by Mohamoud A. Gaildon
A month or so ago, a group of Somali Members of Parliament held a press conference in Mogadishu and produced a map they claimed was a leak from Prime Minister Geddi’s office in Baidoa. The map was an illustration of Ethiopia and Somalia as one country. Incredible! I told myself as did, I am sure, most Somalis who had come to know of it. Then last week Vice Prime Minister Hussein Aidid shared with a group of elders a supposedly Government-envisioned plan to dissolve the long disputed border between Somalia and Ethiopia and institute one passport and one security system for the two countries. The following day, Mr. Dinari, the Transitional Federal Government’s chief spokesman, denied Mr. Aidid’s statement and termed it “too early,” opening the door for the possibility it just might happen one day in the future.
Add to the mix the following depiction of Al-Imam Ahmed Gurey in a recent article by a leading Somali thinker and essayist:
The Imam’s army marched through Ethiopia, looting and destroying churches including the Axumite Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion where Ethiopian emperors had been coroneted for years….
Ethiopia, by contrast, comes out with flying colors:
The walled town of Harar, with its 99 mosques, thrived for generations under the Ethiopian rule as the most important seat of Islamic learning in the Horn of Africa.
Further, and perhaps to drive his point home, the author chooses to call the Imam Ahmed Gran, an Ethiopian preference.
What do the quotes from the article and the aforementioned items have in common? They together are a sign of the times, the odor in the air, and the taste in the mouth. Standing alone and in former times, they would have come across as frivolous. But they fit a pattern. From Barre’s Opposition crossing over to Ethiopia, and thereby breaking a taboo, to the Transitional Federal Government inviting Ethiopian troops into the country, an unmistakable trend continues with no end in sight.
Through thick and thin, and in the loneliest moments of agony and despair, many Somalis nursed the fading flame of hope that one day Somalia would emerge from its long and bloody nightmare healthier and stronger than ever before. We were, as indeed we still are, of the hope that in the new Somalia the identity of the Somali nation would return intact and inviolate. As is true of all other nations, our present cannot be divorced from our past. Our fears and desires, our dreams and national aspirations, our collective psyche, are all products of our history. And if you examine that history, you will find that one thing, more than any other, defines the Somali nation and bestows upon it its enduring character: defiance of Ethiopian domination. Our flag, our national songs, our school curricula, our folk tales, are together an embodiment of that national identity that sets Somalis apart from other, some much larger, nations long gobbled up and lost into the Ethiopian night. I now ask whether that majestic face of years ago has been dealt a mortal blow.
Some say this is a new Ethiopia, very unlike the Ethiopia of Heile Selase and Mengistu, and that we should not worry. The Ethiopian Soldiers will go home: They are here just to help us restore authority. I hold the view that, essentially, there is no new Ethiopia. With the Ethiopian throne comes a vast inheritance of territories gained through conquest and as gifts by colonial powers. And it is the forcible holding of unwilling nations that will continue to shape Ethiopian policy towards Somalia. Ethiopian interest lies in a feeble, quiescent Somalia. Meles may have been Somalia’s friend when he needed it, but now the trappings, the lure, the dictates, of power get in the way. Why would he let a prostrate Somalia off the hook?
Here and there, now and again, a little bit at a time, a hint or two emerge. As I write this article, there are reports that the commander of the Somali troops in Hiran and Middle Shabelle Regions, Col. Mukhtar Hussein Afrah, has been arrested by Ethiopian soldiers. Do I need to go into the implications of this portentous incident?
Things are happening a lot sooner than I thought they would! Is this the writing on the wall, a harbinger of things to come, the ways of the future?
A few days ago, Prime Minister Geddi assembled former Somali military officers and exhorted them to forget what had happened between Somalia and Ethiopia. Ethiopian officials have talked of Ethiopia building a police force for Somalia. The important Ministry of the Interior is held by one (Aidid) who has already made his grand vision clear. Will the TFG renounce territorial claims against Ethiopia in a comprehensive treaty? Will the flag be redesigned (the pentagram altered to some grotesque figure)? Will the school syllabi be rewritten (changing, among other things, Gurey to Gran and lauding Ethiopian rule over Harar)? Let’s wait and see.
Ethiopian troops will leave, but they will leave behind a government beholden to it and a country in shackles. There is already a vast network of Ethiopian ties with various warlords, underlings of warlords, former police and military officers, and many other potential leaders. Amble evidence abounds that high-ranking officials of the TFG have their own private channels of communication with Ethiopia. Even more ominous is the specter of a new Somali security force packed with Ethiopia’s men, as it were. Make no mistake about it, the menacing nightmare of a government where even the President dare not make a move that can rub Ethiopia the wrong way towers redoubtably over all other possibilities. And then, if God forbid, this comes to pass, we will be truly done for.
And yet, and yet, with all my qualms and bitterness, I would resign myself to fate, nay, to reality if I could only see the winter of despair giving way to a spring of hope.
This is emotional you may say, and you may be right. The argument that we should refrain from emotional expressionism merits attention. Extreme emotions like rage and euphoria dull the mind and lead to rash action and irrational behavior. There are, however, emotions humanity should like to keep. Love is an emotion; happiness is an emotion; kindness is an emotion; piety to God is partly an emotion. Emotion is what spurs us to action. Without emotion, there would be no art, no literature, no music, and humans would be mere heartless automatons; life would be boring and listless. It is hard to imagine men and women stripped of emotion. Notions of pride and dignity, now mocked as empty words, are based on emotion. Emotion is what spurs man and woman to act, and to give life and limb to remain free. Great leaders have recognized emotion as a valuable means to stir nations. Laden with raw emotion, Churchill’s great speeches of World War II led the British to their finest glory when they stood against Hitler. And just as Churchill was provoked by a fear of domination so are we; for we perceive Ethiopia no less an enemy than Germany was to Britain, and we perceive ourselves no less human than the British.
Mohamoud A. Gaildon
E-mail: [email protected]