By Osman Hassan
Colonel Muse Bihi was crowned on December 13th as president in Hargeisa (or crowned himself, depending on how one sees the legitimacy of the election that brought him to power). On such occasions, comparisons are inevitable, first with his predecessor, Siilaanyo, and secondly with Farmaajo, the man in Mogadishu who claims to be his boss. When it comes to chutzpah and persona, the colonel is indisputably a towering figure dwarfing both the other two. But Siilaanyo was an intellectual giant in his heyday eclipsing both these two men as mere small fries, though such gift does not necessarily translate into good national leadership.
As for Farmaajo, judgment is in order after one a year or so in office.He is no doubt a likeable decent unassuming man and therefore wins on good character. But let us be frank, he is not cut for a president for God’s most forsaken place on earth whose wretched people are desperately crying for a leader of vision and action. As it is, he is happy to shirk his obligations and simply remain more or less a ceremonial president, content to enjoy the trapping of the office, above all state visits to other countries, here and there, and leave the vexing daunting affairs of statecraft to his Prime Minister, a flamboyant whiz kid, eager to be on the stage and get the limelight. Unlike Siilaanyo and now Bihi, these other two in Mogadishu might be in office but otherwise rule no country and certainly not beyond the corridors of Villa Somalia.
Given these comparisons, what opportunities or obstacles does the new leader of Somaliland face in realizing the aspirations of the enclave for its eventual recognition? The most important and necessary condition for that goal is that the people in the country they claim to have seceded from Somalia (former British Somaliland) should first be united behind the secession, willingly and not forcibly as the case has been thus far. As it is, the clans hailing from the regions of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) largely remain unionists. But there is a perceptible shift in this picture albeit incremental. Increasing numbers in Sool and Sanaag, disillusioned with the federal government for its betrayal of the struggle they are waging on behalf of Somalia’s unity, are either succumbing to or willingly embracing Somaliland and all it stands for.
This discernible shift of public opinion among the SSC people in favour of Somaliland is not something the secessionist enclave can take credit for. On the contrary, Siilaanyo’s actions from the moment he came to office have alienated these people. Not only has he extended the occupation to much of Sool in ways reminiscent of colonial times, but his most unforgiveable crime in their eyes was his invasion of Buuhoodle, Kalshaale and other places and the massacres his militia committed. That rash adventure has cost them Buuhoodle perhaps for good. se.
Somaliland, as such, has to thank its on-going good fortunes in the SSC regions for the wrongs others have done to the SSC regions. First, is the federal government, whether the previous one under Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, or the current one led by Farmaajo. They never miss an opportunity to declare their commitment to the defense of the unity of the country. But that is all for public consumption and to be politically correct, but otherwise pay it lip service and rarely ever raise a finger to help those actually doing their job.
Secondly, Somaliland has also been helped, directly or indirectly, by Puntland, more so under the current leader, Abdiwelli Gaas. Like Somaliland, Puntland spares no effort to hamper or hinder the inalienable rights of the SSC regions to be free and remain part of Somalia. For them, their cynical pursuit of “Puntland first” policy, a la Trump’s “America First” mantra, at the cost of the SSC people on the basis of a farcical claim they make on these regions, outweighs the wrongs of their actions.. The third source of support for Somaliland came from the erstwhile deposed president of Khatumo, Dr Ali Khalif Galaydh, who chose to defect to Hargeisa once he failed to be recognized as President of occupied Khatumo by the federal government. In revenge, his mission as a quisling (for Hargeisa) was to create disunity and disarray among the SSC people and drive them into the lap of “Somaliland” rather than Somalia. To some extent, he has succeeded to achieve that end.
What is amazing under these circumstances is that the will of the SSC people to defend the unity of Somalia did not crumble altogether in the face of these tripartite ill-wills. Be that as it may, it is also undeniable that the deepening and spreading disillusionment with Puntland and the federal government is driving many people to say enough is enough and throw their lot with the devil they know- Hargeisa. It is therefore the stronger disenchantment with Mogadishu rather than any attraction of Hargeisa per which is the driving force of this shift. Unless there is serous credible change from Federal government and Puntland – and that does not seem to be on the horizon- one has to ask how long Buuhoodle, the remaining free district, can be the exception and resist Somaliland forever in defense of the union.
