Sunday, October 17, 2004

3 Cheers for Somalia!

A Digital Essay by Onyango Oloo

1.0.Ramadhan Is Here…

Before venturing further into this digital exploration, let me first convey my greetings to our Muslim sisters and brothers who are already observing the holy month of Ramadhan.

Here is an electronic greeting card that you can send to your friends and relatives across the globe.

It is unfortunate to see that the US invaders and occupiers of Iraq had their own peculiar way of acknowledging this important date on the Islamic calendar. At a time when Iraqis have been trying to prevail on the hothead Al Sadr to negotiate a ceasefire, truce or some other peace making gesture, the US led military forces with their handpicked Iraqi puppets had other ideas about how to launch the holy month of Ramadhan sending a violent message of bombings, shootings, intimidation and terrorism against the civilian population.

In a potentially dramatic development, there are several reports coming out today (October 16, 2004) of US soldiers refusing to go on dangerous missions in Iraq. And no, it is not just Al Jazeera reporting this. The story was first broken by a paper in Jackson, Mississippi and other mainstream Western sources like the Seattle Times and the New York Times have done extensive coverage of the same story. Michael Moore’s new book consists largely of e-mails sent to him by American men and women serving in Iraq. Here is but a small sample of the seething indignation that is probably going to be reflecting in how the US military votes on November 2, 2004.

2.0. A Democratic Breakthrough for Somalia and Somalis Everywhere…

The news from the Kenyan capital Nairobi has been music to hundreds of thousands if not millions of Somali ears:

And according to at least one press report, it made many Somalis to LITERALLY dance in the streets.

First and foremost, this is a big victory for the Somali people who have been striving for peace, democracy, national reconciliation and economic renewal after close to two decades of uninterrupted civil war that has seen clan rivalries and the bloody ambitions of assorted war lords wreak havoc on the future of Kenya’s north eastern neighbour. Of course it is not a victory that comes untainted.

The fact that these blood thirsty vampire-warlords who had organized terrible mass slaughter in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia could even accede to exchange their AK- 47s for microphones, writing pads and name tags is simply incredible. I remember a poignant personal moment last October when I mingled with some of these very delegates at the 680 Hotel (no,I was not part of the peace process, I gone there to share a few beers with my name sake CFO Onyango) as they took a break to have dinner in one part of that downtown Nairobi hotel while locals like us guzzled the byproducts of malt in another corner. I could not help wondering as I surveyed from a distance, could not help thinking about how much blood was staining each of those hands negotiating with forks and knives and clinking plates.

In our contemporary world-whether one is talking of Montreal or Mombasa, human suffering has become so mundane that you are never sure whether the affable Latino fruit seller at Montreal’s Jean Talon market is a former operative of the Peruvian, Salvadoran, Colombian or Chilean armed forces who may or may not have moonlighted for a death squad or two; or whether that African looking Portuguese speaking neighbour upstairs was part of the police unit that used to kidnap and execute street children in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; never know whether or not that polite Hebrew speaking restaurant owner in downtown Toronto is a former Israeli paratrooper or whether the Iranian cab driver chatting happily as they transport you from an African club in Montreal was once a member of the dreaded Savak secret police during the Shah’s time. You never know do you now? I have been quite shocked right here at McGill University to have undergraduate students approach me after a workshop to casually inform me that they objected to my critical comments about Palestinians in the Occupied Territories because they saw a different picture when they volunteered for the Israeli Army last year! In the early 1990s I remember having this very creeeeepy conversation with this Ugandan lawyer in Ontario who used to work for the Refugee Board and had garnered the dubious distinction of being particularly tough on Kenyan claimants and asylum seekers. I had been told that my Nilotic cousin from across the border had once worked as a trusted confidant of the repressive Obote II regime and that he used to personally order the disappearance of people the state considered to be enemies. I decided one day to ask him directly to his face:”Omera Mister So and So, I heard that you used to kill people when you were working at the Dash Dash Department in Kampala during the early 1980s. Is it true?” And without blinking he stared right back at me and said: “Oloo, there was a war on. I had to do what I had to do. I have no regrets.” Of course, Canada is awash with other war criminals from Sierra Leone, the Congo, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and, yes, Somalia. Mohamed Urdoh, a journalist friend of mine who used to write for the weekly Now Magazine has devoted the last decade of his life(forgive the awkward ambiguity- MU is very much alive and kicking and he IS NOT in the last decade of his life!) tracking down suspected war criminals from the Siad Barre era. And right here in this very province where I reside I coexist uneasily with the notorious Leon Mugesera who is dearly wanted back in his native Rwanda to answer charges that he was one of the ideological masterminds behind the Interhamwe genocidal attacks targeting the Tutsi minority.

