Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting Somalia Wrong...Again?

Getting Somalia wrong ... again ?

Monday, 26 November 2012 15:35

In Somalia, can you differentiate between the former Union of Islamic Courts and the new Dam Al Jadiid in Villa Somalia?

By Abdul Ghelle (*) ECOTERRA Intl. November 26, 2012

In late 2011, the International Community - led by Britain - called for an unprecedented conference on Somalia. And in the run up to that conference in London, excitement and expectation gripped the Somali people everywhere.

More than fifty states and international organisations attended the two days London Conference on Somalia on February 23, 2012. Live satellite television pictures from Lancaster House, the Conference venue, were beamed to Somali homes from Houston to Hargeisa. And on the concluding evening, the cool Britannia Union flags were intermittently planted on dusty sands around the Internally Displaced People’s Camps (IDPs) on the outskirts of Mogadishu. I wondered which shop in Mogadishu sold such flags, including the Union Jack, as I watched the spontaneous celebrations on TV from my cousin’s apartment in Djibouti.

Somali women and children with no roof over their heads and who had very little to eat chanted and danced in the open air. Having myself first-hand experience of death and destruction in Somalia for more than two decades, I don’t normally show emotions these days when tragedy occurs to someone I know or even within my family. But watching the TV footage on that evening in last February, I couldn't hold back the tears from my eyes. The world community, it seemed, had enough, and opted that Somalia must rise from the ashes. ‘The Transition must end’, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, declared at a press conference shortly after the international gathering in London ended.

And the Somali people the world over took to heart that their misery and the protracted conflict in their country may almost be over soon. They thought that the warlords would be confined to the history shelves; and they also hoped for a terrorist-free Somalia. And with the upcoming good governance and the unshakable support from the international community, most Somalis were convinced that Wahhabi extremism would be kept at bay. The Somali people concluded that a new dawn has arrived in their country.

Following the successful Conference in London, some of Somalia’s finest diaspora men and women - numbering in their thousands - defied the serious threat to their lives and poured into Mogadishu, ready to rebuild their homeland. Most of these diaspora Somalis left their colourful careers and comfortable lives behind.

After the second Conference on Somalia earlier this summer in Istanbul, Turkey, the state-making process for Somalia started in earnest. Mr Augustine P. Mahiga, the United Nation’s Special Representative for Somalia, was given the supervision task of ending the political transition in Somalia. But the plum Tanzanian who had no previous experience of any state-reconstruction projects got bogged down in the Somali political chaos right from the start.

As expected, many Somali people from all walks of life vied for positions in the soon-to-be instituted Somali Parliament; and close to one hundred people wanted to sit in the top seat. The Madrassa teacher, the local charity worker, the Sheikh in the Mosque, the former warlord, the active Sea Pirate - you name them - hey all wanted to become Members of Parliament or even President of our country. And there were the diaspora Somalis: a large number of academics of political science and governance. There were the economists and bankers. And there was even a successful veteran of the IMF’s flagship - the controversial Structural Adjustment Programme for East Africa.

To the surprise of the observers on Somalia, however, the conference organisers were nowhere to be seen arm-twisting - as we all hoped - the inhabitants of the world’s most failed state. Under the supervision of Mr Mahiga, a ‘Selection Committee’ was set up, supposedly to check the credibility of those standing to be selected for Members of Parliament. Initially, all seemed to be fine and running smoothly as the Selection Committee made the decision to disqualify all the former warlords and the hardened anarchists. But when the warlords complained that they are being excluded from their country’s political process, the inexperienced Mahiga relented and things went disastrously wrong right from there. Mr Mahiga tore up the established guidelines coupled with the vetting process. And when the Selection Committee was sidelined, the flood gates swung wide open.

Bribing machines roared to full throttle and the ex-warlords – who should have been behind bars rather than in parliament - gained membership to Somalia’s legislative assembly, just as they did eight years earlier in Kenya. And under this cloud of uncertainty, the election process for the executive branches of the new Somali government began. However, there was no contest between the highly educated and experienced diaspora-Somalis and those who helped wage the long civil war, many of them with blood on their hands. And to guarantee that the status quo is maintained, the Somalia Conference organisers remained silent, giving the rigged process the green light.

The hands-on academics, the technocrats, the economists and the governance experts who acquired their skills while working for some of the greatest democracies in the world were rejected in the first round by the largely warlord parliament. But when the unknown candidate, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, defeated the incumbent president and former Madrassa teacher, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Somali people breathed a temporary sigh of relief.

