Monday, November 28, 2022
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Somalia: The Missing Narrative in Puntland Spring

Jamal Ali

It is spring time in Puntland, Somalia! Puntlanders’ Jasmine Revolution has bloomed and prevented a political power grip! Puntland, which is one of the restive semi-autonomous states of the Federal Republic of Somalia has lately been getting its fair share of political shake-up–with little or no world coverage. Puntlanders were both excited and furious about their struggle to transition from parliamentary to public-vote democracy. A recent civil uprising against the current regime’s efforts to enforce a controversial Democratization Process resulted in the death of 8 people. This forced the regime involuntarily to give the legitimacy of power back to Puntland’s right owners –the elders. Although the move was praised by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, there is obviously a missing narrative, which made Puntland detract from its Democratization Process.

Crossing the Line

The death of 8 people in the name of democratization process, threats to the opposition leaders, intimidation of journalists, and the mistreatment of traditional elders made many Puntland elites nervous. This type of power abuse and intimidation has been unacceptable to many politically conscious Puntlanders, regardless of their party, city, state, or grassroots affiliation. There is a saying that politics is the art of possibilities; and the golden rule adds also that the friends of today’s possibility may become political rivals of tomorrow, or vise verse. President Farole’s regime figured it all wrong, and did not put into account the nature of Puntland political environment when he tried to push hard that possibility.

The renowned poet Khalif Sheikh Mohamud, who died in a battle field fighting against Barre’s dictatorship, personified the Somali communal relationships and their volatility.  Khalif compared the rivalry between politicians like the one between two lions fighting over a kill. The lions/nesses do not compromise to each other, not until a greedy hyena interferes and tries to eat their lunch. Khalif used this personification to reveal the irrelevance of politics, especially when a bigger intruder puts his/her nose and tries to bite on the social fabric of the society. Khalif alluded that people can change sides easily, as they will rise up and unite against any intimidation or intrusion. He said in his Poem: “Haddii labo libaax hilib dhex maro waa ku murantaaye, mac-macaanka iyo kuruska waa isku maagaane, misna waxay heshiiyaan markii dhidir u muuqdaaye”. It translates in English to: “For the share of a prey two lions may fray’; over the sugary hump of the quarry; hence they collaborate, when they see hyena‘s foray”. This kind of value or mindset makes Puntland civil society very unpredictably decisive. Any leader, who crosses the line and abuses the power, will only unite the public against him.

The Simulated Multiparty System

faroleThe intention of the Puntland Democratization Process, from the perspective of its movers and shakers, has never been a progressive one; and that is the reason it died prematurely. It was all nothing but a staged drama to hijack the public vote. Its scam originated when President Farole passed a draft constitution with a fine print addendum attached to its back page; it gave him one more year extension in order to transition the state to a multiparty democratic system. The parliament and traditional elders passed it, and seven months or so later, Farole ratified himself as the president for another year. In the first 4 years, President Dr. Abdirahman (Farole) and his regime did not bother their mandate of transitioning the state to a fully fledgling democracy. They have not setup the systems or resources required for proper local elections, such as public census, and voter registration.

The one year extension however was pushed down the throats of the public, despite the objections of many concerned political elites, including the old guard. Farole, in cahoots with his circle known as “Aaran Jaan”, which literally means in English “Sons of the Devil” foresaw at the beginning of year five of his regime, the opportunity to rubberstamp for another 5-years term extension. They thought if they could have staged a fake multi-party system, exaggerate their multi-party slogans, they could smoothly create one-party dominance in Puntland. The mastermind of this plan was Farole’s flamboyant son Mohamed, whose personality traits and behaviors imitate like Qusay Saddam without the oil money!