For those who think that the foregoing is merely anecdotal chit chat, take a peek at this Canadian Federal Government report. Even as these thoughts percolate in my mind I cringe when I learn from the Standard that so many war lords have chosen Kenya as their base including that notorious RENAMO mass murderer, Dhlakama What’s His Face. Is it not amazing to witness a brutal thug who has presided over the cutting off children’s limbs and the mass rape of women suddenly convert into a “democrat” and a pinstriped partner for peace sedately sipping mushroom soup and chomping on crackers, working up their appetite to attack a sumptuous plate of lamb chops as he(almost INVARIABLY a MAN) as he exchanges notes on justice and sustainable development with their counterpart across the table- who was doing the exact thing in another corner of the country.

Dear Readers:

Forgive me for not DYING FROM SHEER EXCSTASY as I contemplate the lineup of the new Somali government. The fact that the delegates who participated in the elections included the very same war criminals that helped to destroy Somalia for the last three decades curbs my enthusiasm quite a bit.

While it is a relief to think that the swearing in of President COLONEL Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed presages a new era in Somali politics that will hopefully lead to democracy, justice and so on, one cannot ignore the “partners” who were meeting to cobble this peace process.

Already the new entity has achieved what has eluded the Republic of Somaliland headquartered in Hargeysa- continental African diplomatic recognition.

When I see people like
Hussein Aideed sulking and boycotting the ceremony I am less than impressed because was not this same war lord who so many of my Somali friends told me collaborated with the very same Americans who his father had fought, collaborated with them to shut down al Barakat? The other ninety odd leaders who also shunned the swearing in of President Abdullahi for personal, clan and other reasons are also being disingenuous because many of them can hardly be considered to be paragons of inclusiveness. Until very recently none of the major clans saw ANY ROLE for Somali women in the peace process and it is a testimony to the courage of

Asha Ahmed Abdallah

that she stood up against heavyweights like these; it is also a stark reminder of how male dominated Somali society is that she got only one other vote apart from the one she cast for herself. Here is a profile of two Somali women who participated in the process while this other report asks Somali women if they are satisfied with their representation in the process. I remember reading a very moving piece by exiled Somali novelist Nurudin Farrah writing in a journal published by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario about how it was Somali women who kept their families together in such diasporic oases like Toronto, Minneapolis, London etc while the men stayed up all night, chewing qat and discussing “politics”.

People are often irked by the way I sometimes mercilessly pour ice cold water on frothy celebrations, but I would rather be a party pooper rather than the ostrich with its neck and tiny head buried in the sand.

To my mind, the elevation of President Abdullahi is a very mixed blessing. It shows the promise as well as all the pitfalls that have bedeviled Somalia.

On the one hand, the “democratically elected” President is a very powerful war lord who is implicated in all that has ravaged Somalia; at the same time, his ascension to power represents a promise.

Will Col. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Somalia succeed?

Well, that depends on a number of factors.

First, to what extent will he forget that he is a former colonel and blood stained war lord and remember that he is elected as a CIVILIAN head of state?

Secondly, to what extent will he forget that he is a member of the Majeerten sub group of the powerful Darod clan and that his enemies are not the Hawiye, Digil-Mirifle, the Dir, the Isaq but rather poverty, lawlessness, clanism, national disunity and warlordism?

Thirdly, to what extent will he forget that he is a TRANSITIONAL figure whose main task should be working towards the FIRST TRUE AND GENIUNE MULTIPARTY ELECTIONS held under universal suffrage WITHIN SOMALIA rather than thinking along the lines of Kamuzu Banda, Jean Bedel Bokassa and other expired Life Presidents?

Fourthly, to what extent will he forget all the patriarchal nonsense he has been socialized with as a traditional African male and remember to include Somali women into ALL efforts at national renewal, reconstruction and reconciliation?

Fifthly, to what extent will he forget about the Somalia that existed twenty years ago and deal with the new Somali reality in front of him: a Somalia that has to accept the entity called the Republic of Somaliland that has provided relative stability in the northwest part of the former Republic of Somalia?

Sixthly, to what extent will he forget that his lords and masters are not Meles Zenawi and the ruling TPFLP cabal in Addis Ababa, but rather, the people of Somalia who look to him with so much hope?

Seventhly, to what extent will he forget about any notions of a Greater Somalia and concentrate on rebuilding the tattered Somalia?

It is a tough call.

Clearly, too much to put on the shoulders of a single man.

He will need a lot of
Somali women and men of goodwill to help guide him through.

