Somalia: Halting The Divide – President Mahmoud’s tours deliver nothing of value
By Warsan Cismaan Saalax
It took Somalia almost four months from today to get a full government. Mr Mahmoud, the president who took office on September 10, 2012 has become “preoccupied”, so much so that the new cabinet has education and health as sub departments of Social Services and not as independent ministries required to deal with a country that is yet to emerge from twenty two years of chaos. When he first assumed office, Mr. Mahmoud, claimed that he was unable to attend a UN meeting in New York, because according to him, he did not have, neither the means nor the intention to leave his country at this critical juncture. But he soon found both the resources and the causes required to act energetically and swiftly. While a government had to wait, he went on nine consecutive foreign trips in four months. Not that the country needed to come to a halt any further than it has been, but to lobby against the formation of Jubaland Federal State of Somalia that is backed by neighbouring Kenya, for the lifting of the arm embargo against Somalia on the pretext of the war on terror, and most recently to recover frozen Somali funds in foreign banks.
Jubabland is significant change to the status quo in the South of the country. It is home to a large number of the “Darood” clan, who were subject to clan cleansing(1) during the early part of the Somali civil war. The area was invaded few times by different warlords and recently by al-shabaab fighters due to its strategic importance. It has been the hub for the charcoal trade which funded both the southern warlords and the militant extremists alike. During the Islamists rule, Mogadisho, currently being represented by president Mohamoud, was not so preoccupied with Jubaland; if anything it slowed down the liberation of these areas. Kismayo, the capital of Jubaland, forms an economical loss to both Mogadisho warlords and the Islamists. After the fall of Kismayo, 23 million dollars’ worth of charcoal was held in Kismayo port, prompting Mr Mahmoud to send a private plane packed with warlords and their media mouthpieces in a circus like attempt to cover up the economics of the war in south Somalia. At the heart of this however was the recovery of the charcoal money.
The involvement of Kenya in Jubaland affairs would mean that the game is up for many. Mr Mahmoud’s Kenya relationship has been paradoxical as a result. On the one hand he has been releasing statements accusing Kenya of meddling in Somali affairs, stopping almost short of justifying attacks on a Kenyan territory by Islamists. Unfortunately, the president was not so concerned about the impact of what he is doing to the millions of Somali refugees in a Kenyan soil. Instead, he ordered UN and aid agencies to relocate to Mogadisho; the deal is that while Mogadisho gets the money, Kenya should be keeping the Somalia refugees, at least for now since the current government has no intention to provide for them as reflected in the ministerial priorities. The president also sent his foreign minister on a bribing mission to Kenya, and followed it with an official visit by him personally, offering Kenya development projects in Mogadisho. He did the same in his visit to Ethiopia, where he presented lucrative Somalia armed forces related development projects to smooth things with IGAD and subsequently Kenya. This move confused many since Turkey is also supposedly contracted to do the same. The Somali army according to president Mahmoud, however, resides in Hiiraan and Beledweyn.
However, this attempt to divide the international community through bribery is not limited to Kenya, Ethiopia, Turkey, and Uganda. Straight after the inauguration of the president and while there was no government in place, Abdullahi Haider, a senior adviser to Somalia’s Ministry of Energy, said that only oil licences agreed before 1991 would be upheld.
Mohamud in Djibouti
President Ghuelleh welcoming presidents Mohamud (above) and Silanyo (below) in Djibouti on the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the official Somali script
However, President Mahmoud has interesting allies in the region, president Ghelle of Djibouti and Somaliland’s Silanyo. Of course the motivation of president Ghelle is clear, being the third longest serving dictator in Africa, sustaining a life style that mimics that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, a democratic, decentralised Somalia is not something he desires on his door steps.
Historically, the relationship with Somaliland has been one of convenience, being periodically re-energised to create a political weight wider than what otherwise is available on the ground and more intense to inflict maximum damage on their perceived opponents (usually the Darood) similar to 1991. Interestingly both president Mahmoud and Silanyo met in Djibouti last week while attending an event hosted by President Ghelle seemingly celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Somalia script, a celebration deemed important enough to require both their presence. The denominator script, however, is that Jubaland state and that starch opposition to the federal system. Somaliland fiercely opposes the federal system in Somalia since it has an interest in the internal north South Somali borders of the colonial era, which its international recognition is perceived to be dependent upon. The idea is that the chances of recognition would be limited if Somalia adapts a federal system that redraws these borders. What is more interesting though is the fact that Mogadisho and Somaliland have no interest in each other, if anything, each thinks that the other is intellectually incapacitated. Mogadisho believes that Somaliland is seeking an elusive “dream” of independence while Somaliland thinks that Mogadisho is “dreaming” to even wish to rule over all Somalia. This relationship is very mcuh the characteristics of Somali politicians, who genuinely believe that they can over smart each other and the world. Ironically though, the victims are always the Somali people who barely exist because those so called politicians are so preoccupied in a world of their own.
