Repeat of 1884: Somalia leaders compete for foreign domination
The death of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, former President of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) in Dubai, UAE on March 23, 2012 has sparked intense debate about his political legacy. Without doubt, president Yusuf left an indelible mark in the Somali history. Some would like to present him as a national hero, patriot, warrior, and honest figure while others see him as national traitor, dictator, self righteous, tribalist, and corrupt leader. One of the reasons behind these opposing views is that President Yusuf singlehandedly sought military support from Ethiopia for establishing his rule on south central Somalia. Consequently, Ethiopia dominated the internal and external affairs of Somalia.
Late president Yusuf regretted his request of military support from Ethiopia. In his last interview with VOA in 2011, he unambiguously said that he decided to resign from the presidency of the TFG because he did not want to be a stooge of Ethiopia. However, with his public regret, the allegiance to and the public defense of Ethiopia by Somali politicians and intellectuals didn’t die. Sadly, loyalty to Ethiopia became a publicly claimed quality by the Somali politicians for gaining political power in Somalia. Surprisingly, the Ethiopians say: Dine with a stranger, but save your love for your family.
At the beginning of this year, it has been released President Yusuf’s memoir written in Somali language with the title “Halgan and Hagardaamo” which means “struggle and conspiracy.” The author chronicles, among other things, the supporters and saboteurs of the major events in his long political struggle. Mr. Ali A. Jangeli, former foreign minister of TFG is one of the principal saboteurs.
So, I was a surprised to read Mr. Jangeli’s eulogy about former president Yusuf published in the Somali Websites like Hiiraan Online: President Abdullahi Yusuf: Warrior Statesman. President Yusuf angrily detailed the unpatriotic act Mr. Jangeli committed against his country of Somalia by insubordinately taking part and voting yes to a deliberation sponsored by Ethiopia for destroying TFG. President Yusuf could not fathom how Mr. Jangeli and IGAD countries dared to hijack the destiny of Somalia in the 21st century.
It seems more likely that the main thrust of Mr. Jangeli’s eulogy was to portray President Yusuf as the leader of a group who decided long time ago to bring Somalia under the abject subjugation of Ethiopia. The second probable explanation could be an effort for personal political rehabilitation after August 2012. Apart from my inferences, former FM Ali Jangeli stated the following:
Abdillahi was a true patriot who loved his country and had the intelligence and the courage to manage any strategic relationship for the benefit of his country. Take the example of Ethiopia and other neighbors in the region. He knew that Somalia’s path to peace and stability is interlinked in a profound manner to that of the Horn region. Having realized that it was in the strategic long-term interest of Somalia to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the States neighboring Somalia, he managed it in manner worthy of a proud Somali patriot. Those of us who had the distinct privilege of witnessing it firsthand could attest to that. Abdillahi also deeply believed that the Horn region is so inter-dependent that it could only realize its true potential if there is a paradigm shift in its people’s thinking and approach. To the skeptics that is far off and futile but to those of us who share Abdillahi’s vision of stable, peaceful and prosperous Horn region believe it is a cause worth fighting for.
In coincidence, in a discussion about President Yusuf’s life and political legacy moderated by VOA Somali Services, Mr. Mohamed Abshir Walde asserted that before the rebel movement – Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) – against the Siad Barre Regime was established in Ethiopia in 1978, a group of SSDF intellectuals assured the Ethiopian leaders that their vision and political agenda was to change Somalia’s thinking towards Ethiopia as a long term commitment. The implicit goal of changing the thinking of Somalis was and is to subordinate the sovereignty, liberty, and dignity of Somalia to Ethiopia.
At present, against the will of the majority of the Somali people wanting a patriotic national agenda for shaping the political future of Somalia, Somalia leaders in power and some intellectuals subscribed to that pledge of allegiance towards Ethiopia. Last month, President Sheikh Sharif travelled to Addis Ababa to receive instructions related to Hiiraan, Bay, Bakol, Gedo and Galgudud regions under the control of Ethiopian forces.
Fortunately, President Abdulahi Yusuf made crystal clear his accusatory views against Ethiopia before his death. He wrote:
The true policy of Ethiopia: I never forgot an Ethiopian adage Mengistu Haile Mariam [the former dictator of Ethiopia] told me in our first encounter after he accepted the establishment of SSDF base in Ethiopia. The adage says, “Don’t catch a leopard by the tail, but if you do, don’t let it go because it will attack you and eat you……….. The thrust of the adage indicate that in Mengistu and Meles Zenawi periods the leopard (Ethiopia) will not stop in eating anyone who let it go but it (Ethiopia) will violently attack anyone or any state which resists the fulfillment of the Ethiopian interests. (p. 405)
I retired from the Somali politics but two major issues that need urgent actions are still outstanding. The First one is the Ethiopian’s concern [obstruction] about the Somali unity and the revival of effective State of Somalia. The second issue is the tragic domestic situation of Somalia without hopeful solution in the horizon.” (p. 418)
Furthermore, Ethiopia has publicized its security and foreign policy strategy towards Somalia. First, the strategy assumes that Somalia will remain stateless in the short and medium term and will go through a long process of transformation before peace and stability take place. The time framework Ethiopia foresees for Somalia’s recovery seems more than two decades from now. Second, the strategy makes sure that Somalia will not have relation with countries deemed anti Ethiopia. Third, the strategy acclaims that the ‘greater Somalia’ ideology has been discredited. Fourth, the strategy asserts that Somalia has no relevance to the development and security of Ethiopia. Indeed, Ethiopia decided to dam the two rivers Shabelle and Jubba so that less or no water will follow to Somalia. So, taking into account president Yusuf’s counsel and Ethiopia’s foreign policy strategy, why some Somali intellectuals and leaders bought the idea that Ethiopia is critical to Somalia’s revival? Another Ethiopian adage says: The eye of the leopard is on the goat, and the eye of the goat is on the leaf.
There is no question that Somalia and Ethiopia are neighbors. But they are two distinct nations with different political and cultural systems, interests and aspirations for liberty and economic prosperity. Inevitably, citizens of Somalia will always keep eye on the welfare of all Somalis but the long term stability in the Horn of Africa will depend on the level of confidence in the freedom, justice, and human rights guaranteed to the inhabitants of the region. Prof Tobias Hagman and Benedikt Korf of University of California who wrote a paper on the violence and sovereignty in the Ethiopian Somali Frontier have investigated the negative views the Ethiopian political elite from the highlands have towards the culture of the Somali ethnic considered as savages awaiting civilization and the institutionalized punishments in the past 120 years like encampment, arbitrary and discretionary emergency laws and the politics of starving people. Mukhtar M. Omer’s article on what is happening now in the Ethiopian Somali region, Hate as a losing political strategy , echoes the conclusions of the investigation of Prof Tobias and Korf.
Here the wisdom of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America should help the Somali politicians and intellectuals to rebuild their country by resisting the temptation of subservience to foreign country. The words of wisdom in the farewell speech of 1796 are:
A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils……. Such attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens, the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.
There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation.
Somalia as a distinct nation should have its national strategic interests and pledge of allegiance. Dutifully, a citizen of Somalia cannot pledge allegiance or feel affection/sympathy to another nation. Otherwise, he or she will trade Somalia’s liberty with slavery. Repeat of 1884 when Somali tribes competed for foreign domination should be avoided at any cost.