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Somalia: Power, Legitimacy and Ideology

By Mohamed Shariff


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The Seventeenth century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes argued that in the absence of an entity that establishes law and order, life would be “nasty, brutish and short”.  Hobbes stated that for fear of violent death, society would ultimately surrender their sovereignty to a sovereign to protect it from violent death.  Apparently, Hobbes was right, but if only it was that simple.  Hobbes should have added that in seeking stability in the midst of chaos, society would face external and internal enemies that would seek that state of limbo, chaos and the absence of accountability.   Some would find their interest in the terrible scene of mass murder.  Their savage personal and political interest would cruelly collide with that state of “nasty, brutish and short”. Somalia is a scene of madness, where external, internal and seemingly unfortunate geopolitical position crafted a perfect brutish and nasty landscape.  As Hobbes predicted, the society sort stability and surrendered its chaotic freedom to one group, the Islamic Court Union (ICU).  Among other catalyst, the ICU is the product of international neglect of Somalia, and a reaction to Prime Minister Meles’ stated objective of permanently fragmented Somalia.


In the last sixteen years, Somalia was dismissed as a “failed state”, and caste as a lawless geographical region of land, inhabited by barbaric warring clans, unable to comprehend the hallmarks of modern state.  Somalia’s international significance was discussed only in the context of regional and international security.  In that lawless, disorder, and mayhem, powerful clan based criminals multiplied. They fought confusingly, constantly, indiscriminately, and for personal gain, and sometimes aimlessly. Neighboring countries fueled the fire by arming the warlords or directly sided with one warlord or another.   Ethiopia has struggled to keep the balance of power, and nearly always armed the weaker warlord to give him enough guns to create chaos, but not enough to dominate.   It was cruelly and clearly designed to be the slow death of a nation, and as President Museveni put it, the “slow genocide” of a people.  The clan was the hiding place for the warlord/terrorists.  There were no shortages of Khat chewing, irrational and wide eyed young men dying and killing unreasonably.  In Mogadishu, they killed at will, raped women and girls, and robbed hungry families of the little they had.  In short, there were shameful acts of violence committed by the warlord-terrorists.


In that scene of chaos, havoc, destruction, disorder, confusion, and genocide, appeared another group, promising law and order, clear way of life, humility, and ideas bigger than the humiliating clan.  The Mogadishu warlords, thanks to the United State’s selective war on terrorism, were crushed unexpectedly, and are on the run.  They joined their fellow warlords in Baidoa, or are out seeking more arms from their master, Meles.  At first, some of them confessed, appeared remorseful and claimed to have repent, and sort forgiveness from their victims (the population).  Then, predictably, they retorted to that tragically shameful trademark of theirs.  They never keep promise, and they are addicted to not keeping it.  Like a monster that was unexpectedly chased from a tasty feast, they ran to Baidoa. So, there they are in Baidoa, broadening the Tigrai occupation based in Baidoa, and rearming for a fight with the ICU.  


The international communities’ reaction to the rise of the ICU was hysteria, and paranoia.  All over sudden, Somalia was on the map, and western media descended on Mogadishu, a terrible spot in the world, where Al-Qaeda could breed like locusts.  Albeit that Mogadishu was Balkanized by warring warlords, and its streets seemed a scene from Dante’s Inferno, the world was alarmed by the rise of Islamic ideology, but not the purgatory of the Somali people in the hands of the deposed warlords. There was less talk on the historical transformation of Mogadishu, and much madness on the ideology of the new power.  The new law and order phenomenon were reported as passing reference, in relative to the western media’s chronicling of the perceived ICU wickedness.


It appeared that the world tolerated the tormenting warlords simply because they were void of ideas, and were impolitic and opportunistic in their cruelty.  I have come to notice the rigidity of ideology, and its ruthlessness.  Sadly, the world implied that genocide by opportunistic warlords is more tolerable than stability by undesirable ideologue opponent.  In its quest to find opposition to the ICU, the international community is desperately seeking to legitimize the Baidoa based warlords.


As far as the Somali people are concerned, however, the ICU is the legitimate political order.  And the world, safe the Melez government, has interest in trying to moderate the ICU instead of trying to force the Somali society into the hands of career criminals. 


In the current international system, legitimacy is established by power, and governments gain legitimacy by at least asserting authority over their citizens, and providing security.  If a government is rightfully elected, but fails to provide minimum security to its citizens, its legitimacy is eroded or vanishes. On the other hand, there are countless unelected administrations that came to power neither by means of popular support nor by simple democratic majority.  Few dictators even overthrew elected leaders, and they converse in the halls of UN General Assembly with other leaders.  The recent Thai military takeover is just one example of an elected government that lost its legitimacy, simply by loosing power.  Other current leaders came to power by rebellion, popular uprising or both.  Some long term dictators in Africa rode to their national capitals and declared themselves national leaders by merely capturing the national capital.  President Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and our neighborly tormentor, Meles came to power by merely claiming victory in their respective national capitals with ragtag rebels.  But they provided semblance of security, and hence that is the main source of their legitimacy.  They have more in common with the ICU, and less with the TFG.  Like those regimes, the ICU gained legitimacy by providing law and order in areas under its control.  Unlike the initial stages of those regimes, furthermore, the ICU enjoys popular support.  To deny the ICU is to discard the popular will of the Somali society.  If the world is not keen to accept the ideological bases of the ICU, neither is forcing career criminals on our throats.  There must be another way, other than the TFG.  For the sake of Somalia, and the region, this warlord entity must cease to exist.   It neither has the bare minimum credibility to represent Somalia, nor the muscle to protect lives and property.


