Mohamed Haji Ingiriis
Email: [email protected]
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Ummadda Soomaaliyeey, ku nool Geeska Afrika
Rabbigey eex kaama gelin
Halkuu kugu uumay baa, barwaaqadu ku idishoo
Aad baad u nasiib badneyd…
Ogow Soomaaliyeey, adaa qarankaagi gubay
Cid kale looma eersadee
Waxaad aragtaba, ku samir.
O Somali people living in the Horn of Africa
My God has made no bias against you
At where he created you, prosperity abounds
You have been very much fortunate…
O Somalis, be aware, you destroyed your statehood
No other people should be held liable for that
At whatever you glance, be patient [with the excruciation].
Thus sings the world-acclaimed popular female Somali singer, Maryan Mursal Iise Bootaan. In her stunning song, Maryan stresses the role of internal forces and factors – that is, the Somali agency and actions. By contrast, scholars and students of Somali State and society are very familiar with the very fact that much time have been dedicated to the external factor. Employing Geertzian ‘thick description’ of interpretative anthropology, this article explores both the internal and external factor, with much emphasis on the latter by locating the present in the past. The purpose of the piece is not to unwrite the illusion Somalis and non-Somalis have with about Somali syndrome. Rather, it is to dispel the pervading myths surrounding that illusion. The simple question over who could be held responsible for the collapse of Somalia as a unitary State would quickly receive an identical rhetoric from the learned and the laymen. The near consensual proposition held by many is that the State collapse had emanated from something above the Somali orbit – that is, from the outside the Somali comet and cosmology. Maryan Mursal appears cognisant of crisscrossing and circumventing falling into that premise and presupposition.
The contemporary political problematique of Somali society arose both from internal and from external facets. The conundrum consists of both internal and external ignition. As was evident in every case of a collapsed State, the latter negatively affects and influences the former, which oftentimes responds negatively rather than positively. Thus, the constant claim that the Somali State collapse was externally imposed – popularly proposed by proponents of the old reductionist school – has no nuanced meaning compatible with contemporary realities. This is not to refute that Somalia’s neighbours would not come up on the top of the ‘bad neighbours’ category as set forth by political science theorists. However, the internality of the Somali syndrome became metagrobolised with the externality. Even the internality and the externality tend to feed off each other. One factor was seemingly inviting – or has to invite – the other. Indeed, the internal element has called for the external for many years. Through such a reciprocal configuration, the external dimension served a means to invoke in influencing the internal dynamics.
To compartmentalise what is inside from what was outside, it is important to historicise the nature of post-colonial Somali State and its successor. In 1963, when Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke paid a historic visit to Washington, his attempt was to convince the Kennedy White House to intervene in the Horn of Africa by arming massively the newly-born Somalia Republic. When the Oval Office objected to acquiesce to his calls compelled by the search for the Greater Somalia Project, Abdirashid flew unexpectedly to Moscow where he was able to persuade the Soviets to cross over the Red Sea and meddle not only in the Somali affairs, but also in Angola and elsewhere in Africa. President Aden Abdulle Osman ‘Aden Adde’ was unacceptable to this policy, as later developments illustrated. Unfortunately, the premier paid the price: became a victim of assassination in a KGB-orchestrated plot to pave the way for a Soviet-style Somalia under a Leninist military regime. The KGB plan dragged Somalia from Africa’s most democratic State into one of the most brutal African despotic regimes and then into disaster – that is a complete collapse, or to put it differently, the quintessential failed State. However, the Washington parsimony led Abdirashid and his company to head to Moscow for arms support. Even though, one cannot skip over the external dynamics, it was indeed the internal political dimension that mostly shaped the course (and causes) of events in Somalia henceforth.
The Cold War Considerations
The cold war consideration of locality in the mouth of Africa into Arabia was compellingly enough to give The Somali Republic a high strategic importance. The new post-colonial civilian leaders inadvertently plunged themselves into the internal and external dynamics of the cold war politics in the 1960s, which culminated in the collapse of the democratic rule and then the whole Somali State. Somalia in the 1960s was indeed very democratic in comparison with other African states. For most Somalis, the democratic rule – not to imply that it was the best system of governance – was only an alternative to the dictatorial authority. However, the punctuations of changing political personalities in top State positions cannot be characterised as the First Republic, Second Republic or Third Republic. What was known as the Somali Republic (1960-1969) was replaced by the so-called ‘Somali Democratic Republic’ (1969-1991). That the military junta who overthrew the civilian government inserted the word ‘democratic’ as a header of their State was astoundingly contradictory to the totalitarian structure of the regime. Without the military in power in the first place, there would never have been a space enabling armed resistance groups to emerge in mid-1970s.
