Monday, November 25, 2013

Yussur Abrar and Thuli Madonsela: Africa’s Female Whistleblowers

By Bashir Goth

It was always my belief that if Africa were to change its bad reputation as the citadel of corrupt politicians and a haven for mismanaged foreign aid; it would have to be the continent’s women that lead the way. 

And this is exactly what happened over the last month when two women of character, Yussur Abrar of Somalia and Thuli Madonsela of South Africa, have stunned the male-dominated corruption infested political systems of the two countries with their fearless actions.

Yusur Adan Abrar, an international banker with three decades of experience in banking, insurance, telecommunications and finance consultancy, was appointed as Somalia’s first female governor of the Central Bank in September 2013, a time when the international community pledged $2.4 billion to fund Somali's infrastructural and fiscal reconstruction. 

As a professional banker, Abrar knew very well the task ahead of her. To put simply it was the establishment of a comprehensive regulatory framework for the country’s financial system and to make the Somali Central Bank accountable for every dollar that reaches its coffers. 

However, what she did not anticipate was that the government had appointed her as a ploy to use her stellar record to hoodwink the donor community by using her signature to legitimize shady financial dealings. 

Abrar’s goal of cleaning the system had become an affront to the Somali politicians’ old norm of stealing and enriching themselves on foreign aid and the country’s tax revenues.

Soon after she stepped into the building of the bank she was given orders and threats to sanction dubious deals. She was not given enough time to even review the demands and explore if she could find any legal loopholes that could allow her to find a legitimate compromise.  All her attempts to win the President’s support and to enlighten him about the irreparable damage that sanctioning such deals could cause to the government’s credibility fell on deaf ears. 

But instead of being enlightened by Abrar’s relentless efforts to highlight the need to follow sound financial regulations, the acolytes at the government’s corruption alter tried to convert her to the Somali way of doing business and to wean her from what they saw as her unflinching adherence to ‘western values’. As she bluntly put it in her letter of resignation to the President, she said: “The message that I have received from multiple parties is that I have to be flexible, that I don't understand the Somali way that I cannot go against your wishes, and that my own personal security would be at risk as a result.”

According to the information I received, even President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud himself had at one point accused Abrar of acting like an American: “Ma Maraykan baad iskaga kaaya dhigaysaa.. Are you trying to act like an American to us?” As the Somali proverb says: Madax meel meel la taabto oo sarreeyaa ma jiro… There is no place higher than the head to reach…” Instead of showing leadership and supporting Abrar in her honest efforts to restore badly needed accountability to the country’s financial system and safeguarding the resources of the Somali people, the President was in a crusade to re-educate her to the African culture of corruption, the Somali way of Qaataye –Qaado ( I rob and you have your share)


Ironically, there is an element of truth in the President’s unbecoming expression. Yes, there was a clash of culture and goals between Abrar and President Mahmoud’s administration. Abrar, with her extensive experience in western corporations, her goal was to apply these standards to make the country’s banking system acceptable to donor nations and to enable the country achieve economic recovery.

When I accepted this role, I did so with the interests of the Somali people in mind. Having worked at senior levels at some of the largest financial institutions in the world, I was looking forward to the opportunity to lend my skill sets to rebuild the Central Bank and improve the lives of our people, as the Central Bank is key to the development of the economy. Undoubtedly, economic recovery is critical to this recovery from both a fiscal and security perspective,” She wrote in her letter of resignation.

However, Abrar’s corporate culture, professional perspective and patriotic goals seemed so alien to President Mahmoud and his underlings who were trained in the NGOs culture of trickle-down economy, albeit in African context, to which the late eminent American economist John Kenneth Galbraith had explained as an approach that emerged during the depression and was also called “the horse- and-sparrow theory” which  meant: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” And this is exactly the culture and mentality of the African politicians and particularly the Somali political elite who practice the principle of “me first,  crumbs for the rest.”

Strangely enough, even those western educated Diaspora returnees who serve for the President as ministers and advisors fall into this category. Writing to me from New York, a friend of mine Dr. Nimo Bokore, had correctly put this in perspective: “Lately,” she said, “I began to worry about the current scramble for Somali blood money. Will the elite, the well educated Diaspora men and their counterparts going back to politics to pay off their mortgages lead us to nationhood? Or they are just engaged in their own temporary gain ‘Geel Dhac’?”

It is indeed this Geel Dhac “looting camels” culture of the Somali political elite that clashed with Abrar’s financial ethics that she learned in the upper echelons of grand institutions.

