ethiopia. The warlords’ defeat therefore had at once opened a window of opportunity for the return of the TFG to the capital, thereby ushering in the end of Somalia’s statelessness and anarchy. Unfortunately, this did not happen and, as to be expected, people are divided as to who was responsible for this failure.
Another broadside by SWIB against the ICU gratuitously branded them as:
“Opportunists and business groups who prospered in the chaos and lawlessness, Islamists with extremist and discriminatory agenda, politicians who lost their political power and the renegade former members of the Parliament who are currently based in Eritrea.”. No one can deny that there are certain elements of truth in these charges but once again they go too far to be credible.
Surely, former members of Parliament, like the former Speaker of Parliament, who gave up their jobs for nationalistic reasons in protest against Ethiopia’s occupation of their county, do not deserve such derisive remarks. What they did is something others would call honorable and self-denying - qualities hardly shared by the rest of the Embgathi clique. In comparison with the ICU, the TFG and Parliament are dominated by far worse undesirables: former warlords and all types of greedy hangers-on . But at the end of the day, the ICU was nationalist and that puts them a world apart from the puppet government we have.
Detractors of the ICU, including the SIWB, are also quick to point out to its alleged domination by one sub-clan as if that necessarily nullifies its achievements which at the end of the day were what mattered to the long-suffering people of Mogadishu and Southern Somalia. Accusations regarding clan domination are as common in Somali political life as accusations of racism in the West even when these are not always well-founded. This is not intended to absolve the ICU, but has their alleged clan domination gone beyond what most reasonable people would consider it as unacceptable in the Somali context? Is the SIWB the final arbiter on the matter?
In historical terms, a more fitting comparison to the ICU is another religious/nationalist Somali movement- the Darwish. They too were dominated by the clan of its birth place but that did not make its mission any less desirable. If anything, the ICU, unlike the Darwish movement, had supporters and volunteers from almost every corner of Somalia and all the way from the Ogaden. As was the case with the Darwish, Islam and Somali nationalism- two pillars decried by SIWB- enabled the ICU to rally its supporters, defeat its enemies and free Southern Somalia from bestial warlords
No one can however defend the indefensible. Notwithstanding its initial usefulness, the ICU had in the end hanged itself in its own rope. By irresponsibly and provocatively daring Ethiopia for a fight, they provided it the pretext it had been waiting for to invade Somalia and unleash death and destruction on the capital. That blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the leaders of the ICU who allowed the movement to be hijacked by criminal elements/former warlords-turned- Islamists. In this respect, I am at one with the SIWB.
Apart from finger-pointing, the gist of the SIWB paper is that it was right to liberate Mogadishu from our own warlords but wrong to do so again from foreign occupation and a worse one at that. Far from following this unpatriotic and unacceptable advice, it is the national duty of the ICU, irrespective of its past mistakes, as behoves us all as Somalis, to support the liberation of our country . To do otherwise is to, willy-nilly, condone the Ethiopian occupation and, embrace appeasement and capitulation
B. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG)
As the Somalis say: “hal xaaraanihi nirig xalaala ma dhasho”. Less we forget the genesis of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), it is the baby of that so-called Somali reconciliation conference in Embgathi, Kenya and whose participants were mostly self-serving warlords, opportunists and other undesirables. The whole spectacle was masterminded by neighboring countries, notably Ethiopia, for the purposes of establishing a supine Somali government headed by hand-picked puppets under their thumb. Both the President and Prime Minister owe their positions to Ethiopia and who henceforth will remain in hoc to Meles Zenawi so long as they want to keep their jobs.
In normal circumstances, the Somali people would reject out of hand, for understandable historical reasons, anything bearing Ethiopian’s imprint, and more so an illegitimate government conceived and stitched together by Meles Zenawi. But these are not normal times and it is a measure of their desperation for a government that they were prepared to hold their noses and give the TFG the benefit of the doubt, believing that things could never be worse under it than they had been over the last decade or so. This “glimmer of hope”, shared by SIWB, was nothing more than wishful thinking- more like a mirage by any other name.
