Sunday, July 12, 2020
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The Political Mystery in the Somali Regional State: Critical Issues that Need to be Addressed

By Asad Aliweyd


Although there have been multiple opposition parties to the EPRDF-led government in Ethiopia including armed (ONLF & OLF) as well as non-armed ones such as Gibnot-7, the change came from within. During the spring of 2018, thousands of Oromo Youth called (QEEROO) took to the streets of Oromia regional State to demand fairer treatment, democracy and overall political change in the country.

PM Abiy with President Mustafe

There were few factors that contributed to the downfall of the EPRDF government led by former prime minister Haile Mariam Desalegn. First, Jawar Mohamed, the CEO of Oromia Media Network (OMN), became the voice of the young, energetic and change seekers Oromo youth, strategically utilizing the strength and power of his independent channel and reinforced by his strong social media campaign for human rights violations against Ethiopians in general and Oromo people in particular. A 42-year-old reformist politician, Dr. Abiy Ahmed came to power through negotiations amongst four EPRDF members to unite the deeply divided country with century old grievances.

The Somali regional State was not immune from the political tsunami that swept away the powerful Marxist TPLF party who was the backbone of the EPRDF coalition members. Hence, Abdi Mohamed Omar (Iley), a staunch ally of TPLF and one of the most powerful regional presidents,  together with his administration, was not exempt from the waves of change, so the flood of change swept Abdi Mohamed Omar (iley) from power. Ultimately, his decade-long brutal rule ended in August 2018.

What Went Wrong for the Somali Region?

Since deputy president Mr. Mustafa Mohamed Omar (Cagjar) came to power, he was enthusiastically welcomed by the hungry civilians who needed democracy, justice, and freedom of expression. The deputy president managed well for the first few months, readied with his evangelization of forgiveness campaign, the closing of Jail Ogaden, and other swift reforms.


Deputy president Mustafa, cabinet members and supporters including those from the diaspora began disinformation campaign against political rivals most notably the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).  It was evident that the SRS members and social media supporters campaigned for Ahmed Yasin, a contestant for the ONLF chairmanship. As was expected, Abdirahman Maadey, founding member of the organization won a historic televised election in the history of the organization decisively. The outcome was contrary to what Mustafa desired. Then, a dirt game immediately cropped up, such as dividing the organization elites into clan lines, giving some of them luxury houses while calling the overwhelming majority of the organization elites and grassroot supporters as former government empathizers, etc. This was a strategic mistake by the SRS leadership, and they should backtrack from this dogma.

Dick Morris and Fileen McGann, staunch supporters of then candidate Trump wrote a book called ARMAGGEDON- How Trump Can Beat Hillary. In their book, they have written aggressive strategies that would mobilize the white people base. In order to achieve the far-right agendas and goals, they have engaged activities that included public indictments of white people. Calling that the country was invaded by Mexicans and other foreigners, distributing hate speeches, and other propaganda outlets in a variety of ways including national TVs such as the FOX News.  Republicans using their favorable media have focused on poor, rural, and agricultural counties throughout the country with a specific message that democrats are not the party of the poor and middle class, but they are the opposite of that. The book outlined that there are two primary reasons the POOR people are getting poorer or at least not getting richer: Trade with China and Immigration.  Similar extreme mobilizations and propaganda against ONLF and its leaders are currently underway in the region.

Administrative Issues:

 It seems the only effective organization in the region is the Liyu Police who are always good at abusing people who have opposite vision or ideas than the government. There were publicly and socially distributed videos in which the regional Liyu Police were taking down the flags of ONLF, beating parliamentarians in bright daylight with impunity. This resembles the abusive behavior of the former regime. It requires to be confronted and stopped by all means — including taking legal actions.

President Mustafe with Jawar Mohamed

To that note, deputy president Mustafa is an educated man and a social justice campaigner who became the resilient voice while many of us were silent about the abuses, and I have to give proper credit to that, and I must. However, being an advocate is totally different from that of being a good administrator in public organization settings.  Deputy president Mustafa is the head of a public agency– the Somali regional State, and he should focus on producing polices, coordinating public agencies (departments), proving his long social justice crusade, and changing people’s lives. He must come to the reality that the rule of force has a limitation and obviously with drastic consequences.

Parliament attack and the Heego scapegoat:

For the first time in the SRS history, we have seen that the parliamentarians stepping away from the assembly hall in defiance of President Mustafa’s schedule and the meeting agenda. This is a critical sign of democracy in action — by defying contrary agendas from the government.  Unfortunately, the episode led to a series of beatings, imprisonment, and maltreatment of lawmakers by the special police. In addition, young activists were jailed, taken to sham court, and charged $30,000 birr each. Intimidations, abuses, and dividing people amongst clan lines aren’t proper ways of governance that would lead a better future for the region. Thus, intellectuals, elders, community leaders, business leaders, and all stakeholders should say NO to intimidation and maltreatment. We can’t go back to the experiences for the past 28 years. 

The Somali region is well aware that Heego was a two-month old youth organization financed, organized, and created by the former regime — which included current government ministers, federal level individuals, and regional governors as well the head of security forces. Who could say NO to Abdi Iley, while he was a power stronghold?  Attacking political adversaries especially with certain regions or clans as HEEGO is fundamentally wrong.  Calling ONLF leadership who happened to be sub clan of Abdi Iley including founding members of ONLF is pure clannish mentality. It’s even worse than Abdi Iley’s famous criminalization word of UBO. Iley used to call that name all of his political opponents including his close relatives, but unfortunately, Mustafa and his supporters use HEEGO for specific regions, towns and individuals.

The Role of the Diaspora in the Political Quandaries:

The former government of Adbi Iley was known for its role of using diaspora individuals as representatives for intimidations, smear campaign against opponents and worst of, all spying the community. In addition, he used to send money to his entertainers in the overseas to mobilize fake community and held supporting events. In return, these individuals were given a heroic welcome once they got back to Jigjiga. They have been logged at the QARYAAN Dhoodaan Guest Gouse, given government vehicles and other incentives.

Unfortunately, that culture is still in practice in Jigjiga. Some diaspora members have been there for a year or months while they are daily posting in their social media propaganda and support for Mustafa– good, they can support whoever they want, but the question is  who will pay their bills, rent, and other expenses here in the United States or in Europe? I would urge Mustafa to end that chapter of (nacamleyn waxoogaa lacaga ah lagu qaato).

The Way Forward and Advice to the SRS Leadership:

When members of the government preach hate amongst its people, or political opponents invoke 4harsh words towards the government, they are both speaking, of course, of an actual danger.  In addition, calling opposition leaders names, its substitute to asking to surrender them to the will of government. This wouldn’t happen in the current political atmosphere of Ethiopia.

Finally, Deputy President Mustafa ought to challenge the region’s status quo. Since the formation of the state, the region’s problems were solved in Addis Ababa, which contributed even more problems and created endless suffering for the people. Heading on this status quo generates challenges both in the region and in Addis Ababa, which contribute challenging dilemma in the short term. If the deputy president wants deep institutional change, he must start from his current government officials not only for those in the cabinets but also in any level of the government. There are widespread speculations that said Mustafa’s trusted buddies in his government are really betraying his track record for doing a horrific corruption.

Asad Aliweyd,
President & CEO
New American Development Center

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