The Soviet involvement – or apparently a covert intervention – came to increase with the coming of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre to power in October 1969 and, more importantly, the July 1972 execution of Generals Mohamed Aynaanshe Guuleed and Salaad Gabeyre Kediye, the only two challengers to the authoritarian structure of governance (Lieutenant Colonel Abdulkadir Abdulle Dheel who was executed with them was not a challenger, but was executed because of earlier grudge). Preoccupied with the tit-for-tat premeditated tussle, the United States and the Soviet Union became purveyors and providers of the tools of terror used by the regime against its own people. Both provided and supplied arms with Siad Barre before and after 1977. As the absolute and arbitrary power expanded firmly through the Soviets and later kept through the United States and also the Italians, the tendency to solve internal and external challenges via violence came to accelerate. Evidently, Siad Barre could not have been able to unleash State terror on Somali civilians – singled out some clans for brutal persecution, while permitting their rival clans to fulfil the task of execution – were it not for the support it gained from external patrons. In the same vein, he could never have possessed the power to destroy whole societies without the patron-client relationship that his regime had secured with either the West or the East. As Sheikh Abdi, the muezzin of a Mogadishu mosque stated in the height of the ‘civil’ war in the early 1990s: ‘It was the Russians and the Americans who armed the Somalis at different times, and now they [were] watching us slaughter each other with those weapons’.
The full stories of the U.S., the Soviet and the Italian involvements in Somali State collapse remains untold. If the Soviets helped Siad Barre seize the Somali State and stay in power for the better part of his reign (1969-1977), the U.S. assisted him to hang on power for the worst part of his rule (1980-1990). When the Soviets were expelled in 1977, all state institutions inherited from the democratic civilian government began to dwindle. In consequence, the subsequent years saw the inherited State turning into qolof (relics and ruins) standing, yet existing in name. This was a clear testimony that the Soviets were the pillars and poles of the regime; without them meant without real authority. What followed was a regime ruling Somalia like a jabhad (a guerrilla government). Siad Barre himself admitted that the biggest blunder he had ever made was expelling the Soviets from Somalia. Then Soviet Ambassador to Somalia, Boris Ilichev, was quoted as saying that he had been approached by the regime authorities on the question of normalising relations. Ilichev reported to U.S. diplomats in Mogadishu that he personally received a contact from high-rank Siad Barre officials seeking Soviet assistance for many occasions. The regime dragged itself into a political mortification by making Somalia the only State in the world that (re)invited the Soviets ‘back in’ upon expulsion.
The Locality and Leadership Failure
The obsession of the last civilian leaders (1967-1969) with their own interest in securing their stay on power made Somalia vulnerable to the KGB conquest. The vivid voices and videos of Somali organic intellectuals offer unique appraisal into what went wrong with Somalia. Soon upon independence, the great nationalist poet Abdullahi Suldaan Tima-Adde minced no words to point out on how the post-colonial Somali leadership failed their society, a failure that led to dictatorship. Commencing his composition with the powerful poetic prefix ‘aan macneeyo caawey muhatay laabteydu’ (let me elucidate over what my heart is grieved tonight), Tima-Adde lamented that, had these political élites not milked the State for their selfish interests, the hope and expectations of Somali society toward independence would never have become dashed to the ground. With his own words: ‘Haddey maalintii na horkacaan, miro ma weyneyne’ (if they had led us [with honest and decent], we would never have lost or lacked fruits). His conclusion was that the main objectives of these élites were to ride a ‘motor’ and to live in the ‘building’. Both the motor and the building were referred to colonial machines and houses. However, as noted, Somalia proved exceptional in the first few years of independence, but soon lapsed into a perfect example of Eurocentric view of Africa, as the military coup turned Somali society into upside down. The outstanding democratic record of Somalia in 1960-1967 should never be confounded with the March 1969 rigged election, marked by rampant corruption and maladministration.
