By Faisal Roble
Prologue to CDRC’s DIGEST
In its January report, the Addis Ababa-based, Center for Dialogue, Regional and Cooperation (CDRC), a non-profit Think-tank unveiled to the Somalis a secret that in the past was confined to political corridors. It shared with us the weighty muscle of Ethiopia in the affairs of Somalia. The report is worrisome at the outset; but in the long run, it could inadvertently serve as the very medicine that Somalis have been searching for in vain – Some outside enemy to unite them.
Last week, Somalis in the US buried one of their scholarly sons, Hussein Adam, also known as Hussein Tanzani. One of Hussein’s enduring findings about Somali kinship is its duality. Hussein said that Somali knish on the one hand is used to divide themselves into weaker entities. But, when invaded by outsiders, the very same kinship that hitherto divided them unites them together as one entity and fight the enemy. The CDRC’s narrative could easily be construed today one such outside enemy. Although the recommendations of the report were meant to further divide Somalis, it may inadvertently unite them.
The late Said Samatar, Somalia’s inimitable dean of its modern history, who passed away almost 2 years ago, once told me this: “since the 16th century, in matters of importance in the Horn of Africa region, the Western World goes wherever Ethiopia goes, and Ethiopia always seeks a weak and wobbling Somalia.” In an essay he wrote in the 1990s that remunerated the destruction of Somalia with an alleged Ethiopian hand during Mengistu Haile Mariam, Said penned these sober wailing words: “Poor Somalia, so far from Allah, and so close to Ethiopia,” as he was forced to borrow Mexico’s 1830-1915 Presidential verses, who complained about his country being subject to the whims of its powerful neighbor – the United States of America.
That was then. In post Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia, the late Meles Zenawi liberalized both its internal and external policies. Internally, the country’s ethnic groups gained more autonomy, and the Somalis in Ethiopia have been beneficiaries. Externally, Ethiopia pledged to move away from its past policies of “siege mentality” in the Horn of Africa. According to Ethiopia’s strategic foreign policy document drafted during Meles’ lifetime, “relations with countries in the Horn should be seen from the vantage point of how relations could help” both countries. Moreover, Somalia’s proximity to Ethiopia is seen as “beneficial to our development if there were peace and stability in Somalia.” The CDRC’s realpolitik-type recommendations of blatant interference in Somalia’s affairs and its determination to promoting clan conflict is a throwback to the past.
There are unconfirmed reports that Mr. Matt Brayden, who has been for some time now advocating similar conclusions reached by CDRC – that Hassan Sheikh should return to power, and Darood members should not be given a chance to vie for the presidency because of security sensitivity in Mogadishu – has been retained as a consultant by CDRC. It is also recalled that Mr. Bryden has been retained as a consultant by the Somali government, and he was a major figure in the drafting of the “Hybrid election model.” Thanks to a twist of fate, Bryden was commission by Sharmarke in 2015, who incidentally became a victim of Bryden’s recommendations.
CDRC’s DIGEST, “The commotion surrounding Somalia’s Transition,” is a semi-official narrative by Ethiopia’s foreign policy establishment and a clear expression of the sway Addis has on who ascends to the pinnacle of power in Somalia. To that end, Ethiopia has its own preference and dislikes towards political personalities in Somalia, which could be either an asset or a liability to those seeking political power. This time around, it prefers former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud over the rest, but particularly loathes his Prime Minister, Omar Sharmarke. Omar reportedly shunned off an Ethiopian proposal of Hassan-Sharmarke ticket for a second term.
I had sneaking suspicion that the funding of the study came from Somalia’s Stabilization Fund, until I received a call while drafting this piece from someone close to Villa Somalia. My informant told me that that former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud paid CDRC about $200,000 for the report. If true, this is of course money earned through embezzlement.
The DIGEST is written in a typical Amharic culture/literature-style which has two parts to it: “Sam and Werk,” or “Wax and Gold.” Popularized in Academia by Donald M Levine, Wax is the salient feature of what one says, and does not convey much of a serious message (a rehash of common knowledge), while Gold is the real message encapsulated in the Wax. It is instructive, therefore, that the reader of the DIGEST goes carefully through the Wax to find where the Gold is hidden.
The 16-pages strong DIGEST intimates us with Ethiopia’s narrative pertaining to contemporary Somali politics. Most of the assessment is Wax with these three general themes: 1) general country conditions analysis; (2) synthesis on security and Al-shabab issues; and (3) improved electoral process and transition to 2020. The “Gold” message is cleverly hidden in three key concepts: 1) protecting Ethiopian interest, 2) forces in Mogadishu that safeguard Ethiopian interest, and 3) stopping Ethiopia’s least favored politicians from the presidency.
