An Open Letter the People of Puntland
Somalis are no strangers to trials and tribulations, whether they be natural or manmade. Puntland has sought to find its own way forward, and has a number of achievements of which it should be rightly proud. I have been privileged to have seen first hand the good work that is being done, and to have met some of those who are playing such a key role. It has been my good fortune to have conversed with His Excellency the President, both in Garowe and in London, and thus I am acutely aware of both the challenges and the efforts being made to ensure peace, stability and development.
Sadly, Puntland knows only too well what a price is paid for both neglect and deliberate violence. The inertia and indifference of some has directly contributed to the loss of hundreds, possibly thousands of lives. Lives lost in a quest to find a secure future. Desperate Somalis devoid of hope have ventured forth only to perish in the desert sands, at sea or at the hands of unscrupulous human traffickers. To date to my knowledge, no elders nor government ministers, either past or present have been arraigned before the courts to answer for such neglect. The country haemorrhages young people, yet no one has been deemed answerable for such national calamity.
In common with neighbouring Somali territories, Puntland is currently endeavouring to tackle the nefarious activities of Al Shabaab. Members of the armed forces and security services are working with considerable determination and valour, and yet the struggle goes on. Whilst periodic victories will be won, Al Shabaab has two powerful recruiting sergeants, namely poverty and unemployment. Many of those drawn into such groups are not hardened militants with a zeal for terror, they are teenagers and young adults in want of food and work. In reality these ‘rice militants’ often have little or no education, and thus few options in life. The modus operandi of Al Shabaab is to prey on the poor, the illiterate and those who are seeking a greater purpose in life. This cowardly outfit thinks nothing of using child soldiers, and once it has recruited them, often by using coercion, it will seek to further break their spirit and indoctrinate and manipulate them to its will. The remoter regions provide a fertile seedbed for such recruitment, not because the locals are any more militant, but purely out of necessity, for unemployment and under-employment are at extremely high levels amongst male teenagers and young men. Efforts must be urgently be redoubled to win hearts and minds, and to protect children who are vulnerable of capture and being forcibly recruited by militants. Puntland must urgently address the root causes of why people are drawn to Al Shabaab. Capital punishment is most definitely not the answer.
Insurgency actions are often met with calls for draconian action by the courts. Far from having the desired effect, invariably harsh judgments prove counter productive. Terrorist organisations take perverse delight in having created so-called martyrs. There is no sagacity in seeking or authorising capital punishment. Far better to deploy these misguided youths in national development schemes such as tree planting, road repairs or the construction of berkads. Nationally, it would be wiser to work to rehabilitate such citizens and deploy them for the national good. Vengeance has no place in either justice or national development. I speak not of human rights, but of human wrongs, and it behoves us to ensure that in our quest for peace and justice we do not end up impoverishing the nation further.
This being the Holy Month of Ramadan, I respectfully ask that His Excellency the President and the relevant judicial authorities show clemency to those individuals who have recently received death sentences in respect of alleged Al Shabaab activities. All evidence certainly tells us that there is no real victory in taking another’s life, only the sound of lamentation from the innocent. A magnanimous gesture grounded in mercy would be powerful signal to all that Puntland has moved forward, and will continue to do so as one.
Mark T. Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist