Thursday, July 01, 2010

An open letter to Somaliland’s President-elect: Congratulations but take heed

By Bashir Goth
July 01, 2010

Now that you have won the election; let me first congratulate you, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, on winning the long-awaited presidency. It has been indeed a long journey for you and you have shown the tenacity and the single-mindedness it takes to be focused on your goal. I have admired your abilities to rally different sectors of Somaliland’s people behind you.

I also extend my congratulations to the people of Somaliland for their wisdom, dignity and civility. By coming out peacefully in their thousands in huge rallies during the campaign and giving equal respect and hospitality to all the three parties, our people have demonstrated a high level of political maturity. I have no doubt that history will witness Somaliland people as being the real heroes of the 26 June 2010 presidential election. They made us all proud Somalilanders.

Mr. President-elect, with the election now behind you, it is time that you have to be reminded of the people’s expectations. There is no respite for you. We cannot afford to give you a honeymoon. Not because you don’t deserve it, but because you have urgent work to do. Your table is already full. Apart from the promises you made during the election campaign which were too many, there are pressing domestic, regional and international issues that you have to deal with. In addition you are aware that as a veteran politician your legacy starts from day one. A political novice can be allowed to make mistakes. But any mistake from a veteran politician like you will be fatal. Therefore, you have to make it good on your first move.

Domestic front

On the domestic front, the most urgent work waiting for you is to unite the people that have been fragmented by the election campaign. We expect you to reassure everyone that you are the President of all Somaliland and not of one segment of the community.

It is time to depart from your confrontational rhetoric and show the magnanimity of a statesman. It is time for humility in victory Mr. Silanyo and not time for bravado and vengefulness. Peace is the foundation on which Somaliland stands. And sustaining that peace needs conciliatory leadership, inclusive government and a healthy democratic debate.

We will not judge you by the gaffes you made on the campaign trail, but we will judge you by the actions you take as a president. We will judge you by the kind of government you form, the political approach you adopt and the peaceful overtures you make to your political opponents. We will judge you by how hard you work towards delivering the promises you made during the election campaign. It is, therefore, up to you to decide whether you rise above local politics and see the bigger picture or immerse yourself deeper and deeper into the domestic bickering and tribal quagmire. Remember Mr. President-elect what is built by Tolay is destroyed by Tolay. So keep your distance from the Tolay mentality and lead the people towards nationhood.

You have come to the power on a message of change and hope; on transparency and good governance; on strengthening free enterprise; on building modern infrastructure; on the provision of good healthcare and quality education; on creating jobs for the youth and ushering in an era of economic prosperity; and on top of all on redoubling the government’s efforts to win international support for the legitimacy of our nationhood.

These are a tall order Mr. President-elect. But these are your promises and you are expected to deliver them. The clock is already ticking and people have started watching it. You accused the previous President by saying: “Riyaale wuxu sheegay in dhiishiisii u buuxsantay, anagu dhiil ka buuxsan mayno ee shacabka ayaan dhiisha u buuxinaynaa…”. (Rayale said he got his bowl full; we will not fill our bowls but we will make sure that we fill the people’s bowl). This is why many people have voted for you, Mr. President-elect; they believed in you and now they are dusting their bowls.

Mr. President-elect, we are a tribal society and as you know a tribal society is like a house of cards; if one card falls the whole house collapses. We have survived thus far by using our time-tested customary laws and wisdom in constantly mending our faults, constantly licking our wounds, constantly listening to the voice of reason, constantly yielding to reconciliation efforts and collectively acting to safeguard the greatest assets we have which is peace first, peace second and peace third. For only in peace we can dream and only in peace we can prosper. We expect you, Mr. President-elect, to nurture and sustain this peace at any cost.

Our women, Mr. President-elect, are the bedrock of our nation’s survival, the breadwinners of our families, the gatekeepers of our harmony, the goodwill ambassadors between our people at times of crisis and the strongest voting constituency. They need to be heard, to be well represented in your government and to be given the priority in all development projects.

Neighboring countries

Having friendly and mutually beneficial relations with our neighboring countries has been the basis of Somaliland’s peace and prosperity. Wisdom demands Mr. President-elect that you build on these good ties and take them to even higher levels. Ethiopia in particular has been a strong ally of Somaliland for a long a time. This is a strategic and mutually productive alliance for both countries; it is an alliance that has to be kept and handled with great care and diligence.

Somalia, Mr. President-elect, is totally another issue. Wisdom and experience have taught our people to stay away from it. Unlike Somaliland, Somalia has all the international community on its side. We cannot do a better job so let Somalia clean up its mess with the help of the international community. Somalia is our sisterly neighbor. We feel their pain, we pray for them and we hope that the opposing forces there would listen to the voice of reason and restore peace and stability for the people, but you have been elected to lead Somaliland to nationhood and it is obvious that Somaliand’s sovereignty and nationhood do not run through the blood soaked streets of Mogadishu. As I write this piece, Somaliland Election Commission is announcing the 2010 Presidential election results and I am sure you are excitedly following your victory and Somaliland people are jubilantly celebrating the occasion; but in Somalia, the President of the TFG is leading fierce battles against destructive and suicidal forces, tragically on the 50th anniversary of Somalia’s independence and it’s unification with Somaliland. The standing policy of Somaliland’s successive governments has been to avoid dragging ourselves into that quagmire.

Your duty, Mr. President, is to keep our borders tight and our people safe from the intolerant ideologies ravaging Somalia.

State institutions, political parties and The Election Commission

One final word, Mr. President-elect, democracy in Somaliland, though vibrant and glamorous, is still fragile. It thrives on herd mentality and lacks the acceptance of dissent voices. As a veteran politician we expect you to bring a more accommodative political environment where citizens can freely debate their opinions without fear of political repression and physical incarceration; where people can enjoy equal rights; where freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of worship are respected as basic human rights and where the rule of law takes precedence over tribal allegiance.

Creating state institutions where staffing is based on qualifications, integrity and competence and not on clan affiliations and nepotism could be a memorable hallmark of your term of office. You can make a good start by forming a lean and professional cabinet of ministers with a clear mission to bring a qualitative change of style in administration and to translate the message of hope and change that was your election platform into a tangible reality.

The three-party system we have, Mr. President-elect, has proved to be a protective shield against the fragmentation of our people into clan fiefdoms. I understand the temptation to open the door for the creation of more parties, but you know that would also be a recipe for disaster. The 1969 chaotic election in former Somalia where more than 60 clan-based parties made a mockery of the multiparty system should be a warning guide for you. Having lived through that ugly state, it was wise of our late President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal to have enshrined in our constitution that Somaliland’s national parties should not exceed three at presidential and parliamentary elections. It is my humble opinion that this should be maintained to save our people from falling apart like a fractured glass.

Finally, Mr. President-elect, the Somaliland Election Commission has proven to be a pillar of the country’s democracy. The Commission members executed their duties with a commendable professionalism. It will be highly expected of you to empower this institution and make it one of Somaliland’s enduring democracy gatekeepers.

Congratulations Mr. President-elect but take heed.