An Open Letter to Prof. Ahmed Ismail Samatar

Firatposted at -Mareeg,com-This was a superbly articulated interview, truly a vintage Ahmed Ismail Samatar stuff that continues to be the talking point in the social media. No one who is objective and dispassionate can fault your powerful captivating portrayal of the intractable southern malaise that has kept Somalia a “failed” State for over two decades. You have rightly attributed this state of affairs to blinkered atavistic tribalism combined with unfettered rampant corruption that permeates every level of the State but more at the top echelons. Your disenchantments go much wider than these Mogadishu specific problems and extend to what you consider the unacceptable inequities of the union. Few will dissent with your penetrating analysis and observations. Rather, it is the appropriateness of your response and underlying motive that is being questioned as people deem fit.

For a start, the realities you have portrayed are nothing new and have been with us for all these donkey years. The ineluctable question people are bound to be asking, and indeed have asked, is what prompted Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar, the veteran nationalist par excellence, who tenaciously championed Somalia’s revival and unity through thick and thin for all these years to now uncharacteristically throw in the towel at this particular juncture of his political track in Somalia?

For your detractors, the answer is simple: as they are saying in the social media, Professor Samatar had been self-promoting himself all along all these years, and finally set his sights on the top post in Somalia, took his chance when he stood for the presidency, and having lost it is out to avenge his defeat. As they see it, it is your failure to win that office that has made you, in a fit of pique, to pronounce your rupture with Somalia, not so much because of the prevailing intolerable corruption per se but rather what you decried as the insurmountable barriers imposed by the two clan “duopoly” which you hold as barring any northerner becoming president since independence. This is what made you, in their eye, to abandon and turn your back on the cause you had been wedded to for nearly quarter of a Century.

As one who knows you better, I beg to differ with your detractors. My own take is that you had been away from Somalia for almost half a Century and much as you have kept informed, albeit from a distance, of the horrors and hard times it has gone through, yet you might have comforted yourself by retaining an outsider’s sanguine perspective : you persuaded yourself that Somalia’s malaise was basically due to incompetent and venal leadership but once honest and competent leaders were put at the helm the nation could be given a new lease of life. As it is, such good leaders were not in short supply at the last presidential election. Men like you, Dr Abdirahman Badiyow, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed Abdi Hashi and Dr Abdullahi Ahmed Adow, just to name some, gave up their comfortable life in the diaspora and presented themselves as candidates for the 2012 presidential election.

As we all know to our dismay, none was put at the helm as most Somalis would have liked. As it is, all the candidates, apart from two, bit the dust from the outset when the unpopular Sheikh Sharif Ahmed headed the table in the first round, followed by the little known Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Of course, and as we only know too well now to our consternation, it was competing ArabGulf money that catapulted these two men and decided the race. In the end, it was the man with the angelic smile and satanic ways who won.

That sordid and sickening spectacle, no doubt, was a shuttering eye- opener for you, paring to the bone the fallacy of much of your optimistic assumptions that Somalia was at last on the mend to shake off its dark past. It did not happen, and the post election developments under President Hassan confirm our worst trepidations. No doubt heart-broken and traumatised in the face of all these shameful wheeling and dealing, the lesson you immediately drew was that Somalia was doomed and done for, and that you had no alternative but to jump ship and return to your beloved “Somaliland” roots which you now embrace with all the ardour of a born again convert to the secession.

You have every reason to feel shocked not because you did not win the presidency but in awakening to the harsh depressing reality in Mogadishu and to feel irrelevant and powerless in an environment where the twin evils of corruption and clan, in turn or in combination, have trumped national interest . Be that as it may, I share with many others that you are wrong in the lesson you drew and the actions you took.

You  and your fellow northerners failed to win the presidency for the same reasons the other candidates did , and not because of the alleged “duopoly” you rail against, for most of the good but failed candidates themselves hail from those very two “dominant” clans; nor was your defeat due to overall southern conspiracy against the north, for most of their MPs did not vote together for one single southern candidate in order to thwart a northerner but for different ones and, with few exceptions, motivated purely by financial gains irrespective of the clan origin of its source. That too goes for the voting of northern MPs. While you were lucky to master 8 votes from your own loyal Samaroon MPs, the two other equally good northern candidates- Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar and Dr Abdirahman Mohamed Abdi Hashi- got one vote and zero respectively.

