My name is Ibrahim Megag Samater. I was a Cabinet member of the Siyad Barre regime for nine years and then his Ambassador in Bonne for one year. In 1981, I defected from his regime and sought asylum in the US. After a few years, I became active in the liberation movement against the dictator, becoming one of the leaders of the Somali National Movement (SNM).
Even though my official job was the representative of the movement in North America, more than half of my time was spent in the field among the elders and militants, risking my life several times.
My last task in the SNM was as chairman of its Central Committee. My most exhilarating moment in that struggle was in Burao, May 1981, when as chairman of the Central Committee, I had to announce officially the decision of the people of Somaliland to restore their sovereignty.
After the Borama Conference in early 1993, I was elected as a member of the House of Representatives. But, I immediately resigned to pick up the pieces of my life, which I have sacrificed so much during the struggle.
Since then, I have been mostly silent on political issues. I feared that my words would be misinterpreted. I had no intention to create any problems for my people. One can only give so much if you are sincere. Now that I have been away for so long and I am not in any competition for a political post, it may be about time for me to speak.
In thus speaking, I am not in the business of personal attacks and condemnations. I intend to stick to the higher field of principles and morals. What I want to do here is a statement of principles. It is mainly for the younger generation to whom the future belongs. These are simple words of principle from a retired man. This statement as such, is simply to clarify for citizens of Somaliland where they are going and what their future is to be and where they are to go from here. The future is theirs and the decisions are theirs. All I want to do now is to state in a concise manner what the outlining principles should be as I see them.
I am outlining here some major issues of principle of which the wider public should know of every “politician’s” position. Without further ado let me list some of these issues of principle.
I-On Somali Unity
This was an issue of great importance for all Somalis everywhere and anywhere during the struggle for independence. The goal was to unite all the Somali territories that have been divided by the colonial masters.
As a young high school student, I was one of those who were totally absorbed by that issue. As a student and later as a responsible adult, I fought for that cause. We all know the story now. To unite all Somalis and their territories became impossible in the present state of the international arena—There is no need to go into details.
Now, Djoubti is an independent country, the Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya are trying to get their luck and rights in those countries where they live. We were then left with the union of Somaliland and Somalia alone. Even though Somaliland, before 1960, had more economic trade and other relations with Djoubti and Ethiopia, it opted for unity with Mogadishu for the sake of that larger cause. It was not to be and yet the union between Hargeisa and Mogadishu became sour.
The union kicked off without real negotiations and sound legal foundations (this was the fault of the people and leadership of Somaliland). It started with inequality with Somaliland being treated as simply a backyard province rather than a country, which sacrificed its sovereignty for the sake of larger unity. As long as the democratic system was in place people entertained the hope that change for the better was possible.
But after the military coup a slow process of recolonizing Somaliland by Somalia began until, in the later years of the regime, it culminated in total suppression, destruction, and attempted genocide. In such conditions, resistance was inevitable. In 1991, the resistance succeeded, the regime disintegrated, Somaliland restored its sovereignty, and Somalia ran into uncontrollable mayhem which is still continuing.
What needs to be done now is :
i- Somalilanders should stick to their sovereignty
ii- Those in Somalia have no choice but to accept that sovereignty
iii- When Somalia reaches that stage the two states should become friendly and work out their relationships in a fraternal manner and after that work on a more rational relationship in the Horn of Africa.
The different governments that succeeded one another in Somaliland were all dedicated to seeking recognition from the international community, as was the general public. In order to forestall this issue, with which we all concur, from becoming a bone of contention between those contending for power, let us make it a collective effort in which the executive, the legislative bodies, the political parties and civil society associations all take their part. This is a process that has already started but it needs to be formalized and structured.
This approach led of course by the executive will enable us not only to take initiatives in the countries we consider vital, but also to be present in every international and regional meeting or conference where Somali issues at large are being discussed, without becoming one of the Somalia factions. Up to now our public were suspicious that the leadership may reach an accommodation, which undermines the sovereignty of Somaliland and as such the various governments were prevented from making our voice heard in such forums. The new collective approach should dispense with that suspicion and may even enable us to gain some friends in Somalia for our cause. When and if the opportunity arises we may also be of some help in their reconciliation. This will also speedy up the attainment of our recognition. I believe Somaliland has reached a stage that is beyond fear on this score.