Somalia has undergone a drastic socio-cultural and political alteration upon the ascent of Siad Barre and his clano-military dictatorship to power. Unprecedented atrocities never witnessed in the Somali milieu – even Fascist colonial period (1922-1941) – became the norm throughout two decades of despotism, which culminated in the collapse of Somalia as a State. On the eve of Siad Barre’s coup, Abdullahi Suldaan Tima-Adde admonished the Somali army thus: ‘sowjadaa hubka qaadaye, intuu soorka ku taagay, u diyaara salaantiyo, saraakiishaay amreysaay, sifadii isticmaarka ka siyaadiya maanta’ (those who took up the arms, dressed with coats, prepared for salute as well as the soldiers who are giving orders are expected today to increasingly change the state from the mode of colonialism to more developed nature). His crucial advice was not heeded. Under Siad Barre’s watchful eyes, the most brutal form of violence – never witnessed in modern Somali history – was unleashed upon clans and personalities perceived to be a challenge to his regime. With authoritarian authority in place, power was conceptualised in ways concomitant with the departed colonial empires. This culture of unprecedented, unchecked and unrestrained violence – recorded by and referenced from the colonial comet – was re-created and, more often than not, exploited by other African dictators trained by colonialism.
In his powerfully balanced poem ‘Afrikaay is doono’ (O ye Africa, Unite), the (blind) Somali poet Mohamed Ga’al Haayoow accepted in principle the thesis that Africa was ‘paralyzed’ by external intervention and that, in addition, what it was ‘tailored for itself was re-tailored from the outside’. But he also points out that the ‘self-interested, greedy men’ imposed upon Africa to serve for the colonial masters was a problem ravaging the continent. These were those who worked not for their people but for the departed colonialism. ‘Africa’, as the poet pertinently put it, was ‘like a boat where a bad captain has been (mis)leading’. The poet explained that this type of leadership presented an image of Africa that kills ‘its own heroes’. Even though Haayoow does not refer, it is apparent that he had Patrice Lumumba and Steve Biko in mind. The poet amply emphasised that the violation of human rights and of rule of law was what made Africa thorny to extricate itself from predicament after predicament. Hopeful that Africans could overcome these dilemmas and difficulties, the poet admonished that Africans would not achieve sustainable development and good governance by undertaking ‘dadaal gaaban’ (a short effort).
Organic Solutions for State and Society
In his other poem titled ‘Mandela’, Mohamed Ga’al Haayoow aptly identified that what Somali conundrum yearned for was a leader who would provide the leadership of Nelson Mandela. No doubt is there that Somalia needs a Mandela who could unite, organise and assemble them into a unified State. But the emergence of the Somali Mandela would surely be impeded by the culture of clanism. Any and each Mandela would be associated with clan Y or clan X and hence hostility is trailed by hostility until each clan retreats to its own fiefdom as is apparent in the current so-called ‘federal’ political structure of the former Somalia Italiana. The concept and continuum of clan in Somali State and society is a very complex and complicated. The resilience of clan system is best illustrated in a song sung by Halima Khaliif Magool: ‘Inaan turaayoon, qabiilka tuurnoon, isu tagnaan, talo ku goynoo, loo tag la’yee’ (to move forward and throw away clan and then join hand-in-hand with each other was our pact to which we had faced obstacle). In an extreme clanised environment, any national leader is to be seen as a clan leader. This phenomenon was unique with regards to other African States – i.e. Sierra Leone and Liberia – that collapsed at the same time with Somalia.
How can unity be created where the unity itself is seen as a danger, both internal and external? Put it both ways, what kind of a future when Somalis had no centralised state that would shield from the dangers of globalisation and regional threats? In other words, how Somali society could survive without a unified – not necessarily centralised (but sharing many other commonalities) – State in the 21st century remains unparalleled and unprecedented phenomena to the Western world. The contemporary Somalia baffles and puzzles political scientists and pundits alike, such as anthropologists, ethnologists, ethnographers and ethnohistorians. Somalia(s) now appears aberration and anomaly to the outside observers. How come a country not only considered but characterised as the most promising democratic and developmental State on the African continent suddenly sank into full-blown dictatorship (1969), disorder (1977) and disarray (1990) and now like wrecked watermelon, to use a Somali metaphor of something that no one could be revamped? This is the mindboggling research question to which my forthcoming book – tentatively titled, The Cannibalisation of the State in Africa: Somalia since Siad Bare Regime, c. 1969-1991 (forthcoming in 2015) – rummages to respond.
Mohamed Haji Ingiriis is a PhD student in African Studies and History at the University of Oxford. He can be reached at [email protected]