Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassen Statue in Jigjiga: When a Harlot Eulogizes
a Holy Man
By Mukhtar M. Omer
The exigency of belonging to this and that camp at the same time fathers grotesque ideas and actions. When puppet politicians try to espouse noble principles, they become a modern Minotaur: half bull, half man - that unsettling imaginary creature in Greek Mythology. Minotaur politics has been in display in Somali Regional State of Ethiopia for some time, but reached comical peaks this week when the President of the Region announced that a Statue will be erected in the middle of Jigjiga for Somali nationalist Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassan. Sayid Mohamed deserves statues in all Somali lands, for he fought for the dignity and integrity of the Somali race against marauding British colonizers. There can be little dispute about the aptness of a Statue in Jigjiga for Sayid Mohamed.
But when Sayid Mohamed, a valiant fighter against occupation and slavery is honoured by a quisling coward, when those who kill their own people on behalf of their Tigrayan masters erect monuments for heroes who defended their land, the irony is not only stark but excruciatingly traumatic. When the incomparable Somali poet Ahmed Ismael Diriye (Qassim) intoned “Allow yaa Darwiishkii farriin debecsan gaadhsiiya”, the message that collaborators of colonialists are holding vigil for the immortal nationalist is not what he wanted the Sayid to hear. That would have given the Sayid a second death inside his grave. It is an insult - not only to the Sayid but to the entire Somali nationalists and freedom fighters –dead and alive, that a thuggish criminal in the payroll of Ethiopian oppressors is eulogizing their national hero.
It is also an insult to our intelligence. After all the mayhem and oppression Abdi Iley and his ilk caused us, you and me must feel repaid through ornate empty recognition of past heroes, through loud protestations of recalled Somalinimo (most of the time Ogaadeenimo), said against persisting persecution against the same race by these puppets of its historical enemy. And the notion of honoring a “dead anti-colonialist” is meant to expunge culpability for contemporary sins against living freedom-fighters. We are expected to love yesterday’s liberation icons, while at the same time cursing today’s freedom-fighters. We are compelled to remember our elders who were killed by the British hundred years ago, so that we forget the one’s Iley and his Tigre masters are killing today. We should cry for the dead, we should forget the pain of the living! That is the taunt.
The story of Abdi Iley as the sculptor of Sayid’s monument is a crazy tale of a man so providentially exempted from scrutiny, a desperate man whose “admiration” for old heroes owed more to a mendacious political gimmick than to a real sense of veneration for Sayid Mohamed. It is the era of cross-fertilizing causes to make them politically marketable.
Hating the “Blue”, Borrowing the Sayid
Let us disregard my outrage and see if President Abdi Iley’s decision makes sense from an objective syllogism point of view. Few years ago, Abdi Iley actively campaigned against the “white star in the blue layout” in the flag of the Somali Regional State. He eventually removed the star and the blue colour from the flag and replaced it with a yellow. The message was not implied but rather loudly articulated. The move was marketed at the time as a move away from the “Somalia” connection and a step into “Ethiopian” identity. Logically, if you do not like the “blue and the star”, you do not like Somalia. If you do not like Somalia, you cannot like its heroes!
There is also another dimension. Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassan is not an Ethiopian, has never been, and has never expressed any wish to be one in all his poems. The Sayid said his country is Somalia, and Somalia says the Sayid is its son. So, if President Iley, through his rethoric and actions, has been jettisoning any “Somalia” connection, to jelly with “Ethiopian” distinctiveness, why borrow the Sayid from Somalia? Why vandalize the honour of the nationalist hero by trying to fit his frame into a political system and national identity he would never have fitted into? Is it because he cannot speak from the grave and denounce this defilement? Is it because Somalia is too weak, too fragile to demand sole ownership of its hero?
Trimming a national hero into a clan celebrity
Or is it an attempt to reduce a Somali national hero into a clan celebrity by emphasizing his Ogaden lineage? This sadly seems to be the intent and effect of the erection of the Statue for Sayid Mohamed. Add all the excessive Dhaanto chants on the “Ethiopian Somali TV”, the fervent promotion of the heavily accented “Nogobi” lingo - “way dhalaali”, “ma I maqli”, “Kobtan-tada” (an accent nastily upgraded to symbolize power, privilege and hegemony), and it is easy to see that the attempt is to portray the Ogaden clan, who is marked for extinction by the Tigrayan rulers, as the primary beneficiary of Ethiopian benevolence. It gets nearly oxymoronic when one thinks of the “Ogaden clan” as the dying and ruling class at the same time! It is a cheap tactic, one that should not be allowed to flourish.
When praise becomes insult
If President Abdi Iley cares about his people, erecting false Statues, from which he will benefit financially by taking kick-backs from contractors who win the tender, is not the way to demonstrate it. It is by stopping his marauding Liyu police from killing civilians, by investigating the massacres of Guna-gado, Gashamo, and Birkot. It is a pointless appeal, for he is not in charge to protect his people but to do the bidding for the oppressors. He can only kill his people; he has no mandate to spare them. The Ogaden clan – like the rest of the Somali clans in the region, need freedom, equality and voice more than Dhaanto chants, fake Statues and false hegemonic posturing which alienates fellow Somalis in the region and serves the divide-and-rule tactics of the occupiers.
President Abdi Iley’s populist Sayid Statue is therefore useless because it is akin to a harlot’s praise of the local Imam. The Imam can only reap embarrassment and affront from the good words of the prostitute; he can never enjoy her acclaim. The right course of action for the relatives of the Imam would only to be to go and give the wicked woman a severe beating so that she no longer speaks of their holy man in good way. The onus is on Somali nationalists to decry Iley’s abuse of Sayid Mohamed. President Iley has no moral authority to speak about Sayid Mohamed and Somalinimo, when he works day and night to bury the ideals of liberation and pan-Somalism the Sayid fought and died for.
How to tell a Pig
Like the Minotaur of the ancient Greeks, Iley gives the impression of a half-nationalist-half-traitor; half-killer-half-saver; half-Somalian-half-Ethiopian; half-Ogaden-half-sub-Ogaden. This image is unreal like the Minotaur. In reality, he is nothing but the reincarnation of Moses Tshombe of the Congo; the same Moses Tshombe who cut the body of Patrice Lumumba into pieces to please Belgian occupiers.
Iley is not made of halfs. He is a full traitor. Iley constructing a statue for Sayid Mohamed is like a living Tshombe building a museum for Lumumba. And Iley does not have to say he is not a traitor for us to know what he is. After all, they say a pig never advertises its pig-ness, it merely wallows in mud. A pig does not become a peacock and shun filth because it is brought to a swimming pool for a vacation. It is easy to tell political pigs even when they are saying pretty things!
On a concluding note, Iley’s move to increase tax on ‘Qat’ to make it less affordable, is a good move and commendable. The cynic in me tells me that the “revenue” imperative overrode “the health” considerations of the directive, but to the extent it cuts addiction rates in the region, it is a positive step forward.
Mukhtar M. Omer