With two years left of its term, the TFG, like the TNG before it, had dismally failed to deliver its obligations to the nation. No one realistically expected this government to wave a magical wand and move mountains. The cry of the people was not so much for immediate relief from their long enduring deprivations but for modest achievable goals: a modicum of government that would rally the nation, make its presence felt in most parts of the country, restore law and order and revive the dysfunctional state. Mogadishu might have been beyond their reach or control but as the SIWB rightly pointed out, “ Mogadishu is not the whole Somalia”, most of which had been relatively peaceful and receptive to government initiatives if only it had the will.
A government that was able to shepherd the Ethiopians into most parts of the country would have had little difficulty to install itself in these places and get on with the business of governing the country. Yet, for all the three years they had been in power, the President and his Prime Minister had never deemed it necessary to visit other regions in the country other than their own respective home grounds. This conspicuous failure speaks volumes about their concerns and priorities of which nation building ranks lowest. This failure was predictable and its causes are inherent in the leadership weaknesses of the President and his Prime Minister
Seeing the Two Charlatans in Close-Up
The President might have been officially proclaimed president of Somalia but he remains incorrigibly a warlord at heart, still wedded to his dictatorial disposition and his clannish mentality. When he is not in Mogadishu, he would rather be back in his native Puntland where he is received like royalty among his admiring local devotees. Here is a man obsessed with power for its own sake, for whom the end justifies the means; the first senior Somali army officer to collude with Ethiopia and who paved the way for the collapse of the Somali State just to be president.
The President’s dictatorial and ruthless make-up is reminiscent of his bét noire, the late Siyad Barre. But there ends the similarities. Siyad Barre, whatever his other drawbacks, was at least a nationalist whose place in history would be recognized by future historians and Somali generations less blinkered by petty clan xenophobia. Nationalism and national interest are alien to President Yusuf’s. His past record should have been enough to stop his election as president at Embgathi. But those corrupt, unscrupulous participants who chose him cared less about national interest and his fitness for the post and only about the generous bids for their votes. Meles Zenawi and other financial backers of course got good value for their money. For Somalia though, its worst fears have come true.
Unless you believe in miracles, how can the betrayer of his country, the irredeemable destroyer, the divisive clannish warlord par excellence , the dictator by nature, overnight become a born again conciliator, a consensus-maker, a healer, a peace-lover, a nation- builder, a democrat? No question: most people would see him beyond the pale of redemption.
With all his faults, the President is in some ways more Somali than his Prime Minister. The latter shows little or no attachment to his people or country. Judging by his actions, his heart is in Ethiopia and Kenya. Above all, he genuinely looks up to Meles Zenawi as his Godfather. His demeanor on those rare occasions when he returns back to his Mogadishu constituency speaks for itself.
Where other leaders might show common touch, radiate empathy, mingle and connect with their ordinary folk, the Prime Minister for his part returns to his native neighborhoods in Mogadishu like a visiting foreign head of a State. He comes back riding in an open car, escorted by convey of speeding cars, donning exquisite suits, and looking distant, aloof and indifferent to his welcoming, down-trodden Abgaal multitudes. If one did not know him, he could have been mistaken for an alien coming from another world. This unbecoming conduct from a former local boy who made it good to the top post is not typically Somali. All the same, if that is the way he treats his constituency, the rest of Somalia would mean even less to him.
His lack of empathy for his own people is in sharp contrast for his preferences for other countries, other peoples, and in particular whites. These days, it is rare to see him without being accompanied everywhere by his so-called French Chief Political Advisor, who happens to be his former supervisor at a veterinarian NGO. It is not as though he could not find equally, or even better qualified, Somali advisors inside and outside the country. The choice at his disposal, if he was interested, is considerable.