These are the advantages given to Colonel Bihi on his inauguration on a plate. The linchpin for the enclave’s hopes hinges on the SSC regions and people. The question is whether he has what it takes to build on those fortunes and bring the whole SSC regions as part of Somaliland on their own volition? Much as it is early days to judge Colonel Muse Bihi, and much as what one can say about him at this early stage is speculative, nonetheless one can envision his ability to forge, to the extent possible, a united people of Somaliland in which the SSC regions are part of it. That objective is realizable only if the SSC people have given up on Mogadishu for good and see Somaliland as their only plan B with all the necessary conditions. For now, that is not on the table.
Colonel Muse Bihi’s election adversaries missed no opportunity to engage in smear campaign during the election and torment him about the stigma he inherited from the era of the intra-clan civil war in the enclave when he purportedly preached death to his foes rather than show mercy or magnanimity. But that was decades ago and since then too much water has gone under the bridge. He is much older now, wiser and has been in government for much of this time. The world he knows too has changed from those early days of the SNM’s murderous rule. Now, the enclave claims to be democratic and subject to a modicum of checks and balances. In other words, he could be impeached for his excesses. And no less important, the enclave is continuously under the gaze of the international community which is their lifeline. He is therefore less likely to revert to his old bad ways as a butcher but more inclined to be a statesman who gets his way through persuasion rather than the barrel of the gun.
Listening to his overarching inaugural speech, he came out as a leader with vision. What particularly drew my attention was his skillful appeal to the ego of the SSC people by heartily recognizing that the genesis and cradle of the history of Somaliland is the history of the Darwish. That recognition is bound to endear him to many in the SSC regions. Unlike Siilaanyo who was associated with the invasion and occupation of the SSC regions and the massacres at Kalshaale, Colonel Bihi on the other hand comes from the far western end of former British Somaliland, has no historical bad blood with the SSC regions and has a clean page to exploit. He is therefore better placed to preach reconciliation to the SSC people.
Already cocksure, the colonel drafted the unemployed Galaydh to be his messenger and spread his charm offensive throughout the SSC regions and all the way to the border with Puntland. Galaydh is toxic and satanically a wrecker who brings out the worst reactions in his people. One can only assume that the colonel was bantering and carried away by the intoxication of his glory. To say all this is far from endorsing his mission. Indeed, it is a nightmare for those in the SSC regions who still remain unionists like this writer. But one has to be intellectually objective and not be in denial.
The question is how do SSC unionists counter Colonel Bihi’s mission? The sad reality is that unless there is timely concrete support from the Federal government, and unless there is an immediate stop to Puntland’s interference, there is little that the dispirited and diminishing unionists can do on their own. Abdiweli Gaas is rumoured to be at last in favour of a Khatumo State of Somalia. This might have been prompted less by a goodwill gesture to the SSC people and more by a realization that his preposterous claim is no longer tenable in the face of the glaring realities. All the same, if true, it would be a positive step even though some would still see it as too little too late to do much about the irreparable damage Puntland did to undermine the rights of these regions.
As for the federal government, there are no signs that Farmaajo and his PM are bothered about what happens to the SSC regions or the union with the north. Six months ago, a clutch of SSC traditional leaders went to see him in Mogadishu to appeal for political and possible material support. He sent them empty-handed. At best, Farmaajo will leave a Somalia no worse or no better than when he took over. More likely, Somalia would breakup under his watch. This is the man Somalis everywhere hailed when he was elected as their new messiah. As they would say in Buuhoodle, who needs enemies when you have a president in Mogadishu and his government so detached and disengaged from their woes. It is all good news for Somaliland and their new leader.
Farah Maalim, the veteran Kenya politician, hankering for the good old days when Somalia was strong, feared and respected worldwide under its strong leader, Siyad Barre, bemoaned the inadequacies of his protégé, Farmaajo, pointedly citing that Somali saying : “Meel aar kakacay atoor fadhiisay.” For Somaliland, happily, “Meel oday Siilaanyo kakacay aar Bihi fadhiisay”. Between an aar and atoor, take your pick.
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Osman Hassan is a seasoned journalist and a former UN staff member. Mr Hassan is also a regular contributor to WardheerNews.
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