The Somali people believed - despite his lack of experience - that the new president-elect would at least understand on how to lay the foundations for a new Somalia by appointing a prime minister and a cabinet almost entirely from the diaspora. Remember that several countries like Liberia were founded and built mostly by diaspora returnees. Many Somali people had also entertained the notion that the new president would grab the opportunity in tapping into the diaspora pool of talent. But that became a wishful thinking as the new development was not to turn out that way.

The new Somali president got his cake and run with it; so naive that he believed that the cake is properly baked and ready to eat. But President Mohamoud turned the process of state building upside down, exactly as hoped by those plotting to keep Somalia in permanent conflict. Initially, some people thought that President Mohamoud has what it takes to accomplish the task of ending the Somalia conflict; others believe that his leadership style is tantamount to the continuation of the Somalia quagmire by other means, and increasingly the later is being proved right.

As speculated and after an unusually long wait, the new president appointed his close friend and former colleague, Abdi Farah Shirdoon, as his prime minister. And with the blessing of a secret Shura-council called the Dam Al Jadiid (Som.= New Blood), a new cabinet consisting of ten members from the president’s former colleagues during the days of their NGO businesses inside Somalia were appointed, and they were immediately approved by the mainly warlord parliament. I can’t discount the rumours that say cash from the Arabian Gulf had changed hands on the eve of the day the new cabinet was to be presented to parliament. The stage-managed process (I don’t know who was in charge), however, ended another half-empty promise from the IC in shambles, thus sealing the fate of Somalia, perhaps, for another decade.

A word for the diaspora Somalis and my farewell to the new political arrangements

In my latest assessment of the new Somali political dispensation, I concluded that the stage is set for yet another cycle of governance and social instability and the early signs of a gridlock are already showing. In her first interview as Somali foreign minister, Fozia Yusuf, hinted while on air on the BBC Somali Service that Somalia could be divided into two separate states, sending shock-waves through the veins of Somali unionists around the world. But this and the fact that Fozia was running on a secession ticket in Hargeisa just a few weeks earlier, that was not enough for president Mohamoud or the new parliament to reprimand or exclude her from the new cabinet of the new Somali government. After Fozia’s BBC interview, a close aid of Mr Mohamoud was quoted as saying that the new president had not lost a night’s sleep over her treacherous remarks.

Now it’s time to solute the Somali diaspora returnees for their courageous decisions in trying to help rebuild their country: It was not your choice, and as you leave Somalia to her fate, I am confident that you will be able to pick the pieces up and put back your lives together. But I urge everyone not to give up hope as alternative routes to peace and stability can still be found for Somalia in the near future.

As I write this in my hotel room with disappointment, the suitably qualified diaspora Somalis - one by one – are heading back to their second home countries in their droves, depressed and with little hope for Somalia. I saw three of them last night: Ibrahim was heading to California; and Zamzam and Ismail booked a flight to Austin, Texas. And last week, Adam left for Edinburgh, Scotland and Ahmed departed for Berlin.

The new kids on the block in Villa Somalia are the same breed as their predecessors, and they could even be more corrupt and nastier; just maybe, though that their modus operandi could be slightly different. But I can’t, so far and not even for one minute, differentiate between the Union of Islamic Courts and the Dam Al Jadiid (the New Blood). As Ali Daa-uun, a member of former Somali parliament from the North of Somalia put it: “the way things are designed, it looks as though the new Dam Al Jadiid may well be on the road to shedding a fresh blood in Somalia”.

The Gulf Arab states and their handlers in the West are partly responsible for creating this new stalemate in Somalia. However, what boggles the mind and makes it harder for people to understand the new developing events in Somalia is the question: why did they not support the Union of Islamic Courts, which was headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed back in 2006? It’s obvious that we circled around the globe and stopped at point zero. For goodness sake, at least Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed had good listening skills; he listened to the US Ambassador to Kenya in the winter of 2006.

And where do I stand in all of this? If there would be another foreign organised Somalia theatre somewhere in the world in a few years, I, for one, won’t be persuaded or convinced in anyway by the after-conference shenanigans. Whoever pulled the strings in the latest setback for Somalia? We shall all watch for the latest Wikileaks discoveries!

However, I will tirelessly pursue the other possible avenues in order to help bring Somalia to come back from the brink.

(*) The Author, Analyst Abdul Ghelleh, can be contacted directly via e-mail:

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