Somalis around the world rejoiced the Monitoring Group’s report on the state of corruption in Somali government. It unravelled record levels of criminality, indicting the top leadership of criminal activities ranging from embezzlement of public funds meant for Somalia’s poor to issuing of diplomatic passports to notorious pirate leaders. This report was more effective in a way than Aid itself. It has given the people of Somalia a voice and an opportunity to break away from a culture of humiliating silence for over four decades.
Forty two years ago, a group of young officers joined the October 1969 bloodless revolution in an attempt to end the corruption that crippled Somalia post-independence. The regime sought a paradoxical policy of independence towards the colonial powers and preached the rest of the world about human relationships, while imposing an internal policy of a culture of silence. This in practice meant the re-structuring of the society on the very ideals they rejected, reinstating the culture of dependence and unproductivity, encouraging corruption, fighting free thinking, and occupying the populace with hideous internal and external wars. The most damaging of the regime’s policies was the replacement of justice and equality with nepotism and organised chauvinism. This is despite that it went to a great length to promote these ideals. In its early years, it claimed to have laid nepotism based on tribal affiliation to rest in a symbolic public celebration, where statues of tribal figures were buried in front of thousands of bystanders. Similarly, in 1975 it introduced a liberal new law guaranteeing equality of all sexes in all aspects of life. This happened at a great cost to the prevailing Islamic and cultural norms at the time.
This confident start did not last long and that shared dream of a self-respecting nation crumpled before everyone’s eyes. What left was Ministers who treated their workers as slaves, pocketing their salaries and spending public money on drink, drugs and sex. Well trained soldiers deprived of their salaries along with over fed children of corrupted businessmen and government officials engaged in rape and armed robbery. Good looking women reserved a special place; they were showered with the public money, gifts and free airline tickets. However, they became the centre for public envy, anger and were exposed to perpetual public humiliation. Women were mugged of their head scarves, traditional under garments and accessories in broad day light and no one could do anything.
The twenty years that followed the collapse of the regime, however, has taken cruelty and moral decaying to another level. Just imagine the family male members who were forced to rape their sisters or mothers on a gun point; a slaughtered human being dangling from a top of a roof to force people to abandon their homes; and refugees walking on bare foots for days only to face the ocean. These are some of the images that Somalis contended with. Imagine that these experiences are relived through media images of perpetrators now in power, and the extreme poverty and illiteracy those left behind had to accept.
The silence of the world in the face of this brutality because it did not care, it did not know, it feared further dissention to chaos, or it suited it dragged it to a problem that is not directly of its own making. The collapse of the USSR in 1990 formed an opening for a new world relationship, not that what it represented was evil by nature, but because of the opportunities for dialogue and negotiations that it presented. However, the rise of neo-conservatism managed to prolong the problem by causing distortions about human nature and what is of value; of course this happened to be free market ideals. It is in this context that we saw in the past decades coco cola factories emerging in Mogadisho alongside one of the most repressive cultures currently in the modern world, as though Mogadisho needed coca cola to function or be happier.
However, we are witnessing a shift in our dealings and international relationships. A more coherent policy is evolving in line with emerging world values that matches the needs of the world’s masses. There are more acceptances now that ignoring both external and internal forms of oppressions does not serve anyone on the long run. If anything this adds to the frequency and intensity of conflicts in the era of free movement of people and information.
The Monitoring Groups’ report last week and the efforts to penalise the anarchy elites the Security Council is considering is the best gift for Ramadan Somalis received in a very long time. It comes with a serious possibility of bringing sanctions against their tormentors, the lords of poverty and corruption, those obstructing the peace or involved in human rights abuses.
This report also presented Somalis with the ability to envisage a different future beyond disorder and to think carefully about their options. In this week, Somalia’s newly established assembly tasked to approve the constitution and elect a president gathered in Mogadisho ensuring that the transition ends as scheduled. This may well lead us to nowhere, smothering in this way Somalis dreams of restoring some sort of normality to their lives and breaking free from the memories of the past.
The world then needs to consider the worst case scenario, and think beyond military action. It is important to remember also that the Somalis are warriors, who adapted to conflicts, intervening militarily only therefore, will not bring the required rapid progression with the peace process. A comprehensive plan that includes limiting the movements and the reward individuals involved in this criminality and their associates get from their actions is needed. This should include travel ban even within Africa and Somalia, freezing of assets, stripping them and their families of their foreign nationalities and proceeding with legal actions with the aim of securing convictions. Human Rights abusers must get the message that there will be no safe havens for them, at least where we can help.
Warsan Cismaan Saalax