More likely, the P.M suffers from an inferiority complex rare among the proud Somali race. Like oil- rich Gulf Arabs, he believes it is only the whites who have superior intellect and competence in every field. Or perhaps he derives, in his misguided ways, certain self-importance, or one-upmanship on the President who, by contrast, surrounds himself with his clan cronies, some of whom are reputed to be barely literate. But when it comes to a choice between these two objectionable practices by the two men, the President’s way is nonetheless less damaging than engaging a foreigner whose advice or harmful influence on sensitive national issues may be detrimental to the nation’s interest. But of course, protecting national interest is of little concern to the P.M, the President and Parliament all of whom see it as marginal to their myopic interests in present day Somalia.
While holding power for its own sake is the raison d’être for the President, the P.M’s single shameless obsession is to make money by any means. This is the same man who recently bought a million dollar house in Nairobi. All that money of course could not have been saved as he claims from his meager salary from his former NGO but can only be aid money scandalously pocketed.
But nothing could be more revealing about the Prime Minister’s lack of probity and sensitivity to the plight of his suffering people than the lavish wedding he recently organized for his son at one of the most expensive hotels in Nairobi with no expense spared to give his son something like a royal wedding. All this obscene wedding extravaganza and real estate acquisition were happening at a time when hundreds of thousands of Mogadishu residents who were forced to leave their homes, are languishing in the wilderness in bleak and squalid conditions.
The above snapshots on the President and P.M are only meant as indicative of their overall unsuitability for the offices they hold. After three years in power, the country is no better situation than when the TFG was created. If anything, things are far worse. We now suffer the additional pain of an Ethiopian occupation which is acquiring a permanency of its own and who are increasingly acting as the de facto authority in Somalia, with the TFG pathetically shunted to the sidelines as an impotent, irrelevant spent force.
Needless to say, the two leaders of the TFG –and the sham parliament- are not contributing to a solution of Somalia’s problems; they are part of the problem. If there is any “glimmer of hope”, it is that we may see the back of these two men once the term of the TFG ends and are hopefully replaced by better successors, selected or elected by Somalis free from Meles Zenawi manipulations. Preparing for this prospects should concentrate our minds now, and not allow others decide for us by default.
C. Ethiopia: a Foe or a Friend?
When we were taught British colonial history at school, our English teachers would condescendingly tell us that the white man came to Africa not to colonize it but to civilize the natives and save them from themselves. And of course, we were not prepared to swallow such balderdash even though we were then very young and susceptible to brainwashing. Today, SIWB is telling a whole nation licking its wounds that the Ethiopian army came to Somalia to bring peace and stability and to save the Somalis from one another!! What a great disservice to the dead from Ethiopian atrocities and to those thousands displaced people who were forced to flee their capital, systematically destroyed by merciless Ethiopian army.
In its pro-Ethiopian stance, SIWB calls for a STOP (their emphasis)to what they call the big lie that “ Ethiopia and Somalia are eternal enemies”. It cites the example of Germany and France as two former enemies that have restored normal relation after the Second World War. But this normalization was consequent on the end of Germany occupation of France following its defeat. European colonization of Africa was also involuntary occupation and once those occupations ended and independence granted, normal friendly relations were established. Algeria’s good relations with France only became possible after years of a liberation war, when France was in the end forced to give up its claim to Algeria as “Francaise”. No colonized peoples in history have ever renounced their inalienable right to freedom.
Muslims do not believe in eternity and hence in eternal enemies. Peace and reconciliation are important tenants of the Islamic faith. But Islam does not condone capitulation to aggression and indeed does instruct its faithful followers not to turn the other cheek when aggressed, but to defend themselves and their rights. Somalis had been for over a century at the receiving end of Ethiopian occupation and aggression. They would of course like peace and harmony with it if only it would end its occupation of all Somali territories. That includes the Ogaden. Until it does that, Somalis have no choice but to liberate themselves. The ball has always been in the Ethiopian court. So far, all they want is to have their cake and it: in other words, colonize the Somalis and still demand submission. .
