By Dr. Ali Bahar
For about 16 years, hardly a day passes without “ the wars in Somalia” making headline. Whether it’s the Warlords or the Wadaads (Islamists), the power brokers in southern Somalia have been presenting themselves as the only “Smart Native in the Jungle”, the locus of power.
The poor public, to a larger degree, bought into this shortsighted argument of “Me Against my Brother (tribalism)”. We the public have shortchanged our national character and strength, the basic elements for a strong nation, in exchange for clan allegiance.
There was once a Somali spirited nation that, though young and with its all growing pains and shortcomings, was rich with a sense of pride and nationalism; a courageous nation that was once considered exemplary for those Somalis still remained occupied against their will. Our strength and pride emanated from a long list of socially recognizable perennial ethnic ties. Realization of such originality and ethno-symbolism gave rise to our common heritage and nationalistic movements. Such attributes of pride in one’s own self; a trust with his fellow brother and country, utilized our sense of understanding our common destiny and the attributes that our forefathers sacrificed for our sacred territory and self-autonomy. Unfortunately, we have chosen to take a wrong turn, a violent departure from our decades-old, established social order of peaceful coexistence and brotherhood, the power of unity, just to replace it with a badly weakened state of anarchy where only the stronger is the sole lawgiver; we have paid a high price. We have lost our pride as a people, and at the end, we all lost vision and sense of loyalty for our nation, which lead to the despicable state of affairs we found ourselves in today. We have opened the doors for anyone with the intent to take advantage of our situation. It could have been anyone of a long list of people, organizations or countries. It does not matter much whether Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, USA or the Arabs killed our people. They all killed us. Time to admit our weaknesses and face our own demons. The virtue of the public is to achieve its ends with a different kind of power, unifying against the evil within. We destroyed our ultimate power, the people’s power. It is time we face our own demons; no one else to blame but us.
Never seemed to exert their will against the warlord domination and the rendered humiliation, the public, as a result have been victimized by their own lethal medicine of “What’s in For Me And For My Clan” tribal allegiances. Under this mindless attitude everyone has been a loser, or at least so it seems to any rational and objective analysts of the Somali situation. This resulted the lack of legitimate governing body in the country, especially in Southern Somalia for the last 16 years. For the last two and half years, the power struggle between TGF, the warlords, the Islamists and some resistance from elements among the so-called civil societies, the manifesto (see Abdalla Hirad’s article, titled: The TFG’s victory over the UIC-triumph or new mince for the nation?) have complicated the matter. All have their eyes on the prize.
The TFG had her eye on the president’s seat in Mogadishu; a seat both the warlords and the Islamists vowed to deny it, or even any possible success in governing Mogadishu. The “manifesto” group, under the disguised assumed name of civil societies, played their card behind the sciences, trying to maximize their influence; a long quest in becoming the core of the future political clan-elite leadership. Their prize was to deny Abdillahi yussuf, the militarist, his chance to govern. The “manifesto” group or the civil societies elites wanted to have a deep bite into the power structure and keep it all to themselves. However, the militarists, this time Abdillahi Yussuf on the helm, have becoming their stumbling block.
An intellectually analyzed article (cited above), with significant historical facts and insights, by Abdalla A. Hirad, has been published in many Somali websites today. Mr. Hirad, as always, presents a compelling series of historical events and anecdotes that summarize the intricacy of a seemingly intractable elite-militarist power struggle that have been evolving the last 16 years. As someone with no interest in power or position, nor never had in any government, Mr. Hirad treated us with his objective examination of the question of who is fighting for power in this despicable state of affairs we have in Somalia. He skillfully explains how groups composed from outset of militarists; elites, Islamists and sectarianisms are all presenting themselves as clan representatives. Unlike the militarists and the Islamists, who declared their desire to rule the nation with their own different mandate, the manifesto group has miserably failed to present a clear mandate entailing what they want and how will they go about in leading the nation at this critical juncture. In fact the manifesto-elites, being unorganized and unaccommodating of each other’s viewpoint, cannot even sit down together as a group and formulate a coherent leadership for the people. The only thing they have in common is the unjustified and uncompromising outright rejection of Abdillahi Yussuf and his militarist government. Yet, though they tell you that the Islamists lacked leadership and clearly stated vision to unite the nation, and despite their public criticisms of the radical elements in the so-called revolution, such as Sheikh Dahir Awaeys and Indhacadde, they still left you with owe and perplexed with their unwavering support for the Islamists. They do this not because of a strong believe of Islamic Sharia law, but just because of their desire to use the Islamists as means to conquer the illusive power from the militarists. For me, nonetheless, it is not even about their quest for power; nothing is wrong with that. But the suggestion that we should throw away the only internationally recognized transitional government and start all over again, sounds unintelligent and irrational, especially coming from the learned, so-called elite group. Instead of constantly exerting political pressure and clandestine power-driven campaign against the TFG, the manifesto elites could, instead, join the militarist government and make the necessary changes and corrections and help the Somali people to crawl out of this misery and painful state of affairs. That should be the primary national interests over this manifesto-militarist power struggle. .
