Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dr. Ahmed Ismail Samatar: Opportunist Politician or Demoralized Nationalist

Dr Ahmed Ismail Samatar is one of the great Somali men of letters. After a long and distinguished career in the Academy the good professor returned to Somalia to lend his expertise and experience to the people of Somalia: in the capacity of public intellectual as well as seeking public office. He was, alongside his brother the formidable intellectual Dr Abdi Ismail, one of the founders of the patriotic Hiil Qaran party. Both men were ardent Greater Somalia nationalists who missed no opportunity to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia by deploying their eloquence and keen intellect in the service of Somali unity; their demolition of consecutive, pro-Somaliland ICG reports in 2003 and 2006 are notable examples of their work in this regard.

Dr Samatar unsuccessfully ran for the Presidency of Somalia in 2012. After a humiliating showing in the routinely corrupt parliamentary processes of Mogadishu, Dr Samatar denounced the entire political infrastructure and prevailing discourse of Southern Somalia as irredeemably corrupt and dominated by, and in thrall to, two Somali tribes (Daarood and Hawiye). Dr Samatar's denunciation of the system was somewhat merited but his indignation was a poor substitute for analysis and reasoned argumentation. It also lacked nuance, inasmuch as the interests of the vast majority of Daarood and Hawiye clans and subclans are as ill-represented in Mogadishu as those of his Awdalite constituency.

These harrowing experiences resulted in the Professor renouncing his hitherto rock-ribbed belief in (and defense of) Somali unity. Thereafter he became an ardent secessionist who deploys his learning and intellect in the cause of Somaliland. But where previously he was fluent and cogent when promoting Somali unity, now his arguments are faltering and disordered when championing the cause Somaliland. It is the very reason that caused the professor to have a gloriously epic meltdown in the Fagaaraha debate of 2015. The good doctor found no intelligent way to contradict the arguments he so long deployed against Somaliland secession. He resorted to obfuscation and became long-winded and cumbersome, to such an extent that his alloted time ran out.  When Saadiq Warfaa, the officious moderator of the debate, cut him off after several failed attempts to draw Dr Samatar's attention, the good professor exploded in anger and subsequently left the venue.

In today's Somalia politicians and public intellectuals who change allegiance and discard their principles are too numerous and their flip flops are so frequent as to be queasy-making. Think of General Xaabsade and Dr.Cali Khaliif. Bashiir Goth (a Gadabuursi intellectual like Dr Samatar) whose fulminations against Somaliland at times bordered on the unhinged. He is now the representative of Somaliland in Washington. Xaglatoosiye is another one. Hurre Buubaa, onetime Somali Foreign Minister, is now firmly ensconsed in Hargeisa

Why shine a beam of light on the good professor? There are Several reasons why I abandoned my foregoing insouciance with regard to his defection and which prompted me to write this humble electronic missive:
  •  His full-throated, and problematic, support for Somaliland's expansionist moves against my  people, the Dhulbahante tribe of Northern Somalia. 
  • His association and platform-sharing with the most retrograde Isaaq zealots and                grievance mongers like Boobe Yuusuf Ducaale. 
  • To compare his recent justifications for Somaliland with his copious academic writings where he argued the opposite.
  • To present arguments that show that Somaliland is truly a parochial Isaaq political          project that aims to subordinate and exploit the other clans that live in the north.

We first need some background. In the aftermath of the recent Somaliland elections in which the impulsive Colonel Muuse Biihi was chosen by the Isaaq, he promised them he would extend Somaliland's jurisdiction to the defunct colonial border of British Somaliland. He set about implementing this ill-conceived plan by invading the small Customs post of Tukaraq, previously administered by Puntland. Colonel Biihi thus broke the modus vivendi that governed relations between the two entities since the capture of the important Dhulbahante town of Laascaanood.

Eleven years on, this further incursion created a mortal threat to the Puntland capital of Garoowe. It changed the calculus in Puntland and their hitherto quiescent attitude to the occupation of Laascaanood vanished. It is my long held belief(implicitly confirmed by high ranking officials in Puntland and Mogadishu) that the occupation of Laascaanood is the result of an understanding between the Federal government, the international community and the relevant regional entities. Many influential people believe that the international community convinced Colonel Abdullahi Yuusuf and his TFG that in return for ceding control of Northern Harti regions to Somaliland, the international community would, as quid pro quo, force Somaliland to participate in the federal process.

Whatever the merits of these theories the facts on the ground and the governing status quo were crystal clear. A sort of shaky peace existed between the two entities and they cooperated in many areas. But all these came to an abrupt end when Colonel Biihi invaded Tukaraq. After many months of mobilisation there was a series of skirmishes and attacks where both sides suffered heavy losses. The previously bullish Somaliland leaders who severely underestimated the military capabilities of Puntland were chastened and their triumphalist rhetoric changed to an ingratiating and conciliatory tone. This development energized the previously discouraged Dhulbahante who responded to the newly bellicose Puntland posture by volunteering both men and materiel. The previously pacified and becalmed Laascaanood became restive and the scene of violent demonstrations.

