The Disease & the Cure
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
The quotation above from a discussion between Brutus and Cassius in Julius Caesar (Act 4, Scene 3) concerning how to conduct their war with mark Anthony and Octavius is a particularly apt metaphor for the current political situation in Somaliland (SL). The total and abject failure of the Silanyo government in both domestic and foreign policy has devastated the country to the point that SL’s most valuable resource, which has been and continues to remain the key driver underlying the country’s existence and peaceful progress, is in danger for the first time in its short history. This core and irreplaceable resource is the boundless hope and optimism of its people and their determination to carve out an independent, peaceful, and dignified existence for themselves and their progeny.
It is an undeniable fact that the open, indeed flagrant, looting of the public exchequer and national assets, the rampant cronyism and nepotism in public appointments as well as in the grant of government contracts have inevitably jaundiced public opinion and resulted in widespread cynicism regarding the conduct of public officials and politics generally. The savage and extra-judicial suppression of dissent and of the independent press coupled with the overt and shameless interference in parliamentary deliberations through vote-buying, deliberate disruptions of legislative sessions (sometimes violently) and repeated failed attempts to unseat the Speaker clearly demonstrate the determination of the government to consolidate all political institutions under its aegis. The carefully crafted policy of the tribalisation of politics during the last five years has not only coarsened political debate and competition, but fragmented opposition and so rendered it amenable to classic ‘divide and rule’ strategies.
Further evidence of the inexorable trend towards dictatorship is the concentration of political power in the hands of a chosen few, most of which do not hold formal office but are members of the President’s immediate family or close kinship group. This group of insiders are congregated around the Presidency and are coalesced around the First Lady and the Minister of the Presidency. Finally, initiation of negotiations with the latest, foreign-sponsored and externally funded ‘government’ in Somalia has degenerated into a relationship of subservience whereby the sale of national assets to foreign buyers by chosen brokers of the Silanyo government is ratified by Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and his cohorts in Mogadishu, presumably in return for a share in the brokerage fees.
During the past five years, the Silanyo government has been engaged in a sustained campaign of self-enrichment and aggrandizement as it has suppressed dissent and criticism and debased and coarsened political debate through the overt promotion of tribalism and tribal politics. The opposition parties of WADANI and UCID have been unable to mount a serious challenge to the government because they have not voiced and championed a compelling alternative and truly national, vision for the country. There are many reasons for this failure of the two opposition parties, but the key factor is undoubtedly the failure of leadership. UCID is plagued by confusion and disarray with respect to leadership since the mercurial Faisal Ali Warabe, the Party Chairman, continues to conduct policy ‘on the fly’ as he sees fit with little or no coordination with his colleagues; while Jamal Ali Hussein, the Party’s Presidential candidate, is forced to oppose a government that his Party Chairman occasionally supports and makes deals with. For its part, WADANI suffers from the fact that its leader and Presidential candidate, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi (Cirro), is focused upon beating off government efforts to unseat him as Speaker of Parliament rather than mounting a compelling, alternative political and economic program and, thus, an effective electoral challenge to the ruling party.
The central mission of government in SL, namely the quest for recognition, has been effectively shelved by the Silanyo government. Indeed, its foreign policy has been characterised by the deliberate abandonment of this mission, for example by downgrading the relationship with our key ally and principal supporter, Ethiopia, while, conversely, actively courting our principal detractor, Djibouti. The commendable successes of the previous SL governments in securing support for SL’s cause among African countries, e.g. Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal and Kenya among others, has been ignored and allowed to wither on the vine. Meanwhile, the much trumpeted policy of engagement with the government in Mogadishu has yielded nothing but humiliation for the Silanyo government and frustration and disillusionment for the public. At this juncture, when the term of the government has been extended for 18 or 22 months (the length of the extension remains unclear as yet), it is fair to say that public antipathy to it has never been higher and there is a widespread groundswell for change. This is the “tide” which is referenced in the quotation above and the fact that the opposition parties are unable to give voice to and channel this widespread disaffection is testament to their failure thus far.
The Threat Posed by the Current Government
In 1991, after evicting the military of the Afweyne dictatorship from their country, the people of Somaliland convened a meeting of all the clans and groups living in the country (whether pro or anti the Mogadishu government) in Burao to determine their future. At this meeting two fundamental and guiding principles were established and agreed upon by all the clans and groups which underpin the country’s recovery of its sovereignty and its development as an oasis of peace, reconciliation and representative governance in the Horn of Africa. Firstly, it was agreed that SL belongs to all the people which reside within its borders equally and without fear or favour. In order to give effect to this core principle and since some communities were aligned with the dictatorship while others fought said dictatorship, not to mention that some communities suffered historical and ingrained social and political discrimination, it was agreed that all past wrongs, disputes and animosities were thereby irrevocably forgiven and consigned to the past. Thus, the people of SL closed the chapter on past wrongs and disputes and commenced the re-birth of their nation with a blank sheet on which to write their future history.