II- On Democracy
Democracy is one of the misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused words in the political vocabulary of the world. Again, these words are not a treatise in political science, so I do not want to go into further analysis. But, in the context of our situation in Somaliland certain points have to be highlighted. The essential content of democracy is that political rule must be based on the consent of the governed—the people. This can take many forms, some better than others. It has been experimented in many ways in many places throughout human history.
We Muslims know democracy. It has been practiced in the early days of Islam. The basic principles are enshrined in the Quran. Those who are sceptical about this matter please read Surat ‘Ala-Umran.’
Nevertheless, I do not believe that the present form of democracy through multiparty system and one person-one-vote is evil. It is only one of the forms of democracy that has been performed and practiced by humans. And it is fine if we continue to improve it. Having said that , I do not believe that the multiparty system is a cure for all our ills. It hast to be complemented by our cultural and religious traditions. Otherwise, the parties will become a shell without content. They will become a façade for a new type of dictators who dominate their parties preventing their members and their voters at large to have a real choice.
There is a simple way to avoid that pitfall. Let our democracy be participatory rather than formal. The way to do it is two-fold:
i- Let the parties themselves be democratic. There should be registered members at the lowest level who pay their subscriptions. These members should be able to elect their committees and representatives at all level all the way to the top of the leadership. This means that the members of the Party will have a common programme to which they are committed and a leadership, which they trust, rather than nepotism. If this is not done the political parties, which we are imitating from the West will just deteriorate into clan affiliations with all their inherent conflicts.
ii- The second means is decentralization of the administration.
This should not be a formal statement. It must be enshrined by law and put into practice from the villages, districts and regions. These organs must be able to not only elect their leaders but conduct their own development projects and their administrations. What is left for the Central Government would be co-ordination, planning and keeping the peace of the nation at large.
III-On the Guurti and Clannism
What I have said above in no way negates the importance of clans. They are institutions that have evolved through the ages and enabled us to survive. Unless the function clanism performs is replaced by other institutions it is not going away. But, we know it is a double-edged sword. Depending on how it is handled by the leaders of the time, whether they are elders or politicians, clanism can be a good tool for peace, reconciliation and progress. Handled wrongly it is a powerful tool for fratricide and conflict. Just look at what is happening in Somalia (the former South). The question is what to do with this double-edged sword in our cultural tradition. It has been the genius of the SNM struggle to find a way out. Making the Guurti, representing traditional leadership, a constitutional political body, rather than peripheral individuals which the then authorities can use them as they wish, was a good solution born out of the SNM struggle. And that is one of the reasons that Somaliland is blazing a road much different from what our brothers in Somalia are going through.
Recently, we went through a crisis when the Guurti unilaterally renewed for itself another term. For a self-interested body to do this is a travesty of justice. But, we know the root cause. We haven’t yet found a way of electing the Guurti. Before the constitution was passed the members were simply selected by their clans through the traditional system of elders. Now our present constitution says that the Guurti—the upper house of our bicameral system—has to be elected, albeit under a special law. That law has not yet been debated or drafted. Without belabouring the point, I personally do not believe that the Guurti should be elected through a general one-person-one vote system. If this is done it will not be a Guurti, but a replica of the house of representatives.
We have two choices to solve this problem:
i- to elect the Guurti on a popular suffrage like the House of representatives, as I said before I oppose this alternative because the Guurti then loses its reason for existence. If we choose the above position the Guurti will be like the American Senate. And then we would need another body to represent our traditional clan system for which we have a sociological need.
ii- Rather than creating too many bodies which we can hardly afford in our nascent democracy. Let us have the Guurti in its present form but debate seriously how we can reconcile the electoral and the traditional. Let the Guurti represent the latter but find a way where clans can select their representatives in an agreeably equal way. I believe we can find a solution. But, let us be open-minded.
