An Open Letter: Mr. President Stay the course with Fortitude

HARGEISA, 20 September 2009 (Somalilandpress) – A short while ago, I came across a recent open letter, by Mr. Bashir Goth, to your Excellency, urging you to resign. Mr. Goth is an accomplished journalist with a commendable and venerable record of being a stalwart proponent of Somaliland’s cause. His arguments in the letter were characteristically powerful and articulately presented. But I beg to disagree with his advice your to your Excellency.

Unlike Mr. Goth, I am not your cousin, though to me, that does not matter one way or another. Like Mr. Goth, I would also like to congratulate you for maintaining peace and stability in the country amid a dangerous neighborhood and at treacherous times. I would as well refrain from cataloging neither your successes nor your shortfalls. However, I can say with certainty that, in the least, you have been true to the medical doctor’s motto: Do No Harm.

For the record, I am not one of “your inner-circle … kitchen cabinet”; not even one in government, past or present. Usually, there is nothing wrong with kitchen cabinets – all leaders, good or bad, have them. The danger is when their leader allows them, by design or by default, to build “fortified walls around” him and then they proceed to tell him only what they think he wants to hear. Mr. Goth suggests that you might have succumbed to just a trap.

However, as one who, like Mr. Goth, had the “vantage point of being an outside observer”, and additionally, from my frequent and mostly extended visits to our homeland, the privilege of being a first hand witness of Somaliland’s political dynamics, I have learned that it is nearly impossible for anyone, even the President, despite the best efforts of architects of “fortified walls”, not “to see the cracks on the wall.”

For Somalilanders Khat and politics are their pastimes. They are too thunderous in expressing their opinions. Only the deaf and dumb could fail to hear them. The mushrooming press, especially the print section, could be counted on to sensationalize and exaggerate problems, both real and imagined. Moreover, they more often than not level a fair amount of breathtaking, farfetched, intriguing (and sometimes, admittedly, fair and accurate) allegations of every hue and type against those in power, their inner-circle entourages and occasionally even family members.

When crowds, whether rowdy or civil, gather outside the presidential palace, I do not see how anyone inside could not hear their utterances. At any rate, it is not a big palace and it is located at the capital’s main artery. And the two legislative houses, the Guurti and the parliament, many of whose members are known for their not entirely constructive criticisms and polite discretions when in disagreement, operate directly just across the street.

During the most recent presidential tour of some regions, I had the opportunity to attend one or two of your town-street meetings and rallies; not as a supporter or as a detractor, but as an ordinary and impartial citizen who was just curious to see his country’s democracy at work. It was easy to notice that these were not henchmen-orchestrated gatherings with only dotting supporters as your audience.

I observed with amazement and not without certain amusement, as some prominent members of the public not only openly and without mincing their words, chastised you for your policies, but also pointed fingers and named name at various members of your government (mostly those considered to be in your “inner-circle”) as fellow culprits. If, as Mr. Goth asserts, “all you hear and see is what happens in the four walls of your palace when all the reports and stories that reach your desk tell you that everything is fine and that people still glorify you” then these rallies must have been shocking and inexplicable aberrations to you. In real dictatorships, such aberrations would have called for some heads to roll.

Notwithstanding, my reluctance to either defend or accuse (for lack of hard evidence to justify either choice) “your kitchen cabinet”, it would seem to me as formidable feat if they have succeeded, as Mr. Goth fears, in plugging your ears.

Mr. Goth thinks that seven years is too long to be the holder of the nation’s highest office. I propose to differ. To start with, our constitution allows two elected presidential terms totaling ten years and you are short of that number. Besides, two force majeure events contributed to these seven years: First, the death of late President Egal, upon which the constitution obligated you, as the sitting vice president at the time, to assume the presidency; and, second, the postponement of the presidential elections scheduled at the end of your first term. Neither of these events occurred through a fault of yours.

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Assuming that you will win a second term when the elections eventually take place, you will have been legally in power for 12 or 13 years. What is the big deal about this? No provision of the constitution was violated.

If, on the other hand, you attempted to hold on to the presidency after the end of a potential second term, or failed to transfer power in the event that you had lost a second term in an election, that would be, God forbid, an entirely different matter. Let us hope, friend or foe alike, that you would not have the inanity to attempt committing such a horrendous folly.

