by Hussein Samatar
Monday, May 14, 2012
On Saturday, May 12th the weather in Minneapolis was exquisite. It was sunny and beautiful day. It was a day for spending outdoors; not a day to listen to a new political party’s new ideas and platform regarding the issues of Somalia.
After starting two hours late, the lineup of speakers was carefully balanced along clan lines, religion, and support. They all spoke quite well and each stressed the need for unity among Somalis, and the necessity of rebuilding Somalia.
Lately, it seems to me the Somalis both in Somalia and the Diaspora are either running for the Presidency or forming new political parties. So, I was not too thrilled to give up my Saturday afternoon for another attempt at sloganeering and empty rhetoric. However, at the request of a friend to attend, I did just that.
I really did not know much about the Hiil Qaran party before attending this meeting, beyond what I had seen on the party’s website and charter. A great read, the charter defines quite clearly the proposed structure in the three main areas of: policy making, disciplinary, and executive organs. However, nowhere on the website could I find the people who would actually hold these positions. I felt this neglect to be little bit strange. In human interactions, especially policy and political circles, individuals follow other familiar and trusted individuals. Even in advanced democracies, like our United States, few people actually read the platform of the parties. I can only imagine this number is even lower in a country like Somalia, with a low literacy rate, and where a large portion of the Diaspora might struggle with the charter in written in Somali, and be completely unable to read it in English. This was very striking omission for me.
The only personality of the Hiil Qaran party that I am familiar with is Professor Ahmed Samatar, whom I have met with a couple of times. In April of 2009, we were both invited to appear on the Midday program of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), in which we had a dialogue about the Somali-Minnesotan community and the disappearance of a handful young Somali-Minnesotans back to Mogadishu, Somalia. As you could hear from listening to the program, Professor Samatar essentially argued that Somalis everywhere, and especially those of us here in Minnesota, are “bad apples” and will not amount to anything. Further, the Somali-Minnesotan community is not interested in integration (whatever integration means) or the American culture.
So, this was my only window into Hill Qaran party. No other names on the website besides Professor Ahmed Samatar, who is the Chairman of the party and (although it was not made official during the meeting) is gearing up to run for Somalia’s presidency. Last time I met him it was clear to me on where he stands towards the Somali people, in particular Somali-Minnesotans. Still I came with an open mind to listen and learn.
When the meeting officially began, all but one of the speakers spoke too long. Additionally, despite a stressing from the podium for gender balance and gender inclusion into Somalia’s political affairs, there was only one woman speaker – whose only task was to energetically read the biography of Professor Ahmed Samatar.
Finally, when we get to hear from the main speaker, Professor Ahmed Samatar, it was after 9:00 p.m. The speech was average and long. Professor Samatar made quite obvious points about Somalia’s current political situation. There was not really any new material for the people who regularly read about Somalia, and are very familiar with the quagmire of the South and South-Central portions of the country.
The question and answer session was practically limited to just one question and one comment due to time constraints. By the time we were done it was 11:00 p.m. A long night indeed!
From what I observed Saturday night, here are my top 10 reasons why Hiil Qaran party may not be able to make any real political difference in Somalia.
1- Contrary to what was said from the podium, it was not obvious to me who wields power in this new party besides Professor Ahmed Samatar.
2- Party favors decentralized unitary power for all Somalia. And it seems to me Hiil Qaran party is ignoring the reality of Somaliland, Puntland, and to some extend Galmudug. Galmudug was not even mentioned.
3- Action speaks louder than words. The organizers did horrible job in not including more women speakers. And many people would like to know how women voices are embraced within party’s power structure.
4- Although almost all Somalis universally despise 4.5 clan power sharing, they are not interested in going back to a system of centralized power that only gives lip service to decentralization. I believe that federalism might be a much more hopeful system, if Somaliland is willing to stay within the union. However, Hiil Qaran seems to reject the federalism idea.
5- Hiil Qaran party is being created outside of Somalia. As articulated on Saturday night, the only office it has in the country is in Mogadishu. Yet, Mogadishu has been in trouble over 20 years. Without Al-Shabaab threatening the international community, the city would have been abandoned by now. Therefore, Hiil Qaran party does not seem to have legitimate region that it can operate from, because Mogadishu is not the natural habitat for the founders of the party.
6- Somalis truly let themselves down by killing and maiming each other. Without proper, true, and grassroots reconciliation, it will be difficult for the country to recreate a sense of “nation”. Hiil Qaran Party seems to believe this process can happen and start from South and South Central of Somalia, which is the area that I from, but these regions do not have any track record in the last twenty years in doing so. Miracles can happen but the prognosis is not good. The only reason the Transitional Federal Government is still around is because of the African ground force and international support. This is the only legitimacy that the TFG has to even be at the table with the likes of Somaliland and Puntland. I wish there will be another region called Jubbaland to be at the table too, instead of that area currently being dominated by Al-Shabaab.
7- Hiil Qaran party does not currently have identifiable personalities who are experienced in Somalia’s rough and tumble politics. Given that the only way to grab the power of Somalia’s presidency lately has been through the corrupt and demeaning clan system, Hiil Qaran does not seem to stand a chance to win the presidency anytime soon. If Somalia goes to a federal system, it will be even more problematic for the Hiil Qaran party.
8- Teaching political economy and international studies does not necessarily prepare someone to be the head of fragmented country like Somalia. President for whom? If lucky, it will be the continuation of the format which is limited and ineffective TFG in South and South Central Somalia. Outside of this trajectory it will take huge leadership, renewed civic engagement, and Somalis loving each other again, in order to form a strong state for Somalia. Hiil Qaran party understands this and articulates it, but it does not seem to know how to go about doing it.
9- There are already over 36 candidates who have declared their desire to be the next president of Somalia. Hiil Qaran party will join a very crowded field, of new political parties. Further, Hiil Qaran cannot be sustained from outside of the country. Sooner or later it will need to have real presence somewhere in Somalia. As it stands now, it cannot operate from Somaliland, Puntland or any other regional authorities territory except Mogadishu.
10- Somalia definitely needs Hiil Qaran but the Hiil Qaran party might not be it.
Hussein Samatar is the Executie Director of the African Development Center and was recently elected to the Minneapolis School District