“We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction” (Greek wisdom)
Accounts of Somali history and contemporary Somali studies often cite clannishness and tribalism as catalysts for divisions and bloody conflicts among the Somalis. Recently, a debate has been raging over the ‘real’ or ‘perceived’ injustice among Somali clans in what is today known as the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia (SRS).
The bulk of this debate is not over grazing land or water, two traditional sources of conflict among the Somalis. It is about participation in the social, political and economic life of the region/country. Without denying the perennial difficulties and frustrations of convincingly arguing about clan issues, this is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed. In this paper, we will attempt to lay bare the true sources of injustice in the SRS by looking at how the state machinery functions, how structures are created and instituted, and how politicians exploit the clan factor to further their personal interests and the interests of the TPLF oligarchy. Our argument starts with the premise that clan is indeed a major factor in SRS politics. But, we also argue that focusing on the clan factor is simply overlooking the source of institutional decay, economic dearth, political instability and injustice in the region.
Politics, administrators and clan dynamics
By and large, clan issues manifest in the social, economic and political life of Somalis. In the SRS, politicians, successive administrations and the federal government have exploited the clan factor to keep the SRS population disenfranchised. It started with the ONLF administration in the early 1990s when it formed a government dominated by one clan. It continued during Eid Dahir’s administration. The line “Ogaadeen ninkaan dulminayn waa la dilayaaye” from Makayte’s poem points to the alienation of the Ogaden clan under Eid’s government. While the use and abuse of tribalism were observed under Qani, Khadar, Dulane, Jibril and Hassan, the exploitation of the clan factor has today reached a level never seen before in the history of the region. The current president, Abdi Omer, has systematically exploited the clan factor to attest his loyalty to the TPLF regime and to gain political capital. In his rumbling speeches in Minneapolis and Copenhagen, the nominal president pounded his chest and said, with no sense of mortification, he is a president because of his affiliation with a particular clan.
However, one needs to go beyond the politicians’ rhetoric and chest-thumping to understand the situation in the region. To critically analyze whether SRS regional presidents are loyal to their clans and constituencies, two questions need to be posed: (1) is there any constituency, presidents or otherwise, that is more developed in the region than other constituencies? (2) Does the clan of the president really benefit from the system?
Answering these questions only reveal the fact that Eid Dahir has neglected Harshin as much he neglected Habaswayne; Kabridahar has not leaped forward under Khadar; Wardheer has not advanced under Abdirashid Dulane; Abdullahi Hassan has not developed Dobaweyn and Jibril has done very little for Dhambal and the larger Shinile zone. In fact, most of the SRS politicians have caused misery to their constituencies and clans. A few examples are in order here.
Abdi Jibril gave away vast SRS land including significant Issa territory to Oromia at the behest of TPLF and never said a word about OPDO’s treatment of the Somalis who have been denied employment rights and other opportunities for campaigning for the Somali region during the vague referendum. Moreover, it is a matter of historical record that Jibril and Dirir united their forces to denounce the Somali ownership of Diredawa, although the city was partially lost before they joined the leadership of the region. Dirir’s infamous statement that Diredawa is God’s land bears testimony to this fact.
Similarly, the Ogaden clan has never suffered as much as it suffered under Abdi Omer, be it when he was the head of the Security Coordination Bureau or now. Never has it occurred in the history of the region grandmothers to be raped in such horrific scale, elders to be tortured and executed in such numbers, youth to be transformed into monstrous criminals in uniform ( Liyu police), who take exorbitant pride in killing their own people. Not even under the brutal Derg regime. While the current president has enrolled his children in Gibson School, one of the most sought after private schools in Addis Ababa, and assigned very luxurious Toyata Land Cruiser (worth about $70,000) and a driver for them, he has orphaned hundreds of children from his clan.
