The Puntland State of Somalia was established in 1998 under two primary underlining reasons. First it was to be a buffer and a survival mechanism from the mayhem and the anarchy that was engulfing south-central Somalia following the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime. The second underlining reason was to become the catalyst for a new prosperous and stable Somalia. The establishment of Puntland, therefore, was in essence, a temporary endeavor intended solely to provide temporary shelter for its residents during the civil war and to play a lead role for the rebirth of the Somali state.
Laudable as these goals were, one can argue that they very much run its course. With the exception of the Sool region, Puntland remained largely intact, relatively peaceful and somewhat shielded from most of the civil strife that befell much of its brethren in the south. With respect to re-establishing national government, Somalia now has an internationally recognized albeit weak central government. Puntland and its people contributed significant blood and treasure towards this new system of government and it’s their duty to protect and preserve it.
Twenty years after the inaugural convention that established Puntland, Puntland is at crossroads again. A new election is upon us and there’s a feverish joggling and competition for seats in parliament. Over a dozen wannabe presidents have thrown their hat in the proverbial ring. Rallies and large gatherings are held every day by candidates each claiming to be the best among them. However, I am yet to hear someone who thus far articulated or attempted to define a new more permanent and sustainable Puntland first project.
It is therefore extremely important that the next leader of Puntland charts a new bold vision to not only sustain the gains from the past twenty years but to revive and redefine an entirely new Puntland social construct. One that has a meaning of existence beyond the original goals of its establishment and can inspire next generation a reason to live, love and invest in Puntland. A Puntland that can serve as a role model for a robust federal system in Somalia where the idea is not to weaken our nationhood or create identity and loyalty crisis among our people but where people recognize the idea of accountability, peaceful coexistence, and a healthy competition while at the same time safeguarding that which unites us all, Somalinimo.
It is with this bold and strong vision that Puntland can once again play a major role in countering against the narrative emanating from those hell-bent on reversing the gains of the past ten years and return the clock back to a dark history of dictatorship and strongman.
The chaos in Baidoa over the last few weeks and the lack of direction coming from Villa Somalia are strong indications that Somalia hasn’t fully learned meaningful lessons from its recent past. The trauma of the civil war and the disintegration of the Somali state are not fantasies that only exist in the imagination of few non-patriotic individuals as some would want you to believe. There are real grievances and injustices that have occurred and will continue to occur if we are not honest about ourselves. Successive regimes in Mogadishu have used their newfound power to undermine, if not totally eviscerate Puntland and the entire federal system. Instead of leading genuine reconciliation efforts, implementing meaningful reforms, and expanding the rule of law, our national leaders are busy in sowing discord and undermine the nascent federal member states.
It is only with a strong and vibrant Puntland that the federal system can withstand the assaults from the ideologues that want to keep tight grip on power. Puntland is once again in a uniquely strong position to protect the delicate arrangements that brought the warring functions together to form a new state. Puntland’s next leader should chart a new path that can instill a sense of pride and optimism amongst its people and the nation as whole. A path that can maintain the integrity of the nation while at the same time serving as a counterpunch to the destructive behavior of few elites in Mogadishu.
The next leader must also swiftly implement the long overdue democratic reforms and institution building. It is outrage and impressing that Puntland gets on the verge of collapse every election cycle because no leader dared to implement democratic reforms, political parties, independent judiciary and end the questionable and unfair sub-clan based representation.
If we want to be an example for the rest of the country, if we want to fill the leadership void in Mogadishu, if we want to instill a confidence and sense of optimism for the future, we have to start at home. Whoever wins as Puntland’s next leader in January faces many daunting challenges. But no challenge is unsurmountable and we need to choose a leader that can offer strong vision to guarantee the future success of both Puntland and Somalia as whole.
By Ahmed Abdirahman