Saturday, August 28, 2010

Abdifatah Sheikh Abdillahi – the Character Behind the Mask

What was the purpose of the U.S. visit of Mr. Abdifatah Sh. Abdillahi, the chairman of the Ethiopian Somali Peoples Democratic Party (ESPDP)? Was the underlying purpose of the visit to rally support among the Diaspora community, or to drive a wedge between the Somali communities in the U.S. on clan lines? These are some of the pertinent, although troubling questions raised by the Somali Diaspora communities in Washington, Minneapolis, San Diego and Seattle, who were baffled by the bizarre behavior of the chairman, Abdifatah Sh. Abdillahi.

Getting to know Mr. Abdifatah

Abdifatah Sh. Abdillahi
Abdifatah Sh. Abdillahi
Mr. Abdifatah is a political novice who would turn every stone to move up fast in the political ladder or help members of his family accumulate ill-gotten wealth. It is widely believed that a hefty payoff to some corrupt EPRDF’s advisors in the region saved Abdifatah’s political collapse after the latter embezzled over 12 million Ethiopian Birr, which was budgeted for printing of books for primary schools (His deputy at that time is still in prison for crimes that Abdifatah’s name was written all over).

For most of the past two decades, Abdifatah was engaged in various conspiratorial machinations and intrigues hatched to harm popular and prominent individuals who excelled him in patriotism as well as in their virtue of fortitude. For quite a long time, he has been engaged by his handlers as a convenient tool for incapacitation of successive governments in the Somali region of Ethiopia as well as the derailment of development enterprises of an entire region inhabited by more than five million people - an act of a calculated disempowerment tantamount to a virtual economic strangulation.

He will go down in history as the person instrumental in misinforming the leaders in the region about the unfortunate incident that took place at Mooyaha – in the outskirt of Qabri-Bayah town, where 50 innocent civilians were killed by the security forces, last year. He accused his fellow clansmen who gathered at Mooyaha to discuss some pressing communal affairs to be members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and hence plotting assault against the security forces. In a discussion held at the office of the Regional President prior to the security forces foray on the Mooyaha, the paramount chieftain of the Abaskul Clan – the clan from which Mr. Abdifatah hails - Suldan Abdirahman Bade - contradicted the trumped-up story of Mr. Abdifatah and vehemently protested against the planned assault on Mooyaha.  The Suldan was eventually forced to resign from the position of the Deputy Speaker of the Regional parliament, a move that precipitated the rise of Mr. Abdifatah to the position of the Chairman of the ruling ESPDP party. Abdifatah also worked and succeeded to exclude several individuals with good standings in the region from standing for re-election in 2010 elections, or holding offices.(1)
Many in Jigjiga describe Mr. Abdifatah as extremely daft person with low self-awareness and analytical capacity. They find it difficult to explain the longevity of his political career when it is manifestly apparent he doesn’t have the maturity to lead a decent family life.  But it is not so hard to realize to whom his insecurity, immaturity and daftness is a blessing. He is the darling boy of some corrupt officials who have no compunctions in lending their ‘political’ dexterity in exchange for gratifying presents, favours and financial gains.
This author met Abdifatah recently in one of the dinners hosted for him by members of the Diaspora community. He was flanked by a young man from Washington who, as I later learned, was a staff member of the Ethiopian embassy. The last time I saw Abdifatah was several years ago in his office in Jigjiga. He was then feeling detached, depressed and lonely; his fate was hanging in the balance as he was found of embezzling millions of dollars earmarked for the printing of teaching materials for hundreds of dilapidated schools in the Somali region. At the dinner table, he repeatedly tried to spew out some of the hackneyed rhetoric and party line misinformation that one often hears from the government and its affiliated media. He was, however, incapable of truly articulating anything other than a prescribed set of well-rehearsed clichés. While it may or may not have been the intention of the Federal Government to use his delegation to divide the Diaspora along clan lines, the incitement against a particular clan (Ogaden), to a large extent, may have been his own creation.