This was not lost on Abrar as she so clearly expressed in her carefully written letter that she was not worried about the threats she received more than she was worried and frustrated by the President’s lack of support: “I am the least concerned about the security threat, but I am truly disappointed that I have not received your support and leadership on this matter so that I could objectively perform my duties.”


Since Abrar’s resignation, the Somali people and indeed the international community have yet to hear a plausible explanation from President Mahmoud’s government on the damaging information that came in Abrar’s resignation letter other than pitiful denials that carry no facts to clear their position.

After many missed opportunities which led Somalia to become a dangerous place for world trade and security, the international community decided to give President Mahmoud and his government a chance regardless of the corrupt and illegitimate way that he had come to power. With his baby face, ever-present smile, and soft-spoken style, President Mahmoud has won a certain degree of trust. And due to our strong longing for a functioning and recognized Somali government, we all ignored the early voices such as that of the satirical Somali poet and academician Mahmoud Togane, who warned us against the wolf hiding in Mahmoud’s sheep’s clothing in an interview he gave a short time after Mahmoud’s election.  We also understandably dismissed the sharp criticisms that Professors, Samatar and Glaydh, leveled against Mahmoud, due to their known political inclinations. 

But thankfully it took an honest woman like Abrar with no political ambitions of her own to expose that the president’s pose was not more than a fa├žade aimed at buying trust.

Whether the international community heeds Abrar’s wakeup call is yet to be seen. But it is reassuring to know that Abrar’s resignation had already rattled the donors’ trust. Reuters quoted one senior European diplomat saying: “What [Abrar's resignation] has done is woken up a lot of people,” said one senior European diplomat. “The notion that there is a blank check for Somalia, that's over. There's got to be results for money.”

Well said, but the Somali people need more than rhetoric and the best thing that could result from this fiasco is to deposit international aid to Somalia in an escrow account and to appoint Abrar or a person of her caliber as a financial czar to oversee the fair distribution of donor funds for the development of the Somali people.

However, if the track record of the relations between donor nations and corrupt African leaders could be taken as an indication, President Mahmoud’s administration would receive no more than a friendly censure for its behavior. And this explains why the government doesn’t look shaken by what would have been a damaging incident to any decent administration.  

Nevertheless, Abrar should have no regrets even if donor nations decide to continue dealing with Mogadishu government. It will only show once more how much the international community works hand in glove with corrupt African leaders in entrenching “the horse- and-sparrow theory”. No wonder that it is often said poverty is big business.


Elsewhere, Thulisile Madonsela, a human rights lawyer, equality expert, and South Africa’s Public Protector, is facing stiff resistance from ministers close to President Jacob Zuma not to publish her findings in an investigation of renovating the president’s retirement homewith $30 million.  

Miss Madonsela who has in her record as one of 11 technical experts who participated in drafting of the final constitution of South Africa in 1994-5, insists that she would go ahead to make the report public regardless.
The multi-resident estate, known as Zumaville, which is reported to have underground rooms, medical facilities, football fields, a theatre, and a helipad, is located in an impoverished neighborhood.  And President Zuma just like President Mahmoud had the audacity to speak: “passionately of his inability to sleep peacefully knowing that there are people still living in shacks in his wealthy nation.”

Now, we can understand when Abrar laments what she could have done if she was allowed to capitalize on the momentum she started in gaining the trust of international financial institutions by saying: “I can only imagine what could have been achieved provided I had your support to perform my duties objectively. Your excellency, while I am disappointed by this lack of support, I am more disappointed for the Somali people who would have benefited the most from these and future contributions.” 

We can equally understand, if President Mahmoud curses Abrar for not allowing him to have his own Damujadidville; a clash of two irreconcilable cultures, indeed.

Being the people’s mules for so long who carried loads on their back and children in their bosom and belly, while at the same time tilling the land, African women have come of age and have another burden to carry today; to cleanse the continent of its corrupt male leaders.

It is reported that Dr. Kuwama Nakrumah, Ghanian Independence leader and an admired African hero, once said that the “black man is capable of managing his own affairs”? I beg to differ with him by saying: “Yes indeed, Mr Nakrumah, the blackman is capable of managing his own affairs; but his own personal affairs only in fattening himself, but it is the black woman who is capable of managing the affairs of the continent and rectifying the historical mistakes that men have committed against the poor people of Africa.” Viva Yussur, Viva Miss Madonsela, and viva all conscientious women of Africa.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Samatar’s Hero’s Welcome in Somaliland Has Him Walking a Tightrope

Bashir Goth 

Professor Ahmed Samatar represents different things to different people, but one thing that undeniably dominates his character is that he is an eminent scholar seeking to revive common decency and good values in the Somali people. However, the rapturous welcome and adulation that he received during his much awaited homecoming to Somaliland may have raised more questions than they answered. The root cause of such bewilderment is the different expectations that the various sectors of the Somali people have about the outcome of the professor’s country-wide tour and the rationale behind his decision to visit Somaliland despite his well known political position as an ardent advocate of Somali unity.