Generally, the federal system has become a major building block for preserving the continuity while still maintaining order in the Somali nation. It spreads and balances the power amongst many units of the former Somali Republic and between the states and the central government. The federal system has a symbolic meaning; it means that people no longer need to fight over one city or even few, opening the doors to new possibilities with particular economic implications for those who invested in the ethnic cleansing of Mogadisho. Those who looted public and private properties and those who bought the properties of the fleeing Somalis, thought that these properties would keep their value despite the clan cleansing that took place there and regardless of the fact that Mogadisho has no interest in reconciliation while forcing people to return to the place where they witnessed their family members massacred and their properties are still illegally occupied. In fact the property and land prices sky rocketed in recent months under these economic predictions. The emergence of Puntland and Jubaland States of Somalia forms a threat to those who financed the civil war in the south or capitalised on it, since this would limit the expected wealth growth forecasts. In addition to this loss, the decentralised federal system also means that the central government will not have powers over local economies. Finally, it exposes the myths by which the genocides of the last twenty years were based on and continues to motivate many: that the eradication of Somali clans is possible through mass murder. History tells, however, how such agendas failed those who pursued them in Rwanda, in Nazi Germany and in many other examples. In fact, people have more chances to die of disease and lack of education than acts of organised mass murder; two things Mr Mahmoud have shown less interest in so far.
It is no wonder that this divisive hatred based agenda is accompanied by a request for the lifting of the arm embargo against Somalia. The president is even getting Turkey, Egypt and Qatar to talk on his behalf. Despite the goodwill of these countries, their lack of knowledge about Somalia is very clear. Somalia has used its own arsenal against its own people and neighbours, when it was a government and when it was not. The radicals who are created by Mogadisho also are threatening to use violence against the world. Somalia, for as long as we know it, has been the place where no one honours its agreements, and being with a goodwill will not change the situation, at least for the foreseeable future. Mr Mahmoud, however, is pursuing this under the pretext of the war on terror. However, a full use needs to be made of the presence of AMISOM to achieve the targets of security and reconciliation. If it is unwilling or unable to reconcile different Somali stakeholders, which is currently evident, it should not be trusted with weapons.
Unfortunately, for Mr Mahmoud, this preoccupation with pursuing such agenda meant that he has paid lip service to the country’s constitution. He managed to pull the last string by announcing that federalism was not for Somalia in his recent visit to Ethiopia. However, by denouncing federalism, his leadership role over Somalia and that of the parliament would have lapsed, since they represent the Federal Somali Republic. Mr Mahmoud has limited his own rule to Mogadisho, since denouncing federalism means that regional states are no longer under his rule. But while the constitutionality of his rule is questionable on the ground, Mr Mahmoud and his team are playing pretend government. They are even stubbornly chasing after millions of dollars held in foreign banks since the collapse of Somalia’s last central government in 1991. This money, however, belongs to the Somali people wherever they are, and not to Mr Mahmoud.
It is so unfortunate that Somalia’s newly appointed leader has abandoned every other agenda that he purported to achieve, and instead is seeking to bribe, divide, and lobby the world in pursuit of a clanish program that subjugates sections of those whom he represents. This agenda is consuming Somalia’s leadership, and is diverting attention away from the tasks at hand, that are building on the advances achieved through the road map and the need to nurture joint efforts against radicalism.
The Somali problem though has the potential to divide the international community and the united front that made the road map the success it is. The chaotic nature of civil war and the divisions between varying groups can impact on those involved and their relationship can mirror what is being handled. We already saw cracks appearing between IGAD and the AU, between AMISOM troops, between Kenya and Uganda, between the UN Security Council and the UNPOS.
The good news is that these kinds of acts, as the current politics, are carried by the few who cling on to the status qou for many reasons as shown above. But what we all came to realise in the past few months is that the Somali men and women in the streets have moved on and are yearning for a country free of corruption, warlordism, and irrational hatred against fellow citizens. However, the divisive politics of the current administration is polarising the people. Luckily though, president Mahmouds tours are not yielding him the intended results. If anything, the lack of vision in whatever he presents is clear. However, what is important that is brought to the president’s attention is the fact that his own rule over his own people is currently unconstitutional and legality needs to be reinstalled to it if he wishes to continue.
Moreover, Mr Mahmoud, is also under the impression that education in a country like Somalia can be overlooked. However, education is fundamental human rights and where children are exposed to poverty, violence, abuse, or exploitation as the case in Somalia; those rights demand urgent protection. For Somalia, the lack of central curriculum and organised education system means that currently the country is home to hundreds of uncontrolled private and charitable schools making children and young people vulnerable to all kinds of influences. These important tasks cannot be subcontracted to commissions or NGOs as the government has done so far. Finally, it is critical to re-establish the united front of leadership from AU, IGAD, UN and the rest of the international community to help the country to return to the post road map agenda in order to move Somalia to the second phase of sustainable peace building.
Warsan Cismaan Saalax