We no longer see the rise of a bourgeois dictatorship, but a tribal dictatorship. The ministers, the members of the cabinet… and the local commissioners are chosen from the same ethnological group as the leader, sometimes directly from his own family. Franz Fanon
Submission to Cruelty
One need not look far to give a true account of the dismal conditions Somalis have been in Ethiopia for over a century. Unabated remains the perpetual oppression and mayhem exerted on them since the onset of the Abyssinian conquest at the turn of the 20th century.
Early on, Imperial Ethiopia designed a system to exclude Somalis from any form of civic life. Emperor Haile Selassie’s 1955 Silver Jubilee constitution had an implementation section that called for the Christianization of both Somali “nomadic clans” and “aramane gala” before providing them with services such as schools, hospitals, and other life essentials. Both names used in the text are pejorative. Services were only to be given on condition of accepting first the “Wengel,” or the Gospel, read the report.
The adoption of the 1955 constitution coincided with the Emperor co-opting some elders from the region. Headed by one Somali qanyamash, a traditional title bestowed on elders by the emperor, the elder group pledged their full submission to the Emperor in front of the Ethiopian Parliament in Addis Ababa – a watershed in the colonization of Somalis (see British Policy in Eastern Ethiopia: The Ogaden and the Reserved Area; 1945, and Ethiopia, A Cultural History, 1955 offers a fascinating account of Haile Selassie manipulated Somali elders in the region).
Then followed a long history of conflict and mayhem – the 1964 massacres of Aisha’ and Ina-Guuxa in Sitti and in Haud region, respectively. Fresh memories of the painful dark days of Mengistu Haile Mariam that sought scorch-earth policy still hangs on our necks. Moreover, the 27-year rule of TPLF had also taken its toll both physically and mentally as well.
Most of the operations that were aimed at Somalis had been obediently carried out by local collaborators called “Somali leaders,’ and of course, in recent years, we call them “Presidents.” As the Case of Abdi Muhamad Omar proved, collaborators can be more dangerous in an imperfect polity like the Ethiopian one.
Somalis expected that Abdi Muhumed Omar (CMC) would be the last handpicked viceroy, only to mournfully learn that their expectation was misplaced. Addis Ababa’s big brother role is in full swing, which in practice eroded the self-worth of its leaders both past and present. The traces of political autonomy is lost. As of writing this essay, the region’s leadership, including the president, his entire cabinet, the entire regional parliament, high level regional managers, traditional elders and intellectuals, has been summoned to Addis Ababa for a lesson of “submission” to the chief, as in “hail to the chief at Menelik’s palace.”
There has always been a silver lining in all these hardships; Somalis had driven from their painful experiences an intangible but healthy dividend in the form of impregnable and invulnerable internal cohesion. Strong Somali unity was always alive in the region. However, that is slipping out of our grip, thanks to the new regime in Jigjiga.
Due to the current administration’s political follies, lack of fairness, differential treatments of different communities, lack of sound judgment, as well as a fast-eroding legitimacy, disintegration of the Somali region is looming large. As a matter of fact, many regions have already given up on the administration in spirit.
Cause of Disintegration
There are three salient factors leading to the disintegration of the Somali region. Understanding these factors is the first step to design an effective public policy to avert a complete recapture of the region’s social contract.
What had happened in Sheed dheer on the morning of February 19, 2019, is not an isolated incident but a symbol of wide dissatisfaction with the current administration in Jigjiga. It was the culmination of a festered differential treatment. It was a bent-up anger against the charlatan and irresponsible way of mistreating entire communities in the region. The Sheed dheer community temporarily declared its exit from Region 5 in favor of joining Region 4. To force a Somali to take such an extreme position nothing but a clear measurement of the thinning of the social glue and the high degree of frustration against the government in Jigjiga.
No sooner did the community, inclusive of its elders, leaders, and the youth groups, learn that the president once again ignored them than they unceremoniously pulled down Somali Regional flag; in its place, they hosted that of Oromia. In a chanting fashion, they defiantly declared “we don’t want Cagjar,” “we want to join region four!” It was the first of its kind.
