Somaliland Tribal elections and deception
The authority controlling parts of northern Somalia (or as it likes to be known Somaliland) is at it again orchestrating a deceptive operation against the locals and the international community. After many weeks of forming, dissolving and reshuffling purported political “parties”, the region announced it will hold the first local elections in decades. The election is a tale of self-deception. It hopes Western and regional powers will fall into its uniquely orchestrated trap and extend them a diplomatic recognition as a reward for their “democratic credentials”. Like many deceptive self-styled regimes, it believes democracy to be its best bargaining chip but thus far it has failed to promote healthy debates and legitimate democratic principles.
While few outside forces and locals have welcomed the development, many have failed to understand and foresee the dangers ahead.
After independence and the merger of British Somaliland (North Somalia) and Italian Somaliland territories, Somalia adopted a multi-party system and the country registered a dozen political parties. All except one, the Somali Youth League (SYL), championed and promoted tribal interest and politics. The British Somaliland-based parties including Somali National League (SNL) and United Somali Party (SPU) were predominantly tribal associated and did not have much support outside their Isaaq and Dhulbahante clans respectively.
The SYL, formed in 1943, refused to follow the same playbook and instead promoted greater Somalia ideology and refused to disclose the clan affiliation of its thirteen founding members. The Somali people demonstrated their strong dislike for tribal politics in 1964 in the first ever elections when they put the SYL in control. A key player in the independence and unification of Somalia, SYL won an absolute majority of 69 of the 123 parliamentary seats and five years later it won its second consecutive term under its visionary leader and northern politician Mohamed Ibrahim Haji Egal. The world stood up and saluted the young Somali Republic. Praises came far and wide. Half free Africa was inspired. It was quickly dubbed as the model for decolonized Africa. Tribal politics were curbed and Somalia was on its way to political and social freedom.
Before SYL had the chance to fulfill its second term promises, the then president Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was assassinated and military rule was imposed on the young nation under Major General Mohamed Siad Bare. He quickly dismantled all the existing parties and adopted a one-party rule under his Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC). He argued political parties would Balkanize a tribal society like Somalia and that one party would promote unity and national development. For two decades he ruled the country with an iron-fist and once again tribalism was stamped out.
Over the years those opposed to his heavy tactics and socialist dogma often exploited existing tribal feuds and in the late 1980s that exploded into an open war. President Bare and his once powerful military establishment found themselves fighting their own people in a similar fashion to present day Syrian Al-Assad regime.
Rebel groups including the mainly Isaaq Somali National Movement (SNM) led by the current regional president of Somaliland Ahmed Silanyo were quick to portray the conflict purely as Isaaq “civilians” versus pro-Siad government and his Darod clan fighters. This thought was quasi-accurate considering many Isaaq military members and politicians were still serving the regime and did so to the last minute until its collapse in 1991. Silanyo, a member of the Isaaq clan, was fired by Siad as the minister of commerce for his alleged wide practice of corruption in 1982. Mr. Silanyo happily served under Bare over a decade and never once complained about his socialist boss.
Over the years, it became a normal practice for Somalis to accuse their leaders of tribal favoritism if fired or replaced. Silanyo was quick to accuse Siad Bare of clan nepotism and promised to bring his regime to its knees. He joined already angry groups based in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia including his former boss Ahmed Mohamed Gulaid, the former minister of planning. Mr. Gulaid was one of the key master minders of the formation of SNM. Silanyo served as a government official in the ministry of planning under minister Gulaid from 1965 to 1969.
Silanyo was known for his stubbornness and instead of dealing with his former boss in person; he decided to bring the whole country down with him. The opportunist politician convinced the Isaaq community that they were under attack from a southern led coalition spearheaded by their main grassing and water rival Darod clan. It was an easy brainwash due to the fact that many were already feeling a sense of resentment towards their southern countrymen.
Silanyo and his angry and unemployed friends stirred up the Isaaq communities and gave them reasons to blame their own predicament on people from other ethnic groups. People were drilled with the mentality of “us versus them”.
Isaaq civilians were kept in the darkness and those masterminding the war ensured people underwent a process of thought reform. Like all good stories of horror, the group made sure they had good ingredients of zombies, monsters and the saviors. Misinformation campaigns bombarded the Isaaq towns with stories of atrocities by Southern Somalis and the regime. What they were not told was that many Isaaq officials and military brass were with the regime while the SNM was recruiting Southern fighters and even its vice secretary was a southern Hawiye.
People were told those fighting the Bare regime were civilians. SNM became master of its art. It outperformed the government when it came to mobilization, propaganda and even militarily to some extent. It was far more effective and by 1988 Siad Bare underestimated and fell into the SNM trap. He began shelling the Isaaq population only to solidify the SNM claim. His actions further alienated the southern dominant Hawiye clan and Bare’s regime was at a point of no return. In an effort to salvage his regime, he named an Isaaq Prime minister and was forced to sign a peace treaty with regional foe Ethiopia. It was too little too late and by late 1990, the Hawiye led United Somali Congress (USC) rebel was already inside the Somali capital.
The rebels did not know what they were fighting for and where they were heading. Their only goal was to bring the Bare regime to a violent end by all cost. They all under estimated the real threats of tribalism that was subdued for so long. The lid was lifted on a practice once considered the cancer that threatened the very fabric of Somali society — the only homogenous society in Africa.
Every rebel group became a tribal symbol and flag of 1980s Somali politics. For instance the SNM was largely Isaaq organization, USC was under the sphere of influence of Hawiye and Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) had its power base amongst the Majertein clan.
