“Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief.”
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) British political writer
A long time notable absentee from popular social gatherings and gentlemen’s pastime rituals; a man who had spent much of the past seven years in self-imposed semi-solitary confinement, who lent endless efforts and resources in eavesdropping mundane get-togethers of people deprived of all sorts of enjoyable recreational activities and cultural entertainments; an enigmatic man who outwitted his rivals and keeps everybody guessing on his secretive moves and motives, has gatecrashed Maan-hadal this week with vengeance. Dahir Rayaale Kaahin, Somaliland’s strongman, with an unabated supersized ego and a penchant for political predation, presides over a corrupt, vampire administration that fleeces the public revenue - a quasi-utopian regime which is fundamentally antithetical to good governance.
Rayaale who longs to cling to power forever, abhors dissenting voices, discredits opponents and has the reputation of leaving no stone unturned to muffle voices of reason echoing from venerated places, the likes of the popular bastion of free speech - Maan-hadal, and similar rendezvous salons frequented by abstemious men who, owing to unfortunate circumstances befallen onto them, happen to be bereft of basic social amenities that civilized men had come to take for granted: cinemas, libraries, theatres, books, health and fitness clubs.
Though it came as a surprise, Rayaale’s gatecrashing received a warm and hospitable welcome from the engaging, gregarious members of the Maan-hadal household. Cool as the floor of the Berbera cells where Rayaale forced a confession out of an SNM mujaahid some 22 years back, he walked into the salon with unsteady gait.
Fashionably sunglassed and donned in pressed khaki safari-suite with an open split collar down the neck, our unbidden guest turned up accompanied by a large contingent of red-bereted bodyguards; coolers laden with canned soft drinks and ice and a full-bodied and palatable, fresh stock of Awaday – my favorite brand of the Qat species.
For the uninitiated, Rayaale appears as a good-natured mediocre; refreshingly innocent, easy to fool, political novice. Like every coin, politicians have two sides which are often paradoxical. Hence, Rayaale is not exceptional. After seven years in office, he remains something of an enigma, and a difficult to decipher unknown quantity. He keeps the essence of his political persona – and fundamental convictions – pretty much to himself. On the issue of recognition, in a bizarre twist of fate, he is more forceful than the men who fought for it. That is if we take his public pronouncements at face value. Yet, his inner thoughts are pretty much doubted by many, arousing considerable misgivings and curiosity.
Over the past decade, he burdened himself with the unsavory task of expurgating all inconvenient facts from his past professional history. Tweaked and twisted, and customized for public consumption - and entirely re-written - his CV has been rendered a convenient palimpsest. Even his birthplace has been changed from the nondescript small village of Gogti - known only for its burgeoning illicit charcoal trade - in the Somali region of Ethiopia, to Qolujeed.
Notwithstanding the financial constraints facing his fledgling regime, Rayaale is the highest paid autocrat in Africa. The budget of his fortified palace is reportedly greater than the combined budget of eight ministries, including education, health and water. He is surrounded by a political coterie of self-seeking cronies who are running Somaliland as an exclusive private domain – a cabal of opportunistic vultures with deeply-engrossed crave for money-making, who relishes the most objectionable political manipulations and wouldn’t hesitate to go the extra mile to take unfair advantage of the resilient and trusting masses. Rayaale’s inner coterie is dubbed here in Maan-hadal as “political monkeys in monkey-business”.
It may seem inconceivable, but Rayaale exudes self-confidence and articulates his views and arguments in clear and concise form. This day he was openly straightforward and candid. He was in a jocular mood throughout the occasion and managed to crack one or two jokes before we got engaged in some fairly courteous but intense, serious political discourse. The gist of the lively discussions that transpired between Rayaale and Maan-hadal are recapped herewith.
Maan-hadal: A warm welcome back to the fold. For too long you have been absent from your previously favored Mafrashes – the popular venues where incisive pundits deliberate over politics, current events, social issues and a myriad of other themes. What prompted your sudden visit to Maan-hadal today – one of your many pet aversions in this town?