Another group who had their eyes on the prize was the Islamists. The emergence of the UIC, though short-lived, has forced out the ruthless warlords from Mogadishu and restored some resemblance of peace and stability. Many people, including myself, have welcomed the initial success of the Islamists over the notorious warlords, when established a sense of stability in Mogadishu, and applauded their commendable actions in removing the Isbarato that terrorized the Mogadishu residents.
However, tactless and probably due to bad advices from the so-called civil societies, the UIC thought they had their prize, the TFG, secured in their pocket, right where they wanted them, and wanted to encapsulate them in Baidoa and destroy them. However, the clan-centered-emotion driven-Islamic revolution seems to have melted away with the same speed it has risen to power. Dropped like a rock from their short-lived papacy, the Islamist’s empty promise of revolution is now using al-qacda tactics to prolong the painful Somali war. They never had the vision nor the knowledge, skills and the temperament of leadership. Having been associated with the ruthless Al-Qacda, a charge they vehemently denied, and with the remnants of al-Itihaad al-Islaami hardliners in Sheikh Dahir Aweys on their helm, they early on became an easy and justifiable target for the US and Ethiopian strong campaign against the war of terror. In addition, except few seemingly moderate but powerless elements in their higher ranks, the so-called Islamic revolution remained a halfway-house for most of the notorious warlords, such as Indhacadde and many of the disillusioned, opportunistic, young criminals, who were used as the means. As if that was not enough to scare people out of their shoes, their swift introduction of a widely unpopular and deeply divisive Sharia Law of Taliban style scared many who would have otherwise supported them. Their attempt to institute the strict Sharia Law of Wahhabism as the only form of Islam allowed to practice in the country, seen as their ticket to achieve their political power, has revealed how much they underestimated the public. Skepticism followed by rejection by many and it backfired. You cannot talk to me about nationalism while you are burning the blue and beautiful Somali flag in Kismayo and replacing it with some strange looking, black flag symbolizing the work of al-Qacda. This was clearly a rhetoric and hollow nationalism spearheaded by few radical Islamists while using our young men as the means.
Today’s young “Kacdoon”, the core of the so-called Islamic revolution, have already experienced a let down by their nation. Many, at a very early stage in their lives, experienced unimaginably tough life of mass killings and crimes on the streets and in their own homes, displacements and misplaced values in refugee camps, which included criminal activities, like rape and distortion in hands of their own kind as well as foreigners who see them as something less than human. Haunted by the war’s horror of 16 years, terrorized by the preventable deaths of many of their love ones, hindered and hammered by the lost years in their schooling, this young generation feel unwanted by the collective Somali community. They were never instilled with a feeling of pride and responsibility that they are the future of something big and beautiful, the Somali Nation. They had some critical questions about the war, their lives and their future. It was [and still is] a war that, after 16 years, our children cannot even tell who won and who lost; except the horror they will remember and the psychological lifetime scars left behind. Somali children were drawn into a war that they never understood, much less demanded to know the full truth about it. And once more, this time, these young men were mercilessly ushered into a war, under the false premises of Islamic revolution, to fight the Ethiopian Mighty; a war they knew little about how to fight. They once again paid a high price, though no one, just as it has always been, is willing to talk about how many and who died in this war. Whether they died while defending a warlord or Islamists cause, their death is just another death, a dead body, no more. It should not have been that way.
They soon realized that a mere knowledge of how to shoot AK-47 assault rifle was not enough to fight the Ethiopian mighty. They were unorganized and never had the tangibles to understand war. In war, one must know who is to trust, should be able to distinguish between a friend and a foe, and above all you should have the broad support of national alliance behind you. Many had the desire to fight and kill, the only way they valued themselves, but never learned to reason why nor did they believe strongly and committed enough to Aweys’s hallow rhetoric of Islamic revolution. He had his prize on the eye, Abdillahi Yussuf, and cared not much about who died to get him there. They were promised the heaven if joined the movement and fought the TFG-Ethiopia mighty in Baidoa, a war they did not have to fight.