Given his age, his military background and his war lordism, is President-Elect Abdullahi capable of transformation?

Can he rise to the challenge?

He looked very sharp and dapper in his spiffy, freshly pressed blue suit in Nairobi, but what happens in two months when he goes back to Somalia and has to embark on the unenviable task of leading Somalia back to the road of stability, prosperity, justice and democracy?

What I am saying in other words is that now is the time for
all progressive, patriotic and democratic minded Somalis, inside and outside the country, to step up to the plate and help to entrench the already existing Somali civil society. Democratic formations and institutions within and outside Somalia are a crucial complement to the just concluded peace process that culminated in the election of President Abdullahi.

Let us not forget that the election of President Abdullahi took place in Nairobi and not Mogadishu and such is circumscribed by the fact that it was EXTERNALLY driven whichever you want to look at it. The national interests of Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Uganda and behind them, the shadow of the United States and her imperialist cousins cannot be discounted.

Somalia’s democratic experiment and experience MUST BE national,indigenous and endogenous if it is to be sustainable and credible-and one does not have to be ingenious to grasp that. We have seen historically what happened when for example Julius Nyerere practically invaded Uganda and installed his buddy Milton Obote who turned out in his second coming to be almost as brutal as Idi Amin Dada. We see in the Democratic Republic of the Congo how the civil war has lingered on almost a decade after the death of Mobutu because of the machinations of the Rwandese, the Ugandans, the Angolans, the South Africans, the Zimbabweans and behind them the United States, France, Belgium and other imperialist states.

3.0. While Somalia Struggles to be a Kenya, Kenya is Sliding into Another Somalia

On a side note, it is very IRONICAL that Kenyan President Kibaki has almost put himself in serious Nobel Peace Prize contention for spearheading efforts that begun under his predecessor Daniel arap Moi-while
simultaneously completely blocking the path to democratic reform in Kenya itself. It is so comical I tell you, as we Kenyans like telling each other.

Here we are as Kenyans, practically acting as the midwives pulling the new Somali democratic baby from the womb of her fractious war lords and yet, we are almost dipping into another year without the much vaunted democratic constitution that NARC promised the millions of Kenyans who voted for the fourteen party coalition of opportunists and self-seekers that it would deliver within a hundred days of coming to power.

Talk about shameless hypocrisy and pompous grand standing!

How long can the Kibakis, Kiplagats and others bask in the afterglow of regional peace accords while Kenya itself threatens to degenerate into a new Somalia because of renewed ethnic clashes?

Kenya is the centerpiece of East and Central African regional progress, stability and tranquility. The Sudan (especially the South) looks to Kenya; those of us who remember those long trailers with the initials S.T.I.R. Kigali and Trans Ocean (Uganda Ltd) hauling goods from the port of Mombasa know that those two landlocked countries need us; we, the nation that has adopted Samba Mapangala, Bwami Walumwona, Kajos, Baba Gaston, Kabila Kabanze, Moreno and Lovy know of our organic ties to our brothers and sisters in BOTH Congos; people like myself who have Sukuma in laws in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam as well as Luo first cousins who were born and raised in Musoma as Tanzanian citizens are aware that we really are one people; the Ethiopians and Eritreans need the communication, technological networks and business hubs of Kenya if they are to embark on long term economic growth; and of course Kenyans need Kenya.

We will be unable to rise to the level of a regional powerhouse that rivals South Africa or Nigeria if we still have politicians like Mungatana and Murungaru setting up tribal smokescreens to block our national renaissance.

Democratic renewal in Kenya is the sine qua non for East and Central African regional integration, stability and progress. What happens in Kenya will affect positively and negatively what happens in Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somaliland, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and the two Congos, not forgetting Tanzania, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Malagasy, Reunion, the Comoros and even Yemen.

So as even we gyrate and ululate yelling joyously:


Let us remember that the election of President Abdullahi is actually a stark reminder to our own President Kibaki that Kenya and Somalia could easily trade places-with Kenya descending into tribal anarchy while the phoenix called Somalia rises from its own ashes

As I exit from this digital intervention, I want you to sample what
Somalis in the Diaspora, scattered across continents around the world, are saying about the breaking news in their homeland. Here is one thread commenting on the elections and here is another one while a third thread is here and a fourth one over here.

For those who want to despair and give up on Somalia, I say:

Keep your spirits up!

How many people knew, for instance that amidst all that negative reporting on Somalia there have been a number of success stories like for instance

The establishment of Mogadishu University in 1997?

I am convinced that the city of Mogadishu can and will be rebuilt to be even better than it looked before 1981

Onyango Oloo

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