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Forces from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) last week blocked a meeting between Somali politicians and elders opposed to the draft constitution whose ratification process is under way.
Predictably, this angered one of the TFG MPs, Abdullahi Abdi Magan, whose meeting was blocked. According to him, Somalia is not free and is operating under the control of Augustine Mahiga (the UNSG special representative for Somalia) who is pulling the strings, and it is through his orders that they were stopped from holding their meeting.
This sentiment is shared by many of the TFG officials and former TFG politicians opposing the draft constitution. The warlord-turned-turned-TFG General Yusuf Mohamed Siyad “Indha Adde” is one of the most vocal opponents to the draft constitution and believes Mahiga is trying to dictate to the Somali people.
“I will not ask Mahiga permission to talk about politics. He should know that Somalia is a free country,” asserted Indha Adde.
While the TFG has severe undemocratic tendencies such as hindering peaceful assemblies and not tolerating opposition, blocking of a legitimate opposition meeting is an unacceptable low. This however does not merit the labelling of Somalia as being ruled by Mahiga, as some are claiming.
Last week I examined how Somali politicians from all colors of the political spectrum use religious claims of protecting the religion to connect with the average Somali citizen.
Now, Somali national pride is being invoked. And for good reason: none of the big demonstrations threatened by opponents of the constitutional process has taken place (though at least one small one was forcibly cancelled).
Perhaps realizing that religion alone is not enough to convince the Somali people of the objectionable nature of the constitutional process, alleging that the whole process is being forced down the throat of the Somalis by the international community, with Mahiga being the embodiment of that community, seems to be in fashion now in Mogadishu.
Mahiga is perhaps a good punching bag for a number of reasons.
To begin with, he is a non-Somali Bantu from Tanzania. Foreigners are viewed by Somalis through the Somali clan eyeglasses, whether they like it or not. Bantus, being at the lowest hierarchy of the Somali clan system where they are in the, I would say degrading, “.5 “clan family (as opposed to the “1 “of the rest of the Somalis), Mahiga is easy prey for the more racist of these opponents.
Moreover, he is a non-Muslim. Unlike his predecessor, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah from Mauritania, Mahiga is considered to have nothing in common with the Somali people. Not sharing either the fundamentals of nationality or religion with the Somali people makes him the embodiment of the sometimes resented parts of the international community.
This looking down upon Bantus is not limited to the TFG, however; even pro-Shabaab Islamists allude to the “big nose” of the Kenyans who invaded southern Somalia. They go on to use more bigoted comments, some of which I am not comfortable quoting here. There is no official Shabaab racism, though; the group has hundreds of Bantu fighters from Somalia within its ranks and perhaps the same number from neighboring countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania.
The average Somali, being literate perhaps only in Arabic because most Somalis go to Quran schools at an early age, may consider himself to be superior to all that is in the world. The strange thing about Somali racism is that it does not only look down upon races, but also professions such as metal works (specifically blacksmiths), hunting (good for the wildlife, if you ask me), and fishing in the south (this is dying out now, though). I am not arguing in any way that the UNSG should have not chosen Mahiga because of the basis of his ethnicity and religion, but that he should have kept in mind the Somali clan system, which some Somalis use to view the world.
On the other hand, while the sometimes racist rhetoric coming from the opponents of the constitutional process (a majority of the influential Somali actors political actors) is wrong, the TFG’s blocking of their right to meet at Somali hotels will only make matters worse. Putting a lid on political expression is an ingredient for turmoil in the future.
The TFG is perhaps forgetting that almost all of the Islamists who make up its security forces are former allies of the Shabaab, and some are recent Shabab and Hizbul Islam defectors; they still hold the belief that Somalia should be an Islamic state. Not allowing them to at least meet and hold talk shows may make them join their brothers from the Shabaab or, worse, stay within the TFG and be a fifth Shabaab column.
Anyway, it is not like they would actually do something if the opposition did meet; Somalis are good at talking for weeks and not getting anything done. They never reach a decision very fast, and if they do, they rarely act on it. Besides, who can stop them from meeting in their homes?
It is worth noting that Indha Adde, among the most vocal opponents of the constitutional process, is a well-known flip-flop. He has been almost all over the place; from being a reportedly Marijuana-growing warlord, to being a member of the Shabaab in its relative infancy, to being a moderate ARS (Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia) member, to being a founding member of Hizbul Islam, to being a “free Mujahid”, to being a TFG minister, then leaving the TFG, then coming back as a General.
What makes anyone think that pissing off Indha Adde will not make him run off one night and join the Shabaab?
The TFG are as security-aware and far-thinking as a small child. They even gave the press the full names and telephone numbers of elders who they said are taking part in their “conference for approving the constitution” – a misleading name because this initial conference is only one step in the process, unless they want to continue the conference until the process is complete.
The pro-Shabaab SomaliMidnimo.com site then published the names of the elders and their contact details, and suggested that their lives would be in danger. Whether this may have played a role in scaring them or not, some elders did declare that their names were on the list for a wrong reason because they were not even taking part. This included at least one elder who was still in Shabaab territory when his name was published as a participator.
Meanwhile, the deeply devout and mostly pro-Shabaab Gaal Jecel clan in southern Somalia has chosen for itself a new leader. The new leader, Ugaas Hussein Ugaas Abdullahi Ugaas Muhumed, declared that he would rule his clan by the Quran and told his fellow Somalis clansmen that only Islam is the solution, according to Radio Al-Furqaan, an Islamist radio station in southern Somalia. Pictures from the event clearly show where the clan’s loyalties lie.
As the TFG shoves down the throat of the Somali people a constitution they have rejected and forcefully puts down any demonstrations and private meetings, the Shabaab are cultivating good ties with the clans and their elders, and indoctrinating them on the Shabaab creed.
We can only hope the best for Somalia, however wrong the winds may be blowing its sail now.
Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column. Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.