Famous for his unmatched eloquence and brilliant scholarship, Ahmed Samatar has until now skirted the thorny issues and instead concentrated on his long term mission of bringing political and cultural enlightenment to the Somali people, particularly by engaging with local universities, community leaders and women and charming them with his suave manners and Aristotelian persuasion.

I will, therefore, try in this piece to look at the different perspectives that the different sectors of the Somali people might have regarding Ahmed Samatar’s visit.

The Professor’s fox perspective:

Inspired by the Greek poet Archilochus who said: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’, Isaiah Berlin, the eminent 20thC social and political theorist, had categorized people into “hedgehogs” or “foxes” in his a famous essay entitled “The Hedgehog and the Fox”.
In real life, according to Berlin’s theory, we know that when in danger the hedgehog rolls into a ball, exposing its pointed spikes outward as a defense mechanism, but the fox uses many tricks to deal with threats and to fight for its survival. This means that some people like to deal with the world as it is, in one single approach. They fear change.

Such people like to be ensconced in their comfort zone, even if the comfort zone is proved to be an illusionary one. These are the hedgehogs. On the other hand are people who take a liberal and multidimentional approach to the world. They are ready to change when new realities unfold and when they gain new information that is more credible than the one they had before.

Accordingly, I could say that Ahmed Samatar belongs to the Fox category as he looks at the Somali issue through a liberal and pluralist prism and refuses to tie himself to a procrustean view.

He stood for and I believe still stands for not only the unity of the Somali people but also for advocating the establishment of justice, liberalism and democratic norms as well as common decency in the body politic of the Somali nation.

But since he started his herculean enlightenment mission among the Somali people he has worked under the assumption that the key to the solution of the Somali problem was to be found in Mogadishu. He saw Mogadishu as the head of the Somali body and thought that if a magic cure was found for the head then the rest of the body would regain its health and strength. But when he ran for Somalia’s presidency in September 2012, he witnessed the messy, corrupt, and harshly nomadic way of practicing politics in Mogadishu. He then realized that Mogadishu after all was not the key to the solution but indeed the root cause of the Somali plight. This was a crucial moment for Ahmed Samatar’s relentless political advocacy for the Somali cause.

Naturally, two options could have crossed his mind; to quit politics for good or to change course and being a conscientious scholar who couldn’t just sit down and watch his people wander lost in a political wilderness, he chose the second option; to change direction. Remember as a thinker of the fox category who looks at issues from different approaches and different perspectives, Ahmed Samatar knows how to make a detour when he faces a dead-end. The decision was neither an easy one nor an expedient and a sudden change of heart as some people might like to think. But it was a hard decision that came to fruition after a long deliberation and cautious research.

There is an anecdote that when John Maynard Keynes, seen as the most influential economist of the 20th century, was once accused of changing his positions on economic issues , he is attributed to have said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” and a Somali proverb says: “Laba tallaabo dhexdooda ayey talo ka dhalata,” or “War la helyaaba, Talo la hel.”

Ahmed Samatar decided rightly and boldly to go to Somaliland to achieve several objectives.; First, to educate himself about the reality of Somaliland; to see, hear and witness how deeply and passionately the Somalilanders feel about their secession claim and secondly, to explore how strong the foundations were of Somaliland’s unique experience with democracy and government building. Lastly, the trip was more of a personal healing for him than a political adventure as he wanted to relive his childhood memories of the country.

Somaliland’s hedgehog perspective: 

Due to their intransigence and fixation on independence, the people of Hargeisa and central regions can be counted in the category of the hedgehog. Just like the hedgehog they have only one big issue in mind: the recognition of Somaliland. This is why they saw Ahmed Samatar’s visit as a moment of victory. History shows that political causes rarely take off the ground if they don’t win the advocacy of prominent and visionary scholars of international standing. Ahmed Samatar is on par with scholars such Noam Chomsky, who gallantly campaigned for the cause of East Timor, Edward Said who popularized the Palestinian and Arab causes through his heroic scholarship, Eric Reeves who untiringly fought for the independence of Southern Sudan and others. This is why many people in Somaliland saw that winning Ahmed Samatar’s voice and scholarship on their side was akin to winning international recognition for their independence and would deal a blow to Mogadishu’s credibility.

