Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Divided Somaliland and the way out

Bashir Goth
The Local Council Elections that were held in Somaliland on 28th November 2012 left behind bitterness, bloodshed and deep divisions between the clans as well as moments of joy and celebration. Although the election started in a festive mood, its aftermath proved the fears of observers about the irreparable fissions that such unfettered democracy and flawed electoral system could bring to a tribal society like Somaliland. And on top of this comes the lack of independent judiciary that could handle disputes with fairness and the government’s rejection to abide by the rules it put in place.
In the following paragraphs therefore I will try to highlight the election’s twists and turns and its good, bad and ugly stories. 

The Good:

One of the good things about the election was its beautiful festivals and the joyful mood that prevailed during the campaign. It was beautiful to watch an isolated and internationally unrecognized state holding its 2nd municipal election, the first one was in 2002, and the 4th nationwide election since 2003. Parliamentary elections were held in 2005 and presidential elections in 2003 and 2010. And despite its glaring flaws, the local council election was another undeniable landmark in Somaliland’s quest for democratic transformation.  

It was a joy to watch the people exercising their democratic rights like any country in the world in party campaign forums. The youth and women have filled the campaign rallies to unmistakably show that they are the real force and game changers in the country. The youth have temporarily forgotten their unemployment status and used their positive energy in a constructive way despite the tribal undercurrents that denied them to achieve their full potential.

The long queues of the voting day, a symbol of democracy, peace and refinement, were admirable. It is always reassuring and heartening to see African people going to the polls and not to trenches to fight their case, to cast a vote and not carry a gun to settle disputes, to peacefully play by the rules of the game no matter how flawed they are and not resort to my-law-in-my-hand tribal fashion.

One whole month of festivities from 29th October to a long day of civilized voting on 28th November was enough to show the world that Somali people can be good, law-abiding citizens as any people in the world and that they are not always unruly, chaotic and warrior nomads as the world media loves to portray them.

The fact that several women were among the elected councils was also another promising development that showed the society’s changing attitude, albeit timidly, towards the role of women.

The Bad:

In a tribal nomadic society where people are divided on clan loyalties, the opening of the door for multiparty system has shown its devastating effect. In mature democracies, political parties run and campaign on ideological and political platforms. They have strategies to follow and political objectives to achieve. They try to win the support of the voters on their political, economical and cultural merits. Yes, political divisions could be rife and deep but they are based on economic and political interest rather than narrow and primitive ancestral bonds and blood ties. But in Somaliland like elsewhere in Africa, the political parties have no agenda, no strategies and no real and tangible objectives. It was boring to listen to party speakers repeating old platitudes and burnt out ideas. Their vital selling points were their clan identities and it was unfortunate to see all that exercise, mobilization and festival moods swallowed up by the tribal vortex. It was not difficult to see who voted for whom when the results came out. They showed how Somaliland politics rests purely on tribal crutches.

The Ugly

The ugly episode of the election was the government’s high handedness in dealing with the people’s complaints after the results were announced. It is natural for the losing parties or candidates in any election to feel cheated and demand for justice. In advanced countries such complaints go to the election commission which plays a neutral role. If the complainants don’t find the election commission’s decisions convincing, they go to the courts. In Somaliland, there is a general feeling that neither the election commission nor the justice system is free from government control. People therefore revert to the only tested institution they know and that works for them – the clan. Some parties and candidates therefore showed their grievances and complaints through clan protests and rallies. 

However, instead of handling the issue with tolerance and understanding, the government resorted to the use of force. Untrained and uncontrolled police force acting like clan militia used live ammunition on peaceful protestors, killing about ten young people and wounding many others in Hargeisa, Borama, Lughya and Zeila. 

Even worse than the cold blooded shooting, was the government’s lack of sympathy for the families of the victims and their indifference to the loss of human life. It took Silanyo almost one week to make a statement on the killing of five young protestors in Hargeisa and when he finally did he made it weak and remorseless which only added insult to injury. It was equally ugly and despicable to see the powerful cabinet minister Hirsi Ali Haji Hassan boasting in an interview to one of the websites that the government has paid the blood money to the families of the victims. Just like that, with no emotion, no regret, no remorse, and no promise of investigation and punitive action against the rogue police force. But at least here a statement was made, but the president has failed abysmally by not uttering a word about those killed by his policemen in Borama, Lughaya and Zeila.