Areas of Agreement
I take solace in the DIGEST’s critical criticism of Somalia’s elites and how it had squandered many opportunities for the last 25 years. This criticism is indeed a position equally held by most Somalis both in the diaspora and at home. Despite significant interventions by outside agents, including neighboring countries that are now jockeying for greater influence in the upcoming presidential election, the responsibility of perpetuating failed state and the prolonged stagnation of progress in governance squarely belongs to Somalia’s irresponsible and docile elite. (I say thanks to the authors on this point, and offer to my readers a caveat by borrowing from our rich language – lax waliba shililkay isdhigtaa lagu gawracaa).
Also, the DIGEST’s analysis of corruption that clouded the recently concluded electoral process for the two legislative chambers is also an area to agree with. As another author already criticized CDRC, using roamers as evidence is a refuge for lazy researchers. Nonetheless, the authors will also find large number of Somalis to agree with them on the illegal use of money to corrupt the electoral process and on the interference of the process by the discredited National Leaders Forum (NLF) that tried to sway results.
Disagreeing with CDRC’s Sinister Ploy of Butchering Somalia
Poison Bill and 4.5: In company with most Somalis, I depart company with CDRC’s assessment of the 4.5 (clan formula) power-sharing. CDRC’s report argues that the 4.5 formula was agreed upon at “Mbagathi Conference that established the TFG in 2004,” therefore calls for upholding the “viability of the system” and calls for its preservation.
In its zeal to validate the 4.5 power-sharing, which most Somalis rejected, the report reinforces a widely held suspicion that Addis Ababa never wants a stable Somalia. The overwhelming majority of Somalis, including those running for the presidency, including Sharif Ahmed and Abdurrahman Farole (former Presidents of Federal Transitional Government and Puntland, respectively), and entirely all presidential candidates disapprove the continued use of the 4.5 formula. This crowd represents a cross-section of Somali clans.
It is tempting for critics of DIGEST’s assessment to easily come to the unavoidable conclusion – that Addis Ababa’s praise and perpetuation of the 4.5 divisive model of governance is a political poly by Ethiopia to continue drugging Somalia back to the gutters and undermine the modicum but significant progress thus far attained.
Moreover, the fledgling Federal Constitution, adopted in 2012, which CDRC DIGEST authors are well aware of, recognizes only one-man-one vote model of electoral process and calls for the cessation of administrating the country with this policy. An officer in Villa Somalia told me that 4.5 is dead and it was shame on some Ethiopian policy advisors to try use in dividing Somalis for their ulterior motif, to bring back Hassan Sheikh. He went on to say that Ethiopia from here on became a liability on Hassan.
In reading the DIGEST, one cannot escape the nagging question of why CDRC, a think-tank that closely reflects the views of the sitting government of Ethiopia vis-a-vi Somalia, ignores recent developments in Somalia and its fledgling constitution, which is the basis for setting the country on a new course up to the horizon year of 2020?
Fear Factor and Terrorism: On another level, the DIGEST weaves together fear factors of Al-shabab, International Community’s concern on security matters, and the stability of the Horn of Africa, to justify Ethiopia’s indomitable strategic interest in the affairs of Somalia. It writes:
If the international community manages to determine a common stance, then creating mechanisms to deal with the terrorist group will be relatively easy. In the immediate aftermath of the demise of Al-Shabaab, it would also be relatively easy to think of accountability, democratization and good governance in Somalia.
As far as Ethiopia is concerned, security and terrorism take precedence over institution building, democratic election and good governance for Somalis. This position assumed by the authors of the DIGEST should not be taken lightly especially when one views Ethiopia’s role in AMISOM and its oftentimes free-willing interference in Somalia. It is also another scary reality that Ethiopia is a member of the Security Council at the United Nations, thus may have more weight in sabotaging Somalia. The message of “my way or the highway” could not have come clearer and at a worse time for Somalia.
Four big Ideas hidden in the Wax
Camouflaged as an expert assessment, key nuances such as “continuity of incumbency“ “smooth transition” of power, “political geography of clans,” and “inability of Darood” to take power in Mogadishu, or the inviolability of Abgal in Mogadishu are buzz words to disorient the consumers of CDRC report on Somalia. Matt Bryden, who prepared a report about six months, is reportedly served as an expert for CDRC on this report. If the reader is still wondering who the consumers of this assessment are, I would include Somali politicians, Kenya, Gulf countries, and the International community. The wishes of the Somali nation at large are conveniently ignored, because the sentiment contained in the report is diametrically opposed to what Somalis want for their own country.
Ethiopia’s Man in Mogadishu: one of the main messages in the assessment is to blow the siren and announce who Ethiopia prefers: Ethiopia has its man in Mogadishu, a not so new concept in Somalia where foreign forces throughout history had their respective men in Mogadishu. For the record, Hassan is not the only man in Mogadishu with such a distinction. To the contrary, the city, often rich in spy business, is infamous for elites who serve or served in the past not the national interest but foreign powers.
