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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A postscript to the Selection of the new Prime Minister

By Faisal Roble  
Oct. 20, 2010

PM Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
Prime Minister Mohamed A. Mohamed
Voltaire once said “The history of human opinion is scarcely anything, more than the history of human error.”In my last op-ed posting about president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s selection of his Prime Minister (PM), Mr. Mohamed  A. Mohamed (Farmaco) (WardheerNews, October 13, 2010) , I made an unintentional error about one of the candidate’s background, Hussein Khalif Jama.  I regret to have written that Mr. Jama has a “thin resume.”   
Contrary to my original opinion, Mr. Hussein has an impressive and strong professional resume that includes 20 years of experience with the Islamic Development Bank, where he is currently a senior manager, coupled with a strong educational background, including some course work in development administration at the premier institution of John F. Kennedy School of Government. The oversight on my part was due to a mix up of names, to which I take a full responsibility.

This postscript affords me a timely opportunity to comment briefly on the new Prime Minister’s paper trail that has surfaced so far, which is harshly criticized by at least one right wing American commentator.

In “Somalia's New Prime Minister: Not Quite What the Doctor Ordered,” and op-ed piece in World Defense Review and Family Security Matters , Peter Pham, a  conservative crusader within the American foreign policy community and a lobbyist for Somaliland, assaults the new Prime Minister’s June 2009 thesis.  Alas, Mr. Pham’s values and priorities as presented in this treatise could not have been farther from those of the Somali people.  His unwarranted attack on those who work or made career in the public sector, is Sara Palinsque that it is laughable. His maligning of people like Mr. Mohamed, otherwise a successful case in light of his attainment of the often after-sought so-called American dream, or the belittling of those who make career out of teaching public institutions, is also all the more elitist.  Mr. Pham, a Vietnamese American, and an up starter in African Studies Area, comes across as someone who is completely out of synch with how Somalis view life and social contract. 

J. Peter Pham
Dr. J. Peter Pham
Consider this criticism against Mohamed and Mr. Pham’s appraisal of the Ethio-Somali war on the Ogaden region of 1977:

“Also jaundiced is Farmajo's view of the Cold War. In contrast to the "opportunism [that was] a fixture of American foreign policy," Siyad Barre's pact with the Soviet Union was, according to him, "a prestigious treaty of friendship" which enabled "the ambition of a greater, stronger Somalia [to] come to fruition when Siad Barre invaded Ethiopia to liberate the ethnic-Somali Ogaden region in 1977.”  Unbeknown to him, that is a view widely held by most Somalis, schooled or not.

Mr. Pham’s reincarnation of the defunct theory of the so-called Mareehan-Dhulbahante-Ogaden (MOD) constellation, originally coined by a pseudonym who wrote under Mohammed Hassan in a 1978-79 article on the Horn of Africa Journal, and later on publicized by I. M. Lewis, who in his later years of life seems to have lost his keen eye on Somalia’s clan segmentation dynamics, is again an indication of Mr. Pham’s extent to which he is out there to get Mr. Mohamed at any cost. 

With the sole purpose of unearthing any dirt where there is none, Mr. Pham nit-picks Mr. Mohamed’s phrases and parses words with malice. He goes at length and tries to take advantage of the elastic meaning of terms like “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “persecution,” which Mr. Mohamed uses in his thesis.

Fully aware of the volatility and utility of clan and how much impact it can have on inter group dynamism, Mr. Pham writes the following at length:

“The aspiring academic had difficulty keeping his clan biases in check. While he had not a word to say about the Siyad Barre regime's genocidal repression of the Isaq and other clans, he dedicates several pages in his thesis to lamenting the "revenge and ethnic cleansing against the innocent Darood clan family" which came in the wake of the dictator's fall. In particular he seems to have a bone to pick with the Hawiye clan-family which, in his view, "lacked discipline and a sense of purpose" and whose leaders "were confused as to what their priorities should be." In fact, he asserts "one thing that they did not care so much about was protecting the weak and vulnerable people of the capital." (With opinions like these, one wonders what kind of welcome Farmajo expects from the Mogadishu's well-armed Hawiye clansmen if his nomination is approved and he ever moves into the prime ministerial suite in the city's besieged Villa Somalia presidential compound.)”