At any rate, the leaders of the two opposition parties can not claim to have any better sense of proportion with regards to the appropriate tenure at the helm. Both parties’ chairmen held their top posts since their parties’ inceptions more than seven years ago and have abundantly shown unnerving tendencies to thwart any challenges from within their respective parties to their leadership; not exactly a reassuring democratic spirit.

Then, there is Mr. Goth’s point about the national treasury. I detect here an inadvertent insinuation that it is acceptable for the government leaders use the treasury as their personal piggy bank. I must concede that misuse of public funds is a universal and timeless scourge and, as distasteful as it is, Somaliland had and inevitably will have its share of this curse. Even if we can not totally eliminate this corruption, we should exert all efforts to at least reduce it. Certainly, we must not encourage it.

Now, changing our leaders at short and regular intervals solely to feed “hungry opposition leaders” sets a dangerous precedent that will lead us into an abyss. It would formalize and encourage corruption. Being or rather pleading to be “hungry” would be one of the prerequisites of being an aspiring national leader, perhaps the main qualification! He would need to be very hungry and much hungrier than other also hungry politicians to have the first and quickest shot at the presidency.

Even if we, against all sagacity, were to legitimize public sleaze and nosh “hungry leaders” with power, lest they incite “hungry public” to violence, we must in the least employ some common sense in managing the beast. We must require long intermissions between the nourishment of one hungry leader and the next. This is because it takes more food to fill an empty stomach than one already reasonably satisfied needing just dessert. This will, with a bit of luck, free some crumbs of the treasury to be used for what was its original purpose. As an added advantage, it will, due to the imposed long waiting period, discourage many politicians from easily deciding to go hungry and thereby resulting in less incitement of the hungry public.

I am convinced, however, that legitimization and regularization of plundering of national treasury and rewarding politicians with being hungry as their only qualifications were not the intentional embodiment of Mr. Goth’s advice.

On the other hand Mr. President, if anyone (and I trust Mr. Goth is no such one) is accusing you or members of your government with misapprobation of public funds, one must come forward with the necessary evidence. If proven, that would be sufficient grounds for your resignation or failing that, your impeachment. Infamy, not dignity, will be the essence of either outcome.

However, my main contentions with Mr. Goth’s advice are with the assumptions cited by him to support his counsel. Some of these suppositions are, in my humble opinion, unfounded and therefore Mr. Goth might have fallen a victim of unscrupulous doomsday mongers. And while I would go along with some of his other assumptions, I would not agree that your resignation, Mr. President, is the best remedy.

I have an issue with the characterization of Somaliland as “tribal house of cards” which is facing “imminent collapse”. Sure, Somaliland is a multi-tribal country and admittedly its politics is mired to an undesirably significant extent in tribal affiliations. True, some politicians “use the conventional explosive tools of tribalism, poverty and ignorance” to their political ends. Tribalism, both its good and bad facets, has been with us since time immemorial. We can not wish it away.

But after having – during my frequent and extended stays in the country ¬- a hard, extensive and critical look at its tribal dynamics, I am sufficiently convinced that Somaliland is mercifully past the time when serious and destructive tribal conflict can erupt to an extent that will threaten the existence of the country or its general peace and stability or even democratic devolopment. If “hungry politicians” are entertaining (without just cause – and selfish personal ambition is not a just cause) any illusion that “the hungry public can be easily incited to rise against” their current or a future government, they will be unpleasantly disappointed.

Many a comment have I heard on self-proclaimed leaders with foreign passports and families tucked away in safety and comfort in foreign lands, who do not possess any qualms about inciting unsuspecting brethren to violence to advance their political careers.
People know that if the worse comes to worst, these politicians will not waste a moment to exercise their personal exit strategies. They will turn their tails in no time to share their families’ safety and comfort abroad. People realize that they will be the ones left to face the music.

Those who are in doubt of this wide-spread public sentiment need not do more than just walk the streets of towns across the country and talk to cross-section of citizens of varying social status, clan allegiances or political preferences. One will find out that the electorate is, on whole, smarter than what many greed-blinded politicians are willing to give credit for.

No, Mr. Goth, with all due respect, your fear of the “imminent collapse of the impoverished, unrecognized and tribal house”, whether made of “cards” or granite has no credible basis. I even perceive a steady diminishment of tribalism in our national psychology.