It is this spirit of national unity, the creation of the SL tribe which transcends clan divisions, if you will, which the overt tribalism of the politics of the Silanyo government has betrayed, and with it the underlying ethos of nation itself. All nations are composed of different, and often competing, communities; however no nation can endure without a unifying ethos underlying its creation and very existence. In its doomed efforts to secure its power through a cynical policy of ‘divide and rule’ which plays clans and sub-clans against each other, the Silanyo government betrayed SL’s founding ethos and reverted to the discredited and bankrupt politics of the Afweyne dictatorship. It is worth remembering that Silanyo himself was the longest serving minister of that defunct dictatorship, so perhaps it should not be a surprise that he has employed its political tactics. However, he and his cohorts would be wise to remember the ignominious end to that exercise of Machiavellian political skulduggery.
The second principle agreed and established at the Burao Conference in 1991 was that of representative government through the development of a home-grown democratic system of governance which incorporated local tradition and culture. In this context, it is important to point out that traditional Somali social and political society is very egalitarian and practises a form of direct participatory democracy that has been characterised by the pre-eminent Western scholar of Somali culture and history (the late Ioan Lewis of SOAS) as “democratic to the point of anarchy”. Thus, SL developed a government composed of three branches – a bicameral legislature with an elected parliament (lower chamber) and a Guurti (upper chamber) composed of traditional elders drawn from all the clans and other social groups; an executive composed of an elected President who then forms a government of ministers and other officials; and a judiciary which interprets and gives effect to the laws passed by the legislature. This structure was promulgated in the constitution which was ratified by a massive affirmative vote of 97% in 2001.
It is true that the judiciary has always been the weakest branch of government in SL, principally due to limited funding and a lack of professionalism among the judicial cadre and, for this reason, the judiciary has historically been largely subservient to the executive. However, the legislature has been a very different story and the parliament, particularly, has always demonstrated its independence from the executive, even when the ruling party has held a majority of the seats. This independence, and willingness to oppose government policies when it deems fit, has been the one of the strongest features of SL’s thriving, hybrid democracy. It is this independence that the Silanyo government has repeatedly sought to suborn through vote-buying and, most egregiously, through blatant attempts to unseat the sitting Speaker through unconstitutional means. The latest attempt in September 2015 resulted in violent altercations in the parliament which included the Speaker and Deputy Speaker coming to blows.
The result of this sorry state of affairs has been the demoralisation of the public and its disillusionment with politics and the political class. On the economic and social front, the entrepreneurial spirit of the people coupled with the sustained growth of remittances from the large diaspora community in Europe, North America and Arabia has resulted in the expansion of educational, communications, health and commercial services. The government has contributed little to the expansion of this social infrastructure, but has benefited considerably through greatly increased tax revenues which it uses to stifle dissent and criticism (through a much enhanced security apparatus funded largely by the Western Powers in the name of combating ‘terrorism’) and to buy political support. However, the lack of effective economic and social planning has resulted in ever increasing numbers of secondary school and university graduates with no opportunities for gainful employment that seek a better life abroad at the merciless hands of human traffickers. Thus, along with their contemporaries in Eritrea, many of the ‘cream’ of Somaliland’s younger generation are joining the exodus from the Horn of Africa to Europe and Arabia with countless numbers perishing on the journey as they fall victim to modern day slave merchants, now euphemistically dubbed ‘human traffickers’.
Towards Forging a New Political Order
In view of the failure of the two opposition parties to mobilise and channel the widespread disaffection of the people to the creeping dictatorship of the Silanyo government, it is necessary to develop alternative avenues of political dissent and resistance to its debasement of politics. It is clear that the only effective way to mobilise and channel the widespread public antipathy is through a mass movement along the lines of the anti-regime alliances that sprouted in North Africa during the ‘Arab Spring’ some 4/5 years ago and the colour-coded, peaceful ‘revolutions’ in Eastern Europe a little earlier. Such a mass movement must be driven and lead by the educated youth, genuine clan elders (as opposed to the plethora of bought madax daqameed which have been contemptuously, and aptly, named ‘pre-paid’ by the ordinary public), business and social leaders. The opposition parties will have the choice of joining in this people-driven, mass movement or be consigned to irrelevance. The central plank of this opposition movement will be a demand to return to the founding tenets and principles of the re-establishment of SL in 1991, namely:
- The centrality of the national ethos as opposed to the tribal one promulgated and practised by the Silanyo regime. SL belongs to all of its people and the clan affiliation (or lack thereof) of any individual or group is irrelevant to their rights and obligations to and from the state.
