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Speaking Truth to Power

By Heikal I. Kenneded

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The bitter dispute between President Yusuf and Prime Minister Ghedi that came into a full blow last week, underscores the fragile state of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. It is also a grim reminder that the TFG leadership is sadly mired in personal greed and a despotic agenda that threaten to our dream for a viable nation-state in the Horn of Africa.
After almost two decades of political squabble and anarchic living, Somali politics have taken a new turn towards further devastation and eradication of our history as we all know it. We all hoped that the Mbagathi peace conference in Kenya that brought to fruition the current TFG would give a new lease on life to the reconciliation and healing process of our society. Following the successful ousting of the callous and incorrigible warlords out of Mogadishu by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the TFG leadership failed to seize the moment to rally around the different parties that were vying to run the show, including the ICU. Instead, the "perfect storm," started afterwards, brewed from the perspective of destruction and displacement of the people and perfect in the worst sense of that word.

What inspired the current rift between the TFG’s highest heads of state? This latest rift has been catapulted into the vortex of political turmoil when Prime Minister Ghedi gave the axe the TFG’s attorney general, Mr. Abdullahi Dahir for “illegally” ordering the arrest of the Supreme Court’s chairman Mr. Yusuf Ali Harun and one of his close judges. Attorney General Dahir, who has the full backing of President Yusuf, however, has declined to give up his job as the highest law enforcement in the country; instead, he alleged that the other two judges should face corruption charges. This latest political wrangle has disaster written all over it. There seems to be a constitutional calamity within the TFG in regards to good governance and constitutional transparency. But I also detect the “old” African despotic and corruption phenomenon is at play here.

According to reports the recent dispute between the TFG heads of state stems from oil deals that have gone sour, after PM Ghedi vetoed a lucrative, sweet oil deal that the Puntland state was secretly making with foreign Oil companies to explore and produce oil in their state. President Yusuf, who hails from that part of the country, was reportedly flabbergasted and was quick to condemn his PM, for stepping on the wrong toes. While Ghedi who considers President Yusuf a thorn in his side, brushed off the censure and derisively rejected any unilateral oil deals for Puntland without the full endorsement of his cabinet.

This depressing picture is brought into even sharper focus as there is another, deeper reason that the clash between the two premiers intensified, the Prime Minister has allegedly misappropriated donor aid money from Saudi Arabia in the amount of $35 million. President Yusuf was so enraged at his PM that he charged him with contempt and did not communicate with PM Ghedi until very recently, when finally things came to a head out fear of the government disintegrating. Of course, there is no way to confirm the authenticity of these latter charges against the PM, but they do paint the dismal picture of the inner workings of the TFG leadership and the credibility challenges that they face. On the other hand, President Yusuf is accused of contemptuously manipulating the fears and susceptibilities of his government by using clan politics as a way of building and systematizing a following among his clanship or kinfolks.

What should we make out of this bleak picture? Indeed, under the current stewardship of both President Yusuf and PM Ghedi, Somalia’s reconciliation and reconstruction process has fallen into a deep disrepair: everyday life has become beleaguered, general security has deteriorated, hyperinflation that threaten food security (linked to massive counterfeiting of the Somali shilling), crime and corruption have increased, much-needed donor aid funds have mysteriously flowed into hidden bank accounts, and officially sanctioned nepotism and favoritism have become widespread. The problem is not just relative failure, that is, the TFG leadership’s inability to resolve its internal “differences” as fast as possible so that they can concentrate on the paramount national crisis on the ground. Most shocking is the fact that both heads of the TFG leadership have fallen into the old African dictatorship trap of stealing every penny they receive from foreign donors and nepotism favoring their henchmen and relatives in government posts. In fact, this is now very relevant in regards to the latest 2007 corruption index report released by the Transparency Internationals that ranked Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world with a score of 1.4 out of 10. http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2007/cpi2007/cpi_2007_table/ This is a good indication of how little the TFG government has accomplished for the last three years and now miserably it has failed with its mandate.


The Way Forward

In an imperfect world, the TFG represents the best we could hope for as a viable government body. Unfortunately, the course of action that is currently being pursued by the TFG leadership in Mogadiscio seems determined in every way you look at it to undermine the long sought out reconciliation and reconstruction of our country. It seems that they are bent only on defeating the insurgency forces, instead of finding a common ground to reconcile their differences with the opposing forces, which will eventually benefit the very people and country they are determined to run. Though it might be true that we need to give the TFG government a chance to stand on its feet and institute its plan of action but it may also be true that they need to purge their circles of influence from the corrupted warlords and other opportunist foreign elements who may be thwarting their good wills to establish a concrete rule of law, impregnable to corruption and chaos.


In other words, the TFG needs to lead by example and govern the country by consensus, not by the muzzle of the gun. By now, it should be obvious to them the solution to our country’s conflict is not rooted in playing deftly clan politics, but in honest and peaceful discussion with the grass roots and all other willing civil society groups, including the ICU. We are inherently a clannish society who can only see things through the elusive prism of clan politics. But the Somali people have a choice to make, whether they desire to be used as scapegoats and consequently see our country being occupied by foreign forces or they wish to see things as they are and hold accountable their leaders for their failures to lead and to recognize their mistakes early before it would lead to catastrophic ends. In addition, it is a crucial time for all Somalis to see beyond the proxy wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea in our country, in order to advance and support only peaceful negotiations the various parties hurdling over power. This will eventually pressure among the fighting powers to reach a healthy consensus and bring forth much needed reconciliation, instead of going empty motions with these mock conferences.

