By Heikal I. Kennede
One chokingly hot and humid evening early last summer, June 25, 2007, to be precise, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi was in Washington D.C. He was on his way to New York City to address the UN Security Council. This globe-trotting trip was part of the PM’s diplomatic efforts to rally the international community to deliver much required political support and humanitarian aid for our collapsed nation-state -- Somalia. During his short sojourn in Washington D.C., hundreds of Somalis in the Diaspora poured into the capital - from all the corners of the Northern America continent. They enthusiastically cheered the arrival of the vivacious, eloquent, and relatively young Prime Minister in the U.S. Everyone showed up dressed in their best suits, as they waved his photo alongside our downtrodden sky blue Somali flag to rekindle our waning patriotism.
That evening, the emotional nostalgia among the Diaspora in North America was palpable. After all, we all thought our spoiled dream of returning to our homeland was finally within reach. Some of my friends expressed a great respite that finally, one of our generation was at the helm of the Somali government, unlike the previous geriatric corrupt old men who were a product of their old colonial masters. It was love at first sight. In fact, we all had a George W. Bush “moment” when he first met President Putin of Russia, and childishly declared: “I had looked into his eyes and saw his soul and knew he was trustworthy.” Likewise, we gaped at Gedi’s buck-toothed wide smile and thought he was a saint. Boy, did we set up ourselves for another miserable failure the moment we allowed to put our hopes and dreams on a man like PM Gedi who turned out to have the conscience of an insolent despot.
The Somali community in the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area worked itself into an unprecedented patriotic spirit and energy in welcoming the PM. He stayed at a Four-Star Sheraton hotel, where people waited for hours on a workday, Monday night, just to get a glimpse of our nation’s newest hero. Equally, the U.S. government honored the PM in providing him the necessary security details that are only reserved for respected delegates from friendly allied countries. As the main event of that memorable evening commenced, there was a high level of exhilaration in all attendees’ eyes. It began with orchestrated speeches, poetry and buraanbur of some of the audience that went on into the wee hours of the night. One of the most ardent followers of PM Gedi’s was the genius Somali poet, Professor Mahamud Siad Togane, who that evening for close to an hour sang and chanted the praises and idolatry elevations of Gedi, like a deranged idol worshipper. It was a déjà vu all over again of another era, when all Somalis used to march to the wicked drumbeat of Siyad Barre’s tyrannical regime back in the 1970s. Afterwards, Gedi took to the podium and spoke for only few minutes that were paused with deafening applauses and patriotic chants. In his speech, he clearly outlined the daunting task that faces the TFG, and reiterated his personal commitment to see to it that he delivers the agenda of his government: political stability based on broad reconciliation, and an expedited reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure.
Later that evening, I run into several acquaintances who came in tow with their long, embellished resumes, as they networked to pass them to the PM’s confidants. They hoped to realize their longtime dream of going back in their country in order to participate in its long overdue reconstruction and reconciliation process. Unfortunately, whenever people hinge their hopes and dreams on shady characters like that of PM Gedi, they are bound for a devastating disappointment. Thus, this parable (morale della storia) should serve as a cautionary tale for all Somalis to be wary of all cult-like following support of untested leaders. How naïve and gullible we were when we all jumped on the bandwagon of the PM and rallied around him, as we called our US Congressmen and Senators to encourage their unwavering backing of the Somali PM and his fledgling government. We assured everyone, including the media and other local sympathizers that PM Gedi was the “one” and deserved our staunch support. We advocated for strong U.S. engagement in Somalia’s affairs, in order to help address the deteriorating security situation, political instability, and staggering economic challenges on the ground. If you attended that fateful evening’s main event, you’d have been captivated by Gedi’s charisma and devotion to his country’s plight. He displayed all the signs of a driven, honest, and modest leader of the people.