Assuming that the TFG was legitimate in the first place, it had nearly two years before the popular support brought the ICU to power.  During that period, the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI) spent their time bickering among themselves and begging for money.  Mogadishu was a nightmare before it was pacified by the ICU.  Therefore, even in the absence of the ICU, the TFG lost any claim to legitimacy by merely failing to provide basic security to its citizens.  The moment it claimed Somalia’s UN seat, it became compulsory upon the TFG to provide, at least security.  Providing security to its citizens is not a matter of choice for any government, but rather, minimum prerequisite for legitimacy.  Therefore, by failing to provide safety to its citizens, the TFG lost any claim to legality.  The AU even wants to send soldiers to protect the government.  It is a government protected against its people, rather than vice versa.


The TFG, though, was illegitimate from its very conception.  In my view, it never was, and never will be legitimate.  The source, the components, and the objectives of establishing the TFG, were based on illegal means.  The source of the TFG was Meles, Kenya, and the warlords.  Its components are largely the warlords or their appointees.  The members of the TFG were selected either by the chief warlords, or were warlords themselves.  The warlords did not participate in the conference because of their statesmanship, but insultingly, because of their notoriety and criminality.  In that Nairobi conference, dishonor, and unsavory reputation were principal qualifiers.  The number of AK rifles, RPGs and Technicals a warlord possessed, not wisdom, were tickets to the conference. And from the beginning of that two year “peace conference”, the objective was for Ethiopia, the godfather of the TFG, to create more chaos in Somalia. Therefore, the TFG was never meant to happen, safe where it is designed to solidify the permanent destruction of the Somali political entity.


The sole source of legitimacy for the TFG is the misguided recognition of International Community, and its lifeline from the Tigrai administration (TPLF).  That recognition is based on the same faulty notion that allowed the warlords to wreck havoc on Somalis.  It is based on ICU fear, grounded on misunderstanding, and wholesale swallow of the TPFL line on the ICU.  The international Community adopted the TPLF’s position on Somalia; therefore, Somalia is heading for more chaos.  The Tigrai administration in Ethiopia and Somalia are in existentialist struggle.  Consequently, adopting the TPLF’s line on Somalia constitutes the dearth of Somalia as a nation state, permanently.  The United Nation, in its classic deferral to power, failed to consider the popular view of Somalis; that the ICU, despite its imperfections, is the only hope of reuniting the Somali state.  International aid organizations even withdrew their staff largely because they did not want to legitimize the ICU.  According to the UN’s IRIN news, the “humanitarian workers are concerned not only about whether their security can be guaranteed by the UIC but also whether donor groups will support interaction and cooperation with the de facto government of the UIC – possibly giving it more legitimacy.” Ironically, the UN had no qualms serving under the warlords.  IRIN continued, “(backing) of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) through allies such as Ethiopia will no doubt prolong the fighting and subsequent suffering of the many displaced and impoverished Somalis, and risk closing the current humanitarian space again.”  The above statement is a cruel acknowledgment, proofing that the purpose of the TFG is to create chaos and to prolong the civil war.  It is a tool of foreign manipulation, which has no purposeful utility for the Somali community, or for that matter the international community.  The TFG is, evidently, void of any usefulness, and its ailing continuation is an indication of the objective of neighboring foes, which it serves obediently, and to the degree that Somali politics has become a mere chase board for neighboring countries.   


Some commentators have argued that Kenya and Ethiopia have legitimate concerns about potential hostile Somali government.  But that argument crudely implies that Somalia is expendable if it may remotely pose a threat to its neighbors.  Indeed, Kenya and Ethiopia have concerns about Somalia, but Somalia has legitimate concerns too.  Peaceful coexistence is not inevitable, nor is our relationship a zero some came.  The Kenyan Ethiopian concerns can only be addressed by a rightful Somali government, but not a quasi, rootless warlord by-product.  If Meles wants to wage war in Somalia, he may end up engulfing the whole region in fire.  For Somalis, it is sad that their window of hope has too many hostile fires coming, and they may feel that it is a continuity of the long conflict.  As Somalis say; Nin qoyan biyo iskamailaasho (a wet person does not protect himself/herself from water).  But I am afraid that Meles will destroy Ethiopia in the process.  The TFG is not only weak; it has credibility crisis, and it is the product of criminal warlords.  It was largely elected by the fugitive Mogadishu warlords, and if the source of the TFG is gone, it must not have international recognition.  And for the international community, its support for the TFG, rather than help, is prolonging the conflict. Bestowing international legitimacy on the TFG is politically hopeless case, and dangerously naïve.  Recognizing the ICU will not only be in step with the popular view of Somalis, but in addition, it will graduate the ICU to responsible international actor, and for that matter, legitimate representative of Somalia, responsive to the wishes of the larger Somali society, and international concerns.


Mohamed Shariff
E-mail: [email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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