By Abdi Ali
The hope of many Somalis was that the recurring discord and mayhem, that crippled the nation for decades, would pass one day. However, over the past four and half years, we had come to experience something new and deeply troubling: the long-held presumption of “good things to come one day” gave way to utter hopelessness. Things became so bad it is now almost impossible to imagine a better alternative will ever come.
Take the example of where the country is today, compared to the realities of early 2017. Somalia’s future, and with it the lives of millions, are now hostage to the personal vagaries and predatory ambitions of one man who turned the country into a captive nation. The worry is no longer what to do about corruption and the challenges of nation-building, but of disappearances of citizenry, tearful parents looking for their missing children; Qabiil fiefdoms run in the open; murderous thuggery and paramilitaries drilled to attack citizens and political opponents. All the while a deadly terrorist threat is at the gates and millions of Somalis are caught in a bondage of fear for their lives. It is as thought we never learned the lessons of the last 30 years.
Somalia has been in a cycle of perverse outcomes where the constant flow of bad leaders worsens the country’s situation, and the worse situation kept on producing even more rotten leaders, keeping the country in a never-ending cycle of suicidal turmoil. However, what made this even much worse is that, in the past, mere survival or keeping the status-quo was enough, never mind progress or prosperity. Whilst today, the country is in place where cruelty, indifference to suffering and authoritarian brutality have combined to create not only a captive nation but also one in which ordinary people are struggling to breathe, literally.
The disdain shown for the lives of ordinary citizens has taken on a new meaning. You may well ask how did we get here.
Illusory government and empty “Wadani-ism”
If you try to think of a Somali political leader that left a positive footprint on the country, you would be hard pressed to find any, unless of course you look back almost 60 years to the time of Aden Adde – Somalia’s first democratically elected president. Is this because Somalis of late are prone to self-destructive behaviours precisely because they are tribalists at heart with a soft spot for endemic corruption and dictatorship? Why is it always impossible to imagine there is a better alternative that can move the country forward?
The answer is simple: any assessment of what is likely to happen to the country needs to consider two things: why do Somali leaders in office show such terrible disdain for their people, pursuing grievance politics and predation instead of reconciliation and nation-building? And indeed, why do Somalis keep faith in a Somalia that would arise from the ashes one day and prosper, in complete contradiction with the reality they are creating?
Take the first point. Somali leaders’ disdain for their people is plain for everyone to see. Successive political leaders left the country in irreversible chaos, leaving millions in a bondage of hopelessness and destitution. Insulated from the dire economic and security instability of their actions, many of those in office dominate the political landscape for many years, only to be recycled into office through sham elections whenever they leave. It is hardly surprising nothing ever changes.
For evidence, just look at the previous prime minster, who is now a presidential candidate. He led a government by “selfie” and “begging bowl” that never existed in substance. He co-opted Parliament to the Executive by linking political office to parliamentary seats, thereby elevating corruption in office to a new level. Not only did this destroy any semblance of accountability, but also it sowed the seeds of the chaos that followed. He is now trying to switch on another hollow display of Wadani-ism and claims he can save the country. His hope is that this will wash away the years of incompetence, predation and pervasive corruption he presided. He is of course not the only one in this league but is typical of many of those waiting for another crack at governing.
Indeed, this is Somalia’s biggest issue – how empty patriotism is killing real accountability in Somalia. We have seen what Farmaajo has done to the country, but we also need to be equally clear-eyed about the dangers posed by the Faramajo replacements waiting in the wings. Farmaajo’s graduation from demagoguery to despot was not a one-man endeavour, nor overnight. It was facilitated and amplified by many of those currently seeking office again. It explains why the lack of proper accountability encourages the destructive tendencies that continue to harm Somalia’s future.
Second, it is pointless putting too much faith in a Somalia that will turn the page one day if Somalis continue to play the parasitic role that destroys their own country. The country is entering its third decade of disillusion and turmoil and narrowly avoided another civil war just a few months ago. Elections to nowhere, as well as abstract debate about things that really do not matter, are leading many to lose sight of the bigger issue – Somalia’s potential disintegration which is slowly taking shape.
It may already be too late
When a country is caught in a perpetual suicidal turmoil, its managed break-up is often used as a justification and solution to anarchy that never ends. The fact Somalia has not visibly disintegrated or been formally annexed already owes more to luck than Somali leadership. When those in office harm the country today, they are of course knowingly writing the country’s final chapter.
Many are held together by their interest buckle and the current state of affairs suits them well. They will continue to sacrifice the lives of future of Somalis just so that the can maintain their political and economic interests. That is why, for the millions of Somalis that continue to suffer in silence, these “elections” will not make an iota of difference to their lives as long as the country remains a captive nation of a few. It is another legacy of building on sand dunes and indeed the start of another mayhem that has no ending.
The more Somalis are at war with each other, the more their county continues on the flight path to disintegration. Stand back from the bickering and internecine politics, and the scale of the risks the country is facing is extraordinary and truly overwhelming. Somalis’ unlimited capacity for sheer folly and destruction will be the country’s eventual undoing. Afterall, it is the system that gave birth to Farmaajo.
This does not of course mean accepting the inevitability that things will never change. There are many Somalis, in politics and outside of it, that care deeply for their country’s future. We need to support those who can make a difference and call out the predatory charlatans in “Wadani “uniforms”. Time is already running out for Somalia.
Alloow wadankeena badbaadi.