Coming back to the report at hand, it is serious exercise yet camouflaged as an independent think-tank report on how best Ethiopia can say without ruffling feathers that Hassan is their man in Mogadishu, and he should come back. To say the least, the report travels through the terrain of buzz words unbacked bellow:
Continuity of the Incumbent: The authors of the DIGEST would want us to believe that some Somalis “are acting with a view to supporting the incumbent based on the conviction that continuity will crystallize the process of institution building and governance, and hence are exerting great effort to make deals that are acceptable to sustain the incumbent.”
It also argues that when governance changes hands, institutions and government entities are looted, and new officers bring their own cronies. In other words, the DIGEST would like us to believe that change risks pillage while letting incumbent continue governing the country preserves progress. It writes: “Past experience shows that those officials replaced by new ones to run government offices will take their files and all government related documents, as well as equipment including vehicles and other items.”
Does the DIGEST really want to reason that protecting government files calls for retaining and continuing with a corrupt incumbent? Their reasoning is a low threshold! The DIGEST’s reasoning is nothing more than an empty plea, probably coded with intimidation to politicians in Mogadishu, to bring back the current dysfunctional government that failed to fulfill all of its promises, including its six pillars of rebuilding Somalia.
Political geography of Somali Clans: As far as CDRC is concerned, political geography is euphemism for Somali clan conflict. The DIGEST says: “The Hawiye, for instance, who inhabit the areas around Mogadishu, harbor resentment based on the feeling that they have been subjugated by the Daroods (especially the Marehan, Ogaden and Dulbahante trio during the oppressive regime of Gen. Siad Barre) and believe now that it is their turn to govern.” Really?
First of all, in contemporary Somalia one of the most deprived clans is the Dulbahante, whose wishes to have state as prescribed in the federal constitution is denied for wider clan détente purposes. Today, the Dulbahante is stranded between Puntland, Somaliland, and Federal government in Mogadishu.
Second, most Somalia politics observers reminisce Dr. Ali Khalif Galayd’s temporary alliance with a former warlord, Abdi Qaybdiid, of Hawiye pedigree, was nothing more than to spite his Darood kinsmen; in doing so, Dr. Galydh was well aware of one key Somali clan property that CDRC missed – clan alliances in Somalia are temporal and never lasts long enough to theorize about it.
The concept of Marehan, Ogaden, Dulbahante, alias MOD, is a discredit concept which at the time of inception serviced the purpose to create a vigilante mentality among certain sections of the Somali society that had its own legitimate grudges against the regime of Barre. In short, it is not a productive tool to analyze post-civil war Somalia. It is also misleading in the same way Amhara hard liners want to punish all Tigre in a collective way. What is not good for the goose is not good for gender. It is therefore shame on the likes of Mr. Seyoum Masfine to accept collective punishment which is akin to the one some forces wanted to impose on his ethnic group.
On another related matter, today political alliances in Somalia defy the 1990s clan conflict. For instance, the current President of Puntland is an avowed campaigner for Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud (Darood – Hawiye alliance); Sharif Ahmed has created pact with Mr. Farole (Darood – Hawiye alliance); Omar Sharmarke may reach out to Ambassador Ahmed AbdulSalam (Darood – Hawiye). Farmajo who hails from Merehan is the most popular in Mogadishu (Darood candidate supported by Hawiye masses). There are similar alliances during this presidential election which the DIGEST intentionally ignored.
Abgal Inviolability: The DIGEST becomes a pedestrian report as it tries to justify not the inviolability of Abgal rule in Mogadishu, but the fight over bringing Hassan back by any means necessary. Otherwise, there are more Abgals in the running than any other Somali clan. If the true argument of the CDRC and Ethiopian government is the need to bring back another Abgal, I am sorry to disappoint them that there are more than six Abgal candidates, some more popular than Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Reports coming from Mogadishu are that Sharif Ahmed is a lot more popular than Hassan.
Instead of convincing Somalis of any merit in its report, CDRC conveys three clear quid pro quo messages: 1) that Ethiopia will not remain ideal while its strategic interests in Somalia are not being consulted; 2) to that end, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud has thus far served Ethiopia’s interests well and his continued presidency is of paramount; and 3) the report wages campaign of KGB-style disinformation against those that may pose challenge to Hassan Sheikh – Omar Sharmarke, Farmajo in particular.
In this report, Addis Ababa irresponsibly meddled in Somalia affairs. To those who were oblivious to Ethiopia heavy hand in Somali affairs, this report services as a rude awakening. Its insinuation to fan clan conflict that has lately abated, while exaggerating Alshabab fear factor, and engaging in disinformation, calls for immediate cessation of any involvement of Ethiopia in Somalia’s affairs. It is also a recipe for Somalia’s newly seated parliamentarians to vote for anyone other than Ethiopia’s man in Mogadishu – Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud.
If Ethiopia insists on bringing back Hassan Sheikh, it may inadvertently galvanize Somali sentiment of unity against Ethiopia, and open a new page of uncertainty in the region. Ethiopian government must officially and immediately distance itself from the contents of this indicting assessment, if it wants to engage Somalia in a good neighborly fashion.
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.
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