Muuse Biihi, the impulsive and none too bright Colonel at the head of Somaliland found himself floundering. He blamed everyone but himself for his dillema including the somnanbulent Federal government. He was even willing to entertain a retreat to his previous military positions. But now Puntland had the whip hand and they were threatening to march on Laascaanood.

Enter the good professor Samatar, inserting himself into this fraught situation. He visited Tukaraq, bearing gifts of livestock for the beleaguered Somaliland troops. He declared that Somaliland had a divine right to secure her borders. He praised and congratulated the Somaliland troops.

Needless to say this did not go down very well among the anti-Somaliland Dhulbahante (90% of the tribe) who spent 11 years aggrieved and bitter at the Isaaq domination of their capital, aided as they were by a few hundred turncoats and lackeys. Their bitterness was compounded by the lack of support from their compatriots and brothers in Puntland and farther afield among the rest of the Daarood. Puntland's newly aggresive attitude heralded an end to Laascaanood's long night of captivity.

Dr Samatar's actions lit the touchpaper of Dhulbahante outrage. Their indignation poured out in the social media and the web platforms that serve the community as they protested the support and succour provided to the secessionists by Dr Samatar. The Professor's role as a Somali public intellectual demanded impartiality and peace-building and militated against his cack-handed intervention. And this requirement magnified as it is by his role as a Gadabuursi public figure should have given him pause considering the deep well of friendship and cooperation between the Dhulbahante and Gadabuursi clans.

A very damaging attack was mounted by Dr Samatar's former BBC colleague Maxamuud Xaaji Cumar in an extraordinary and vituperative interview he gave soon after the visit to Tukaraq by Dr Samatar. Maxamuud Xaaji Cumar, a distinguished and highly respected Somali broadcaster, like his brother Osman Hassan, has been very active in opposing and confronting Somaliland's interference in Dhulbahante affairs. Maxamuud Xasan Xaaji Cumar's stunningly powerful rebuke to Dr Samatar should bring home the level of ill-feeling and dismay that his actions caused among the Dhulbahante. We need not detain ourselves rehashing the entire interview but the main accusation was that Dr Samatar was an unprincipled man and that this character flaw was apparent to all his colleagues at the BBC. Maxamuud Xasan Xaaji Cumar also characterized Dr Samatar as an insecure man who harbours a deep inferiority complex. It has not been corraborated yet but Maxamuud Xasan also alleges that Dr Samatar used to argue in those days that Somalia is not a real country and should be swallowed up by Ethiopia. A shocking revelation indeed, if true. He also described him as an isolated figure who has no affiliation with his tribe.

This could explain his association and appearrances with people like Boobe Yuusuf Ducaale, the poisonous and militant Isaaq ethnographer. Dr Samatar made an appearance with this creature at the 2017 independence celebrations. In a noteworthy and magnanimous gesture Somali President Maxamed Farmaajo addressed a gathering in Mogadishu to celebrate 26 June, the day the northern part of Somalia gained independence. Mr Farmaajo went to considerable lengths to honour the Isaaq artists whose inspirational output was intstrumental in facilitating as well as immortalizing the Independence Struggle. Farmaajo being Mogadishu-born lad with an underdeveloped poetic sensibility was not very familiar with Isaaq artists like Cali Sugulle and Cabdillaahi Qarshe (he called them Cali Sugul and Cabdullaahi Qorshe). But the important thing here was his willingness to reach out and try to bridge the divide between Somalis and to heal our festering wounds. His words were thrown back in his face with much mockery and disdain by Hateful Mr Boobe while Dr Samatar, clearly embarrassed by the zealotry of Hateful Boobe, rambled on repeating the spurious boilerplate seccessionist rhetoric about Somaliland became an independent state on June 26, 1960 and recognized by 35 countries.

Hateful Boobe was not satisfied with his impromptu words against Farmaajo at the gathering. He called his Hargeisa media minions together to record a social media tirade against Southerners and the magnanimous Farmaajo. Farmaajo honoured Cabdillaahi Suldaan Timacadde who composed a memorable poem to mark the end of British colonial rule. The poem includes the lines:

Samada kii u ekaayee
xiddigaa mid la siiyow

A flag the colour of the blue sky 
Embroidered with a lone white star

Strangely, and against all logic and reason, this innocuous quotation incensed the already unhinged man. Hateful Boobe never engages with Farmaajo's intent when picking these particular lines, which was to show clearly that the flags raised in British Somalia and Southern Italian Somalia on July 1st were one and the same. He knows it is a trap set for him because it gives the lie to his (and Somalilander's) favourite argument that two separate nations came together on July 1st. Instead he engages in pedantry by saying that Farmaajo got the Genre of the poem (Geeraar instead of Gabay) and the date of its composition wrong.