One has to ask where all the northern, or more precisely the Isaak, Dhulbahante, Warsangeli and Esse, votes have gone. Gone of course, with few exceptions, after the highest bidders- Sheikh Sharif and Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. So much then for the mythical northern common identity and solidarity!!. With northerners like this, why count on equally venal southern MPs for support? As you should have known, it is money that rules in Mogadishu to the exclusion of your cherished principles. It has always been like this but only worse now in the fallen fractured State where rapacious politicians, like vultures, are out to make financial killings while the going is good.

Since your defeat in the election, and more so since your visit to Hargeisa, you have adopted the issue of the absence of a northerner becoming President of Somalia since independence as the main thrust of your disenchantment with the south and a stick to beat the union. For you, the union was between two separate countries that should have been treated on equal footing for sharing the top posts in the country and its absence amounts to a blatant injustice, throwing into question the whole rationale for the union.

Whatever the past justifiable grievances of the north might be – and there are some indisputable ones such as for example bad governance and developmental marginalisation – the absence of a northerner becoming president is not one of them. That grievance would have been justified if northerners were deliberately barred by one means or other from contesting the presidency on equal terms with southerners which has not been the case.

For the record, of all the presidents we had since independence, only the first two, namely President Aden Abdallah Osman and Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, came through a free and fair elective process, respectively in July 1960 and June 1967. No northerner (former British Somaliland) stood for either election but at least Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, a northerner, was appointed as Prime Minister under Sharmarke, a post he held until the military coup of 1969 which brought Mohamed Siyad Barre to power (and since Egal, we had two more Prime Ministers from the north).

Since Siyad Barre’s overthrow in 1991, all so-called “presidents” after him were chosen outside the country by self-appointed and self-seeking individuals at sham caucuses organised by foreign governments. No one from the north, whether from the secessionist enclave proper (i.e. Somaliland), or the unionist regions, stood for election. Somaliland distanced itself from these “elections”, claiming to be an independent and separate from Somalia and threatened punitive action against anyone hailing from its “territory” participating in “another county’s” phoney elections.

The exception to all this was the last election when northerners stood for the presidency for the first time. Under the circumstances, surely no blame can be ascribed to southerners for the absence of a president from the north when none stood for office until your lot did. Since there is no conspiracy against northerners to be barred from holding the highest office in Somalia, and since none of the major clans in the south are politically monolith (take the Darood as an example) let along any two of them colluding to monopolise the post in turn, there is no reason in principle why a northerner should not became president by fair means given the right candidate, the right time and right circumstances. He could also get elected by foul means as Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and his predecessor all by having buckets of money- either yours or from rich backers.

But what you have been lately advocating is something different: a short-cut to the presidency, amounting to its rotation to the north on the grounds that it was a separate country before union. Apart from the secessionists, few in the north, let alone in the rest of Somalia or international community, will concur with this rationale. We may have been separate colonial possessions, artificially carved out of the Somali homeland, but not historically separate countries or nations. We were simply the same peoples/clans, separated from one another by artificial colonial borders against our will, who finally gravitated to each other when freed to form one country and one nation.

From a paragon of unity to the secession gutter

You have deployed your mighty intellectual force to justify why you had deserted Somalia and embraced the secession, hitherto untouchable. Your reasons are that you saw yourself politically excluded as a northerner and also because you consider Somalia beyond salvation. The first reason is not true as I argued above and the second one is a moot point. Somalia’s problem is one of leadership as you yourself have pronounced on different occasions. And sooner or later, the right one is bound to emerge. Otherwise, it has no other existential problems given its people, apart from the secessionists, support a united, stable and prosperous Somalia. For these reasons, Somalia is bound to eventually emerge from its doldrums. It is only a matter of time and more time is what you have not given it.

By contrast, if any place is doomed, it is Somaliland: not the former British colony of that name, for that had been defunct since the union, but the one-clan secessionist enclave calling itself by the same name which you have now espoused. A secession opposed by almost four of the five clans in the north, the rest of Somalia and shunned by the international community is unsustainable. Given these realties, it is only a matter of time before the secession collapses and falls apart. Of all people, this should be clear to you and yet you chose belatedly to jamp to a sinking ship.

You could have withdrawn with grace and little carping to your professorial den in Minnesota after your painful experience in Mogadishu. What is mind-boggling is that our paragon of unity should forsake Somalia for the gutter-bound secession. This is a great disservice not so much to Somalia but above all to yourself and what you stood for. It is also a deep heart-breaking dismay for all your admirers and friends, including me.


Osman Hassan