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Three examples that teach us why it is important to choose advisors on merit system

By Ibrahim Aden Shire

Every leader, every minster and every institution of modern governance has many advisors. These advisors hold different roles and responsibilities in the government ranging from bag carriers and door openers to being at the centre of the government’s policy and decision-making. Their appointment is patronage and not open to all thus, ministers or leaders choose their close friends or people who helped them win and maintain office as advisors to reward for their support.

Advisors act as proxies for their respective ministers or bosses by attending meetings, preparing documents and even hearing representations. Some are more powerful than others and some are more close to the leaders thus, more influential in decision-making and policy settings. Karl Rove, for example, was known as the brain of President George W Bush while Farah Abdul-Kadir was known as the man behind the scene during Hassan Sheikh’s presidency. However, advisors are more influential than most of us know. In some cases, they are the ones who make decisions and run the state’s affairs and that signifies the importance of choosing them on merit. The following examples will further elucidate this.

Muawiye Binu Abi Sufwan was the Caliph of Muslims for 20 years. When he got old and realised that his days were running fast, he started thinking about who would replace him as the Caliph. However, he had never thought of appointing his son or any of his relatives. He called a man called Mughayrah bin Shaabah, who was among his advisors and governor of Kufa (Iraq), for consultation about the issue. Without hesitation, Mughayrah suggested the appointment of Muawiya’s son Yazid who was young and licentious. Muawiye was a wise, cautious and a man of insight. He could see the troubles might come from this idea, how the public would react and the difficulty he would face from convincing the public to accept his son as his successor. He knew that the sons of his predecessors, who were well high above his son in terms of reputation, publicity and garnering support from the public, were still alive and had political ambitions.  Therefore, he could not picture the possibility his son could ascend to the throne.

Hence, he returned a question to Mughayrah and asked him how that would be possible knowing that no other Caliph ever appointed his son as a successor and the negative perception the common Muslims would take from this. Mughayrah explained to him how the mission would be executed in detail. He reminded the Caliph that the four main states (Makah, Medina, Kufa and Basra) were at the hands of his loyalist who would compel the people to accept Yazid’s successorship in case of revolt. Muawiyeh welcomed the idea and commenced implementing it.

A single advice from one special advisor prompted a decision which had profound negative effect on the lives of all Muslims around the world and changed the course of leadership in the Muslim world forever. This shows how leaders are prone to listening to close advisors and how often they take their suggestions and implement it with whatever problems come with it.

A single advice from one special advisor prompted a decision which had profound negative effect on the lives of all Muslims around the world

The second example that gives us an insight into how a simple idea of an advisor can motivate an elderly man with poor health conditions to claim the highest position possible in that period of world history. Marwan ibn Hakam was on his way to Makah with a vast army to crash Abdullah Bin Zubayr, May Allah please with him, who proclaimed himself as the Caliph of Muslims, when the death of Muawiyeh binu Yazid binu Muawiyeh, who was the Caliph at the time, reached him. Hearing this Marwan sent a letter to Abdullah informing the news and also their readiness to accept his leadership provided that he would move from Makah to Damascus. Abdullahi refused the offer since he assumed it as a way of cunning him. Marwan called one of his advisors and explained the situation that Muslims had no Amir and Abdullahi refused to come to Damascus.

The advisor bewildered the gullibility of Marwan and asked him what was stopping him from crowning himself as the Caliph. Marwan accepted that advice and nominated himself as the successor of the Amir. However, he met a huge resistance from other tribesmen and a bitter war broke out which claimed hundreds of fighters from both sides. Seeing this, Marwan was very disappointed and decided to stop the bloodshed by showing his allegiance to Abdullahi Ibnu Zubayr the main rival whose suzerainty was widely accepted by most provinces. He shared his decision with his advisors and once again, they persuaded him to remain in his position and continue fighting for the Caliphate. Marwan once again accepted his advisors’ suggestion and finally crashed his opponents. He became the Caliph of Muslim world. However, his reign did not last long as he breathed his last breath within a year from his ascendance to the throne. Nevertheless, he established his sons in positions of power as he designated Abdi Malik as his heir and from there the Marwanid dynasty was founded.

The third example can be found in the same period of Islamic history. When Sulayman Abdimalik realised that his days were coming closer, he appointed his son. But that son passed away before him. His second son was too young to be selected and options were open to so many competitors. He became so confused that he could not choose a successor by himself. So he called a man by the name Raja binu Hayan a righteous and close advisor of him. After long discussion, Raja convinced Sulayman to appoint Omar Binu Abdul-Aziz who was the cousin of Sulayman and his prime minister. Omar became the best ever Ummayad Caliphate and he is considered as the fifth righteous Caliph. While Mughayrah advised Muawiyeh to appoint his son, which opened the gate for deep-rooted divergence and divisions among Muslims and changed the Caliphate from choosing leaders based on merit into dynastic political system, Raja succeeded in persuading the Amir to appoint his heir based on principle, piety and righteousness. Mughayrah did this to please his boss and show his loyalty. One narration reported that Muawiyeh wanted to remove Mughayrah from his post as the governor of Kufa before he gave the advice. It is possible that Mughayrah knew the plan of Muawiyeh and in order to stop it he made the suggestion of appointing his son as his heir. Conversely, Raja’s main concern was the welfare and the betterment of Muslim world and therefore based his suggestion on the possession of the right skills, sincerity and piety.

This underlines the importance of choosing advisors not only for their skills and expertise in key areas but also for their patriotism, honest and sincerity. For this, our beloved prophet, Peace and blessing be upon him, emphasised choosing righteous and sincere advisors who correct their bosses when they are wrong and support when they are right.

The modern world does not differ from the one we discussed. Advisors hold vast powers, often influence leaders’ decisions and, sometimes, can control democratically elected leaders. Alastair Campbell was the spin-doctor of Tony Blair -British Prime Minster- between 2000 and 2003. Mr Campbell prepared dossier of evidence in the run-up to the Iraq war. This dossier did not only exaggerate the existence of weapons of mass destruction but also the actual intelligence findings were distorted. Moreover, as he admitted in his memoir, he insisted that the dossier of evidence, which became a persuasive document for the attack of the allied forces on Iraq, had to be revelatory although Tony Blair had said to him “there was really not much to say at moment” and was reluctant to discuss the matter with ministers and parliament. But Mr Campbell persuaded Blair to convene the MPs and make a case for the invasion. Mr Campbell’s advice and the document he compiled paved the way for the war of Iraq which claimed the lives of tens of thousands and whose effects still lingering on and reached all corners of the world.

In conclusion, special advisors play important roles in running government affairs. They are close to their masters and in most cases strive to please them. Unlike other professions, they are selected because of their loyalty not for their dedication, ability and sincerity. However, their decisions and advice they provide may have a profound and long lasting effect which may reach all corners of the world. Therefore, a careful consideration is needed when instating a special advisor.

Leaders and minsters should take honest, patriotism and sincerity into consideration when selecting an advisor. This is even more important for a country like Somalia which suffers from many foreign interferences. There are possibilities of foreign agents to seek advisory positions in the highest office in the government. Therefore, familiarity with a person and loyalty to a master are not enough to safeguard the interest of the nation.

Ibrahim Aden Shire
Email:[email protected]


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