The above lines reveal the soft underbelly of his argument and he tries to retrieve the situation by attempting to portray the patriotic Timacadde as a malcontent who became disillusioned with the union. He quotes these lines which are nothing but a mild reproach to the leadership of the country to keep the development of the rest of the nation, outside Mogadishu, in mind:

Dabuub aanu maqlaynay
Dareen baan ka qabnaayoo
Dugsigii baarlamaankiyo
Dekeddii Xamar baa leh
Berbera daadku ha qaado
Ha daaduumo dadkeedu
Dooni yaanay ku weecan
Duqaydii Baarlamaankaay
Danteenaa laba diidaye
Labadaa kala daayoo
Yaan loo dayma la'aan

About the flood of words that reached us
We have a grievance to register
The Sheltering Houses of Parliament
The ports and bounty belong to Xamar
but let the Storms carry Berbera away
Let Her people be buffeted and afflicted
Not a solitary laden boat going her way
You gentlemen our lawmakers
Feast for South, famine for us
Reject these twin ideas
And keep your gaze on the nation's interest

The facts are that many Somalis, impatient as they are by nature, were dissatisfied with the pace of progress and development. But at this early juncture, the civilian governments had not yet descended into the corruption and abuse of power that prevailed in the latter years (When the Isaaq northerner Cigaal was guilty of the greatest malfeasance).

In the last days of the civilian government Cabdirashiid (by this time elevated to the presidency) was not met with mild reproaches as in the case of Timacadde but he was reviled and greeted with maledictions and curses. Such was the case when visiting Xaafuun on the coast of his own Majeerteen lands, days before his death. Cabdirashiid was unable to soothe the discontent of the Siwaaqroon inhabitants of Xaafuun and upon his departure this poem was composed:

Run Ilaah Rashiidow ma tihid kii Ilaah rabaye
Soomaali baad kala rartay oo reerba meel degaye
Rafaad noqotay dunidii markii Rei lagaa dhigaye
Rucbi kugu dhaca iyo cudur xunoo raarta kula jiifa
Ruush iyo midaan lagu daweyn Rooma iyo Kiiniya
Kursigoo kula ruxda iyo ciidankoo talada kaa riixda
Rabbi waxaan baryaayaa inadan raagin oo jirine

By the word of Allah Rashiid you are not one God's own
You have sundered the Somalis and all the people are apart
Suffering has become our fate since they anointed you King
May terror strike you and a disease that lays you low
One that is impervious to Cure from Russia to Rome
May your grip on power loosen, and the army cast you aside
I beseech God you are not long for this world and expire soon

Few days after the composition of this poem President Sharmaarke was assassinated in Laascaanood while on an official visit. In a superstitious culture many people blamed the composer for dooming the President. But an empirical assessment would lead us to the conclusion that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the President, his Northern Premier and their entire program. In fact the President's assailant was a fellow Majeerteen which indicates the breadth of disaffection with the rule of Sharmaarke, the northern Premier Cigaal as well their kleptocratic Interior Minister Yaasiin Nuur Xasan( 30 times a millionaire at 30 years in his unforgettable boast). When Siyaad Barre and the military ushered out Cigaal and his band of thieves there was widespread celebration throughout the country. Hateful Boobe lays the crimes of Siyaad's revolution on Farmaajo and if that is the case he (Boobe) should also be prepared to shoulder the crimes of Xawaadle Madar who was ordering the shelling of Mogadishu in the very dying days of the revolution.

In any case, Farmaajo is probably too busy trying to pacify the dangerous alleys of Mogadishu (in the words of Hateful Boobe) from the remnants of the Isaaq terrorists brought by the late and unlamented Isaaq arch-terrorist Godane (who was delivered to Hell via a Hellfire American missile).

It is easy to credit Maxamuud Xasan's accusation that the Professor is an isolated man ploughing a lonely furrow. This becomes sad when you see this supremely accomplished intellectual holding court with low-brow individuals like the spiteful and bitter Boobe Yuusuf Ducaale. It is particularly sad and poignant when the great Professor ingratiatingly speaks in front of a sparse crowds of mostly Isaaq (half of them engaged with their phones) while desperately trying to avoid giving inadvertant offence given the Isaaq prickliness, delusion of grandeur and sensitivity to criticism.


In our second part we shall examine Professor Samatar arguments for secession and whether they hold water. As well we will present some facts that clearly show the Parochialism of Somaliland.

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