IV- On Islam
It is clear today that there is a Western onslaught on Islam presenting it as backward, anti-human, anti-women, anti-democratic and most recently terroristic. This is nothing new. Long time ago since Europe dominated us, it was the function of so-called Orientalists to present an ideology in which the West is the progressive, logical and rational entity, while we are showed as irrational people who deserve to be ruled, to be civilized. It is enough to read Edward Said’s Orientalism to get the picture.
What is new today is the infamous War on terror and the new ideology of “Clash of Civilizations” to justify all types of aggressive and destructive wars from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other places in order to ‘democratize and civilize us through ‘Regime changes.’ We in the Islamic world who know better realize that this is a dead-end road that leads nowhere for all of us, the East as well as the West. We also know that this so-called “clash of civilizations” is a figment of some peoples’ imagination. It has little to do with historical reality. We know that, and they know it too, despite their denials, that it was Islamc Civilization that has revived the Egyptian heritage, the Greek and Roman Civilizations. From Islamic Scholars like Ibn Rushdi and Ibn Khaldun they have learned their heritage when they were in the ‘Dark Ages.’ Cultures and religions learn from one another and there is no clash, unless artificially created by the imagination.
Genuine Muslim Scholars know better. They not only know the basics of Islam. They also know the history of its development. Those Orientalists, who are sincere, in their study of the Orient, also know that Western Civilization would not be what it is without Islamic contributions. We were their teachers and later they imposed themselves as our teachers. It is not a question of knowledge. It is a question of power. But, still we cannot deny that, after our glorious days, we Muslims declined. Long before European invasion and colonization of our lands we were weakened by internal conflict of many sorts—Sunni against Shia, umawiin against Cabbasiyiin, and later particular nationalisms. What the colonialists conquered was an already weakened Umma by its own conflicts. Now where do we go from here as an Islamic Umma? I myself have no definitive answer. But, certain things are clear: (i) Revival of Islamic morals are necessary. (ii) Democratization of our countries so that in each country it is the voice of the people that is heard and rules. (iii) Co-ordination among the countries themselves, even in their present condition. (iv) Resistance to this onslaught and showing our weight to the world as an Islamic umma.
But, there are more points that have to be said on this issue. There are those among us, feeling frustrated and humiliated, who are lashing out indiscriminately killing innocent civilians, including fellow Muslims, in the name of Islam. I, for one, do not sympathize with those kind of people. These groups and their actions are providing the perfect excuse for those in the West who want to attack us morally, politically and militarily. You can say that they are two sides of the same coin. In saying this we have to distinguish them from genuine resistance movements like Hamas and Hizbullah. Theirs is a true liberation struggle against oppression and they have every right to utilize their faith in strengthening their morale. The ones I cannot sympathise with are those groups elected by nobody, representing nobody, having no country and yet are trying to impose on us their brand of Islam, if Islam it is. The result of their actions only serves and strengthens the oppressors.
Let us not get confused by these demagogues. Our heritage is clear. We have the Quran and the tradition of the prophet(CSW). But, we also have our differences in interpreting these texts and traditions. This is normal. The prophet (CSW) said that differences of opinion in my umma is a blessing[ Ikhtilaafu ummattii Rahma]. This is the basis of the “shura” [consensus] because this is how decisions are made in society. We should also remember that the great Islamic legal scholars who codified the sharia laws did that several hundred years after the prophet(CSW) and the khulafa u Rashidin. Of course these legal codes are based on the Quran and the tradition of the prophet. But, they did it through their “Ijtihaad” and they did us a favour. Who said the ‘Ijtihaad’ is over and done with?
It is a well-known historical fact that after decolonisation the newly independent African regimes did not go foreword: the economy, after a short spurt of growth, slumped into stagnation and decline in many countries; political freedoms metamorphosed into one-party systems or military dictatorships; the standard of living of the common people deteriorated while few enriched themselves—primarily on public resources; and finally the very security of persons and groups became in danger if they called for correction.