Those who wish Somaliland ill have dreams to the contrary and they cite the current election crisis and recent unfamiliar government-parliament dispute as indicative. I would say to them: Hold your breath and do not celebrate just as yet. These are the inevitable pains of teething of our democracy. Worse things happen to more mature democracies with limitless resources. Somaliland will overcome this hump as it did many before it.

I am inclined to be more in agreement where the modus opparandi of the two main opposition leaders is concerned. One seems to me rather too advanced in age and too fragile in health to persevere in his quest of the presidency. Perhaps this is the source of his apparent impatience. Like everyone who is in haste, he often stumbles and not only in physical terms. A person of his of age, stature and past contributions to the nation would have been well advised to forgo politics, a course of action that would have deservedly assured him the mantle of a national statesman – an icon of sorts.

The other is notable to me as one who tends to shoot from the hip; as one who, in the traditions of Wild West, shoots first and asks questions later; at least in as far as his public utterances are concerned. This is, in my opinion, a cardinal liability to any politician, especially one aspiring to be president, for utterances and appearances are decisive for achieving such a goal.

As national leaders, both appear to be oblivious to the consequences of their public remarks. At times they have appealed to the darker instincts of their supporters to advance their agendas. In more developed countries, that would have been called sedition. Their positions on policies and public issues are not always consistent and occasionally contradictions emerge between the beginning and the end of the same single policy statement or the same single interview with a journalist.

Though it is their duty as opposition to monitor and bring the government to book if at fault, they tend to give little or no credence to what the qualifying “at fault” means. To them all and everything the government does is “at fault”. Unfortunately this is not a responsible attitude and rather a miscarriage of the indispensable roles and duties of opposition as practiced in democracies.

What, however, caused me unexpected disappointment and dismay, is both leaders’ habitual penchant to enlist the international community to their side whatever issue disagreements with the government crop up. Sometimes they are not beneath going as far as urging donors and sympathetic governments or organizations to withhold aid to Somaliland until a new government is formed, presumably under the leadership of the one or the other who is making the appeal at time. This, in my view, gets too close to treachery for comfort.

Whenever I hear this, the successive phony and puppet presidents who are installed in foreign capitals at regular intervals and then transplanted in Mogadishu come to mind. As if it were a divine call, they one after another placed (as continues the incumbent) more, perhaps all, importance and efforts at earning the good graces and acceptance of foreigners, rather than winning the minds and hearts of their own countrymen. The result was their countrymen consistently rejected them and none of them lasted long. It is not a major problem for the foreigners; they could always install a new president and there is no shortage of eager candidates. But the amazing thing is none of these presidents learned the obvious lessons from the experiences of his predecessors.

I am afraid that our two opposition leaders are likewise oblivious to these lessons.

The electorate is free to elect one or the other as president in the coming election. That is indisputably the electorate’s prerogative. What would be unfortunate, however, is if you, Mr. President, yield — by abdicating your duty to the nation — to their misguided pressures and unbecoming tactics only to gratify their egos and antics.

Mr. Goth quotes the saying, “Sometimes you have to let go to see if there was anything worth holding on to.” On the contrary, Somaliland is worthwhile holding on to, Mr. President. Furthermore, these are not times to engage in social and political experimentations; the kind of “do-this-and-see-how-it-plays-out actions whose consequences are not well considered. You assumed the presidency through legitimate and constitutional process. It is your duty to vacate it through the same legitimacy and constitutional process. If you tire of government, you can always choose retire on your own free will. In such an event, the constitution automatically comes into play through its succession provisions. Any other unconstitutional departure from your duties as President, especially where “hungry politicians” are involved, runs the risk of weakening the constitutional process and an important national institution namely: The Office of the Presidency.

In the meantime, continue to serve the country and uphold the constitution to the best of your ability as per your solemn oath. Remember this vow is registered with God, to Whom you will eventually face to answer for any deviation from (or betrayal of) it.

This in the least means good, accountable and transparent governance. It means an administration run by capable hands and minds as well as honest advisors. It means building and consolidating effective and independent national institutions. Leaders come and go, but institutions stay.

As a human being, you may err, but when and if you do, do not sweep it under the rug. Instead face up to it and rectify it. If the identification of an error comes from the opposition, thank them for bring it to your attention and rectify it nonetheless.

If you have no problems with above, STAY THE COURSE MR. PRESIDENT, until and unless the electorate tells you to go in the ballot box or the constitution bars you from staying.

Ahmed I. Hassan
ahmedihass@hotmail.com

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