The Professor’s homecoming, however, has exposed a great psychological abyss between the Awdal communities and those of Somaliland’s central regions.

The communities of Somaliland’s central regions are known for their directness and clarity. They either love you passionately or hate you passionately. Their character is black and white, and has a little or no gray areas in between, what you see is what you get. They are very generous with their feelings and very forgiving once misunderstandings are sorted out. Remember (Kal laxeeba baan leeyihiyo laabta xuunshada…). They are straightforward and loud with their intentions. They all came out to welcome the Professor but they made their intentions clear to him without any reservations. Hence, teasing him with Somaliland’s flag was not for a joke.

The people of Awdal on the other hand are all about gray areas. You will never know whether they love you or hate you (Allahayow nin ii daran maxaan daafta hore seexshay…). They are stingy with their feelings, opaque and reserved with their intentions. The fact that they carried no Somaliland flags while welcoming the Professor but they all chanted in unison with him when he shouted “Somaliland ha noolaato” (Long Life to Somaliland) is itself a good example of their enigmatic personality. Are they loyal Somalilanders or are they not, the jury is still out.

Awdal Community’s fox perspective 

The people of Awdal gave a hero’s welcome to Ahmed Samatar as they thronged out in their thousands to the streets, singing, dancing and carrying his pictures. The ecstatic crowds that filled the streets in the villages and towns on the main highway from Dilla to Borama city was a strong political statement with multiple messages or “Dhagaxaan tuurow, todoba dilow, toddoba duqood” as a friend who called me from there described the feeling of the people.

First, it was a show of force and a strong message to Mogadishu where the Professor failed in his bid for Somalia’s presidency despite being a formidable candidate with a powerful political agenda and vision for Somalia.

Second, it was a candid expression of admiration for what they saw as his courage and principled stance over the years in being an advocate for Somali unity, a secret yearning that most Awdalians keep close to their heart despite their ostentatious support for Somaliland, part of Awdal people’s enigmatic character.

Third, the Professor’s arrival has cemented the unity of the Awdal community and has given them the hope that he would be a powerful voice to champion their rights in Somaliland and beyond.

The Professor’s Message to Somalia 

Finally, Professor Ahmed Samatar’s return to Somaliland sends a strong message to Somalia that Mogadishu cannot have it both ways. It cannot be the capital of Somalia and project an image of inclusiveness and national identity to the outside world while at the same time it practices a politics of exclusion and clan profiling. It says Mogadishu has a choice to make; to be a place where every Somali child no matter where he is born can have the right to dream to rise to its leadership or permanently doom Somalia to its current fate of cantonization.

Obviously in Somaliland, Professor Ahmed Samatar has a tightrope to walk. Time will tell whether the hedgehog will win with its fortified wall of spikes or whether the fox will outmaneuver and blunt the spikes one after another. However, on Somalia, the Professor has already won the debate. And I hope our brothers in Mogadishu would heed the lesson.

June 24, 2013.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dr. Omar Raabe: Departure of a Hero without a Nation

'He who sincerely loves his country, leaves the
fragrance of a good name to a hundred ages.'
--PEKIN GAZETTE, NOV. 13, 1814.

“I never waged a war on the Somali people, whether political, religious, and tribal or whatever… On the contrary, I was always searching for the common good of the Somali people; I was calling for the protection of the Somali people’s interest, their land and their sea… Never did I work for self-interest, a name or money…but sometimes I sacrificed my personal affairs for the sake of the general interest. O’ Somalis, never did I lie to you, but on the contrary I always tried to warn you against the dangers that threatened the sovereignty of the Somali nation.”

With these farewell words, Dr. Omar Raabe departed from our world as a firm believer in Greater Somalia (Somali Weyn) and a tireless campaigner for achieving such a patriotic goal.  Raabe stood out from the Somali educated class for being the only one that never let the dream die and never let himself to be dragged to the dark dungeons of tribalism. He lived and died as a proud Somali with an unwavering belief that the day will come when the Somali race in the Horn of Africa will unite under one state and one flag; as a one nation that takes its respected place in the international community. 

