Friday, August 18, 2017
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Somalia and Arab League: The Anatomy of Bad Company

By Abdallah Aw Jama

Somalia joined the Arab League in 1974 during the heyday of the revolutionary, military regime headed by the late President, General Mohamed Siyad Barre. The decision was a whimsical move on the part of a highly agitated leftist government that had already laid claim to the role of vanguard for all sorts of liberation movements in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in the developing world.  In that vein, Somalia was also looking for friends and novel alliances for political and economic cooperation with nations she deemed to be friendly. Countries of the so-called Arab World, some of whom were suddenly flush with enormous cash, following their successful oil embargo just a year earlier, fitted the bill.

Meanwhile, some of those newly wealthy, but militarily weak, Arab League (AL) member states were eyeing Somalia for their own purposes.  The country’s proximity to the Middle East and its brash foreign policy were seen as particularly suited for expanding the Arab League’s alliances in sub-Saharan Africa as well as assuming the role of designated mouthpiece for the Arabs’ various political grievances at the UN and other international fora.  On top of that agenda, at the time, was the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So each party saw Somalia’s joining of the Arab League (AL) as a winning feat – a kind of ‘marriage made in heaven’, if you like.  But the relationship that was concocted turned out to become nothing but a marriage made in purgatory!  Not only Somalia did not realize the hoped for benefits of economic cooperation from rich AL member states, she was often excluded from receiving any preferential treatment with respect to trade, investment, labor and travel issues.  Somali expatriates living and working in countries like Saudi Arabia, for example, were denied basic rights in accordance with international labor laws.  And they were frequently deported for the flimsiest reasons without regard to humanitarian conventions.

The Gulf States were of no help to Somalia during the height of the country’s civil war in the early to mid-1990s, when millions of Somalis were either languishing as refugees in all corners of the world or were displaced within the country. During that period, tens of those were accepted and resettled in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia.  But none were welcomed in Arab countries (with the exception of the fellow African nation of Sudan).  In fact, those unfortunate Somali refugees that found their way into places like Saudi Arabia were routinely jailed and then summarily deported to the then dangerously unsafe city of Mogadishu, which was the epicenter of the said civil war, again, contrary of international human rights conventions.

In fulfilling her commitments as the designated presenter of Arab complaints during the 1970s and 1980s, Somalia went to pat for the AL with an unusual gusto in denouncing perceived foes left-and-right.  But in doing so the country was made a sacrificial lamb for the political miscalculations of others.  And yet Somalia naively relished the superficial status of acting as the go-to country for high-decibel expression of the Arab League’s geo-political anxieties at the UN General Assembly, where the country sponsored and/or introduced a number of controversial resolutions.  Granted, some of those political pronouncements were arrived at on principle; others though were undertaken out of misplaced sense of obligation to the Arab League.

The glaring contradiction here – indeed, the ‘elephant in the room’, if you will – is that Somalis are not Arabs.  They do not share language, culture or ethnicity with the Arabs.  As Muslims, Somalis share the Islamic Faith with more than 1.4 billion other non-Arab Muslims around the globe.  (Arabs are approximately 12% of Muslims world-wide).  Unsurprisingly, none of the other non-Arab Muslims, however, are clamoring to be accepted into the Arab League organization. Equally interesting is the fact the Arabs know that Somalis do not belong in their league by any objective measure and they frequently act accordingly.

But it seems that Somalis have not received that twitter message yet with any sense of clarity; more than likely, Somalis have been unwilling to face reality in regards to the futility of hanging on to their membership in the increasingly dysfunctional Arab League organization – an organization that has miserably failed its own bona fide member states, including Yemen where that poor nation is facing what appears to be slow genocide at the hands of its erstwhile brothers in the Arabian peninsula.

So Somalia has no business in belonging to the Arab League that allows member states to oppress their weaker states as in the case of Yemen, while placing a stranglehold on others like Qatar for pursuing an independent course of action on her national policy.

Lastly, Somalia deserves better than to remain as a member of the Arab League organization, which has no redeemable value for the country.  After all Somalia is on the rebound, while AL is following disastrous policies that can only engender more political failures for its members.  For Somalia the remaining challenges are security in nature and they emanate from an imported, corrosive religious-cum-political ideology, which will undoubtedly continue to fester so long as the country stays in the Arab League.  So it is high time for Somalia to bite the bullet and bid the Arab League good bye, once and for all.

Abdallah Aw Jama


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