It is equally unconscionable to allow the success of a comprehensive national reconciliation to depend on the caprices of the ICU’s Islamic fundamentalists, militating to install Sharia law in the country, in order to advance their other hidden political agenda – a police state. The first step for the ICU and their political allies, primarily the disgruntled parliamentarians of the TFG, the so called “The Free Parliament” who are currently hunkered down in Asmara, Eritrea, is to break the cycle of impunity for the intractable insurgencies in the capital and cease all acts of violence. They must sit down with the TFG leaders and work towards a peaceful resolution that will ultimately alleviate the fear of displacement from our long-suffering society. Then and only then can they discuss other relevant issues, including security, stability, personal safety, and the undertaking of the Islamic Sharia laws in regards to the judicial processes. Until then they are no different than the warlords they had driven away from the capital or, much worse, should be labeled as terrorists.

It’s my honest believe that there is a way out of this irrational political gridlock, and that it lies in the attempt to give realistic demonstration to the effectiveness of speaking truth to power, without fear of any consequences. In other words, the staunch supporters of the TFG need to realize that the motives of Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi run much deeper than a desire to stabilize Somalia and realize a lasting peace.  The mere presence of Ethiopian troops in our country renders Ethiopia an important ally of the U.S.  In effect, this affords Meles’s government unfettered diplomatic support and much needed economic aid from the West. On the other hand, other dissidents who recently met in Asmara, Eritrea, need to understand that the true motives of President Isaias Afworki of Eritrea are as opportunistic and reckless in nature as those of his counterpart, Meles, in Ethiopia. Regardless of whether one chooses to support either of these two countries’ agendas in order to destabilize our country, ultimately it will be Somalia’s demise at the end of this mess.  As such, we all need to see where things are headed and what we all can do to curtail the ongoing deadly violence in our country.

I believe reasonable people, including both pro-TFG and dissident alike, need to understand this initial insight, to comprehend what is at stake here and work towards peace. In view of this, it is strange that almost no one has made a serious attempt to explore the implications of such proxy wars in the Horn of Africa in regards to regional affairs. Anyone who has taken Conflict Resolution 101 understands that most conflict resolution paradigms dictate that conflicts can best be tackled at the earliest stages, before they come full circle, to the extent that large numbers of people are being killed. Unfortunately, our beloved capital city, Mogadiscio has become a hotbed for violence and destruction spawned by the callous insurgent fighters of the ICU waging battle against the TFG forces backed by the Ethiopian army. By virtually all accounts, the insurgents are atrocious: stage a hit-and-run attack on government and foreign troops, fire mortar rounds at schools and office buildings, markets and residential neighborhoods. The time is still ripe to put a stop to the deadly conflict between government forces and the insurgents, which has already caused a catastrophic death and destruction.

New conditions on the ground demand a new thinking paradigm that fosters peace and objectivity for all to overcome their past prejudices and hatred. It’s my great hope that we all should prevail over our negligible differences and think about the great suffering of our people both at home and in the Diaspora. Sadly, clan politics, despotism, dependency, and religious extremism have handicapped the Somali people for so long that they now represent what’s known as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Somalia. I believe I speak for the great majority of Somalis who categorically oppose the senseless bloodshed in Somalia and reject the divisive nature of these politicians and religious men who are vying to run our country for their personal greed and secret political agendas. Our unified reluctance to support neither conflicted party will bring the necessary negotiations without which the constructive work that builds peace cannot be undertaken. The alternative is only further catastrophic downfall of our society collectively.

The TFG leaders have only as much legitimacy as they are bestowed upon them by those whom they intend to govern – the Somali people. Their sole platform should be to alleviate the dismal shame of violence, anarchy, and human suffering in our country. Nevertheless, the behavior of the TFG leaders, and that of its supporters, is easier to match with that of its predecessor – the corrupted, authoritarian regime of Siyad Barre who mastered the “rule or ruin” philosophy. I am of the opinion that the TFG leadership suffers from the severe kleptocratic syndrome that plagues many African countries today. But you would assume that President Yusuf should have learned one or two things from his old adversary, Siyad Barre, who dismally hung on to power until he dragged the whole country with him. Enabling the TFG leadership to switch its current destructive course and fulfill its potential will not be easy, simply because it seems the premise of their initial creation was fraught with severe inadequacies and dishonesty in regards to the overwhelming participation of the warlords in the national reconciliation process, and not the least, the notorious 4.5 system that was concocted in the Mbgathi peace conference in Nairobi three years ago. This was the genesis of the current political calamity that we are witnessing within the TFG.


Despite the spiraling violence and chaos around the country, the average Somalis are demanding change and they cannot wait any longer. If the TFG wishes to maintain its credibility with the Somali people, they need to come clean and practice good governance, accountability and transparency in their government. Otherwise, the TFG risks being linked to or even labeled like many of the corrupt warlords that are predominant in their ranks. In effect, they will eventually take the same destructive path of those who came before them. At first, it might be essential to halt the vicious spiral of worsening violence in the capital, but it is also paramount that good governance and transparency dominate in every step that is taken towards nation building. That is, the highest pinnacles of the TFG leadership should themselves be involved in and contribute to the practice of good governance in order to create a viable nation state.  If they however veer from the right path, it will lead them to catastrophic ends that will dwarf the current political turmoil in the country.

Finally, given the crucial role that the Horn of Africa plays in the continent, and in regards to terrorism and counterterrorism, the United States and other international donors should support long-term regional peace building initiatives in the region, instead of focusing on their short term security goals and taking such destructive sides with some of the opportunist leaders in the region who are bent on exploiting the volatile situation. In the end, building democratic institutions in the region will benefit both the region itself and the rest of the world, in general.

Heikal I. Kenneded

Washington, D.C.

E-mail: [email protected]

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