After facing heavy casualty and early lost of high human lives in their attack on Baidoa, the Islamists declared a change of tactic of the war. They played their tactic of the war not so much to save the lives of these young men, nor to protect the public from yet another unnecessary human casualties and property lost, but in fact, to have an unorganized, unsupervised, freelance resistance and explosions in every corner of these cities they have evacuated from. It was, in fact, a very calculated irresponsible act on the part of the UIC. They were counting on the public to take the guns and fight what they called the enemy of Somalia and Islam, the Ethiopia-TFG pack. Thank God, the public did not follow suite to carry on what the Islamists were expected of them. The credit goes to the public, who lived in these heavily populated cities like Mogadishu and Kismayo, especially those young fighters who chose not to fight the Ethiopian mighty. Kudos to the public, it was a commendable and wise decision to save these cities. This demonstrates that ultimately the public is the only power that could decide whether the war in Somalia should continue. It was the populations in northern Somalia (Somaliland) who decided against civil war and forced the dispersal of the militarist mighty (SNM), and it is about time the people in southern Somalia realized their power and said no to war in their backyard.
My advice to the UIC is to come to their senses and save their nation from yet another long al-Qacda war. Today, as I am writing this article, the number 2 man in Al-Qacda organization is once again appealing to the Islamists to continue war. He has no regard for who and how many of our children could die while supporting his war, this proxy imported al-Qacda war. Sheik Aweys should realize that the al-Qacda elements he is protecting have become the USA and Ethiopian prize. They are not worthy of the death of our innocent young men. If sheik Aweys and his few Islamic radicals care about their nation and their people, they should put down their weapons, come to the table and be part of the solution. No need for another threat that could push the country further towards jihadism and extremist violence.
The TFG, too, had her eyes on the prize for a long time. And though the recent success of the Ethiopian-backed Transitional federal government (TFG) is yet another new chapter of the Somali saga, only time will tell whether it is an attempt of reviving yesterday’s Warlordism or a restoration of law and order in the country. Everyone, Ethiopia, USA, TFG, Warlords, UIC, Al-Qacda and the Somali civil societies have their eyes on the prize, whatever their prize is. As for now the TFG proclaims to be the top of the food chain where the stronger swallows the rest.
Today, even with this sudden power shift from UIC to the Ethiopian-TFG company, things still look really murky in the troubled Somali Capital, Mogadishu, known as the kill zone by some. Uncertainty has been the daily dose for Mogadishu residents, who, for a long time, somehow, found a way to operate under and tolerate all those violent and sudden changes of control and command that are taking place in their city. Today, there is yet another Sheriff in town giving orders and proclaiming the control of the situation. The transitional government (TFG) and its Ethiopian-led military mighty were reported strolling down on the streets of almost all of the “prohibited towns” in Southern Somalia. All the towns once in the hands of the UIC, towns that have for long time remained out of reach of the TFG, fell right into her hands. Warlords and Wadad’s (the Islamists) alike, for the last two and half years, tested, taunted and teased, or even dared the TFG if it could put a foot on these towns, let alone having the power to control the long neglected and abused beaches and the ports of Mogadishu, Mercca, Kismayo, including beyond and in between as well. By now the Ethiopian soldiers, euphoric with their easy and overnight success, are probably having a field of lifetime fun on our beautiful beaches, testing and tasting the ever-blue salty water for the first time. A dream coming true, for whom I don’t know. Hard to tell whose dream came true, the TFG, the Warlords, Meles Zenawi, or the Somali civil societies. All eyes are on the prize.
The TFG dreamed that one day the Somali people would welcome them to their homes and their hearts in approval of their claimed legitimacy as the only government recognized internationally to rule the country. Too early to tell, but there are at least signs that the Somali public might have opted for peace—so it seems at least. It was the Somalis in these cities, from Hiran to Kismayo, who decided to save their cities from yet another war.
It is imperative, however, that the TFG realizes, rather earlier than later, that though tables turned in their favor and the political lineups are once again taking some twists and turns of their own, the war is not over yet and that the wounds of the war are still fresh and still bleeding; that the dead is not buried yet and that flies and vultures alike have yet to identify who of our young men are still alive somewhere, alone and waiting for help. Everything is too early and the Somalis everywhere have yet to digest the question of why Ethiopians are on our streets. More importantly, perhaps, what the TFG should realize is that the Somali people want to see the Ethiopian forces out of the country as soon as possible. What is critically important for the TFG to gnaw on is that the Somali people bear enough humiliation to be imposed on unpopular Ethiopian intervention in our Somali affairs. TFG has yet to win the hearts and minds of the majority in these cities. Only swift disarmament and quick return of law and order in return, could ease the tension, build our confidence and wash away our skeptics. Disarmament has to be the number one priority for the public to at least feel safe in their homes and on the streets.
There are immediate and long-term responsibilities expected of the TFG if she is to prove itself as a government that cares about the people she wants to rule. Some of the immediate actions expected of the TFG include, though not limited to, the following:
- Removal of all Isbaroto from the streets of these cities and quick actions of disarmament of the warlords and their militants (militias)
- Restoring a sense of law and order and stability on the streets
- Creation of police forces in these cities to enforce law and order
- Swift and convincing tangible actions that could indicate the government is in control and has guarantee security
- Mobilizing and empowering the public to rebuild and put their lives back together
- Early departure of Ethiopian troops from the Somali cities (could be replaced by Somali forces, if available, or by other Africans if possible, at least for a while)
- TFG, its cabinet members and parliament should come together as soon as possible for the sake of saving this nation from another war; it is no more about these individuals. It is rather about this nation as whole.