There is no wonder if such a deterioration in the system of governance led to social and political strife: in some cases resulting in peaceful accommodation and transition to a better level, and in others to violent civil wars and sometimes a failure of the state.
Explanations for this atrophy differ. Old colonial ideologues revert to overt racism—Africans are not fit to rule! Dismissing that racism aside many African intellectuals put the blame on the operational domination of the world economy and the strengthening of power in the hands of old colonialists, their new replacements and co-operation with local elites through neo-colonial attachments. I have no quarrel with that explanation. I just believe it is not sufficient. There are other former colonies, especially in Asia, which did well. So, we must also look inward, no only for explanations, but also for further change and improvements.
Needless to says the system of how to run a government: constitutions, political parties, civil service, police, army etc, was imported wholesale at the dawn of independence. The West, from whom we imported the system, had several hundred years to digest it: they had their internal strife’s, their revolutions, their inter and intra-wars. The African indigenous systems of rule did not have that chance to evolve. They were destroyed or mutilated by cataclysmic events like the slave trade and colonial subjugation.
It is not a crime to borrow something from a better system. I have said earlier that human cultures interpenetrate one another. But, the importation of a whole system, stock-lock-and barrel, is the problem. Plants do not grow in an inappropriate soil and climate. It was therefore inevitable that historical development after independence would be bumpy until African peoples find the road to their second liberation, each country in its own way. I believe that future historians will regard Somaliland as one of the countries that have blazed the road for the new African regeneration, that is the regaining of the original goals of the decolonisation movement: Liberty with social and economic progress. In the meantime, we have to consolidate our achievements so far, refine them and think ahead in order to avoid continuous crisis.
What I have said so far about the political parties, decentralization, the role of culture and religion is part of the general system of good governance. I want to add only two more points. To confine political parties at the national level to three is sensible. We wanted to avoid the free for all confusion that paved the way for the military coup de tat in 1969. But, that should not mean the creation of monopoly political power to three particular parties only. That will ossify political development and will definitely breed future crisis. There is nothing better than to leave the market of political ideas open, trust our people, whom I consider mature enough, but still limit the number of national parties to a few. How to do it is a matter of detail, which we can achieve, given sincerity and good will.
The other point I want to make in this context is government performance per se, no matter which political party holds the reigns of power.
i- To consolidate the existing peace and expand justice the government as the guardian of the law must be the first to uphold and abide by it. The checks and balances between the branches of government must be respected, with the independence of the judiciary invioble.
ii- The executive branch of the government must be lean and clean. We cannot afford huge ineffective bureaucracy which is valued not for its productivity but for its job providing service through nepotism. The main task of the executive, as I see it, is to implement the laws passed by the legislative branch, propose new ones, guide plan and co-ordinate and provide the vision of where to go next [ I am, of course, not minimizing its job of providing for defence and security, and conducting foreign policy,] Its job, viewed from the is perspective, shares the characteristics of a teacher. As such, therefore, it must stress quality and assist the private sector, in job creation. However, stressing quality in the civil service and the armed forces should not go to the extreme of neglecting representation. After all we are a nation of clans where unity and justice requires fair representation of the various clans in public affairs and institutions. We should therefore work very hard in combining merit and representation.
iii- The requirement of government to be clean means the struggle against corruption. Needless to say, corruption is a fact of human life in both rich and poor countries, especially the latter, and has been so throughout history. It stems from greed, a bad aspect of human character, which unfortunately gets more pronounced in some of the powerful and wealthy in all countries of the world. However, admitting this fact in no way means submitting to it. Horrible facts can be fought and have been fought like slavery and colonial oppression and have been defeated. So, today horrible facts like poverty and corruption can be fought and overcome. This means that we have to be vigilant
iv- This vigilance has several means at its disposal. The primary requirement is that all government activities [may be with the exception of concerns of national defence] must be transparent; organs of the executive such as the accounting office, the auditor-general, and the Presidency can first check this transparency. Then by the select committees of both chambers of the legislature. And finally by the public at large, especially civil society organizations and the independent media. Putting such instrumentality into action constantly will reduce corruption, though it may not eliminate it altogether. In all of this the leadership, at all levels, must provide exemplary model.
