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Somalia’s Aircraft Hangar Could be the Birthplace of Democracy in the Troubled Horn of Africa Nation

IDEA Editorial                                                                              February 10,2017

On February 8, 2017, the Somalis, at last long, witnessed a peaceful transference of power from one regime to the other, and this was a rare political commodity in the history of Somalia since 1991. On February 8, the Somali members of parliament (MPs) were convened in a very unusual temporary conference hall, which happen to be the aircraft hangar in Mogadishu; the Somali’s MPs chose this venue for security reasons but this very place could signal the reemergence of civil dialogue and incipient democratic culture among the Somali people. 

When the voting process in the Hangar was in progress, the MPs did not enjoy the company of peaceful electorate of the public at large, as it is standard practice in stable democracies. Due to lack of security, the Somalis were unable to conduct elections in public squares and mobilize the Somali people from district to district and encourage them to vote for their favorite candidates; it is for this apparent reason that the MPs were compelled to opt for a secret ballot.

In point of fact, strict security measures were employed and air flights were prohibited in the vicinity of the Hangar, at least for February 8; on top of this, 20,000 peacekeeping African Union (AU) troops were standby and alert for the day to monitor and counterattack the anti-government forces of Al Shabab. However, even after all these security precautions the Al Shabab made an attempt to bombshell the voting place.

In the end the Al Shabab toxic activity demonstrated a self-negating condition only; while the Somali government tried to raise Somalia from the ashes, the Al Shabab continues to defy reason and history in the making in its own country. The only success of Al Shabab is that it managed to frighten Somali politicians, harass the ordinary Somalis, and besiege the Somali nation. The success of the government, on the other hand, is that it has been engaged in maintaining peace and stability and the reconstruction of Somalia at least since 2012, that is, since the Federal Republic of Somalia was officially inaugurated. This endeavor on the part of the government, though minimal and had impact on greater Mogadishu only, was wrought against all odds; and to be sure it is historic.

When the results of the vote was announced in the Hangar, the incumbent president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, got 97 votes and the contending former prime minister, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, got 184 votes. In all civility and humility, Mohamud conceded defeat, congratulated the new president and exclaimed that the occasion was a new “path to democracy for Somalia”.

The peaceful transference of power and Mohamud’s hope and vision could be a reality in the long haul, but Abdullahi Mohammed ought to prepare himself for formidable challenges coming not only from Al Shabab, but also from the political fragmentation of Somalia and the legacy of its history since 1960. The new government also should underscore the very nature of Somalia politics, an enterprise fraught with disappointment, challenges, and stumbling blocks although in the end it may gain some success. Like it or not, the new government will have to face a disjointed Somalia: the southern half of the country, that is, from Baidoa to Kismayo is still under the influence and control of the Al Shabab forces, although AU forces effectively created a corridor within the same territory and managed to fully control greater Mogadishu; to the north of the All Shabab-controlled area, virtually the central province of Somalia is a pro-government area supported by Ethiopia; and the northern half of Somalia, now known as Puntland, though pro-government, exhibits secessionist tendencies. The immediate task of the new government, thus, would be 1) to liberate southern Somalia from Al Shabab; and 2) to reunite the entire Somalia.   

When Somalia became independent in 1960, Aden Abdullah Osman Daar became its first president; he was succeeded by Abdirashid Ali Shermarke in 1967, but Shermarke was assassinated on October of 1969 and his death led to the protracted turbulent years for Somalia ahead; both leaders belonged to the Somalia Youth League party, but their names and their party were obliterated by the new regime of Mohammed Said Barre, who seized political power following the assassination of Shermarke. Said Barre and his party, the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party, ruled over Somalia longer than its predecessors, but he too was deposed on January 1991. Following the overthrow of Barre, an interim government was installed under the leadership of Ali Mahdi Muhammed of the United Somali Congress, and it is during this time that Somalia entered into a deep political quagmire and civil strife unparalleled in the history of the nation.   

Once Somalia sunk into fratricidal genocide-type clan warfare, the Somalis became increasingly despondent and helpless, and the Somali political landscape manifested a seemingly national suicide perpetrated by the warring factions. Long before the civil war, however, the newly independent Somalia under Daar and Shermarke promoted the ideology of ‘Greater Somalia’, a theoretical geopolitics that incorporates Ogaden of Ethiopia, Eastern Djibouti, Somalia (Mogadishu), Somaliland (Hargiesa), and the Garissa-Wajir-Mandera district of north eastern Kenya.

The greater Somalia irredentist policy was a blue print of Somalia to recapture the Somali-speaking territories in the Horn of Africa, but it was never realized. The Somalia leaders made several attempts to realize their irredentism via armed confrontation, mainly with Ethiopia; the first such attempt was made in 1964 when Ethiopia and Somalia clashed over the Ogaden; the clash culminated into an all out war in which the Somali’s lost the battle and their dream of greater Somalia. However, in 1977, the Somalis gathered momentum under the leadership of Said Barre and once again invaded Ethiopian territory and they managed to occupy a part of Ogaden and the contiguous zone of Harar; Ethiopians also gathered momentum and launched a counterattack offensive, this time the Cubans on their side; and they successfully liberated Ethiopian territories and forced the Somali forces to flee.

Now, ironically, it is Ethiopia that has made tremendous contribution in the resuscitation of Somalia, a country that was its erstwhile enemy. In spite of the inimical relationship of Somalia and Ethiopia in the 1960s and 1970s, at present the respective governments of the two nations are amicably interconnected. We at IDEA believe that Ethiopia, along with the AU, should continue to support the new government of Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed and stay in Somalia until the country fully recovers and become a full-fledged and viable state; and the collective endeavor of Africans toward the rebirth of the Somali nation and the establishment of democracy beyond the hangar should not be compromised by political expediency; on the contrary, it should be marshaled toward enhancing the welfare of the Somali people.

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