The Missing Narrative in the “Kismayo Conundrum”

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Nov 14th, 2012


Fate or flaw?

Maybe Joseph de Maistre – that immoral advocate of social hierarchy and inequality – was talking about our own people when he claimed that a people will always get the government they deserve; and because we are all clannish, we deserve clannish leaders. Maybe that explains why we rank at the lowest end of the human ontological scale – the only nation with a land but without a functioning national government in the 21 century.

Maybe, Portuguese Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s sarcastic portrayal of all Italians as admirers of “Bunga Bunga” politics for voting Berlusconi into office – not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times through their “sovereign decision-making” – is congruently germane to our situation, as we elect mediocre and divisive rulers one after another.

Maybe, we have offended the high heavens big time, and we need a string of profound communal prayers to redeem ourselves in the eyes of our creator, who must be very upset with us for reasons known only to him.

Or maybe, the outrageously blunt 19th century Irish poet Oscar Wilde was right after all when he suggested that only the ugly and the stupid have the best of this world, and the accidental rise of puny personalities – in some cases ugly, in others evidently stupid – to the pinnacles of power in Somalia just follows this senseless rule. And hence, it is fate that is wronging us, not our own choices, never our communal flaws and we do not need any soul-searching to understand the leadership curse that afflicts us endlessly. Really?

The Intellectuals we deserve

Except, the unconscionable de Maistre should have added that a people will always get the intellectuals they deserve. Why? Because Somali intellectuals – as products of a clannish society – rarely function outside own clan political orientations. Read Abdi Aynte’s “The Kismaayo Conundrum. It is an expertly written analysis – decidedly one-sided piece – in which Aynte simulates objectivity, but merely presents different sides of a single story.

Pres. Mohamud

Pres. Hassan Sh Mohamud

First, Aynte presents the clash between the national government and the promoters of Jubbaland regional administration as a duel between a national government legitimately seeking to partake in the formation of an administration in a city that falls under its jurisdiction and a foreign-backed armed group “who wants to unilaterally decide the fate of the city”. He adds that the Somali government is “understandably nervous about the possibility of a proxy regional state in Kismaayo”. The whole evolution of Jubbaland State and the wider country context in terms of the presence of foreign troops is mysteriously skipped. The aspirations and efforts of many communities in Jubbaland are summarized as the ambitions of a militia leader.

What does “unilaterally” mean? Didn’t the Jubbaland group say that their plan is to establish an inclusive regional administration? Where is the evidence for “the unilateralism” then? Yes, the “unilateralism” story is coming from the Office of the President, but why does Aynte – as a journalist – feel obliged to swallow every Presidential story, hook, line and sinker? Or at least why can’t he present the counter-narrative, which alleges that the President is pushing a clan agenda to stifle the formation of a second regional state  in the South – after Puntland – by his perceived rival clan? Whether right or wrong, it is a narrative that has been making rounds in the Somali media since the Kismaayo issue started to dominate the politics of the new government in Somalia.

Second, Aynte overly emphasizes Kenya’s motive and Ethiopia’s anxiety over Kismaayo. It is as if without Kenya and Ethiopia, the Mogadishu-Kismaayo clan squabbles and mutual suspicions will vanish overnight. This simplistic linear analysis serves a purpose. By externalizing the drivers of the Kismayo “conundrum”, Aynte is at once solidifying the President’s argument and dismissing the obdurate internal hostility that pitted Mogadishu against Kismaayo in the last two decades. It is a diversionary narrative, one whose intended consumers are not Somalis, but a pliable international community, who is expected to stand behind a “beleaguered” national government, threatened by “unruly militia”.

Third, Aynte asserts that the “Federal Government has every right to play a role in the formation of an administration in the city …Kismaayo and Jubbaland, cannot live in isolation from the Federal Government”. True, but who is saying the government should not play a role? Who is saying Jubbaland will be administered from Nairobi? Is this a case of Aynte believing his own conspiracy theory and then denouncing it without first proving to the readers that the theory exists? Does the ‘role’ extend to dictation in clear contravention of the Federal Constitution? Or is it him again parroting the Villa Somalia narrative, simply because it fits his political taste? Is President Hassan for inclusivity in Jubbaland administration or against the idea of a regional administration in Jubbaland? If it is about inclusivity, why not seek it through the ongoing processes? Why seek a new start, which may please him but can displease many? Why embolden Alshabab by sabotaging its pursuers so hastily?

