Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dayeer Diaries: Democratic Governance & the Rule of Law in Somaliland

Dayeer Diaries: Democratic Governance & the Rule of Law in Somaliland 

Ahmed M.I. Egal has particular interest in Somali affairs about which he has written extensively, as well as issues concerning African political economy and international politics.

By Ahmed M.I. Egal - The demand for protection against arbitrary rule and punishment provided by the rule of law dates back to medieval times when feudal barons demanded and wrested such protections from King John of England in 1215 under the Magna Carta. Thus, this “Great Charter” has been referenced as one of the core foundations of the of the system of representative government that is called democracy. In Somaliland, the principle of protection against an arbitrary executive enshrined in the rule of law has a particular resonance and was one of the core principles underlying the deep desire of the people to vanquish the Afweyne dictatorship and recover their sovereignty. In Somali society the principle of equality before the law and the impartial application of justice are ingrained indelibly in both the nomadic culture and in the religious faith of the society.

Professor Ioan M. Lewis, the doyen of Somali studies, in his seminal study, “A Pastoral Democracy” described the political organisation of traditional, nomadic Somali society as “democratic to the point of anarchy” for a very good reason. Quite simply, Somali nomadic culture has no tradition of strong chiefs or other executive authority. People govern themselves through an open, participatory and essentially egalitarian system whereby all male members of a clan or sub-clan gather in an open meeting and discuss the issue at hand, during which a collective decision is reached which is binding upon all. Individual clan members submit to the will of the majority of their kinsmen voluntarily and willingly, there is no compulsion, save the moral and ethical impetus to accept the decisions of the group in order to remain a responsible member and enjoy the benefits flowing from said membership.

It is important to outline the socio-cultural roots of the relationship between the people of Somaliland and the rule of law in our society, in order to highlight the dangers inherent in the flagrant and criminal flouting of the law by the Silanyo government. The first major misstep committed by the Silanyo administration with respect to the rule of law was the decision to attend the Wilton Park conference on Somalia which was entitled: “Somalia: Building Stability, Accepting Reality” held on 7-9 February 2011, in clear and direct contravention of the law prohibiting participation in any meetings or conferences held for Somalia passed jointly by the two houses of parliament on 11 October 2003. The administration used tortuous syntax and outright mendacity to try to convince the public that it was not acting outside the law of the land by attending the Wilton Park meeting on Somalia, but the simple truth is that everyone knew that it was breaking the law, and that it didn’t care that it was doing so.

During this period, the administration also welcomed and rehabilitated Somaliland citizens that had flouted the same law, rather than bring them before the courts, e.g. the rehabilitation of Mohamud Abdillahi Jama (Sifir) and his appointment as Ambassador to Kenya, with no reference at all to his long held and publicly stated opposition to Somaliland’s independence and concomitant advocacy of Somaliweyn. This was followed by the attendance of the London Conference on Somalia on 23th February 2012, and the follow-on conference held in Istanbul on 31st May/1st June 2012. The clear message the administration was sending was that it simply did not feel itself bound by this particular law with which it disagreed.

In response to the government’s flouting of the law, indeed acting as if the law did not exist, other political actors decided to do likewise. Thus, in response to tempting offers of large payments of US Dollars many clan elders, particularly newly-minted ones that have been given the telling and terrific moniker of ‘prepaid’ in Somaliland street parlance in order to evidence their similarity to prepaid SIM cards, decided to accept the generous offers and travelled to Mogadishu to participate in the conference of clan elders being held in Mogadishu to approve the new constitution for Somalia’s new government under the Roadmap. In a bid to bring these ‘elders’ to heel, the government belatedly discovered the 2003 law and proposed an amendment to said law permitting the government to attend any such meetings that it deemed to be in Somaliland’s interest, while maintaining the blanket prohibition for all other actors, individual or organisational. Of course, the, mainly prepaid, elders responded to the administration’s admonition of “do as I say, not as I do” with the tart rejoinder “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” as could have been anticipated by any seasoned observer.

The second major example of this administration’s flagrant flouting of the law is the ultra vires and repeated imprisonment of its political opponents and independent journalists on flimsy or entirely trumped up charges. The most notable example of this illegal incarceration of political opponents was the imprisonment of Boqor Osman Aw-Mahamoud (Buur Madow) on ludicrous charges of treason for voicing criticism of the Silanyo administration. In the end, unable to withstand the huge and mounting pressure within the country and from abroad, including public appeals from Amnesty International, the administration was forced to free Buur Madow last week. However, the arbitrary arrests and imprisonment without charge of independent journalists continues unabated and shows no sign of diminishing. It is very telling that the head of the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) recently stated that the Silanyo administration has managed to arbitrarily arrest and imprison more journalists in its first two years in office than the previous Rayalle administration during its entire eight years in office. And this, from the same people that used to champion the freedom of the press when they were in opposition!

The third major example of the administration’s disregard for the rule of law, is the corrosive culture of corruption that surrounds and envelops this government as none other before it. The administration seems unwilling or unable to shake off this widespread and toxic perception of corruption that taints all of its activities and officials, even into the Presidency itself. It seems that nearly every week yet another revelation of financial misdeeds and misappropriation of public funds involving public officials or their relatives comes to light with no convincing refutation from the government. This perception is given much credence and veracity by the resignation some short time ago of Mohamed Hashi, the former Finance Minister who is widely regarded as personally honest and incorruptible, irrespective of his politics, with which many, including this writer, disagreed. The fact that Mr. Hashi left the government shortly after a dispute with Cabinet colleagues over alleged misappropriation of public funds, which he lost, merely confirms this widely held perception of endemic corruption within the administration.

In conclusion, the Silanyo administration, more than any other government in Somaliland’s short history, is widely perceived as one that not only rides roughshod over the law of the land, but that can indeed be characterised as criminal in nature. If the elected government of the land does not respect the constitution and the rule of law under which it came to power, then there is little hope that other political actors will. We have already seen the consequences of this blatant disregard for the law in the growing embroilment of Somaliland clan elders (prepaid and/or genuine) in the farcical Roadmap process in Somalia, as well as in the culture of impunity and corruption among lower and midlevel bureaucrats within government. If this growing cancer within our body politic is not arrested and reversed soon, it will poison our politics and destroy the democracy we have so assiduously built in ‘Africa’s best kept secret’.

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