Another equally fallacious assertion by SIWB is its claims that “ Ethiopia and Somalia have never gone to war on their own but they had been forced to become pawns in imperial wars fought over world economic and hegemonic interest by imperialists”. It is in this context that they put the 1977 war. It says we were “pawns, plain and simple and our two countries were militarily set up against each other by the cold warriors”.
This is historical revisionism at its height. The fact, pure and simple, is that outsiders had nothing to do with the two wars between Ethiopia and Somalia. Although Somalia had declared after independence that it would seek the liberation of other Somalis territories through peaceful means, it was also aware that a war between the two countries was inevitable either because Ethiopia could launch a pre-emptive strike to weaken Somalia as it did in 1964 or Somalia itself might use force to liberated Ethiopian-held Somali held territory if peaceful means failed.
As such, Somalia gave the utmost priority to building one of the strongest army in Africa which in the end drove the Ethiopian army from the territory in 1977 for a while until the USSR intervened on Ethiopia’s behalf. Far from the imperialists setting up the two countries against each other, as SIWB claims, the international community led by the big powers had on the contrary imposed an onerous arms embargo on Somalia for its alleged aggression against Ethiopia.
Another fact sidestepped by SIWB is that Ethiopia opposed Somalia’s independence but could not stop it. It rightly saw Somalia’s independence as a rallying magnet for Somali irredentism and nationalism, which could unravel its shaky grip on the Ogaden. In order to forestall that, Ethiopia had adopted a two pronged strategy: on the one hand to oppress the Ogadenis beyond endurance as a disincentive to entertaining independence aspirations, and at the same time to do everything possible to render their benefactor, the Somali State, dysfunctional.
In pursuing its objectives and strategies, Ethiopia played a decisive role in bringing down the government of Mohamed Siyad Barre by arming and supporting clan-based anti-government insurgents. Since then, Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi spared no effort to prevent the revival of the Somali State. It accepted the TFG only because it was its baby and knew, as time has proved, that it would be nothing more than a toothless bull dog.
A more ludicrous assertion by SIWB is that Ethiopia has no imperialist designs on Somalia. This is plain sophistry. Somalia may not be an Ethiopian colony in the conventional sense, but it has all the hallmarks of being an Ethiopian dominion. It promoted fractious clan and regional rivalries, supported warlords, and engineered the balkanization of Somalia into various Bantustans, each entity de-linked from Somalia but instead coming directly under Meles’ insidious tutelage. Somaliland and Puntland epitomize this Bantustanisation of Somalia.
It is not a coincidence that “President,” Dahir Rayale’s recent visit to Addis took place at the very moment when that much trumpeted national reconciliation conference was taking place in Mogadishu. Nothing could give a more unambiguous message about Ethiopia’s total disregard and contempt for Somalia’s unity, sovereignty and honor than its direct dealings with regions that are supposed to be part and parcel of Somalia over the head of the national government.
Another powerful reason for Ethiopia to control Somalia is because it has successfully packaged itself as an indispensable strategic alley of the USA in the “war on terror” in the Horn. This has earned it multiple benefits, not least it has deflected Western criticism of its human rights violation in Ethiopia proper, but more importantly from our perspective, it blunted any outcry against it’s atrocities in the Ogaden and Somalia. So long as the war on terror retains its current highest priority in the present USA administration, Meles can count on it to give him free hand in Somalia and to shield him from criticism or sanctions coming from else where.
So far, things have been moving Meles’ way, but his gains could only be temporary as nothing is guaranteed in the future. For one thing, he can not for ever count on unquestioning future US support. But with or without the US support, Meles would do every thing to maintain his control of Somalia- gains he will not give up voluntarily and would do everything to maintain them. But he will be increasingly up against nationalist Somali forces that would strive to free their country totally from the yoke of Ethiopian neo-colonialism. The outcome of these opposing forces will depend on the will of the Somali people and their readiness to pay the necessary price. This is the challenge which should shape our actions for the future.