So, what did Gedi do after he departed from the US? He maliciously capitalized our steadfast support of him and he reciprocated our emotionally blind trust in him, by elevating his stature to that of a powerful despot, as he quickly consolidated his power, and then alienated many other members of his government, including his own Ministers and other parliamentarians. As soon as the PM left Washington, he also visited the oil rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia whose King conferred on Gedi a large sum of cash, in order to facilitate his resolving the TFG’s disputes with other opposition groups. Instead it is alleged that the PM pocketed every penny that he collected from foreign donors. Suddenly, PM Gedi felt so powerful and contemptuous that he shut the doors in the faces of his own ministers, thanks to the unfettered support that he continually received from his equally corrupt counterpart, PM Meles of Ethiopia. In other words, Gedi’s moral downfall stems from having too much power – absolute power that eventually corrupted him.
I hate to be a bit too melodramatic, but it’s almost as creepy as the Halloween scary movie, the namesake of this article implies, about PM Gedi’s frightening change of personality. It is incredibly sad that a man like Gedi who had such a modest background in Somalia like many of us, as a humble, struggling young student at Gaheyr University, where he later served as an associate professor of Veterinary medicine before the war; then when he finally becomes someone important transforms himself into a ruthless tyrant that everyone resents. In fact, I was recently shocked to listen to Gedi’s latest speech that he made shortly after he returned from Ethiopia, where his support from his friend, Meles and that of the rest of the International community is waning like that of winter daylight. Word has it that he was advised to step down and give peace a chance. But as a fallen, desperate man, Gedi desperately tried in his speech to drive a wedge between the Somali people, lashing out those who vehemently denounced his draconian rule and inciting other hateful venoms.
Gedi is now desperately trying to play the clan politics card, as he invokes and incites new civil-strife innuendos that he intends to bamboozle a new alliance among his clanships. It is despicable that now Gedi should resort to such degrading means after he failed to reconcile his differences with the President and other MPs in order to reach a common ground with the rest of the TFG government. Mr. Gedi as a PM since 2004 has a solid dismal record of disappointment after disappointment. Despite promises he made to perform at the speed of light to improve the security situation in the capital. He miserably failed to perform his duties because of his executive managerial incompetence and destructive self-importance. In addition, there’s a record displacement of the capital’s residents because the insurgency is thriving and killing record number of people, while there’s no sight of ending it.
I hope you don’t think that I am cherry-picking bad examples to stack the decks against PM Gedi, in favor of President Yusuf and other parliamentarians. In reality the onus is now on the President and the parliament to prove themselves that they are worthy of our vote of confidence. First, President Yusuf and the Parliament should stand by their decision to sack PM Gedi. Then, they should set the example of good governance by amending the constitution in order to allow government ministers to come from outside of the Parliament. So the next PM could choose his Ministers from a pool of fresh faces. The courageous parliamentarians who didn't hesitate to express their frustration with the PM’s performance should allow this amendment to pass.
Eventually, whether PM Gedi will redeem himself by either resigning honorably, or setting the record straight in order to do the right thing, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he faces a daunting opposition in the parliament that is determined to oust him by any means necessary, so it is unlikely that he will succeed in remaining as a viable PM for long enough. I am of the opinion that Gedi lacks the necessary diplomatic competency level to carry the day and the Somali people to the next level. Because it is bad enough when a PM doesn’t get along with his President, but it is almost impossible to work against your own ministers and remain relevant. Instead of rallying around the Somali people and seeking their confidence in his administration, Gedi seems to be lost like a wandering gypsy by going back and forth to Ethiopia for “consultations.” Che peccato!
Finally, Gedi can boast in jest of all the loot that he secretly pocketed during his notorious tenure as our poor country’s Prime Minister, but he will go down in history as one of the worst premiers who came into power during our country’s relatively young independent history. In addition, I can assure you that Gedi’s name will never be mentioned in the same breath as that of Joachim Chissano, the former Mozambique president who last Monday won the new coveted $5-million prize of Mo Ibrahim for African leadership.
Heikal I. Kenneded