Rayaale: Well, good to be with the usual suspects and self-appointed pundits. This venue has been an important hideout that kept flickering on my surveillance radar for many years and I surmise that most of you are sympathetic to my rivals. My visit is a mere statement to let you know that this hideout is not out of reach anymore.
Maan-hadal: Does your visit signal a change of heart in regards to your perception of the Qat salons?
Rayaale: You have had a field day on me for far too long. I see Maan-hadal and other similar Mafrashes as full-time rumor churning stations. This house which provides the venue for Maan-hadal is a government property. With a simple stroke of a pen, I could evict the resident politician. But I have decided otherwise. This shows how magnanimous I am. My visit signals the beginning of a new rapprochement. Let us put the past behind us and initiate a relationship based on mutual respect. And let us put to rest all the brouhaha over the postponement of the Election Day which the opposition intended to rabble-rouse the unsuspecting public. No one should blame me for procrastination. And please spare me any suggestion that I have something to do with the decision to prolong my tenure. With regards to the administration of the election process, no one should doubt the objectivity, neutrality and independence of the election commission, one of the best election authorities in sub-Saharan Africa.
Maan-hadal: Fair enough, let bygones be bygones. Let us not get into the inconvenient past, including the debacles of your past seven years in office. What is the prospect for your re-election considering the fact that your administration has not done much in the past seven years?
Rayaale: First, I am confident that I will be re-elected for another term. I have a proven track record and my contributions to the cause of Somaliland are unsurpassed by any of my predecessors. Second, my opponents are the same contestants that I defeated in the last historic presidential election. One gives the appearance of a wounded lion in the African savannah that howls in long tones but harmless in nature, unless one stumbles into his den. The other is an object of ridicule among the Somalis all over the world. He is befitting to his alter ego described as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots." The public are in favor of neither the old-guard nor an unstable xenophobic political junky with rotten, cynical views. The people voted for me in the last election and I am certain that they will vote for me again in large numbers. They will vote prudently, they will vote for continuity, they will vote for UDUB.
Maan-hadal: Tell us what you will do differently - what new strategies or polices you intend to come up with or implement in the coming four years if you are elected.
Rayaale: I intend to bring about sweeping changes to my administration soon after winning election with the introduction of quite a number of new initiatives.
After the election, I will form a government of national unity and will bring the opposition fully into the fold. In the coming four years, a functioning government recognized by the international community will be in place in Mogadishu. The international community obliges us to initiate dialogue with Mogadishu. We had been told umpteen times that we cannot divorce from Mogadishu unilaterally. The position of the international community is that the divorce has to be mutual. Thus, it is exigent to have a full-fledged unity government that could rally the support of the populace in the implementation of the eventual outcome of such a dialogue with the South. Therefore, I intend to appoint Ahmed Silanyo, Engineer Mohamed Hashi and Gabbose as ministers of foreign affairs, internal affairs and health, respectively.
Next time round, I will only appoint Cabinet positions to politicians who choose to practice abstinence from Qat. As you are all aware, sobriety has become a scarce commodity in this beloved town of ours. I will reduce the amount of Qat we import to the minimum and will double taxes levied on it. I will make Qat a luxury commodity that can only be purchased by those who can afford it. With that I also intend to do away with Maan-hadal and similar salons.
Like Sara Palin, I have the vision of seeing distant lands from my window. As far as I can see, the entry tray atop of Dr. Farole's office desk is overflowing with a plethora of predicaments: the pirate phenomenon with its international dimension, the crisis of the boatpeople, and the ever-increasing influx of Internally Displaced Persons from southern Somalia. Dr. Farole and I are long time acquaintances. Unlike his predecessors, he is a man of peace with whom Somaliland can do business with. Dr. Farole and I have been in touch since his inauguration and have agreed to demilitarize the Sool region. Puntland will withdraw its forces to Garowe and we will pull back ours to Buroa. We both agreed to jointly underwrite reconstruction programs in the fields of health, education and water development designed to alleviate the living conditions in Las Anod and to incentivate the return flow of Sool professional expatriates and their families from the diaspora. As regards to governance, neither Garowe nor Hargeisa will appoint governors or administrators for Sool. Like Borama and Buroa, they have the right to determine how to run their local affairs.