VI-On the Economy
I am not writing an economic programme. Neither am I writing a party platform. This is a statement of principle by one person. Therefore much will not be said here, except a few points that touch on the principle aspect. There was a prevalent opinion, in the early days of independence, in many African countries that the state should take a leading role in the economy, not only in planning and guidance but in directly productive activities as well. The lack of a middle class who could make the required investment and the success of Soviet-type economies at the time provided the rationale. Some expressed this in terms of some kind of socialistic rhetoric, others in simple statism. But in all, the attitude was overriding. Hence the proliferation of parastatals. The capitalist world, because of Cold War competition, tolerated this approach.
We all know that with the passage of time this did not prove to be a panacea. On the contrary parastatals became inefficient, a breeding ground for nepotism and corruption, and a source oiling dictatorial machines everywhere. The resulting disillusion is inevitable. Then, with the weakening of the Soviet system, and the rise of the right-wing in the West, came what was termed the Washington consensus. This refers to the agreement on global economic policy among the US treasury, the International Monetary Fund, and The World Bank—all in the same proximity in Washington D.C.
The essentials of this policy framework were an emphasis on the market and the reduction of the role of government in the economy. The catchwords were privatization, stabilization (i.e. reduction of government expenditures, especially on social services) and open trade. In this view the less regulation the better even after the state auctions off its assets. It was a policy of unbridled capitalism, with which the European Union and other donors, both official and commercial, concurred. It was applied without mercy to developing countries and those in transition from communism to capitalism with disastrous results. Today even the IMF and the World Bank have admitted some of the adverse effects of such policies on the poor and are claiming to revise them. Today we can see with hindsight that both approaches served ideological positions—from the left and right respectively—rather than economic rationality.
The experience of many countries—specifically East Asia—has shown that there is a third way. Rather then viewing thestate and the market in antagonistic conflict, they can be seen as complementary. Economic growth requires a vibrant private sector. But, there is also need for strong state policy to plan, guide, and co-ordinate all kinds of economic activity, specially the financial aspect. Also an unbridled market is a greedy machine that rolls over the weak resulting in misery and unacceptable inequalities. Governments, therefore, must look for the public good. That means, not only regulating the market, but also engaging in human development such as health, education and the environment. In our case, this third way is the best option.
VII- By Way of Conclusion.
We know we are a poor nation. But, poverty need not be a curse. There are nations with meagre resources like us who overcame poverty. Human development and its mobilization can compensate for the lack of resources and perform miracles. In addition to investing in health and education human development also means instilling solidarity and a sense of belonging to one another, having a common future and destiny, among the citizenry and their various communities and clans.
Competition in business, politics and among the communities can be both healthy and unhealthy. If the unhealthy aspect is not fought fiercely it can turn into ugly fratricide [look at the situation in Somalia]. One of the reasons motivating me to write this simple piece is that I noticed from afar that this competition is beginning to turn ugly.
Simple matters that can be resolved through amicable discussion and dialogue between the concerned personalities and organs are sometimes turned into unnecessarily highly contested national controversies wasting, when they are finally resolved, a lot of energy and good will.
Let us check that tendency in time. We still have not lost that capacity for good will and democratic dialogue, inherited from the struggle of SNM, which is the basis for the success of Somaliland so far. We need to revive moral values of integrity, cooperation, forgiveness and brotherhood in our people.
And while this task is the duty of all of us, the primary burden falls on the leadership: political (whether in power or aspiring to it), religious, community elders, and the intelligentsia. We need to rise above minor squabbles and take the high moral ground.
Some of you may say that I am too idealistic and out of touch. I do not think so. I believe what is written here is simple and practical. I am an optimist and have always been so even at dark moments when my life was in danger. Even if these words are idealistic, so be it. After all it is the image of the future that moves people and it is vision that enables a society to organize itself for the better. It has been said long ago that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It is my hope and belief that we have learned enough and will continue to move forward.
Wa billahi al-towfiq.
Ibrahim Maygag Samater