The good, the bad and the ugly
Ahmed M.I. Egal
When I was a teenager I saw a movie with the above title with which I fell in love. I later learned that it was from a genre that was disparagingly termed ‘Spaghetti Western’ in Hollywood since they were made in Italy. In fact, it was one of a trilogy made by the legendary director Sergio Leone, the other two being A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, and I am very pleased that Mr. Leone has had the last laugh since he is now recognised as one of the greatest directors of film and a true artist, and this trilogy is widely acknowledged as timeless classics. Perhaps, however, Leone’s sweetest victory over his Hollywood detractors is that the young, unknown actor that he discovered and gave the leading role to in this trilogy went on to become the living embodiment of the Western hero, one of Hollywood’s greatest actor-directors and he has paid homage to his mentor by updating and Americanising the Spaghetti Western with his own classics, such as Pale Rider and The Unforgiven. This actor-director is, of course, Clint Eastwood.
The topic which is the subject of this paper is the talks between Somalia and Somaliland which were mandated by the ill conceived London Conference on Somalia in February this year. Unfortunately, there is no strong, silent hero (‘man with no name’) character that comes riding in to summarily dispatch the bad guys and claim the gold for the good in this particular production. Instead, we have a cast of leading players that can be accurately described as ‘The Winner, the Loser and the Duplicitous’. These are, respectively, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, Ahmed Mahmoud Silanyo, President of Somaliland, and the British Government.
Sheikh Sharif is the undisputed winner since the talks have enabled him to elevate his political status to that of budding statesman while securing for him substantial funds and a raft of votes for his campaign to retain the Presidency of Somalia in the ‘permanent government’, without conceding anything. He can, and has been, presenting himself to the people of Somalia as the statesman who has brought a recalcitrant Somaliland to the negotiating table, and who will eventually bring it back into the Greater Somalia (Somaliweyn) fold. One can only admire him for the political skills he has developed while in office – he has truly come a long way from the unworldly novice he clearly was a brief four years ago when he acceded to the TFG Presidency at the behest of the Western Powers.
By contrast, the clear loser is President Silanyo, Somaliland’s putative political eminence gris or ‘rug cadaa’ in Somali (meaning endowed with expertise and wisdom). He has participated in talks with a lame duck, interim ‘government’ that has been judged by both independent auditors and the World Bank to have flagrantly stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money, that is widely reviled for incompetence and corruption by the people it purports to represent and which openly and repeatedly dismisses out of hand the central issue of importance to his people regarding these talks, i.e. the independence of Somaliland. Creating the political space to proceed with the talks has required the Silanyo government to resort to tortuous semantics and syntax, outright mendacity and open warfare with the independent press and dissenting voices at home with the widespread, illegal detention of journalists and political opponents. The government has also not only lost face, not to mention moral leadership, but that most precious of assets, namely trust, among much, if not the majority, of its people. The Somaliland public desperately want to believe that the talks will lead to their cherished dream of sovereignty and international recognition, but they fear and suspect that the talks will only lead to a political cul-de-sac, and worse, that the government knows this full well, but is going along with this tawdry charade (as these talks have been accurately and elegantly termed by a US academic who is well versed in Somali politics) for its own, hidden reasons.
Now we get to the Duplicitous, or the Ugly – take your pick. This is the British Government which has forced the Silanyo government to participate in the talks with the threat of withdrawing all British aid to Somaliland if he did not comply. The Cameron government decided to take a lead role among the Western powers in combating the scourge of maritime piracy emanating from the coast of Somalia and which is based principally in the autonomous region of Puntland. They felt that this assumed role required them to take a similar role in resolving the ‘Somali problem’ and promptly set about the task in typical, British, workman-like fashion by sponsoring and convening conferences to direct the ‘transition’ towards a stable, permanent government for Somalia. In fairness to the British (or perhaps in their condemnation), they promptly fell in with the current conventional wisdom of the Western powers and their collaborators among Somalia’s neighbours, i.e. Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, that the way to achieve their goal of a permanent government for Somalia that is friendly to their interests is to impose a structure and government that can be made to appear representative and legitimate. Welcome to the age of 21st century neo-imperialism as pioneered by George W. Bush and Tony Blair!