Also, when innocent civilians from Jijiga zone were massacred in the Moyaha village, politicians from that zone including the head of the ruling party at that time, Abdifatah Sh. Abdullahi, labeled the victims ‘terrorists’. Hence, it is not surprising that Abdirashid Dulane was on the BBC a few weeks ago calling rape victims, including women of his mother’s age from Wardheer, terrorists. The current chairman of the SRS ruling party who is also the speaker of the state parliament, Mohamed Rashid, never bothers why Moyale district is still a disputed district, despite the inhabitants of this area overwhelmingly voting to remain part of the Somali region. In short, these men are cut from the same cloth. They hardly care about their clan or constituency.
This is not to say that individuals from the president’s clan do not get a bigger piece of the pie. Khadar’s right hand men were from Kabridahar, although he is relatively the most sensible leader of the 11 presidents that has so far ruled this region ( Sa`di and Qalinle excluded); Abdulahi Hassan awarded major contracts to his kin, Abdirashid Dulane surrounded himself with his relatives ; Abdi Omer appointed his own brother to be the finance head of the Security Coordination Bureau while nominating his brother in –law first as the deputy head of the Finance Bureau and now as a Bureau head. The current president also filled all key security positions including the head of the region’s intelligence office, head of the Liyu Police, and head of the Arba Batana-riot control police, with individuals from his own sub-clan. However, these actions benefit only very few cronies, not the wider clan or constituency.
The narrative here is not to say that none of the leaders has done anything good. This kind of blank statement is neither accurate nor logical. But, the truth is that every constituency in the state, regardless of the clan, remains very underdeveloped and marginalized. The pastoralists in Gabagabo are living under the shadow of the notorious Liyu Police; those in Galadi are starving because of negligence; farmers in Shinile are displaced under the guise of export-oriented phony foreign investment projects that do not benefit them. The list of challenges and problems the region is facing from Jijiga to Liban to Fiq to Afdher goes on and on.
Beneficiaries and sources of Injustice
The SRS’ nominal leaders, ogaden or non-ogaden, are executing policies of the TPLF government. Central to these policies is the use of the clan factor to keep the region’s population divided. During Eid Dahir and Abdi Majid’s period, the government alienated the Ogaden clan after the ONLF waged the ongoing armed struggle. Similar policies were implemented again during Jibril and Dirir’s time. Since 2005, however, the government adopted a new policy to find a few loyalists from the Ogaden to subjugate the wider Ogaden clan and they found a nominal leader-Abdi Omer- who will go down in history as the Somali region’s Butcher of Berlin. This new policy, which gives less attention to the non-ogaden clans, was a response to the growing threat posed by the ONLF. Therefore, one has to be convinced that the TPLF regime doesn’t care about any particular Somali clan. TPLF’s main goal is making sure that the SRS people are divided and always remain at each other’s throat.
Often, people cite the distribution of offices and administrators to gauge justice among clans, but it is a mistake to evaluate justice using such parameters without scrutinizing how SRS institutions are run. The SRS has about 50 Bureaus and it is true that all clans (zones) should be represented in one form or another. An objective observer, however, should pause and ask: why would a small regional government waste its meager resources on fifty offices?
Addressing the above question, the former president of the SRS and current deputy in the Ethiopian High Commission in London, Abdirashid Dulane, is on record saying that ‘‘TPLF advisors tell us [i.e the regional government] to shrink the number of offices when we expand them, and to expand when we shrink them’’. In other words, TPLF is the architect of the structure of the regional government. A recent example also supports our argument that the regional government is a passive recipient of policies dictated by TPLF advisors. The creation of three vice presidents in this year in the political structure is case in point. There was no discussion whatsoever within the regional authority about creating three vice presidents in the structure. In fact, the position of the vice president stayed vacant for good part of Daud’s presidency, pointing to the less weight attached to this position. You might also recall the strange administrative culture in SRS whereby the president, in his absence, delegates presidential powers to one of his close friends from the cabinet while the vice president is in Jigjiga. The most logical argument that the government has forwarded thus far is that the three vice presidents will coordinate the fifty offices. It is, however, ironic that five Coordination Bureaus were abolished just three years ago at the direction of Abay Tsehaye. So, the argument that the three vice presidents will coordinate the fifty offices is very clumsy. A more nuanced explanation is that TPLF decided to set up three vice presidents in the political structure of the Somali region, just as it did in Oromia and Southern Nations, and the SRS nominal leaders implemented the imposed idea.