Ahmed Madobe
Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, Ras Kamboni Brigade
Commander in Kismayo city

In the article, Aynte offers a middle ground which is sensible, but one premised on the designs Mogadishu would like for Kismaayo. Suddenly, the Federal arrangement enshrined in the Constitution inexplicably presages a national demise when it comes to Jubbaland. And Aynte’s line of thought implies fairness and inclusivity in potential Jubbaland administration can only be transposed from Mogadishu; the clans in Jubbaland are inherently incapable of treating each other fairly, if left alone.  Or according to Villa Somalia, the clans in Jubbaland can share power fairly, but unless a share is allocated for Mogadishu clan in this power-sharing, any such deal is flawed and unjust. It is a bizarre and petulant logic.

We do not expect Aynte to be Somalia’s Cato, and to hold himself to an insanely high standard. We do not expect him to measure himself by a standard higher than winning or losing in Somali clan politics. But we expect him to be objective for the sake of the profession that gives him bread. It is perfectly normal to write an Op-ed which says “Muse Suudi Yalaxow is the most intelligent statesman in Somalia” but it is offensive to claim that the feuding sides in the Kismaayo conflict are President Hassan and Ahmed Madoobe. It is bigger than that.

When power limps

In the last two months, power in Villa Somalia walked with a mortifying limp, like a loose father nursing loins fretted by venereal infection. The grown-up children have noticed the shame and hey, they see the stains of sin – sins that start and end in Kismaayo.

Of all the weighty national matters that await him, President Hassan is fixated on charcoal and Kismaayo. Not on setting up administrative structures for the ungoverned central regions. Not on building governance institutions in Mogadishu.

Of all the AMISOM and other forces in Somalia, the President is sleepless about Kenyans. Not about Ugandans. Not about Burundians. Not about Djiboutians. Not about even Ethiopians. There is only one regional military that is capable of violating Somalia’s sovereignty – Kenya. It is a bit like playing Shakespeare’s Caliban: give us Ugandans, they kill us better, shoot civilians in Bakara market. Give us Ethiopians, they conquer and rule our borders without asking for permission. But no! no! no Kenya.

AMISOM troops in Mogadishu

AMISOM troops in Mogadishu (top) and
Kismayo (bottom)

AMISOM Kismayo

Justice and perfection are a must in Kismaayo; Mogadishu can wait with its 16 district administrators, all from one-clan. It is a new enigmatic phenomenon, one which encapsulates a new underlying sense of naturalizing and forgiving the excesses of clan cleansing and marginalization of minorities in Mogadishu because a new “outrage” may be happening in Kismaayo. It is the tip of a new “nationalist” morality, of a new Mogadishu self-righteousness, unrestrained by its awesome paradoxes and inherent contradictions, and therefore so dangerously retrogressive. Is it the advent of “a great, confused nationalism” to take after Indian democracy, which they call “the great, confused democracy?”

Only in Somalia does a sinner at home go on a pilgrim to correct sins in other lands. The irony is befuddling, matched only by the story of a bankrupt United States telling China how to run a successful economy, so that it can borrow more money from the latter. America is the only debtor that tells lenders how to run their business!

Whatever his intentions, no matter how noble his designs for Kismaayo might be, there can be little argument that President Hassan’s handling of the Kismayo issue has been amateurish and suicidal. In the eyes of many, he is now seen as a clannish clown masquerading as a national leader. He is seen as a man working to a terms of reference drafted by radical clan action groups. It is a pity, because such a perception – whether true or unfounded – will encumber national reconciliation.

And that perception gains currency when patterns emerge. President Hassan is excessively conciliatory to Somaliland, cold to Puntland, dismissive of Khaatumo and antagonistic towards Jubbaland. Add the invective anecdotes that allege President Hassan is beholden to the dictates of staunchly anti-Darod advisors, and it is not hard to imagine where this obsession with Kismaayo can take the President and the country. Need we go back to 1990s? No, please.