Under the vision of Farole and his team, four (4) new political parties were announced, some acting like real opposition parties. They were all blessed by the electoral commission handpicked by Farole’s team and the ruling party. They leveled the plain field unevenly for their political interest. Horseed Party, which means in English “To spearhead”, was created with public funds by the regime officials. Its leadership and prominent figures included: President Farole and his ministers, governors, county commissioners, public employees, leaders of non-profit organizations, and private corporation leaders with lucrative government contracts. In a sense, Horseed reminded the average Puntlanders the old Siyad Barre’s Revolutionary Communist Party; which by the way Farole was part of it.

Puntland intellectuals however, were divided philosophically on the issue of the democratization process, as they stood on the opposing political sides. For example, the non-traditionalist elite who know the robes of good governance through proven political methodologies and theories, mostly western educated, believed that a liberal democracy can take its roots in Puntland. This group however opposed the Farole way of democratization, and they advocated behind the backdrop to establish the space and the opportunity for fair democratic system in Puntland. They are dispersedly organized, but they surely were not on board with the current regime’s power extension plot. They seem very concerned, more than anything else, the fluid situation of Puntland stability. They are currently craving for a real political leadership, which can capitalize the moment lost by the current regime, which can establish an authentic and promising pathway for liberal democracy good enough for Puntland.

The second significant political group sits on the far-right bench of Puntland’s political spectrum. They are very wealthy with loyal grassroots. This later group is well organized but has a theological vision of governance for Puntland. They jumped on the bandwagon initially, and created their Midnimo Party. However, they backtracked after they realized there is no legitimate or possible stake for them, in accordance with the electoral commission setup. Their political ideology is very unpopular among the Puntland core elites. It is seen that it can make PuntlandState very fragile economically and politically, especially in a time Somalia depends on aid from the Western donors. However, Mr. Farole was pleased to have this second group as his only viable opposition party. Because, it could have make the Western donor-powers throw their support behind the Horseed leadership, as the only alternative.

Realities on the Puntland Ground

Puntland’s legitimate traditional elders—an asset consisting of informal traditional leadership council–had cautioned in advance, the loss of lives and instability that could be caused by a misguided power greed, and they have pointed out the inefficacy of the pseudo democratization process, as well as the Horseed Party power cartel. They called for an all traditional elders’ conference to be held to address the crises. They did so in order to sort out the reckless political gamble of Mr. Farole and his immature political advisors! However, the Farole regime blatantly dismissed it and started marching his anti-terror/anti-piracy forces such as Puntland Intelligence Services & Puntland Maritime Force for crash-ready drills. Farole’s appointed head of electoral commission, Mr. Mohamed Hassan Barre, and the rubber-stamp MP Burhan Aden, both announced in the media that any dissent or group opposing the fake democratization process will be dealt with in accordance with the state’s law. Both PIS and PMF are under Farole’s son, and they were trained and funded by foreign donors in order to improve regional security, but not for to suppress legitimate political resistance.

This made the Puntland public furious and nervous, and to add an insult to the grievance, President Farole loaded plastic trashcans full of pre-completed voting ballots on several tracks and asked them to head to Qardho and Galkayo to setup voting stations. This was a litmus test for Farole’s attempt for re-election.  Both cities are known for their historic anti-oppression movements. The result was public outrage and revolt, locals stood up against Farole’s fake election plot like they did in the past against Siyad Barre. They sent their message loud and clear: “we are united against your attempt to hold on to power”. Of course, that came with the sacrifice of 8 lives of whom none other than Mr. Farole and his sons are responsible of their deaths! Let us hope those lives did not perish in vain, and someone faces justice in the court of law. There should be an investigation about this whenever the political dust settles.

What is next for Puntland?

Both Puntland parliament and President Farole have recognized the severity of the situation, of people power, and of the fragility of Garowe. They realized that people’s voices cannot be bought. Their political aspirations are not against the democratic values; instead they refuse any power abuse and staged elections. In light of that, the Farole government suddenly called off the bogus democratization process. Puntland’s fate was placed back in the hands of its legitimate power brokers, the ‘Isimada’ traditional elders. They will select 66 new Parliament Members. They will then elect a President. It will be that administration’s job to transition the state from clan quota based selection to vote based democracy. Ironically, this makes Puntland to be on the same page with Federal Government of Somalia, whose current leadership has been assigned to transition the whole country to one person-one vote democracy by 2016!