Having defined and cast the main players in our drama of the absurd, we can now move on to the plot of the story. The Western powers and their African allies have developed a twin track strategy which comprises the military track focused upon eliminating Al-Shabaab as a significant security threat, and the political track focused upon establishment of a permanent government for Somalia. The military track is proceeding well with the expulsion of Al-Shabaab from its strongholds in Mogadishu and its environs, particularly the strategic village of Afgoi which is both a key destination for displaced people fleeing war and/or drought from the agricultural hinterland of the Juba and Shabelle rivers, as well as a strategic access route to Mogadishu. There have been credible reports of significant numbers of the foreign fighters and commanders of Al-Shabaab fleeing north to Puntland and onwards to Yemen, as well as serious divisions within the organisation’s ranks as it has continued to suffer defeats. Recently, Dahir Aweys, the leader of Hizbul Islam, who was forced to join Al-Shabaab some years ago when faced with the prospect of being wiped out by them, was able to defect, and is now negotiating his surrender to AMISOM/TFG forces. In response to these military successes against Al-Shabaab, Britain has jumped into the fray on the political front, with the aim of crafting a corresponding success on the political track.
This British-led effort in ‘nation-building’ in Somalia, aided and abetted by the vast UN and NGO relief and development nomenclature, is breathtaking in its sheer audacity of seeking to impose a ‘permanent government’ upon a upon a country that has been utterly destroyed physically, economically and psychically, through a process that doesn’t even make a perfunctory nod at legitimacy by seeking the consent of the people to be governed. The ludicrous construct whereby one illegitimate and intrinsically unrepresentative structure is amended and updated by another, equally illegitimate one is illuminated and exposed here (http://somalilandpress.com/somalia-phony-constitution-crafted-through-un-rigged-process-31360) by Mohammed M. Uluso. However, this farce of creating a ‘permanent government’ for Somalia will continue since none of the major players in this charade, even the Western powers, believe that they can endorse yet another ‘transitional government’ after 20 years and four, successive such transitions. Therefore, they have decided upon another transition that will henceforth be called ‘permanent’ and justified to be so by a convoluted, inherently illegitimate and undemocratic process that was cooked up by foreign bureaucrats, endorsed by their paid, Somali puppet leaders and imposed upon a bemused, beaten and damaged populace desperate for any semblance of normality. The Somalia-Somaliland talks are part and parcel of this British-led effort to craft and impose a political solution for Somalia.
In an address given to the Royal African Society on 22 March 1968 by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the Prime Minister of the Somali Republic, entitled ‘Somalia: Nomadic Individualism and the Rule of Law’, he spoke of the historical relationship between Britain and the Somali people. He characterised the decision of Britain in 1962 to ignore the findings of their own Commission that some 88% of the people of the Northern Frontier District (NFD) wanted union with the Somali Republic and not to be part of the nascent Republic of Kenya, in order to cede the NFD to Kenya thereby breaking their promise to the Somali people, as “…[a] classical example of the proverbial perfidy of Albion…”. He went on to point out that “It is perhaps a great irony that the Somalis, of all people in this world, should so genuinely and touchingly attribute to the British an unimpeachable sense of justice and fair play. With all due respect, in his own dealings with the British, the Somali was never shown an example of this quality which he so sincerely attributed to the British.” This latest intervention by the Cameron government in the politics of its erstwhile protectorate, by strong-arming the Silanyo government into the empty and essentially meaningless talks with Sheikh Sharif’s TFG, constitute yet another example of the ‘proverbial perfidy of Albion’.
