By Faisal Roble
The coming of Dr. Ali Issa Abdi to the race is not only a heartwarming addition but an element that raised the level of competition to new heights. It may also change with the way clan politics is played out in Puntland. Dr. Ali’s candidacy has completely re-drawn the mapping of the race and puts center front two issues that are inherently contradictory: Clan based selection, and qualification of candidates for the top spot.
Changing the course on which Puntland politics has been travelling is a necessary step for the posterity of this region. Where Puntland goes so goes the rest of Somalia. In that regard, if the current presidential election injects a new system where clan is suppressed, and qualification and personality of the candidate is emphasized, this could as well serve as a model for the rest of the country.
The Politics of Clan: Speaking of the forbidden clan calculations in Somali politics is never a pretty subject. But at the same time, it is all over, thus it deserves a frank discussion. This term of election attracted a total of about 30 candidates vying for the one coveted presidential seat. The winner will be handpicked by a clan assembly consisting of 66 legislators. In this term, about 60% of the legislators are young; to my chagrin, there is only one female, which is a sign of Puntland’s lack of commitment to an inclusive politics.
The overwhelming majority of these individuals are drawn from a clan conglomerate that goes by the name of Harti. Included in the hut of Harti are Majeerteen, Dhulbahante, and Warsangeli. The Dhulbahante controls 17 seats. And this time one of their sons is a serious contender for the post. I will come back to the details of that candidate.
Since the establishment of Puntland state, 20 years ago to date, the presidential seat has been occupied by members who belong to the collective family tree of Mohamoud Salyman. This group dominates and had dominated the politics of Puntland since the 1960s. As such, since the establishment of Puntland state, all but one of the five presidents thus far have been from this group.
One exception to this was when the founder of Puntland, the late Abdilahi Yusuf Yey, went to claim the national presidential seat, and his Vice President, Mohammed Abdullahi Hashi, served the remainder of the term. President Hashi, one of the most honest civil servants ever to serve Somalia in any capacity, is a member of the Dhulbahante clan.
Neither the Dhulbahante nor the Welsangeli served at the Presidential capacity. The same goes for the often-overlooked group called rer-Barri, or easterners. The groups in the Eastern quadrant of the state has deep-seated grievance and are competing this time round with gusto.
It became a political culture that the Mohamoud Salyman takes the presidency, followed by Dhulbahante as the Vice, and the Warsangelli as the speaker of the house. The Lylkase clan that produced Somalia’s heavy weight intellects, say the late Said Samatar, Abdulrahman Hosh, the take-no-prisoner fighter called Zakariya Mohamed are all from the Lylkase clan. They are nowhere to be found when it comes to the top posts. The same can be said about the Dashiishe clan who make up a good percentage of Puntland’s commercial class. Dhashishe is part of the grieved rer-Barri grouping who are also putting up a good fight this time around.
Despite one’s accolades, those three top seats are out of the reach of non-Harti. Due to a prescriptive clan system that forms the political philosophy of Puntland, a non-constitutional culture that works like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where some animals are more equal than others, has been thriving ever since. And this slowed down the pace towards democratization and inclusive politics – no wonder there is only one woman out of the 66 legislators.
The left-over positions outside these three key areas are distributed to the little animals. Given this prescriptive formula, a Somali in the US or in Europe has a better chance today to assume higher office than a non-Harti Somali in Puntland to assume the three top positions. Politics here is clan-based to the exclusion of attributes such as leadership, honesty, skill, and qualification, which brings me to my second point.
Qualification: There are many qualified candidates that make it difficult for news media or objective observers and pundits to endorse only one candidate. The job gets even more difficult when some of the better qualified candidates are friends and colleagues. In that regard, elements of biasness cannot entirely be avoided.
However, to the extent possible one must seriously ask questions like these: who can be the best advocate for Puntland both locally and globally? Who is skilled enough to bring projects and aid packages? Who is serious to link Puntland with the federal government without giving in and without rolling back the state rights guaranteed under the constitution? Who will better deal with the conflict with Somaliland? Who is well-equipped to negotiate on resource sharing with Villa Somalia? Who is skilled enough and committed to establishing an inclusive politics and good governance?