From the day he started his struggle for the independence of Djibouti until he died on 17th April 2013, Raabe was in constant search for the unity and dignity of the Somali people. He went through untold suffering for the cause. He was sentenced to death by the French colonial authorities in Djibouti and was arrested and imprisoned several times by both Djiboutian and Somali authorities but he was not a man to be scared by jail or death. He was fighting for a cause that he saw as the highest calling of his life and was ready to fight for it to the end.
Raabe is comparable if not more persevering and more tenacious than recognized African heroes for independence such as Nkrumah, Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Ben Bella and Mandela. 

The only difference is that these African heroes came at a historic time when their nations were prepared to rally behind one leader for a common cause, to free their countries from one foreign occupier. Raabe, however, emerged when two parts of the Somali nation had thrown out the yoke of colonialism and the people had already seen their dream of statehood frittered by the inherent disease of tribalism. 

He lived through tragic years during which he saw his dream devoured by tribalism, fratricide and the Somali people suffering in the hands of inept, corrupt and opportunistic politicians who did not mind to sell the territory for their self enrichment. But nevertheless he never gave up and he kept trying to resuscitate a nation that has stopped to breathe; a nation engrossed to annihilate itself in its own hands and was not ready to hear the voice of reason; a nation that was more ready to listen to scoundrels who sell it to the lowest bidder than to embrace heroes with high ideals. Raabe died indeed as a hero but as one without a nation. But history never forgets and there is no doubt that Raabe will remain as a national legacy that will haunt the Somali race for Centuries. 

The following poem is a tribute to the struggle and patriotism of Dr Raabe. It was firs recited by the poet at ceremony held in Dubai by the Somali Community in the UAE in the memory of Dr. Raabe. 


Raabiyow Tibaax iyo
Tubtii aad is taagtaba
Taladaadii fiicnayd
Soomaali toolmoon
Oon kala takoorrayn
Tamarteedu weyn tahay
Oon cadaw tunkeediyo
Tagoogeeda jabin Karin
Tusmo raadinteediyo
Taahaaga beerkiyo
Markay tiifi gaadhaba
Uur tawaawacaagii
Tubtii noloshu waa tane
Waar tolow ka joogsada
Dabka ha isku tuurina
Qayladaadi taarkii
Erayadii taxliishii
Qofkii samuhu taabtiyo
Soomaali way tebi
Marka tiirka qarankiyo
Taladeenu liicdaba
Tuska soo onkodayiyo
Meel fog tiigsigaagii
Hiyi tiirintaadii

Tabaalaha adduunyada
Taariikh wixii jira
Iyo tabaha loo dego
Sida loo tamcaayee
Loo tu’in lahaa  iyo
Boholaha la teedshee
Looga sii tallaabsaday
Intaanay ku wada tegin
Toosh ku qabashadaadii
Waar tolow ka joogsada
Jarka ha isku tuurina
Digniintaadii taagnayd
Qalbi tuujintaadii
Qofkii samuhu taabtiyo
Soomaali way tebi
Markuu xumo taraaree
Qabiil la isku toocsado
Sheekadu tollaayeey
Taran baan ku dheerahay
Awowgeey Tahliil baa
Awowgaa tamcayn jiray
Tiro geel lahaan jiray
Taladoodu qoys iyo
Tarridii hortoodiyo
Tulud dhaafi laada’ay
Iyadoo taftoodiyo
Tafeenada hayiigmiyo
Tun jilaycsigoogani
Shisheeyuhu tusmaystoo
In dalkooga laga tiro
Tooxsi loogu tala galay
Iyagoo is tuhmaayoo
Araggoodu taam yahay
La qaybtamo tubtoodii
Runtaad taabanaysiyo
Tilmaantaadi dheerayd
Waar tolow ka joogsada
Tumaatida  dhexdiinaa
Intaydaan ku talax gabin
Tusbax daatay caynkii
Mid waliba tog dheer xulin
Oon cadaw  tanaadoo
Tuuraha  ku joogaa
Habqankiina  taganada
Tabaaluhu ku qaadiyo
Ciiddaba ku kala tegin
Ka tabaabushayntii
Ummad toosintaadii
Qofkii samuhu taabtiyo
Soomaali wey tebi.
Raabiyow tollaahiye
Nin sidaada tawstiyo
Gobannimo tisqaadkeed
Taraag dheer u galayoo
Timo soohdinteediyo
Tidiceeda gabadhaa
Ilaa toban jirkiisiyo
Markay geeridu u timi
Toddobaatan uu galay
Ku tawxiidsanaayoo
Jacaylkeedu boqol tiro
Ku tibqayey jidhkiisoon
Wadkoo tuura mooyee
Toobin lagaga nuugayn
Taariikhdu way tebi.
                                       --Bashir  Goth, Friday, 10th May 2013.