The preceding discussion on the structure can be extended to the SRS districts. The region had 52 districts before the newly approved 15 districts were added to the already bloated list this year. It should be noted that more than 87 percent of the region’s population lives in rural areas and majority of this are pastoralists. Now, the preoccupation of any sensible government would be to create policies, structures and institutions that deliver services to the poor pastoralists of the region. This would mean, for instance, the 67 districts to serve as services and development coordination points. However, what we currently have in most of the districts is a few huts and schools that house military regiments instead of students. Hence the creation of more districts is just adding insult to injury. And the fact that the nominal regional government didn’t present any solid justification for the creation of 15 districts at once is a further indication of how sagacity is replaced with senselessness. This is not to say that some of these villages didn’t deserve to become districts but the point is that there have to be mechanisms and procedures that are followed when new districts are created. For example, one could make a case for Araarso, which, like Gunagado, has been a district in waiting for long time or Raaso for resolving the conflict between the brotherly people of that area or West Godey for attracting pastoralists to resettle, but to create 15 districts at once without any political or technical deliberation underscores that reason is rarely applied to the politics of the region. The truth is that TPLF politicians directed the nominal president to create these districts and they will only result in further division and conflict among the people.
The so-called Somali regional government gives the social, political and economic upheavals of the SRS local color in order to shift the blame to regional authorities and, unfortunately, some people might buy into this. The fact of the matter, however, remains that policy decisions are reached in Addis Ababa, solely by TPLF politicians. TPLF has decided to deploy policies that are detrimental to peace and development in the region. It has employed the old tactic of divide and rule and because of TPLF’s harmful policies; both Ogaden and other Somali clans are suffering.
Some of the inter-clan grievances are legitimate and should be debated on their merits, but what is at stake is more than the number of head offices of this clan vs. that clan. Moreover, in today’s day and age, where countries are naturalizing other nations’ citizens to increase their human resource, the region has 5 million residents and some people are wasting their time and energy tallying which clan is big and which one is small. The reality is that we are all small; for we can hardly populate one metropolitan city. The clan politics will only weakness us and strengthen our detractors. It will allow them to divide us in order to dominate us. The only way out of this mess is unity and tolerance. We should come together and fight for peace, justice, rule of law, due process, fair representation at all levels of government, an end to the meddling and interference of TPLF in the Somali region’s administrative affairs ,and most importantly for self-determination.
The responsibility to unify the people of the region rests on two groups: SRS intellectuals and organizations. Intellectuals need to stop whining about what others are doing to the SRS citizens and should start playing their leadership role to unify the people. Similarly, organizations, particularly the ONLF, which currently bears the torch for the century-old struggle, should bridge the gap between different groups of our society. The Karamadha group urges once again the ONLF to transform itself into a more capable political organization that can accommodate everyone in the region. It is common that every organization faces challenges within and outside, when carrying out reforms, but a gradual reform that target less sensitive areas is very imperative. Launching a campaign to unify the Somali people under one Somali banner, showing flexibility on the name and effective outreach programs to non-traditional supporters and intellectuals are examples of less sensitive reform areas the organization can initially focus on. These efforts can bridge the gap between different segments of our society and might lessen the influence of tribalism in our lives. Failure to embrace these and other similar reform ideas will keep us divided and will surely ‘give our enemies the means for our own destruction’.
* ISSA, ISSAQ, OGADEN and TPLF (Match Made in Heaven) By Diriye H. Abdillahi
We welcome the submission of all articles for possible publication on WardheerNews.com