Clearly, the British wish to lend some element of legitimacy to the Roadmap process whereby a ‘permanent government’ for Somalia is being created, and these Somalia-Somaliland talks are part and parcel of this spurious legitimacy. However, the entire ‘permanent government’ enterprise is irrevocably tainted since the people of Somalia view it with either bemusement and frustration, anticipation of impending wealth and power or just plain ignorance and apathy depending upon which segment of society they belong to. For example, the intelligentsia are frustrated and deeply unhappy that, despite all the pious statements about the Somali ownership of the Roadmap at the various conferences, an illegitimate, externally financed and externally-driven process is being imposed upon them. The political elite (and their business community backers), comprising warlords, present and past ‘government officials’ and Diaspora carpet baggers, are girding up for the auction of political posts and ministerial seats as they eagerly anticipate the flow of riches and patronage to come. The vast majority of the long suffering population of Somalia, however, are apathetic about the entire enterprise since they have no say in the proceedings; they just desperately hope that some semblance of normalcy can be restored, even if they can hardly recognise it should it somehow arrive.
Further, as can be seen by the anodyne statements that have been issued after each round of the said talks, including the fatuously named Dubai Declaration, they are not only an exercise in futility, but they devalue and demean the substantive talks on future relations between the two parties that must and will take place. However, such talks can only take place when there is a legitimate government in Somalia which is freely chosen by its people and which therefore enjoys their political consent. Such talks will not be limited to the Western agenda of combating terrorism and piracy, but will focus upon the major issues facing their populations, e.g. a post irredentist paradigm to drive inter-Somali cooperation and fraternal relations in the context of political realities in the Horn of Africa and regional supra-national organisations, i.e. IGAD and COMESA; settlement of claims between the two countries arising from assets located in one country but owned by the citizens of the other; extradition to Somaliland of war criminals responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity that are hiding in Somalia, etc. Because the current talks do not, and will not, address these vital issues, the real danger inherent in these talks is that they will destabilise Somaliland, which has achieved national reconciliation, representative government and political stability with no outside help or interference, by enmeshing it in the political charade of the Roadmap that comprises Western nation-building in Somalia. It is important to recognise here that perfidious Albion could not have ensnared Somaliland in its doomed designs for Somalia, if it did not have a willing partner, however resistant they may wish to appear, in the Silanyo government. The President of Somaliland and his neophyte Foreign Minister have allowed themselves to be bullied and cajoled by the British into a political dead-end that not only robs them of moral standing in front of their electorate, but in fact jeopardises the realisation of their peoples’ defining dream.
What is truly galling, not to mention pathetic, is that the threatened retribution of the withdrawal of British aid amounted at that time to a grand total of some £4.5 million in current aid and promises of more in the near future. This is a very small recompense indeed for which to sacrifice the honour and moral standing of one’s government, not to mention risk the central dream of one’s nation and people. The fact is that the Silanyo government is now stuck with this farce of talks with the TFG which are doomed to achieve nothing, since the principal topic for discussion is off the table, and they have the unenviable task of maintaining the fiction that the talks are substantive and will lead to independence to their people. To appropriate a gambling metaphor, this is a dog that just won’t run and it will not be long before the Somaliland government will have to pay the price for its massive error in judgement through popular disaffection and dissent. Meanwhile, we have the prospect of the birth of the new ‘permanent government’ in Mogadishu to look forward to, with all of the attendant tragi-comedy that the delivery of such misbegotten creatures gives rise to.
What is certain, however, is that the machinations of the self-aggrandising Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the weak and uninspired Silanyo government and the overreaching and overweening Cameron government have conspired against the best interests of the Somali people, both in Somalia and Somaliland. They have actively promoted and sought to legitimise a bogus, undemocratic and unconstitutional process to impose a supposedly permanent government in Somalia and jeopardised Somaliland’s stability and representative, constitutionally established government by making it party to this fraud perpetrated upon their brothers to the south. This is truly another perfidy perpetrated by Albion upon the Somali people, albeit this time with the connivance of their own leaders. One can only hope that this time the people of Somaliland and Somalia see this British-led fraud for what it truly is, and that it will lift the scales from their eyes with regard to British ‘justice’ and ‘fair play’. One can also hope that the ‘man with no name’ would ride in and chase these self-seeking charlatans off the scene, but unfortunately this is real life.
Ahmed M.I. Egal has worked as an international banker in London and the Gulf Region for over 20 years, and is presently engaged as an independent financial and business development consultant. He has particular interest in Somali affairs about which he has written extensively, as well as issues concerning African political economy and international politics.