In an episode reminiscent of dictatorial regimes, I watched the video of policemen shooting live ammunition indiscriminately at peaceful youth demonstrators in Borama. At one time, a policeman was strolling in the street with the gun in his hand after finishing his shooting business. He was threatening and swearing loudly, calling his victims as Waar laaya, Eeyda, eaydu dhashay which literally means “Kill them…the dogs sired by dogs.” By watching this, one couldn’t help but remember the ugly tribal militia brutalities that we saw elsewhere in Africa.

In the historical city of Zeila, the police have disbanded a group of peaceful squatters in the town’s local council building by force; killing at least one person and wounding others.

With all these crimes taking place, President Silanyo did not send a single message of condolence to the families of victims let alone apprehend the police individuals whose faces and criminal acts were watched by thousands on Youtube. But in an apparent act of defiance and a show of support and approval for his police force, Silanyo was quick to express sadness and send deep hearted condolences when several policemen were killed in a car accident. While on the contrary, the President did not think the life of a young girl who was run over by the police when they were departing Borama was worth his sympathy. 

The government’s unnecessary interference in the election of municipality mayors in major towns was to reignite bitter clan rivalries. The government tried to arm-twist council members in Erigavo, Buroa, Berbera and Zeila through monetary bribes and otherwise to get their favorite candidates elected as mayors.  This was a provocative tactic aimed at inciting people to take arms and fight in an illusionary war.

The government used Berbera and Zeila as testing grounds for its divide and rule policy. But it was fortunate to see the communities of these two areas act more wisely than the government and abort the government’s plans of pushing them into an internecine civil war. The communities in these two coastal towns who live in the most inhospitable areas in the region do not need to kill each other for the greed of opportunistic politicians but instead they need help to secure the basic subsistence of living such as water for human consumption and for their dwindling herds. 

As a foreign friend who frequently visits Somaliand wrote to me recently  “the people seem resigned to be stuck with bad politicians, though they deserve better, and get on with their own lives as best as they can.” Unfortunately the Silnayo government did not stop only at being a bad government but has also become a brutal one true to the Somali saying” Indha la’aantii, dad cunimo ayey ku darsatay”. And the tragedy is that there is no formidable political opposition as Silanyo seems to have succeeded in breaking the will of all potential political opponents by opening government coffers and silencing them with cash. It is only the lonely but courageous voice of Faisal Ali Waraabe and UCID party that still stands between Silnayo and his ambition to create a dynasty in Somaliland.

The way out:

Disappointed with the poor performance of Silanyo, the much touted UK educated leader, former SNM veteran and one of the longest serving ministers of Siyad Barre; the people of Somaliland are desperate for a bail out from their current economic and political wilderness. 

Many of them view the much anticipated Somalia-Somaliland talks as a Godsend exit strategy. The way Somalilanders swarm around Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam, Somalia’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, wherever she goes indicates how much hope they attach on her as their potential life line. We saw this during Fawzia’s recent visit to the UK and we saw it again when she made a stopover in Berbera airport en route to Mogadishu. Anyone who was anybody in Hargeisa came to visit her. No one even remembered the accusation of national treason that the government leveled against her when she accepted to serve in the cabinet of the new Somali government. Some of them including Somaliland’s Foreign Minister and Speaker of the House of Elders even went further, threatening her that she would be imprisoned if she ever returned to Somaliland. But on the contrary it was Silanyo’s government itself that was beleaguered by Fawzia’s presence at its airport.

Given to all foregoing factors and finding itself to be more divided than any time before, Somaliland needs a new direction to regain its vitality and the trust of its people. And the way of change is clear. It is to negotiate with the Somali government from a position of strength with clear strategy and tangible objectives.  But in order to do that Somaliland first has to hold an inter-clan reconciliation dialogue similar to the one held in Borama in 1993. It is only through a united voice from Zeila to Taleh that Somaliland can legitimately sit as an equal with their partners in Mogadishu.