Over the past decade, Puntland has been a vital strategic buffer between Somaliland and the chaotic South Somalia. We have common menacing enemy – Al-Shabab – which is determined to undermine the prevailing peace and stability in our thriving administrations. Hence, we cannot afford to remain at loggerheads with Puntland, any more.
Maan-hadal: A prominent opposition figure is missing from your above list of designated top echelons. Is it a mere oversight or intentional?
Rayaale: No sane leader will appoint explosive loose cannon in his cabinet. Faisal Ali Warabe is a blabbermouth and saber-rattle and the public knows that much of his recycled diatribes are merely empty political posturing. In terms of political Richter scale, Mr. Waraabe’s occasional drivels trigger zero seismic activity. Demagogues get pleasure from the politics of rants and ramblings and the making of shallow platitudes. He seldom says anything of substance but rather regenerated himself into a laughing stock of the land. Interestingly, he has been on the side of my administration quite often than not.
Maan-hadal: What about your outspoken, long-timer, fast and furious minister of foreign affairs?
Rayaale: I will send him off to Addis Ababa with a new title: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Head of Somaliland mission to Ethiopia and AU. That is where he is needed so much. No sensible politician would like to linger and lurk around like “a mouse in a warehouse”. It is about time that one hits the road and returns to the real world.
Maan-hadal: The majority of the Somalis blame the lack of progress of the myriad peace talks held in the past two decades for South Somalia to the poor choice of UN envoys for Somalia by the Secretary General and the unethical meddling of the Somali crisis by the UN Political Office in Nairobi. What is your take on this?
Rayaale: The UN envoys were, by and large, not genuine peacemakers but essentially job-seeking retired diplomats trying to make a living from the Somali crisis. They have largely ignored to consult with the self-governing, stable administrations of Somaliland and Puntland and to replicate the lessons learned from these aspiring entities. For the way forward, the Secretary General needs to appoint for Somalia a competent mediator, an honest broker with peace building credentials and with the profile and caliber of Desmond Tutu, George Mitchell and Amb. Richard Holbrooke.
Maan-hadal: Somaliland has taken a heat on its absence from the recent hearing organized by U.S. Rep. Donald Payne. “If they want to be isolated, they can be assured that I will do all I can to isolate them... and evidently that they don’t need or want the support of US... and will support Somalia and Puntland", that is how Rep. Payne has responded to the statement of your foreign minister, Mr. Duale. Were you surprised by the response from the Chairman Rep. Payne? Webcast
Rayaale: As it turned out, I think we missed an opportune event. I may have been misled by my colleagues dealing with the issue. I was told that we will have a special session with Hillary Clinton in August. In any case, it is not Rep. Donald Payne who determines the Obama administration’s foreign policy. My representative in Washington has assured me that the State Department is receptive to the Somaliland cause.
Maan-hadal: Somaliland had made some progress in the international arena when Madam Edna Aden was in charge of the foreign affairs. Do you think her absence from your cabinet and particularly the foreign office has cost Somaliland?
Rayaale: I beg to differ. For beneficially cooperative foreign relationships, you need someone with natural skills in diplomatic and public relationships; someone agile and quick-witted; someone who can amble with ease through myriad situations; someone with initiatives and solutions and able to combine innovation and inspiration - someone who can focus on the long-term vision rather than short-term gains. That is why I am appointing Ahmed Silanyo for the top post.
Before we had time to digest his unprecedented exposé, Rayaale answered a seemingly urgent call from Mohamed Abdillahi Oomaar of the TFG, apologized and left abruptly. As Rayaale swaggered to the gate, he said, "Tell Sheikh Sharif that I have laid the groundwork as promised…good to have everybody onboard."
The candor and the depth of Rayaale’s perorations left Maan-hadal perplexed and confounded. How naive of Maan-hadal to write him off so early! Perhaps it is about time that the salon dusts its UDUB regalia, and sharpens its words for praise poetry; or faces the ultimate closure. For it is all clear to who wishes to see that the daffodil is blossoming again!!
A. Duale Siiarag
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