- Opening dialogue and discussions on how to move forward with clearly articulated vision for the future of this badly tarnished nation.
- Presenting clearly articulated plans on how to rebuild the badly damaged infrastructure of the whole country—delegating authority to the local people to assess their local needs and how they want to go about fixing it, of course, with the support of the government in building schools, public health facilities, sanitations and water systems, roads, ports, airports, and secure and safeguard the mobility of businesses across cities and across states.
- Quick and convincing actions and campaigns to invite and encourage the international communities in bringing humanitarian aid and investment strategy in their promise of rebuilding this nation again
For the long term, I see it very important that the TFG should find a way, through charter amendment or otherwise, to maintain her seat in Baidoa. There has been too much priority and price put on Mogadishu. Nothing personal, in fact, I grew up in Mogadishu and still in love with the city, but I thought it is about time the rest of the country and other cities were given their share of the honor of hosting the government, especially Baidoa. The core of my argument is that there are displaced and needy people in every part of the country, where towns, neighborhoods and villages are reduced to a shell of their original forms, health services have reported to have disappeared or ceased to function in many parts of the country, the few existing local services, if any, have been overburdened or depleted of supplies in many communities as every one was left to fend for one’s self. Our oceans were poisoned and abused, extinction of marine species by illegal activities and organized illegal fishing and waste dumping deeply affected the coastal population financially and emotionally. Roads disappeared, even mountains, hills, landscapes and forests and once thickly and beautiful trees have been stripped clean or burned to the ground. There is a need for a critical evaluation and reconstruction in every part of this nation. It goes without saying, therefore, that this government should come up with a clear mandate, a framework of some critical reanalysis and rearrangement of how this government or any other government that follows wants to reconstruct, not only Mogadishu, but many communities in nation. The focus has been in Mogadishu for too long and it is about time a shift in focus should emerge to address the nation as whole. The commitment to equal opportunities should be reflected in efforts to locate productive activities in many villages and cities and municipalities. Today’s situation in Somalia mandates that if any central government has to function, it should be seen in action in all localities. An early commitment to radical distribution of wealth, human resources, jobs, reconstruction and empowering of local communities, a commitment to high degree of social equality is warranted. The task for this government is to start acting like a responsible government and find ways to actively and fully participate in all localities. It owes to the Somali people who have been patient with the TFG thus far.
As much as our cities need effective rehabilitation, 16 years of neglect and illegal waste dumping of solid waste, chemical waste and nuclear waste have threatened our oceans and could have done irreversible consequences that may take our coastal oceanic ecosystems to extinction, unless quick rehabilitation is taken. A recent report on the illegal fishing practices on the coastal areas in Awdal region, Somaliland caused an uproar concern and disappoint of many local people in the area. As sadly as it may sound, even the president of Somaliland, Mr. Dahir Rayale has been reported to have contributed his share of the environmental damage and illegal fishing practices, as to late, on the coastal areas between Zeila and Lughaya. Boats and people working for him are irresponsibly using illegal and abusive fishing practices, with no regard for the concerns of the local people in the area.
Mr. Rayale, a man described as being incompetent, rigid, callous, corrupt and insular by those who know him, is acting as if he is running out of time in his scheme of getting-rich soon. He has once taken a solemn oath, in his earlier line of work as an SNN officer in Siyad Barre’s regime, to protect the Somali nation in its totality. He denounced that oath when he supported the breakaway region (Somaliland). He once again took an oath to protect the Somaliland public, including those reside in the coastal area, from harm, abuses and atrocities. However, never has his hide or hair been seen in the area, nor has he ever visited the area in person to see how these communities live and what their needs are. It looks to me that he has once again denounced such oath and responsibility and he is callously unleashing his authority for his own selfish gain, which is threatening the powerless Somali people.
These kinds of atrocities are very rampant everywhere in our coastal areas; illegal fishing and abusive practices are terrorizing many powerless local communities, who benefit nothing whatsoever, from these powerful and lacerating fishing fleets in our unprotected coastal areas. We are blessed with a vast array of seaports; most of them dilapidated due to neglect, along the coast from Zeila to Kismayo. It is time we take control of our oceans, build more seaports or improve the existing once, and empower the local communities to protect their rights and resources from abuses. Time to empower the local communities and give them access to free trade to where they want and to whom they wish to have trade exchange with. It is a critical time for our nation. Time to move beyond Mogadishu. All eyes are on the prize.
Dr. Ali Bahar
E-mail: [email protected]