Of course, this is only a partial list of my lead questions. Matching these with the best candidates’ skills set is difficult. But some candidates that I think to be frontrunner come easily to mind.
General Assad is a young, charismatic and John F. Kennedysque photogenic with a well-run campaign. He has organized the youth and established strong following among the next generation of leaders. He is also claiming to be a reer-Bari candidate and thus far has run a sophisticated commercial that portray him as a grass roots and youthful candidate.
Ali Haji, who hold a business administration degree, is a well-known quantity in the politics of the region. He is sharp, well-spoken and a religious scholar with moderate views. Ali is descent and a presidential material. He is “xaq-sheeg,” or “speaker of the truth to power.”
Mahammed Khalif Hassan (Jabiye) is a successful business man and a self-made millionaire by working hard in Minneapolis. Jabiye told me about two years ago that he was planning to run for the post. If elected, he will emphasis jobs creation by nurturing the private sector.
Said Danni is also a successful businessman who has extensive business interest ties in Dubai. He is a soft-spoken but firmly grounded in his skin. Not only is he accommodating but he is not married to any political philosophy to make you worried. He believes in market economy and would be inclined to amicably work with the federal government without sacrificing the rights of Puntland.
Farah Shire, a consummate technocrat and a serious individual, has mounted a fortified campaign. He has toured the region more than anyone and showed his best-level grass roots approach to this campaign. He is a very strong Puntlander and would not accept any nonsense from Mogadishu. He also made clear that Puntland cannot stay course in terms of political representation. His grieved reer-Bari constituents would strife to get the top seat this time. His campaign will always remain the most memorable one.
General Khalif Mudane: his inter-personal relationship is unmatched not to mention that he is a law and order candidate and promises to roll back what he calls “Somaliland’s aggression of Sool region.” General Khalif enjoys wide name recognition among many Somalis from different regions.
Abdi Farah Said, Juxa, a former Interior Minister at the Fed. level, is a visionary, introspective and a real bohemian who will probably be clean from corruption. He will also energize Puntlanders to go back to basics of “small is beautiful,” and try to introduce fairness, good governance, and overhauling Puntland’s system of government. It is plausible that he will more than anyone protect state rights and enjoys wide support among the young and the educated. Not only is he a poet of first class, but a born revolutionary, a devote Puntlander and a man of broad world outlook. He is indeed a serious candidate and a nightmare to Villa Somalia.
Dr. Ali Issa Abdi is probably the most qualified individual to run for any office in Somalia, period. It is not the Ph.D. stupid! It is the over 40 years work experience that he has at an executive level. Many people have Ph.Ds. and teach lower and upper division courses for 18-24-year old kids in the West. Earning degrees is only the minimum qualification for a job interview. What you do with it is what matters. Dr. Ali Issa has done right with his Ph.D. He has been a World Bank and IMF senior policy maker. He served for IMF as a country representative for Tanzania and represented World Bank in many countries. He has also run one of the most successful institutions in the Horn of Africa that provides data driven policy recommendations to IGAD and other regional institutions in Africa. Dr. Ali has been a leading voice for the reconstruction of the failed state of Somalia by securing funds for federalism, good governance and social services.
By far, Puntland needs him more than he needs her. More importantly, his candidacy speaks volumes of the need to change the clan-based prescriptive system of selecting the president for Puntland.
Postscript: Politics is the art of possibility: changing the course of giving the presidency always to one family can be changed in the selection of Dr. Ali. If that happens, I believe Puntland will be stronger and may help cement the unity of the people from Sool, Sanag, Cayn and others.
If Rayale Kahin, a security officer under Said Barre can become a president, there is no reason why Puntland cannot take a risk in Dr. Ali Issa Abdi, who is not only a person from Sool, but a highly professional and well-respected in the circles of donors and leaders in the Horn of Africa region,
This is by no means endorsing or not endorsing one candidate or another, but a candid conversation with my brethren in Puntland. Good luck to all candidates and I say sorry to those whose bios I don’t have.
By Faisal Roble
Email: [email protected]
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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