As an outsider looking in, the latest news from the Horn of Africa is depressing and exciting in equal measure. The Federal Republic of Somalia has yet another president. Somaliland is engaging in talks with Khaatumo and have just approved a deal to allow the UAE to open a military base in its territories. In the case of Somaliland, all this is taking place whilst the three main political parties are still in the midst of their election campaigns and its accompanying tensions. The ebb and flow of Somali politics is right now at high tide.
Somali coffee shops all over the world are buzzing with news about all these issues. Regardless of understanding, proximity to the powers that be or even real news, the peddlers in the coffee shops are all resorting to that old tried and tested “waxa la yedhi” method of building their arguments.
Waxa la yedhi: Farmajo is kicking all foreigners out of Somalia (despite the fact these foreigners are what keeps Al Shabab at bay)
Waxa la yedhi: Siilaanyo is bed-ridden and on his last legs (despite the fact he strode into parliament the other day and took part in the session)
Waxa la yedhi: Somalia played a part in approving the Berbera deal and news of this will come out soon (ignoring the fact that the federal Somali government is not the best at keeping secrets and the news of the base has been floating around for close to a year).
Waxa la yedhi: The people of Somaliland oppose the deal and tensions are very high (despite the absence of any of the great demonstrations the leaders of the Waddani party have been encouraging for the past few days).
Waxa la yedhi: The vote for the deal was hijacked (despite it receiving a majority vote).
Waxa la yedhi: This deal is illegal and Somalia will put a stop to it (yet Somalia hasn’t managed to put a stop to anything for the past 25 years).
Waxa la yedhi: The International Community – that favourite of any Somali politician worth his salt- will oppose and scupper the deal (yet not a squeak was heard from the IC for the months since this deal was publicised).
Waxa la yedhi: Ethiopia is not happy (yet Ethiopia has been very vocal when the UAE first began talking about building a base in Eritrea but nothing was heard here).
The list continues and the arguments picked out of thin air keep multiplying. I, personally, am not in the know and can’t say with any certainty how things will pan out. However, I believe I am not foolish (nor do I expect any of my readers to be). I concede that it’s natural and understandable that tensions can get heightened with any political discussions (look at America and its alternative facts). I also appreciate that new political dilemmas would usually get tongues wagging. However, some sober analysis is way overdue here.
Let us start with president Farmajo. The new darling of the south has been surprisingly elected to the delight and elation of Somalis everywhere. Here was a man that is universally assumed to be honest, pragmatic and hardworking. Like Sharif and Hassan Sheikh before him, he’s expected to be a departure from the old corrupt and divisive ways of Somalia. Depending on who you talk to (or the maqaaxi you’re in), the man has the power to make it rain. Alas, that has always been the Somali way, we worship our leaders. In fact, if you’re feeling frivolous, I invite you to view clips of Somali/Somaliland ministers and count the times the full names of the presidents are mentioned (I think the latest clip by the Somaliland Information Minister mentions Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud Siilaanyo at least ten times in a ten-minute clip). In all cases, the countries themselves are considered democracies. Still, let us get serious again and talk about Farmajo. In his few months in power last time, he managed to pay the civil servants on time and chose a small and competent cabinet. But he was outwitted and outmanoeuvred by the two Sharifs (two men that the waxa la yedhi brigade always considered as illiterate). Now, things are different. He’s in a stronger position and one expects more of the same (better cabinet, less corruption and the getting on with fixing the country). However, what is he going to do with the politics? It is said that Sheikh Sharif spent the last four years improving himself and spending time at various Western universities. One hopes that Farmajo also did the same when it comes to Somali politics or else the same old sharks will do him like they did the last time. At any rate, he starts with a clean slate and has the positive energy of the populace on his side. Surely, there is no way he could do worse than his predecessors. Should he fail, it’s unlikely to be through a lack of effort but more through impossible expectations. First on the menu, is the UAE deal with Somaliland.
The latest “waxa la yedhi” snippets say that the deal was approved by the Mogadishu government. Some within the Somaliland opposition party are also peddling this little rumour. However, knowing Somalis as we all do, and knowing that this deal has been on the offing for over a year, is it really possible for such a thing to have remained a secret until now? I mean there is no lack of overzealous Somalilanders in the Siilaanyo government, who break out with hives the minute Somalia is mentioned, are we to believe such people will sit back and accept such information without leaking it within minutes of hearing it? Additionally, are we to believe the incompetent government of Hassan Sheikh has developed a sudden attack of professionalism and managed to keep the details of such a deal secret? No crowing, no announcements and no attempt to gain some positive political capital with such a sweet nugget of news?
On the deal, as it pertains to Somaliland. Having listened to and read some of the comments of the leader of the opposition party, I have to admit that he does make some good points. There are clear issues of sovereignty, national pride and reciprocal benefits to be questioned here. The list passed to the Somaliland parliament contained the summary of the agreement. Upon having a cursory look at the parts published by the media, I couldn’t help notice that sections 7 & 10 harked back to the treaties the Somaliland elders had with the British in the 1800s. Yet, the history books tell us that the British deal was an occupation and the Somaliland government tells us that the current deal an investment opportunity. Unfortunately, the leader of the opposition spoilt his morally acceptable arguments with calls for uprisings and clannish grandstanding. Worse still, the man is the speaker of the parliament and should know (if anyone must) the mechanics of democracy. On the one hand, he concedes that a majority voted for the deal and on the other claims that parliament was hijacked. Even worse, he casts all democratic ideals aside by calling for uprisings and turning a blind eye to his minions ratcheting up tribal tensions.
Be that as it may, the deal has now been approved and one assumes it will go ahead. So now the question that begs a reply is one to do with the Somaliland elections. With the opposition firmly opposed to this deal, and the elections a few months away, what happens if they win? Will it be revisited? Furthermore, why wasn’t this their first salvo when rejecting the deal? Surely to say we’re in an election year where the government is likely to change (certainly the president is) and therefore all deals must be postponed until then was the smart way to go about it.
Finally, the UAE. Now, considering that country had already made deals with Djibouti, built a base in Eritrea and have had an ongoing dispute over the ownership of some islands with Iran, one expects them to be up to date on all the legal ramifications of such a deal and to have prepared in advance to smooth any legal edges or future challenges. One may question the ability (and capabilities) of both Somaliland and Somalia here but past achievements of the UAE show that such deals are now a routine thing for them.
Then again, what do I know. I am here in London, drinking my tea and watching Trump surrogates on my TV shouting “Waxa la yedhi”.