- Open and transparent government with all public officials accountable to the people as set out in the constitution. All three branches of government, especially the executive, must understand that they are public servants, i.e. they work for the people and serve at their pleasure.
- Establishment and institution of an independent and effective Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that has powers of subpoena, prosecution and censure.
- Complete restructuring of the Independent Election Commission insulating it from political interference and empowering it to hold elections on their due dates unless overruled by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature.
- Restoration of the quest for international recognition as they key foreign policy objective and the establishment of a Council of Wise Men & Experts to develop a clear and coherent strategy to achieve same.
In order to join this movement, the two opposition parties will have to agree to the formation of a national unity government (NUG) in which they will share power in order to present a unified front to contest the elections on behalf of the people. This will mean, perforce, that they will have to agree upon a program to put the above principles into effect and return the government of SL to its people. This program must be developed in an open and transparent manner and articulated clearly and widely to provide the people with an explicit checklist of actions with which to hold the NUG to account. A second plank of this program for the NUG will be the establishment of an independent committee of experts to review the murky deals the Silanyo government has entered into with foreign interests and the Mogadishu ‘government’ with respect to the national assets of SL, e.g. oil concessions, Berbera Port and the Berbera Fuel Storage Depot. Any such agreements that are found to be against the national interest, or structured for the personal benefit of any special interests shall be either abrogated or cancelled or re-negotiated by the NUG. Another key plank of the program shall be the promulgation of a Code of Ethics that shall bind all public officials and against which they may be prosecuted. The fourth plank of the program needs to be the complete overhaul of the judicial branch of government and the allocation of sufficient resources to ensure its independence, impartiality and professional standards.
The central thesis of this paper is that the Silanyo government presents a clear and present danger to the continued existence of SL as an independent, democratic country and, therefore, that its defeat at the upcoming presidential elections is the principal and overriding national duty of all SL patriots and those sympathetic to its cause. Some extreme conspiracy theorists assert that since Mr. Silanyo had publicly admitted his prior allegiance to the Somaliweyn cause (i.e. the re-establishment of the erstwhile Republic of Somalia) during the election campaign in 2010, that the dismantling of SL from within had always been the central mission of his presidency. While this interpretation of Silanyo’s presidency is too fanciful to contemplate seriously, it is nevertheless an undeniable fact that another five years of the creeping dictatorship characterised by rampant corruption and nepotism and buttressed by savage and severe repression and intolerance of dissent and criticism of this deeply unpopular government will destroy the dream of SL and compromise its democracy and its institutions beyond repair.
In view of this existential threat to the continued progress of the country, and indeed to its very existence, and bearing in mind the clear inability of the two opposition parties to mobilise and channel the widespread public disaffection with this regime, we have sought to propose a practical strategy to mount an effective campaign to defeat the government emphatically at the next presidential elections and so deliver the government of SL back to its people. Since the threat to the nation posed by the Silanyo regime is mortal, and its political modus operandi is the politics of clan-driven ‘divide and rule’, it is necessary to base the opposition campaign firmly on the unifying national ethos. Where the regime seeks support on the basis of rewarding loyal so-called clan leaders while punishing (or excluding from government largesse and patronage) disloyal ones, the national opposition campaign will seek support through appeal to SL’s founding national ethos and the vision of clean government, national development and social justice.
The national opposition campaign will embrace peaceful protest, civil disobedience and mass mobilisation. The opposition parties, and particularly their leaders, will have to subsume their personal ambitions to the national imperative to save SL and deliver it from the evident peril presented by the Silanyo clique. Should these parties and leaders not rise to this challenge, they will suffer the same ignominious fate as the government and lose their political legitimacy. In the 1980s, Somaliland had to be liberated from the oppressive rule of the Afweyne dictatorship through a ten year war of liberation that included calculated genocide by the oppressors. Now, nearly a quarter century after recovering its sovereignty, the country must once again be liberated; this time from a creeping and corrupt domestic dictatorship that will inevitably deliver it back into the arms of Mogadishu and the bankrupt Somaliweyn ideology that enslaved it in the past. This is the mission before us.
Ahmed M.I. Egal