Sheed dheer is only about 70 miles to the east of Jigjiga and less than 30 miles from the border town of Togwajaale. To me it was personal because of my mentor in Mogadishu, Jama Ugas Grey (Jaamac Dooq),who is from Sheed dheer and he used to talk about it proudly. In the opinion of many, the outcry of Sheed dheer was justified for the administration in Jigjiga repeatedly ignored their humble demands.
Despite that Sheed dheer’s crisis has been temporarily contained, the symbolism it portrayed is troubling, especially at the wake of the recently legislated Identity and Boundary Commission of 41 members, and only one person is Somali. Such a Commission reports directly to their Prime Minister to arbiter contending claims on contested districts. For Somalis both the internal dissatisfaction with the current administration and the Commission’s unfair composition potentially contain enough fuel to divide and disintegrate the Somali state.
The worst result that one can expect for the resident of the region could be a new map akin to one of the Dergi’s map. In the 1970s, the Dergi broke up what is now Somali region into three contiguous administrative regions: Gurgura and Issa Awraja (Sitti), Eastern Hararge (probably centered on Jijiga), and Ogadenia. Of course, that would be a nightmare. If Somalis are not united, and the Jigjiga administration continues to promote what Dr. Hussein Adam called a ““clan-klatura” administration (see factor three below).
The Jawer Factor
The second factor deriving the disintegration of the region is the Jawer Mohamed phenomenon. Jawer Mohamed is believed to wield influence in the Somali region because of his patronage of the sitting president. He is believed to have brought Mustafa Omar into the office. The very fact that a young thirty-something diaspora-based Oromo activist, an ethno nationalist at that, can have such a thump over the Somali region gives many a bitter after-taste, if not a heartache.
And more so to those communities whose lives and properties have been devastated by the senseless incessant attacks coming from Oromo militia. Jawer Mohamed and President Mustafa have collaborated on a sophisticated propaganda scheme that portrayed the Somali-Oromo ethnic conflict as a project engineered by Abdi Muhumed Omar. The issue was so falsified that the Oromo official TV as well as that region’s Minister of Information accused Puntland, Somali National Army, and a phantom Darood force, invading Oromo. This falsely concocted propaganda project has raised questions about the integrity of the leadership in Jigjiga.
Jawer is blamed to have fanned animosity between Somalis and Oromo, particularly, in Moyale, Balbalyti, and Babili. As of writing this essay, I received a call from a Somali journalist who escaped from Addis Ababa because of a threat by Oromo activists. He informed that 90 percent of Somali residents have been either ejected from their residences in Babili or are in a hiding. He added that last night a member of the Somali Sheriff clan was killed with multiple stabbings by a group of Oromo vigilante in a daylight.
President Mustafa has yet to either denounce Jawer, who fall out of favor with Abiy, or forcefully speak against the killings of Somalis. More communities are drifting from his circle and that is inching the region to a societal disintegration.
The third and most devastating factor contributing to the disintegration of the Somali region is a culture of “clan-kalture” that President Mustafa is promoting. The late Hussein Adam, a Harvard educated political scientist and a protégé of the late giant African Political Scientist, Dr. Ali Mazrui, objectively wrote about why Somalia disintegrated. He plausibly argued that President Mohamed Said Barre in the later days of his rule established a ridged biased “clan-klatura political culture, which ultimately precipitated his own demise and the eventual collapse of the Somali state.
“Clan-klatura” is a system that substitutes “clanism for ideology as criteria for appointments” (Hussein Adam, 2008). Moreover, it involves “placing trusted clansmen and other loyalists in positions of power, wealth, and control,” or in the security sector. What holds this unholy alliance and patronage is corruption (Crawford Yong, 1983). Alex de Waal, who had unlimited access to the late Meles Zenawi, argued that EPRDF has created patronage with the periphery through what he calls “politics of budgeting.” Budget is allocated not because of need for development but based on political patronage.
Accordingly, a sizable portion of the Somali region’s budget is used not for development but for maintaining this expansive yet unproductive political patronage.
If President Mustafa continues to travel this road, soon he will place a sizable chunk of the economy and the political power of the region in the unsavory hands of a small group of people to the exclusion of many other groups. In a recent report compiled by local activists, mainly by those speaking up for the “Haud residents,” about 30 employees except three in the local TV agency were identified as members of his clan.
