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Kenyans, Somalia wasn’t always lawless. The end came when we did like you are

AFRICA INSIGHT: ‘No country deserves to go the Somalia way’

Publication Date: 2/8/2008

After the toppling of the Siad Barre regime, Somalis were optimistic as warlords negotiated power sharing deals but it soon dawned on them that warlords begat warlords. Kenya must avoid this path, writes ABDULKADIR KHALIF, Nation Correspondent, Somalia

A Kenyan paramilitary policeman chases protesters: Lawlessness gripped some parts of the country after the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced the results of the presidential election on December 30 naming President Mwai Kibaki as the winner, which the Raila Odinga-led opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement, rejected.Photo/FILE

The sun rises in the east in Mogadishu without failure just like any other place but that is where the similarities end. In Mogadishu, people usually wake up overwhelmed by tension.

Seventeen years of civil war have forced the 2 million residents of this city, once called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, to master survival tactics.

Hardly people go to bed without listening to the mid-night news bulletins from the dozen or so FM radio stations. The mornings may pack surprises but the people know what to do. They switch on their radios news as early as 6 a.m. in order to know what the day portends.

Nocturnal attacks by insurgents on the forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its Ethiopian backers rarely spill over to the day. So, in the mornings, people usually hear horrific stories of civilian casualties.

Artillery fire and stray bullets cause indiscriminate damage but as long as confrontations do not continue into day, people risk and go to their places of work.

Those lucky enough to reach the Bakara market, the biggest trading centre in Somalia, ought to pick at least a copy the local dailies. Xog-Ogaal, Waayaha and Mogadishu Times are among the few newspapers that have survived the civil war. Their reportage is usually local but these days, they are covering Kenya, which, until December 29 last year, was very stable.

Now Somalis read with amusement stories of Kenyans being urged to shun bloodletting lest they go the Somali way.

“We are told that Kenyans are scared of the possibility of their country becoming like Somalia,” says Abdi Gure, a trader in Mogadishu.

“It must be a shocking prospect for a dynamic nation like Kenya,” says Abdi Gure.  But Somalia wasn’t always lawless.

Until late 1980s, the country had functioning institutions although the Siad Barre dictatorship was fast losing steam with opponents solidifying into rebel groups that toppled him on January 26, 1991.

Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who led the Mogadishu uprising that toppled the dictator, was immediately chosen as interim president. He promised to hold a broad based reconciliation conference within a month for the nation to decide on a more genuine transition rule.

However, the proposal was rejected by General Mohamed Farah Aideed who led an amalgamated opposition and a group of army officers in fighting Ali Mahdi. The era known as Aideed Vs Ali Mahdi had begun and the two men remained the sole political leaders as hope of reconciliation lingered.

Kenyans appear to be going through a similar experience as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan chairs talks between President Mwai Kibaki’s and Mr Raila Odinga’s sides to solve a presidential election dispute that has pushed Kenya into the verge of a civil war.

“Kenyans are on tenterhooks, expecting a breakthrough but everybody has to bear in mind of what happened in Somalia can happen there,” says Ali Olow Nur, a Mogadishu clan leader.

As Somalia burnt, Ali Mahdi and Aideed kept on selecting teams to negotiate only for rejections of grounds already covered to push the whole process to square A and frustrate the optimistic populace.

In early 1993, lower ranking warlords expressed dissatisfaction with their leaders and attempted to form their own factions.

But, General Aideed and Ali Mahdi were still powerful to prevent a proliferation of splinter groups, although they were careless about the killings and other forms of human suffering.

The hunger for power and sense of  independence drove former allies Dr Hussein Hajji Bood and Al-Hajji Mussa Sudi Yalahow to split from Ali Mahdi.

Following suit, Osman Hassan Ali ‘Atto’ formed a rival group against Aideed until the general was killed in August 1996.

The new faction leaders established their reigns of terror as killing and mayhem intensified. Mohamed Qanyare Afrah and Botan Issa Alim also broke ranks with their masters. By 1997, there were nearly 20 warlords in Somalia.

When Omar Mohamoud Mohamed alias Filish opted to breakaway from Al-Hajji Mussa Yalahow in 2001 at their stronghold in Southern Mogadishu, entire neighbourhoods, especially Madina and Dharkinley districts were terrorised as their militias turned their guns on each other. Only God knows how many people lost lives or limbs.

Kenyans are in the initial stage of political confusion. If not tackled, it could degenerate into mayhem and statelessness.

Perhaps they can borrow a leaf from Somalia. In repentance, Somalis say “Dowlad xun, dowlad la’aan ayay dhaantaa,” (a bad government is better than a power vacuum).

Respectively, Kibaki and Odinga command a large following but their lieutenants are also people with considerable power bases. A bigger danger would be if the lieutenants trash the current set up and form their own groupings.

When General Aideed became prominent as rebel leader, his alliance included the late Abdurahman Ahmed Ali alias Abdurahman Tour who hailed from northwestern Somalia. Sensing that Aideed was being sidelined from power by Ali Mahdi’s assemblage of warlords, Abdurahman Tour deserted him and formed the breakaway Republic of Somaliland.

“If Somalia’s experience is anything to go by, then Kenyans must embrace concessions, consensus and compromises,” says Ahmed Ali Nur, a political analyst in Mogadishu. “They have to admit that their democracy is not perfect and needs time to mature. Those telling Kenyans that their country could become a Somalia need receptive ears—not machete wielding youth and warmongers. No country deserves to go the Somalia way,” he adds.

The first step to a failed state happens when diplomatic missions close their gates and evacuate non-essential staff.  After, that gangs break into the vacated properties and make away with cars, computers, stereo systems, watches, valuable decorations and of course cash.

This type of looting took place in the very early days of the chaos in Mogadishu. When the armed lot was gone,  human scavengers moved in to cart away whatever had remained.

When things go really bad, government offices are targeted.Decades-old documents disappear in a matter of minutes and national treasure of no imaginable value ends up in the hands of irresponsible hands.

“As of today, most Kenyans have their documents intact and people still have their sentimental personal and family records,” says Nur, who lost all his certificates, family photos and civil service records when he fled his flat in Mogadishu’s Hamar-bile neighbourhood for his life. What he may not know is that similar things have happened in various flashpoints in Kenya where private homes and government offices have been razed.

Recently, the Somali political cartoonist, Amin Amir, posted a caricature on his popular web site, aminarts.com. No one could have compared the plight of Kenyans (symbolised by a man wielding a bloodied machete) to that of Somalia (symbolised by a man who lost several limbs and is walking on crutches).

The artist depicted Kenya approaching Somalia and asking: “How can I carry out self destruction?  You must know it better!”

The laughing Somali replies: “The way you’re doing is not bad.  Just carry on until you cripple yourself like me.”

Writing as a concerned PanAfricanist, Dr Tajudeen AbdulRaheem recently wrote that “Kenya is too important to be left to Kenyans alone.”  He is right.

Meanwhile, over 21,000 Somalis face a humanitarian crisis after Médecins sans Frontières’ (MSF) pulled its foreign staff out of the country

The pullout by the doctors without frontiers as the NGO’s name suggests, has left many medical facilities in Somalia without skilled personnel and medicines.

MSF was forced to withdraw its international work force from parts of Somalia after a Kenyan doctor, a French logistics expert and a Somali driver died when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb last week in Kismayu, 500 kilometres south of Mogadishu.

The decision by the Geneva based charity has affected facilities in Southern and Central Somalia and in the semi-autonomous Puntland State in Northeastern Somalia.

Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network Project.


About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.


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