Guaranteed that any time someone, academics or otherwise, uses “genocide,” or “ethnic cleansing,” controversy is a given due to the sweeping impacts and severity associated with them.  Remember President Bush’s use of the phrase “genocide,” when referring to the conflict in Darfur, and all the uproar it created – some saying the conflict does not reach the threshold of “genocide,” while others insisted otherwise.  In hindsight, Mr. Mohamed would have been better off not to have used some phrases that are highly controversial in post conflict societies,  notwithstanding that these phrases are better communicated to the general audience by those trained in the legal field.  Often than not, these terminologies are better understood by the general population when one can back them up, in addition to their legalistic meaning, with specialized data to justify each situation at hand.  It was not the most prudent use of the terminologies at the time of submitting his thesis. 

However, Mr. Mohamed stands guilty both morally and intellectually by referring to the killings of innocent Somalis in northern Somalia (“Somaliland”) by the Barre regime as “being caught in the cross fire.”  Contrary to Mr. Mohamed’s characterization, this conflict and its aftermath effect was much more than a case of people “being caught in the cross fire.” The preponderance of evidence and the targeted attacks against civilians that have been so far presented through various mediums including eye witnesses or international documentation make this case more than people “being caught in cross fire.” One can easily attribute this to intellectual laziness and, therefore, makes it a high toll to read too much into it.

Although neither a critic nor a comprehensive appraiser  of the PM’s thesis, I would like to address one more area that may interest readers about the PM’s thesis and – that is his analysis pertaining to major clans and how the elites of these groups have monopolized the country’s political space before and after Barre, this is what the new PM wrote:   

“For instance, in the Northern colony of British Somaliland, the Isaaq tribe was awarded virtually all of the best jobs for its collaboration with the imperialists. In the South, the Italian colony found similar willingness in two loyal tribes: the Majeerteen of the Darood clan and the Mudulod, sub-clan of the Hawiye. These two southern tribes helped the Italians without reservation. In return, Italian and British colonies enabled these clans to claim some superiority over the other clans in terms of wealth, scholarship for their children in London and Rome, and future government influence in the post-decolonial era. Naturally, when the Somali government was formed, most parliamentary seats went to those tribes that had been loyal to the colonial rulers, as they were seen as best suited to stability. Somalia’s first president, Adan Abdulle Osman, is a prime example. He was a former civil servant under the Italians as a member of the Mudulod, Hawiye sub-clan. On the other hand, his prime minister, Italian-educated Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, came from the other favorite tribe, the Majeerteen of the Darood clan. This arrangement did not change until the election of 1968, when the Somali parliament elected Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as the second president of the country. He selected as his prime minister English-educated Mohamad Ibrahim Egal from the Isaaq clan of the former British Somaliland.” P.55

Again, I see no major problem in terms of the content of what the PM wrote, except that it comes short of theoretical foundation.  At numerous occasions and articles, I have similarly argued and joined him company with the PM in the following: 

Elites from the three dominant regional groupings have so far dominated the shaping of the Somalia question. According to Donald Horiwitz, the origins of the domination of the Somali society by these three regional groupings are found in the colonial administrations of that country. Whereas elites in Somaliland and South Central regional groupings disproportionately benefited in the form of trade, education and social benefits associated with urbanization of their regions, which served as the administrative centers for colonial rulers (Hargaisa in Somaliland and Mogadishu in South Central), Puntland elites seized the military power of the country that guaranteed them national prominence in the affairs of the country (See Faisal Roble, Horn of Africa, Volume XXV, 2007, “Local and Global Norms: Challenges to “Somaliland’s” unilateral Secession”).
These three groupings and their elites secured and cemented their political influence at the turn of the twentieth century, mainly by collaborating with colonial rulers (Italy and Great Britain) and earning client status, as stipulated in Lord Lugard's colonial theory of ruling natives through their traditional leaders of the more powerful clans. Hence, in arming these groupings and better educating their children, these grouping were placed in a more advantageous position at the departure of colonial rulers; indeed colonial powers handed to them state power and the largesse associated with it. 

As the PM argued, the unequal access to Somalia’s political space is a legitimate point of scholarship, and indeed a mainstream argumentation for which we shall not fault him.  On the contrary, we must credit him for his erudite and daring attitude to tackle the festering clan and clan inequality in the Somali society

Moreover, despite his last minute capitulation, his original out of the guts criticism against the 4.5 formula on which Somali elites agreed in power-sharing would have been a plus towards his independence and personal integrity.  He could have been the first PM who unabatedly assaulted the racist concept of 4.5 formula.  In close reading the 4.5 formula is a sinister way to legitimize what both the PM and many well meaning Somalis have openly criticized.  But his capitulation somehow contradicts his treatise in his thesis that the unequal access of Somalia’s political power and its manipulation by the so-called major groups has and would lead the nation into a disastrous result.   In short, the new PM has both strengths and weaknesses and as such must be closely scrutinized by those of us who are outside the system.

Faisal Roble


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