Over two decades later, the same forces of tribal politics are once again on the march across the country but nowhere more so than the north. Silanyo is once again reviving and revisiting his old playbook. His art of deception, division and tribal infiltration is already turning the once peaceful north into a place of uncertainty.
Before his election in 2010, he made several campaign promises to citizens and different promises to political opportunists. After two years he failed to fulfill any of the citizen promises including press freedom, security and development. On the other hand, he seemingly fulfilled those he made for opportunistic individuals including Dr. Mohamed Abdi Gabose, who like Silanyo, is a remnant of the old Bare regime.
Before he was sworn in, Somaliland had three registered political parties and the former administration of Dahir Riyale felt that there was no need of having more political parties in a region of 3.5 million people. Dr. Gabose had other ideas and when his National Party was blacklisted, he joined coalition with already registered Kulmiye Party with Silanyo. His demand was that Silanyo lifts the political party formation limit and his demand was one of the first regional domestic the incompetent leader carried through.
Today, the region is awash with tribal parties and the trend has not only damaged democratic values but also defeated the motive behind the system. The multitudes of political parties have already confused voters and every voter is trying to spot his relative or tribe member amongst the seven flags.
There are eight main clans and sub-clans in Somaliland region and seven tribal political parties. Members defecting from the existing three parties on allegations of lack of accountability among their leaders and loss of credibility formed the new four parties but along tribal fault lines. For instance, UCID party (Welfare) saw most of its Habar Yonis clan supporters defect and join the new Wadani (National) umbrella under Abdulrahman Mohamed Abdullahi (Irro). Amazingly Mr. Abdullahi happens to be the Speaker of House of Representatives for the region. No one ever questioned the potential of conflict of interest. How can a man who is the Speaker of Parliament be the chairman of a tribal political party at the same time?
He is not alone when it comes to conflict of interest. The most powerful minister in Silanyo’s regional government, Hersi Ali Haji Hassan, is not only the minister of “presidency”, he is also the manager of SomTel, a subsidiary telecommunication company of Dahabshiil. Furthermore, Silanyo is said to be grooming Hersi as the next leader of the tribal Kulmiye party and his administration. Currently, if the region’s president dies or retires the vice president is to takeover by law but Silanyo wants to put Hersi at the helm. In an effort to introduce him to the international community and the locals, Silanyo takes Hersi wherever he goes like his personal butler.
Hersi, is not only accused of having ties to al-Qaeda affiliated al Shabab, he is notoriously tribal warrior and an immediate danger to the region’s stability, so much so the Ethiopian government bans him from visiting their country.
While democracy is a burning topic in the region, the lack of proper political institutions and the resurface of tribalism are leading many sides to view the current issues in black and white – there are fears of civil war. This possible scenario does not serve the interest of the Somali people and its newly established government that is too helpless to intervene. Instead, the confusion gives a promising opportunity to remaining Bare regime remnants such as Gabose and Silanyo. The international community must understand that the purported election is nothing short of tribal war games that could raise tensions in the region unless put to an end.
Somali people deserve constructive dialogue and an end to tribalism. The remains of Siad Bare’s socialist regime must stop the deceptive operations and give peace a chance. The international community must not ignore the dangerous events unfolding in parts of the north. The reemergence of tribalism is very real danger to the mainstream and regional stability. Silanyo and his regional administration continue to view regional issues through a tribal lens. He fails to stand firmly against tribalism but instead surrounds himself with his kinsmen. Nepotism is normal characteristics of him and one needs to look no further than the mess he made in Hargeisa’s only and main airport – Egal international airport.
Silanyo awarded the tender to upgrade the airport to his nephew earlier this year and claimed the work would be completed in nine months. Almost seven months on and the first pole for the fence alone has not even went up. All the engineers have decided to walk away when they discovered the tender winner was a Chinese mining company involved in the smuggling of illegal minerals out of the country. China Hono Group (http://www.honogroup.com/en/company_profile.html) is currently busy stealing rare Somali gems instead of building the airport and the facility remains a disaster zone. This is only one example of Silanyo’s out of control nepotism, corruption and tribalism.
The international community and in particular United Kingdom should not for a second entertain the folly that anybody is fooled into thinking that the tribal games are anything but elections. The UK should be grateful that Somalia has welcomed them time and time again with open arms and should stop fueling the deception operations using financial arms such as Progressio. It should accept its new embassy in Mogadishu gracefully and contribute to Somalia’s sacred unity.
As a member of the North’s Isaaq tribe, I can tell you these days deception and boogeyman scare tactics have became a hard pill to swallow. I am not convinced like many from my community and the north that partition of Somalia is neither the way forward nor playing along with the many tribal flags. Patriots need to show their unity and their support for each other. The Somali government should show support for the legitimate demands of the people in the north and avoid making the same mistakes as Siad Bare.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud must avoid opening dialogue with the remnants of Siad Bare otherwise like Siad, they will hold him hostage too with unrealistic demands. The president must use the appropriate channels not to only reach the north but also deliver them services. The north is crying for rule – a real authority. The region is tired of having one tribe imposing tribal agendas on other tribes. Even tribal grand master like Silanyo and his lieutenant Hersi know this is the end of the road for them. Indeed some claim the majority in the north want to break away but let me remain you the same is equally true in towns currently under al Shabab control. Should we let al Shabab partition the very south too?
By Abdisamad Mooge “Kayse”