As we watch the presidential election and ponder about Somalia's future, there is no doubt that what is uppermost in most peoples' minds is whether the new parliamentarians will rise to the occasion and for once put national interest before personal and clan interests and this time elect the true national leader we have been denied for over two decades; or whether it is going to be business as usual, where avarice, horse-trading and clan loyalties will triumph and another self-serving charlatan will be the winner who undoubtedly will perpetuate our failed state. If that was to happen, God forbid, the consequences could be something worse than a failed state for it could herald the end of Somalia as a State for no country can for ever remain a failed state.
While we ponder about the immediate matters at hand, let us not lose sight of the wider picture and let us cast our minds back to how our unity was realised in the first place and how our country, which had the most auspicious beginnings, came to end up as the most failed state in the world as it is now known internationally. Once that is done, the question that then arises is who among the presidential candidates is best able to lead us to the promised land: a united, democratic functioning state?
Needless to say, the unity of former British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland in 1960 came about mainly because of the untiring insistence of the population and politicians of former British Somaliland (as it was called then) who, despite the ambivalent, foot-dragging responses of their southern counterparts, refused to take no for an answer and insisted on the union. Dubbed the "Qaldaans" (misguided or crazy ones) by their southern interlocutors, nothing would dampen their ardour for unity even when they were offered such a blatantly raw deal that perhaps was meant to derail the quest for the union before it was born. And so, thanks to their persistence and perseverance, the Somali Republic was born on 1 July 1960, as a united country, for some years a paragon of peace, democracy and stability at a time when other newly independent African countries were enmeshed in secessions, civil wars and instabilities.
What most foreigners find so hard to understand is how a country that had such innate advantages unique in sub-Sahara Africa, and such a good beginning under the wise leadership of its first president Aden Abdalla Osman and first Prime Minister, Abdirashid Ali Sharma'arke could end up the most failed state in the world. The simple reason is that whereas the founding fathers were patriotic, nation-builders with vision (a united peaceful progressing Somalia leading to Greater Somalia), those who came after them (with one exception), often from two monopolising clans as if by right, were power hungry wreckers. All the internationally -supported initiatives to help revive Somalia got no where for the simple reason that the Somali people had no say in the matter, and it was the baddies with the gun and ill-gotten money who called the shots. At last for the first time, we have a semblance of a more propitious occasion when our parliamentarians, selected by our traditional leaders as representative of the Somali people, will themselves elect the president on Monday, 10 September 2012.
No doubt the decisions of the parliamentarians will be dictated by three considerations: voting for a candidate purely for clan reasons; or selling their vote to the highest bidder among those candidates who are in the market to buy votes. The patriots, for their part, whatever their numbers, are likely to vote for the candidate who is best qualified for the post. If that was to be case, Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar would be second to none.
I have known Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar since 1967 when he left Radio Mogadishu and joined us in the BBC Somali Service. Though the BBC Somali Service is a British institution run for Britain's interests, Ahmed played a leading role in making it also an institution serving Somalia's interest without comprising the Service's main mission: impartial news dissemination. Ahmed Ismail's influence was manifest from the greater attention the Service gave to Somali affairs, and to covering Djibouti's struggle for independence as well as those Somalis in the former NFD region of Kenya and those in Ethiopia's Somali region (Ogaden). For him, there was only one Somalia, one nation and one people and the programmes reflected this. Above all, he was at home among Somalis everywhere irrespective of their region or clan, something inculcated in him during his prior days with radio Mogadishu before he joined the BBC in 1967. These early characteristics deepened as he matured in age and grew in status.
Much as Ahmed went to the USA, after his days in the BBC, and his brilliance took him to the pinnacle of academic achievements to the extent of becoming the dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College, Minnesota, USA. he remained even more devoted to his country of origin, more so when it was down and needed his help. No one has done as much as he did all these years for that solo mission - crusading for Somalia's salvation and unity. How often have we seen him taking leave of his job, on mission for his country, organising seminars, symposiums, and giving interviews in order to rally his Somali and foreign audiences to the need to save the Somali state and its unity. None of his competitors can claim similar sacrifices and his self-less track record for serving Somalia.
But there is another good reason why Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar should be elected president. As I began with this article, the unity of Somalia was brought about by northerners. Now that both Somalia as a state and its unity are on the ropes, and given that it is southern leaders (from two clans) who brought us to this disastrous situation, and mindful that there is no reason this will change any time soon, what is required therefore for the sake of Somalia and its unity is a break with the past and its recurrent national suicidal practices.
That can happen if the presidency is not monopolised by southerners or by two clans but rotated fairly to key regional stake holders and in particular the north who have been unjustly excluded from holding this post since former British and Italian Somalilands united in July 1960 and who have shown patience ever since. Doing this is for national self interest, more than anything else, for people from southern Somalia are more likely to have more confidence and trust in a president coming from the north and untarnished by crimes against their clan; and vice versa. they will have less confidence in one coming from one of the rival adversarial clans in the south. Just like in 1960, Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar as President, and assured support and trust from both southern and northern Somalia, would be the one to revive the state and its unity.
Finally, today, I came across a video clip of a programme beamed by the BBC Somali Service in 1969, commemorating the 9th anniversary of Somalia's independence and presented by Ahmed Ismail Samatar. As he often did with most programmes of this nature, he ended this one with the unforgettable words:" Somalia ha nooolato", not from radio Mogadishu, mind you, but from the British BBC. Patriotism has trumped prudence.
He continued to call "Somalia ha noolaato" as he demonstrated his patriotism time and time again during a period spanning over 40 years. I am sure the overwhelming majority of the Somali people would vote for him if they are given the chance. Since it is parliamentarians who elect the president, let us hope they do not let down their people and elect Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar as president for our sake as a nation more than his.
* September 10th is a D-day Decision
for Somali Parliament By Mohamed H. Bahal
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