By LEE MWITI
Business Daily Africa
For a man who was right in the hurly-burly of Somalia’s first attempt at uniting the country after the warlords’ reign of terror that followed the collapse of the central government in 1991, former prime minister Ali Khalif Galaydh cuts a laid-back if self-effacing figure, with a suaveness no doubt shaped by decades of travel and life in the United States.
Having attended close to all national conferences called to chart a way out of the ‘Somali mess’, the erudite Dr Galaydh is under no illusion where the current peace effort, lauded internationally and increasingly seen as viable with an envisaged election later this year –the first in decades –is headed.
“It is rushed, and an exercise in futility.”
Dr Galaydh says that the international community has failed to wrap its head around the complexities that have for years stalked the elusive search for a functioning government in Somalia.
One of the first Somalis to achieve a doctorate in the early 70s, he says the top-down approach that has been applied in Somalia fails to capture why a country rightly or wrongly believed to have few of the tribal or religious divides that haunt other African nations just cannot get its act together.
He zeroes in on the fall of the all-powerful Siad Barre as the root cause.
“Nobody inherited the mantle [of a national leader] or had any claim of being a nationally oriented opposition group,” he says in an interview, leading to a free-for-all clan-based warfare by warlords, including that of the feared Mohammed Farrah Aidid.
Yet, Dr Galaydh adds, the seeds of this discord had already been sown by the imposition by its British and Italian colonial masters of a centralised government on a society that was pastoral and used to solving complex issues through simple institutions such as the powerful Gurti elders system.
When the colonial powers, having had only a strategic interest in Somalia withdrew, the resulting vacuum was filled by the army in the absence of key functioning nationalistic institutions such as a civil service.
This is the background that Dr Galaydh, who is cagey about his political interest in the run-up to elections, says the international community is missing, having found few sound nationalistic political parties and institutions to use as vehicles in the peace effort.
Intervening attempts have largely fallen through with unhappy outcomes, with the collapse of one, the pseudo-government in 2006 led by the Ethiopia-allied warlord Abdullahi Yusuf, leading to the breakaway from the jihadist Islamic Courts of what is now Al-Shabaab, the terror group.
“To this day there hasn’t been a decisive effort to bring back the different groups together,” says Dr Galaydh, adding that current roadmap is also doomed to fail because Somalis feel it has been imposed on them.
“It is mostly civil servants and junior diplomats who are doing the Somalia stuff. You have one man who represents the UN, and in Nairobi a whole host of embassies that have the resources and capacity to call for national meetings,” he says.
“Most of these are taking place outside Somalia while the main players, the Somali people are not engaged.”
He particularly criticises the proposed system of picking an assembly to ratify a new constitution as not representative enough, especially in the “absence of strong national institutions”.
“The constitution is a wonderful document; it is very well written and has used up millions of dollars. But not even 5,000 Somalis have seen it. There has been no room for discussing critical issues, such as systems of government or representation.
“In my judgment, and I am not being harsh or critical or negative, it is an exercise in futility.”
He instead proposes what he terms a “bottom-up” devolved approach where, the disparate Somali fiefdoms come up with their own representatives that would then define the relationship between themselves and the national government in Mogadishu, which would be responsible for vital services and international relations.
Not unlike the cantons of Switzerland, the regions would be powerful but proscribing to the national government, with elders forming a grouping “not unlike a House of Lords”. This would be in keeping with a growing school of thought that holds that nationhood is being forced on Somalia, when the historical political system on the ground has never supported a centralised state.
If Dr Galayadh strikes an acutely contrarian tune to what the world has been singing, including at the London Lancaster House conference in February, some would say it is in keeping with the political forces he has aligned with for decades.
He admits he was associated with the motley and fledgling opposition groups formed to oppose Barre—under whom he served as Industry minister before their eventual fallout that led to his flight from the country.
Their effort achieved nothing other than to further splinter Somalia into regions largely aligned by the country’s strong and convoluted clan systems. He counters this.
“What I was interested in was more of a national alternative to Siad Barre,” he says in his characteristically measured sentences delivered in a clipped tone.
Dr Galaydh, according to sources a wealthy man in his own right, strikes one as belonging to the Somali intelligentsia, the upper crust of the country’s sizeable diaspora driven out by the ravages of war and failed government, and as such could ironically fit into the outsider category that he criticises.
For a Somali leader of such stature, Dr Galaydh has dabbled in various industries including founding a telco in Dubai that he was managing in the immediate post-Barre period, and also as a consultant for a high-end tourism project fronted by assassinated Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri and which was felled by the global financial crisis.
He largely divides opinion in Somalia, where he is generally viewed as an aggressive and ambitious politician, even if “not necessarily popular”, as reliable sources in the country described him.
Among the criticisms is his involvement in the last two years in the effort to form yet another regional government in the disputed northern territory of Somalia of Sool, Sanag and Cayn (SSC) dominated by the Darrod clans.
He leads the advisory council of the new state – Khaatumo – controversially announced earlier this year at what is now known as the Taleh Conference, referred to as the G9.
Recently, Somaliland, which is extremely hostile to Khaatumo as it believes it was formed to sabotage its bid for international recognition and sits on part of its own territory, accused him of backing a militia group in clashes that led to the deaths of scores this year.
He denies the allegations: “Not at all. I am not in the least behind the clashes. What I am interested in and have always advocated for is dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the issues between Somaliland and Khaatumo,” he said.
His rise to the high-table Somalia politics at the turn of the last decade is notable for its steepness. He helped form the Somalia Business Council which afforded him the platform to attend the 1999 national peace conference at Arta, Djibouti and which led to the formation of the convulsive Transitional National Government (TNG) the year after. Picked as prime minister by the TNG’s first President Abdikassim Salad Hassan, himself a former Barre loyalist, he lasted for only a year until October 2001, falling to a vote of no-confidence in his government after the transitional parliament claimed that he had failed to deliver.
While there may be an element of self-interest in his push for greater autonomy for Khaatumo State, which like the breakaway Puntland proposes to remain within the Somalia Federation, it is his assertion that Somalia return to the near-Sisyphean task of a fresh peace effort kick-started by a national meeting this time “inside Somalia” that catches the eye.
Isn’t this treading water, at the expense of peace for the ordinary Somali?
“We are doing this [rushed peace effort] at our own peril. If it fails it is the Somalis who will be blamed, not the international community; they will say, see, yet again they were given an opportunity for peace and they did not seize it.”
“Yet the international community is in a hurry and says ‘we don’t have the time’ to invest in a process where the people feel engaged and have a sense of ownership.”
Somalia’s natural political systems suggest that those who back a devolved system have a point. But given the huge resources and time expenditure, and the threat that Somalia poses to its neighbours, many would be forgiven for giving short shrift to the idea of yet another “fresh” start.
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