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Somaliland: Bad Choices

by Mahdi Gabose
Washington D.C. September 23, 2007 

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As worrisome as things look, the real crisis facing Somaliland is much larger than the current evolving situation. It goes much deeper than whether Qaran gets to run in the next election or not or whether its leadership gets charged with some phony charges and gets barred from participating in the political process, the real problem lays in the fact that there are no real viable mechanisms to resolve this political difference in the country.

The court system is viewed by most as nothing more than an extension of the executive branch, the lower house is kept in check by the upper house which is beholden to the president for having extended their term in office for another four years, there is an extra judicial security body which routinely arrests people without bringing any charges and can hold those unfortunate souls that merit their attention indefinitely. Corruption is rampant and a real drain on the economy and progress of the nation, and the government is accountable to no one.

All of this is done under the guise of democracy, and any attempt to reform the system or protest these intolerable conditions, swiftly brings about charges of undermining the stability of the country by those in power and the people are left without a voice or any meaningful way to address this predicament. In addition they are tasked to carry the burden and the relentless abuses of a government closely resembling the failed horrific ones in the past and no easy way out of this seemingly impossible situation without jeopardizing the long established and hard won peace.

The burning question is how can someone bring about needed change when democracy doesn't seem to work? An old adage instructs anyone interested in advancing democracy to give the people more democracy when democracy doesn't seem to be working. The prospects of that happening in Somaliland while this regime is in power are unlikely to say the least.

This crisis before us today and how we deal with this matter is going to have a tremendous effect on how we resolve difficult issues in the future. The tendency is to do what comes easy to us all, and that is to do nothing and hope for the best, or respond in kind and hope for the best. They are both easily done and they are both wrong. We can all relate to the notion, or may have experienced ourselves finding out that for every complex problem there is a simple and very flawed solution for it.

Case and point;
 Saddam Hussein is a bad leader and the simple solution was to invade Iraq.

The genesis of the current conflict stems from the long established and very destructive notion of the imperial president with unchecked powers. The two houses are divided and unable to pass any new laws, the Judicial Branch is nothing more than an extension of the president as he appoints and dismisses them at will (no such power is granted to the president by the Constitution), and considering recent developments, Rayaale is doing a pretty good job at impersonating a villain and looking like the immovable object oblivious to reason and good judgment.

Before coming to this conclusion one should take into account his background and the circumstances that brought him into power and what he found when he got there.

He is traveling through a well worn path laid to him by the likes of former Kenyan president Moi whose motto was "fuata nyayo" (follow my footsteps) . Rayaale, like Arap Moi came to be chosen as vice presidents because both men were seen by their respective presidents as posing little or no threat to challenge the seat of power . Both men came to power after their larger than life predecessors (Egal and Kenyatta) died, and both inherited what amounted to absolute powers. Arap Moi managed to rule Kenya for 24 years, whether Rayaale is going to be as successful is a very big question mark, but he has always been underestimated and this has served him well, because he is very good at taking advantage of his opportunities when they present themselves, and more importantly he believes he is entitled to be president for life.

Ultimately whether he succeeds or not will entirely depend on how the rest of us react to his ever erratic moves and moods. To stand aside and hope for the president to do the right thing is not an option if one desires to bring about change and influence the process.

Democracy does not work too well when it is taken at face value, it needs constant vigilance and real checks and balances to the power of any individual or entity. The honor system trap where we elect people into offices and watch them make a mockery of our laws and plunder whatever little treasure we have must come to an end.

Of course before this can happen, one must make a conscious decision to put the country before perceived but never materialized personal or clan gains. This is a tall order for a tribal society such as ours to tackle where it is much easier to engage in intra/extra clan pissing contest than to see the common values and interest we all share.

Rayaale maybe unpopular in many camps, but he believes the odds favor him to come back and win in the coming contest, this is not a fools dream but a real possibility rooted in the ever present competition for supremacy by the Habar phenomenon. The old true and tried method of dived and conquer lives and is working well in Somaliland, and the best example of that is being manifested in what is taking place in the HabarYonis struggle to find a political base after Rayaale shut down that possibility when he arrested Dr. Gabose and his Qaran partners.

This leaves them with nothing but poor choices, they can punish Udub and join Kulimiye despite their earlier reservations, take up arms and flex their muscle and force Rayaale to change his mind about Qaran, or tuck tail and go back to Udub and support the very president who humiliated them.

Kulmiye Party is engaged in a delicate dance to bring in disillusioned  Habar Yonis into the fold without making  Sacad Musse who have invested some serious sweat equity in building the party too nervous about their status within the party. Anyone who can manage to keep Habar Jeclo, Habar Yonis and Sacad Musse in the same tent deserves to win. There are some ongoing initial hiccups, but the odds favor this combination to come on top if it takes roots.

Ucid never had a chance to seriously compete for the top job in the previous election and Faysal Ali "Warabe" has been unable to change that fact. His main goal at this point seems to be to keep Qaran from running in the next municipal elections so that Ucid can remain as one of the three national parties.

With all of this horse trading going on, the missing ingredient remains accountability and defense of government actions and record in the last five years by the Udub Party, and tangible vision and specific steps and plans to address the multitude of problems facing the nation, economically, socially and politically by any of the opposition parties. The fact that the opposition parties have the majority in the parliament and have not challenged may of the abuses of the executive such as the total control of the judicial Branch by the president, and the illegal detention of the Qaran leadership as well as ordinary citizens who are arrested on a regular basis without ever seeing the inside of a court is lost to no-one. Not a single resolution was passed by the parliament condemning any actions taken the president, and this parliament remains largely silent while the country is facing what amounts to a constitutional crisis.

Somaliland is at a cross road, and how the coming election turns out will shape its future direction, tribal loyalties per se may not be necessarily a bad thing, a clan can be viewed largely as the natural constituents of someone who is seeking to be elected into an office, but supporting any thug simply because he happens to be in one's own clan is a recipe for disaster and we can see the results today in the current government.

 Whether true democracy is going to take hold or become a failed experiment hinges largely on what we find more odious, a totalitarian government or allowing a guy from our least favorite clan to come into office.

Mahdi Gabose 
E-mail: [email protected]
East Africa Policy Institute

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