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Testing Times for Somalia

by Abdullahi Dool
Monday, July 23, 2007


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These are testing times. Not everyone can assess situations. But we all know that the situation in Somalia is far from normal. We know many Somalis have perished and the lives of many more have been seriously affected.  Every situation is different and every crisis has its remedy. When we say we should not resort to violence cynics may think that we are borrowing time for the Transitional Federal Government. To call for sanity does not necessarily mean to appease or to be an apologist. In order for the nation to emerge out of the miasma back home, pragmatism should prevail. Everyone needs to understand the complexity of the current situation: the Ethiopians did not just venture into Somalia! Even so, the TFG has a shelf life in the form of a mandate, expiring in 2009. The question is: what is then to be the remedy for our national crisis? Meantime merely to call for violence is tantamount to indicating your left ear by raising your right hand. Those who kill and assassinate people in cold blood are neither responsible nor constructive. In the current situation, the national cause will not be enhanced by wild and ill-considered acts of violence: they may well even hamper the national cause. 


In the deadly civil strife of the 1990s, it was lack of dedicated leadership that brought the nation to its knees. This had resulted in Somalis killing and maiming one another on the basis of their clan. The innocent were targeted not for what they had done but for what clan they belonged to. Currently there is the transitional government voted in by a conference in Nairobi in 2004 and as in any government, it is individuals who are in power and not clans. The TFG is made up of individuals from different Somali communities, all personally responsible for their actions. The TFG does not represent any particular clan. Nor are those in it all from any particular community. Even though a clan is not a political party, in the TFG all clans are represented based on a UN assisted formula. It is futile to support or oppose the TFG or any Somali government because of clan considerations. Rightly or wrongly the TFG will endeavor to do what it deems fit until its ‘mandate’, drawn from that Nairobi conference, runs out in 2009. In crisis we have to learn from other nations: we have to remain and think as a nation.


Too often we have seen how cruel our people can be to one another. One important aspect of nationhood, which was lost during the anarchic era of the civil war, is sharing the pain of fellow nationals. That is what makes us citizens of one nation. Somalis should end the artificial animosities sown in their midst and rediscover nationhood: the feeling of love and respect for one another as compatriots of one nation. Our quest for harmony should be paramount because it is the foundation of peace and stability. Harmony should be based on love and respect for one other as partners in the progress and development of our nation.


We understand why many of our people exhibit irrational dependency on the clan factor. This has a root cause. Our people were made to feel that if they did not have someone in power from their clan, they would be left out. Without a more modern system of government, many in different parts of Africa feel that if they do not have someone from their tribe in a position of power they will suffer. We have witnessed at first hand the level of pampering enjoyed by some in the face of the sheer neglect inflicted on the rest of society. This truly has been the source of the conflict in Somalia and is the source of the deep resentment which tore Somalia apart. This unfairness has driven people to want members of their clan to acquire power in the hope that they would look after them. In most cases they were disappointed: once in government those they had supported helped only themselves and had time for merely a few friends and family members. The only way to remedy this insecurity is to establish a modern system of government which looks after everyone. That is why the tribal system which brought about disparity as well as insecurity, and is at the heart of the civil strife, should go. Such insecurity should be addressed to curb the endemic scramble and competition for power.


Clannism is the chronic malaise of Somali governance. It creates above mentioned disparity and resentment. In order to free the national politics, we need a leadership which understands that clannism is the malady which undermines governance as well as nationhood. Without this it will be hard to achieve governance let alone a functioning one. The question is: why is it important to enlist a leadership which understands clannism as the source of misgovernment in Somalia? It is an established fact that the character of a government is defined by the person at the head of it, because those around every ruler mirror the image of their leader. That means those entrusted to run the various functions of a government are too often the likes of the person at its helm. A leader who wants things done will go for the competent and able rather than acolytes and clan loyals to keep in power.


For these reasons the source of clannism in Somali governance can only be the leadership at the helm. We know this because clannism was removed from politics and governance in the early 1970s only to be reintroduced after the war with Ethiopia in 1978.  Only when the leadership is free from this evil, will it be possible to root it out of the system. Does that mean some of the clans should have more ministers or other officials? Governance is not a club which belongs to any group. The quest for competence should not be a back door or a cover for clannism. In politics, perception is very important. No one can continuously deceive the public. They are not children. The people will see everything for what it is. Balance is very important and it assuredly helps for every community to be represented so that everyone can feel that the government is theirs. But that should never be the basic factor in selecting rules. No one should be seen to need and get more influence or officials. Only then will our people have faith in the government system and only then will improper and unseemly rivalry and competition for positions diminish.


Over the years the locomotive has replaced the cart. The typewriter too has been replaced by word processing and ever more complex computers. There was nothing wrong with either the cart or the typewriter. But everything has its day. The world is ever moving onwards. Stagnation and regression are in no one’s interest. While preserving our culture and heritage we need to move with the times. Ours is the Internet age in which the world has made unimaginable progress and we cannot allow ourselves to be chained to outdated concepts such as clannism. No-one should remain on the sideline whilst the shame of statelessness hangs over our nation. We must actively and tolerantly assist the resurrection of our state – that way we will be able to help our nation back to the road of recovery, development and progress.


We all have to focus on what is important for tomorrow. We should not blame one another for what has happened or how things have turned out for our people. Our nation has been a victim of selfishness and heartless opportunism. We were not putting our nation first. As people we have not been caring enough. Nothing of the sort would have happened had we been kinder to one another and had taken proper care of our own. 


Our time as a nation can only come when we put the nation before self-interest. The mandate of the transitional government will end in 2009 when the nation needs to convene a national gathering. In that conference once again the nation will have to decide. Hopefully, by that time we will find and commission a responsible leadership which can rely on the trust of its people. What we want is a truly national government which effectively runs the nation and its affairs. Ethiopia is our neighbour not our guardian. In our region we must all seek to be responsible neighbours who do not threaten or subvert one another. To navigate our nation out of the current mess we need to be positive and constructive. It is neither wise nor profitable to opt for acts of violence, which could submerge the nation deeper in anarchy and mayhem and which may even make the country ungovernable. To change the nation’s course will depend on a mandate and not bombs and bullets. It will be up to the nation whether we go after missed opportunities in the past or take a clean break from the past and embrace a new path.


Abdullahi Dool

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