In the upcoming parliamentary selection process of Puntland, there seems to be a looming concern over who the legitimate traditional elders of Puntland are. For the past four years, the Farole regime tarnished their image and integrity by employing the infamous Siyad Barre strategy known as the use of ‘Isimada gacan ku sameyska ah’ which may be translated to mean ‘handmade traditional leaders’. Culturally, a Somali traditional leader is someone who has deeply rooted values of integrity and honesty, which cannot be betrayed or bought; and it is passed through affinity of patriarchic lineage.

The infamous former president Siyad Barre used to bypass the authentic traditional elders by creating his own clan chiefs, who sold their souls for the ride of a Toyota Land Cruiser, and the dinner of a greasy lamb shank at the State house. This kind of strategy has been replicated by Farole’s regime. Many illegitimate traditional-leader impersonators roam inside Garowe State House. Rumors say Farole’s contingent plan is to lobby among the handmade traditional leaders for reinstating the current 66 Horsed MPs, after their mandate ends in October 2013. There is no disillusionment that President Farole has every right to campaign legally, and he will try to sway the upcoming parliamentary election to his way. Just to be fair, his current regime did a lot of good tangible work compared to the past administration, and deserves a clean race.

However, it is a fact now that Horseed Party is no longer the party that its leaders envisioned to win the upcoming Puntland election in a landslide. Realistically speaking, Farole crossed the line when his team tried to enforce democracy with the barrel of the gun. So, now his chance of winning a clean parliamentary election seems slim. It is also a historical trend that the past incumbent lost Puntland parliamentary election despite his deep pockets. President Farole should understand the odds against him, plus the deeply rooted animosity against Garowe culture. If all hurdles break loose in Puntland, his hometown will be the epicenter of the political conflict, too.  As an academic, a visionary, and a leader who would like to see his name chromed around the history plates, as the pioneer of the new Federal Republic of Somalia; Mr. Farole should think hard about his legacy at stake. His reputation is on the line at the next Puntland election.

Many Somali political analysts have wondered the political logic behind Farole’s rhetoric whenever he preaches the self-rule concept as the federalists’ loudest voice. At the same token, he appoints governors and county commissioners like he is a centralist. It makes many open-minded federalists look the other way while scratching their heads, with disguise! This kind of contradictions and hypocrisy could demean the principles of federalism and power devolution within any federal system regionally or nationally. The lesson learned here for Farole is that Machiavellian politics don’t work in the world’s most libertarian environment like Puntland, Somalia. Unfortunately, all communities are armed to the teeth! That is why traditional elders and other informal clan based networks exist to fill the vacuum left behind by the ineffective or absentee natural law.

Future leaders of Puntland whoever that might be, should know the people of Puntland are very peaceful, and they love governance. But they cannot tolerate anything that smells like or reminds them of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Barre! That Party used to host fake election every 7 years, without any other political party on the ballot. Here is what a Southern Poetry known as Guuroow said about Siyad Barre’s single party and his staged elections:  Nin dooran Xaa doorta u dhahdeen; dadkase xaad u dambaajiseen”—by unknown poet. It means in English “why should we elect an elected man; and why self-incriminate the public!’.  This kind of election plan was in the making in Puntland; but, the people of Puntland prevented it. They took their state back to the familiar parliamentary based democracy; instead of phony multi-party system, which could have led a one-party dominance-dictatorship. That is the missing piece in the Puntland Spring narrative.

Jamal Ali
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Jay23481
Jamal Ali worked at the African Community Center; he is a Somali political analyst, human rights advocate, and Puntland Diaspora Forum, Colorado Chapter Director. 


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