Politics of Vendetta

At the dinner, he delighted himself in vilifying some of the past presidents of the Somali Region including Khadar Macalin, Abdirashid Dulane, Abdillahi Lugbur, Abdi Jibril and Daud M. Ali. He tried to use the occasion to preach cheap talking points filled with platitudes, hate and clan division - hate especially towards the Ogaden clan; but sadly he did not take the opportunity to either give necessary boost to the peace accords that are underway, or give answers to the grieving men and women from his own clan who lost their family members in the Mooyaha killings. Neither did he give any meaningful answers to the questions on the disputed districts (between Somali and Oromia regions). What we all wanted from him was a meaningful engagement and some sort of honest representation of the administration that he represents as well as humility on the mistakes committed. That was not to be. 
When asked about the fate of Dire Dawa, Babile and the Jinacsane and other districts that were rewarded to the Oromia region without the consent of the inhabiting, owner communities and whether the Somali region intends to reclaim the lost territories, he has snapped his audience and shown callous indifference to the feelings of those who raised the questions. To the chagrin of those in the table, he claimed all concerned districts (inhabited mainly by Geri, Ogaden, Gurgure and Ciise) changed hands in a democratic vote and the outcome reflects the choice of some Somali communities who opted to go with Oromia.
This is a white lie. Abdifatah knows how that bogus referendum process was staged more than anyone else to dilute the Geri power vis-a-vis his Jidwaaq conglomerate of clans in the electorate representation of Jigjiga.  If any, this undermines the future stability of the region, a phenomenon that we all can’t afford.  Perhaps what explains Abdifatah's treachery here is what psychologists in their fondness of wordplay call 'Cognitive Dissonance' which is in layman's terms about denial of facts that one knows well. Frederick Mann calls this the "unreality imperative", in his seminal paper, "the many forms of denial", which he says is the "strong urge to distort or deny aspects of reality - by creating or accepting "unreal beliefs" because confronting them and seeing certain aspects of reality for what they are is considered too "uncomfortable", "threatening" or "painful". Abdifatah knows just how threatening accepting such a fact is to his pursuit of comfort.
Mr. Abdifatah has even failed to recognize that the audience in America was the distinguished elites of the society but instead employed the trade he knows best – to whisper clannish talks – which actually put off those who met him and further alienated those who were already on the fence. See the testimony of Mohamed Qalinle. According to other reliable sources, he boasted that he engineered the infamous creation of the so called development centers in Jigjiga in which he claimed that he squeezed the 67 Kebele (Peasant associations) of the Geri tribe into only eight development centers while he made 19 development centers out of the 69 Kabele (peasant organization) on the Jidwaaq side.  He claimed that because of his effort, Jigjiga stays in the hands of his clan (each development centre fields three district council members) -  what a daft person he is. His clannish agenda has a far reaching negative effect on the people of Jigjiga because the new proposed Jigjiga city council of 75 councilors will again have 10 Geri councilors and 39 Jidwaaq councilors – it is Abdifah’s justice.  Whoever engineered this and other similar policies smack justice and fairness in the face and should be revisited by the incoming president and his administration lest peace and development is attainable when justice and equality among clan groups are ensured.
It came to the attention of this author that, to bolster his image, he travelled the wrong road to an extent that he claimed that he can, at the stroke of the pen, put any clan on the bad books of the government. While talking to a close relative in Minneapolis, he is quoted as saying, “I single handedly put the Geri tribe on the black list originally reserved for the Ogaden.” In what amounts to a stark volte-face, in separate meetings he held with individuals who hail from Geri, he tried to cajole them to fall behind his long-term political ambitions: he pleaded them to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jidwaaq to collectively “liberate Jigjiga from the Ogadeni clan.”   This is the most painful after taste that Abdifaha’s “coming to America” inherited for us.
Jigjiga as well as the Diaspora community from the Somali National Regional State deserves a self-confident, honest politician and a civil servant with a desire to serve the public good and engage his constituents on unity and development, two attributes which the region is on the verge of achieving.
Whatever his mission’s objectives were, it is clear that he failed to get the support of the Diaspora community from the region who simply did not like the message of division and hatred he marketed with aplomb. Above all, it is his own community from Jigjiga Zone that was the most vociferous in the condemnations against him. He crossed the vast seas and oceans with a message of peace for all of the people from the Somali Region in America and elsewhere.  Yet, peace is what he denied to his own clan folks who were slaughtered; some still languish in prisons, and their women are wailing in anguish. A notorious wife-beater cannot be trusted to go as a peace-maker to another house. A killer of next-of-kin cannot preach the gospel of peace to distant relatives. 
Abdifatah should hear this loud and clear: only when he outgrows his atavistic fixation with the politics of the stomach and repents for his role in the killings of the Mooyaha will he be taken as a real material. Let me invoke that overused cliché for one more function here. Indeed, charity begins at home and only when Abdifatah gives peace to his own clan will he qualify as a messenger of peace in the eyes of the Somali community in the region. It is then and only then that Jigjiga will consider whether to forgive its vindictive kid who had brought so much pain to all communities in the region, mainly to those closest to him. It is only then that he will get a reprieve from the disapproving, incriminatory talk of him being the proverbial donkey that browses the ‘grass fence’ that is closest to it.

Mohamed Awale Kahin
mohamedawale@ymail.com
Minneapolis, MN, USA

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