March 31, 2011 ·27 Comments
There was a time when the world seemed reassuringly simple. The era of the Cold War saw essentially two opposing ideological power blocks each convinced of their own superiority. With these rivals came an inherent fear and suspicion that fuelled mind games, propaganda and the desire to outwit and undermine the opposing ideology. The Berlin Wall was the physical manifestation of this division and yet so much of the machinations and manoeuvering was to be played out in the continent of Africa. Following a military coup Siad Barre brought the young Somali republic firmly into the pro-Soviet camp and ruthlessly exploited historic enmities to consolidate his own hold on power. The Isaaq clan amongst others paid a particularly heavy price during Barre’s tyranny and the reign of the notorious Duub Cas (Red Berets).
The duplicity of the Soviet Union along with Cuban troops ensured Somalia’s Ogaden adventure in the late 1970’s was thwarted and as human rights abuses and economic woes mounted things unravelled to such an extent that even Jaalle Siyaad (Comrade Siad) was finally overthrown in 1991. I suppose it was inevitable that after the years of repression and Barre’s anti-clanism that in the power vacuum that followed the clan leaders would wish to re-assert their authority and turn back the clock, but this too has had a cost, one that has meant that Somalia as it stands appears in a state of near-paralysis and thus incapable of moving forward.
All Somalis quite rightly feel a spirit of oneness, a united sense of Soomaaliweyn (Greater Somalia). As a poet people they are suffused with a desire to realise a vision which whilst utterly impractical stills inspires and is the meat and drink of conversation, song and political rhetoric. Somalis are one where ever they are in the world, but what appears to be in short supply amongst the political classes in Mogadishu is any real sense of pragmatism. Clan affiliation and loyalty continues to cloud judgement and perpetuates a system that currently seems incapable of grasping what is required to bring about peace, security, development and prosperity. The world beyond is a forbidding maze and the likes of the African Union (especially with it having its headquarters in Ethiopia) has no understanding or will to help things change for the Somali people. The old men who seek to justify a system which divides influence on a 4.5 clan basis (the four major clans: Isaaq, Darod, Hawiye and the Rahanwein, with the minority clans being deemed worthy of a half presence) demonstrate a misty nostalgia for the past and demonstrate a poverty of vision for the future. This parlous situation and the on-going suffering of Somalia demands a radical change of mindset, one that liberates the people from a sense of victimhood and allows them to move forward and live their lives.
There is no doubting that Somalia is at a crossroads, it now faces some stark choices. In essence it must adapt to survive and this will be both challenging and emotionally painful. In many ways Somalia faces a similar situation to some of the central characters in Spencer Johnson’s motivational book Who Moved My Cheese? Johnston states that in order to progress and survive one must accept the following:
The political elite in Mogadishu resemble the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand when faced by real or imaginary dangers. The Somali people having endured have every right to expect bold and courageous acts from the political leaders who claim to serve them. The status quo is intolerable, as it benefits Al Shabaab, international armaments manufacturers, criminal elements and regional rivals who wish to see the Somali people further weakened. Like it or not things are changing and the politicians and clan leaders had better wake up to reality or risk being left behind. When in 1982 Argentina and Britain fought the Falklands War (a war over the possession of cluster of sparsely populated islands in the South Atlantic) one wry commentator described it as like “two bald men fighting over a comb”, the Mogadishu politicians and their partisan supporters in the local media are engaging in a similarly pointless act.
Change is happening, whether the leadership in Somalia or the African Union likes it or not new nations will be born later this year. A case in point is what is taking place in the Sudan; the gestation period of South Sudan has been a long and painful one. Omar al Bashir for sectarian reasons may wish for a stillbirth, but all the signs are that the democractic aspirations of the long-suffering people of South Sudan will triumph over his selfish desires and odious rhetoric. With every day that passes it becomes all the more certain that very soon Somaliland will be recognized as a sovereign nation. So promising are the signs that the inflow of investment is likely to be considerable and like Rwanda, Somaliland could soon find itself a member of the Commonwealth, having an equal voice with countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada, India and South Africa. All Somalilanders are proud to be Somali, but realise that if they are to build a secure and prosperous future the time has come for them to follow their own path (albeit for a time at least). Rather than railing against the actions of those in Hargeisa it would be far wiser to wish them well, for the Somali family has seen far too much disharmony; good grace and blessing demonstrates greater wisdom than acrimony, veiled threats and bad blood. So now leaders must endeavour to anticipate change and prepare to adapt accordingly, many in the wider world have begun to do so and that is precisely why governments are already planning to send representatives to Hargeisa.
Throughout the Horn of Africa the clan issue is one that some seek to perpetuate. Somalia’s current plight is exacerbated by clan leaders eager to protect and enhance their own powerbase at the expense of the nation. Barre’s Somalia saw a ruthless suppression of the clan system, what is now required is a recognition of its worth, but equally an acceptance of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The Legislature and the Judiciary will require root and branch change and Government ministries will need to develop a culture free from nepotism. It has to be remembered that nepotism and the insidious corruption that results acts like wabayo (a poison made by boiling the roots of the ‘Waba’ tree) To help change and the healing process the country is fortunate to have the Somali Diaspora, this is a remarkable collection of talented individuals, who are well qualified and well connected, many of whom are eager to return to play their part. The Diaspora is willing to help affect change and could actually assist the country to enjoy change, not change for changes sake, but as a way of breaking the current cycle of conflict and despair.
In venturing forth into the unknown challenges and dangers certainly exist, but the alternative, that of doing virtually nothing is even more dangerous. Compromise and pragmatism will be essential and leaders will be required to adapt quickly. For the Somali Government with its limited writ a wealth of issues must be properly addressed and this will demand a clarity of thought, as well as a collective will. To date the impression often given has either been of a qaad (khat) induced stupor or irrationality. The Somalia political class must change to survive, for if it does not move with the times the country will be dismissed by the region and the world as a basket case or even worse a total irrelevance.
By Mark T Jones
London based freelance writer and international advisor on African Affairs.
Somalilandpress | 1 April 2011
Perhaps the likes of Ambassador Augustine P. Mahiga, the Secretary General of the United Nation’s envoy to Somalia, United Nations and international community should explore changes too. Rather than calling for the same old conferences in a foreign soil every time the Interim government’s mandate is about to expire, maybe change is needed. Same venues, same attendees, same hosts, same outcome, same problems. Change is necessary, is fear holding back the international community?Follow @somalilandpress