- [SW Column] ( Abdullahi Salah) LANCING THE BOIL :Posted on
[10 Dec 2001]
Opinions expressed in this column
are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of SW.
LANCING THE BOIL
(Maal Baa La Sarayaa)
The problems facing Puntland are now so acute that a wider debate on what
went wrong can no longer be avoided. The people of North East Somalia have
suffered under Siad Barre’s regime. When Barre was toppled they were
out for repression by the victorious USC in Mogadishu and the south. They
regrouped in the regions of Puntland. It was a defensive measure, which
turned out to become a success story. Those who chased them from the south
descended into carnage and lawlessness. But that seems to have bred a
dangerous complacency. For example no attempts were made to carry out a
proper post-mortem of what went wrong in Somalia in general and what role
could they play in the eventual reconciliation process. More importantly how
could they strengthen their unity and establish a functioning democracy and
reverse years of neglect and underdevelopment.
These and other issues were not addressed and today the region is teetering
on the brink of a disastrous civil war when most regions of Somalia seem to
be recovering the effects of war. The region seems to have entered a period
of talk talk fight fight.
That is why it is time get to the bottom of the malaise. IT IS TIME TO LANCE
Any attempt to unravel the mystery of the last few decades must at some
point closely examine the turbulent interrelationship between Ethiopia and
Somalia. Of particular importance is the love/hate relationship between Col.
Abdullahi Yusuf and the Ethiopians.
Abdullahi Yusuf featured prominently in the politics of Somalia in general
and that of Puntland in particular in the last twenty years or so.
The Colonel was born in the unforgiving barren environment of central
Somalia when the country was under the heel of Mussolini’s fascist Italy.
Not surprisingly he turned out to become a very ambitious hard man with the
characteristic arrogance of the Mohamoud Saleebaanis.
In the sixties like many army officers in Africa he toyed with the idea of
staging a military coup. A military coup did eventually take place in
Somalia in October 1969 headed a by a paranoid old dictator named General
Mohamed Siad Bare.
Many army officers including Abdullahi Yusuf were rounded up and put in
prison. No hard evidence was produced that they were actually plotting a
coup. It was simply a preventive strike; the old General was apparently not
prepared to take chances.
The defeat of the Somali army in 1978 in the Ogaden war provided Col.
Abdullahi and his associates the opportunity to mount a military takeover of
power in Somalia. It almost succeeded. The ubiquitous intelligence agents,
the National Security Service (NSS) were caught unaware. They succeeded to
capture key government installations. But there was no reinforcement.
Unfortunately the coup was defeated. It remains a mystery to this day how
that operation had failed. Some argued at that time that there was mistrust
between the ringleaders. It was said that the date was brought forward or
reinforcement did not come in time precisely because of a disagreement at
the highest possible level.
Many of the ringleaders were executed. Others including Mr. Ysusuf himself
escaped to Ethiopia. Once in Ethiopia a very successful guerrilla army
called the SSDF was formed. Ethiopia needed to weaken Siyad Barre’s regime
in order to concentrate their efforts fighting the Eritrean liberation
fronts. They supported the SSDF and developed close with its leader Col.
Abdullahi Yusuf. The Ethiopians were hoping that the SSDF and SNM would
eventually capture the Northern and central regions of Somalia from Siad
Barre thus weakening his position as the leader. Unfortunately morale among
SSDF soldiers was plummeting. There were arrests and mysterious deaths of
high-ranking officials of the organization. The SSDF was not making headway
in realising those objectives.
In the eighties The Ethiopians were becoming increasing impatient with this
lack of progress. They finally decided to commit their own troops and
captured the Somali towns of Galdogob and Balanballe. The two countries
eventually signed a peace deal brokered by the neighbouring countries under
the umbrella of IGAD. Abdullahi Yusuf himself was unceremoniously dumped in
prison in Ethiopia.
The Colonel languished in Mengistu’s prisons for years. The treatment he
received ruined his health. He was released only when opposition forces
toppled Mengistu himself.
Once released the Colonel made a quick recovery. A complex liver transplant
operation gave him a new lease of life. In 1998 he became the president of
newly established autonomous state of Puntland.
It took the new Ethiopian regime a long time to formulate a coherent policy
on Somalia. They however soon realised that the colonel is in a prominent
position and started to foster close links with him. But as the former
Ethiopian regimes before them they had found that dealing with the colonel
is not particularly easy. Maters came to a head when neighbouring state of
Djibouti organised a reconciliation conference for warring Somali factions
in Carta. The Ethiopians wanted Abdullahi Yusuf to take part in the process.
But he categorically rejected that. The Ethiopians were furious and
contemplated to dump the old colonel, but in the end decided otherwise. The
main reason of this change of heart was that after Carta the Ethiopians
decided to develop a new policy towards Somalia. They wanted to bring
together those opposing the Carta regime and convince them to overcome their
squabbles and form a credible opposition alternative. The role of Abdullahi
Yusuf's Puntland was thought to be crucial to the success of this project.
Their financial muscle was sorely needed if the new plan was to stand any
chance of success. Thus the SRRC came into being.
Then disaster struck. Abdullahi Yusuf lost Puntland on a technicality. In
desperation he attacked the port city of Bosaso on 5 August 2001. But that
military enterprise did not end in success. The Colonel retreated to Galkaio
his future uncertain. Anew group came into the scene on 14 November 2001
after a long drawn out grand conference in Garowe the Capital City of
Puntland. Mr. Jama Ali Jama leads that group as the newly elected president
of Puntland. But Mr. Yusuf would have none of this and attacked Garowe
before the new order could establish roots. Today Mr. Yusuf is in charge of
Garowe although there are elements who would like to eject him from the
City. He is also trying to recapture Bosaso or at least disable it as a
commercial city in order to deny his opponents the revenues from the port
and the airport. Mr. Jama is in Bosaso defending the city and hoping to
mount a counterattack to drive Mr. Yusuf from the capital of Puntland.
No one knows how this deadlock will end. Meanwhile most observers agree that
the Ethiopian policy on Somalia based on the SRRC is in disarray. The SRRC
proved to be a huge disappointment and is dying on its feet. The dramatic
events in Puntland left the Ethiopians surveying the wreckage of their
policies on Somalia. There is only confusion in Addis Ababa on what to do
about Somalia. Some observers believe those recent pronouncements from Addis
that Somalia I haven for terrorists is aimed to disguise that confusion.
There are however analysts particularly within the world of academia who
believe that the Ethiopians have all but given up hope on influencing events
in Somalia at a national level and are now left with the only policy of
securing recognition for Somaliland. Secession of Somaliland would kill off
any future territorial claims from the part of the Somali and would also
create a weak state economically dependent on Ethiopia.
This would require the destruction of Puntland. A debilitating civil strife
in the autonomous region would ensure the disputed regions of Sool and
Sanaag uniting with the rest of Somaliland. Once again the Ethiopians would
see Mr. Yusuf featuring prominently in that scheme. But there is a
difficulty. The colonel is of course ready to fight to the bitter end to
reestablish his rule in Puntland and fight his way to the port city of
Bosaso whatever the consequences at least in the short term. But his long
term aim is to rule a united Puntland not to seek its destruction. Once
again this long term relationship between Mr. Yusuf and the Ethiopians is
proving to be a disappointment for both parties. It’s a marriage of
convenience, which has probably reached the end of its usefulness and
heading for acrimonious divorce.
This is no doubt one aspect of the debate designed to unravel the malaise in
our society. There are of course many other aspects, which require further