Additionally, over 250 people holding high and middle-level management positions have been fired without any proper hearings, evaluations, or by the recommendation of the federal commission for fair labor. Bogus criteria such as one being “nabad diid,” or “anti-peace” are employed to get rid of those outside the circle of the new “clan-klatura. Their replacements fit well within the scheme of the evolving “clan-klatura” culture.
Firing professionals summarily without a due process is a litigious act. Legally speaking, people own their jobs once they invest in them as much as one invests and then owns his/her private property. As a matter of fact, the over 250 professionals arbitrarily fired without a proper cause have the right to sue Region 5, and may even win as well as teach some lessons to the leaders in this restive region. This is a serious matter the calls for an in-depth investigation.
To cement a culture of “clan-klatura” in Jigjiga, it is alleged that President Mustafa has over 50 “presidential advisors” most of whom were, until recently, unemployed or underemployed in Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. One of these advisors is said to be wanted in the US on terrorism charge.
Hefty salaries plus bounty-type bonuses, and an 8-wheel drive SUV are reportedly given to this outsize “presidential advisors” contingent. The money paid is snatched from funds allocated for projects, thus starving of money what could have been productive projects.
Of course, ““clan-klatura” is expensive and cannot be sustained, especially so for a poor and backward region like the Somali region. Comparing these outlandish benefit packages, which run in some estimates as high as $8,000, to the average salary of a professor at Addis Ababa University with top-notch credentials, shows how folly the priorities of the region are.
Professor Mazrui once wrote a fascinating treatise on Africa’s higher education and its low salaries. Ironically, he looked at Addis Ababa University teachers who are paid a fraction of what Jigjig’s “presidential advisors” collect monthly.
Yet, the Somali region is one of the most backward regions whose annual operating budget is heavily subsidized. Dr. Edmond Keller of UCLA researched this phenome and found out that, along with Afar and Benishangul, the Somali region is heavily subsidized and cannot by itself fulfill its budgetary responsibilities. Were corruption-based political patronage left unchecked, underdevelopment and backwardness (“hola-qarinat”) will be further perpetuated in the region.
These so-called “presidential advisors,” who are mostly the president’s close kin, add no tangible value to the system; at best, they infringe into the regular responsibilities of cabinet members. “The ministers shield the President from community demands, but the real power rests in the hands of his advisors,” told me one journalist based in Jigjiga.
In “The Wretched of the Earth” (1968), Franz Fanon writes: “The tribalizing of the …authority encourages regionalist ideas and separation” because of no other way to be heard. In response, the new dictators often denounce credible demands as “treasonous” and “nabad deed,” or “anti-peace.” Abdi Muhumed Omar did it, and President Mustafa Omar is doing it with zeal. Although the soft revolt of Sheed dheer was not denounced as “treasonous,” the residents clearly objected the “tribalizing” of the region’s authority. If not properly addressed, we will see more of Sheed dheers that could precipitate the disintegration of the region.
To avert that, the following measures must be implemented:
1. Eliminate from the budget the class of “presidential advisors” and establish a lean and capable Performance Management Unit (PMU) that helps the President in synthesizing and analyzing complex issues and present him with implementable and data-driven recommendations. A small number of advisors, preferably on legal and broad issues is, enough.
2. Develop a credible Outreach strategy to earn the trust of various communities in the Somali region by the starting a region-wide open discourse, instead of responding to crisis and going to place with festering grudges only to promise them projects that may or may not be in the budget. The President’s trips, often to different regions, have been casual, erratic, and disastrous. Meticulous planning is not done prior to his trips. So far, his image is tarnished as a result of repeated fiascos in Liban region, Tuliguuleed, and Sheed dheer.
3. Reevaluate and start rehiring non-political professionals that have been fired without credible performance evaluation. If the region was democratic as the government would like to claim, the region would be sued, and employees would win back every penny they lost thus far. There is so much capacity and institutional memory lost by firing so many professional in six months.
4. Eliminate as soon as possible the corruptive culture of “clan-klatura” and make the government less vindictive and more representative across the board. Disintegration has already taken place in the hearts of many communities. That must be averted by any means necessary, and politics should not come first but second to the unity of the Somali Regional State.
“The essence of the beautiful is unity in verity.” Somerset Maugham.
By Faisal Roble,
The author firstname.lastname@example.org is a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.