Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The Second Coming, By W. B. Yeats
Greetings from Maan-hadal Khat/Qat salon in Hargeisa, which is full to the brim today. I am chewing fresh AWADAY (an expensive brand of the relatively high-priced stimulant Khat/Qat plant) with the usual crowd, and my today’s guests of honor include well-known Somali celebrities, politicians, religious leaders and members of the emerging plutocratic and parvenu class. Some are established customers; others are welcome irregular visitors. Uninvited intruders and gatecrashers are usually tolerated at Maan-hadal.
Before I ponder to outline the inherent features of the Maan-hadal salon, let me say a word about the magic plant that embodies the dictionary definition of catalyst. Khat/Qat or CHAT (Catha edulis) is a mild hallucinogenic plant that grows in Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen, which is widely chewed by the majority of the adult Somali men at their leisure time, often in the afternoons. It is believed that it alerts and activates the mind; provokes spontaneous talking, and invigorates the I.Q. - generating transient flow of ideas and initiatives. Khat consoles the mind, relieves tensions and begets a much-needed respite and comfort from the often tedious and uninspiring daily routines of the Somali urban centers. Reflecting the deeply ingrained passion for the sacred plant, it is often referred to as the “fodder of the saints”. The Khat chewers experience momentary ecstasy and euphoria when chewing and sleeplessness and loss of appetite when not under the stimulation of the bitter tasting leafs.
There is a daily session of chewing Khat in my modest but cozy little Maan-hadal salon at my house. Maan-hadal, which translated means “speak your mind”, is a mere talking-shop. Put quite simply, it is a forum for free and easy interactions. Maan-hadal is an interactive, informal social gathering that is meant to provide a convenient and casual platform for the silent majority to express (off-the-record, of course) their individuality and their opinions on issues of mutual interest. It somehow resembles an open public space for free speeches. Exercising their inherent, inalienable and legitimate rights to free speech, my chewing-mates interact with each other and speak their minds quite freely. In line with the longstanding traditional values of Khat-chewers, opposing views and differing opinions are tolerated if not always fully accommodated. Hence, freedom of speech is virtually unrestrained at Maan-hadal!
At Maan-hadal, conversations are generally informal, desultory and free-for-all - a culturally-appropriate democratic mode of communication. There are no agreed upon set of topics for discussion. Communication is entirely and specifically oral and comments are not recorded. There is neither an agenda nor minutes. As you might expect, the topics under discussion and areas of interest of my chewing-mates, with diverse backgrounds, are many and varied. They freely express their ideas on myriads of topics, including politics, culture, sex, current events, history, literature, etc., with no fixed period or limit on individual’s talk time. Usually, the free-for-all spontaneous daily discussions may last for more than six hours without any conclusions. The discourse, however, is often lively and animated and enlightening and by no means boring.
During Siad Barre’s era, the Khat salons served as the sole sanctuary for dissenting voices – the last refuge for the downtrodden. They stood as viable alternative forums for forbidden and recurrently quelled freedom of speeches and assembly. Yet, the regime remained wary and apprehensive of the flourishing industry of Khat salons that somehow turned as convenient venues for subdued political discourse. Barre’s regime eventually banned Khat, vainly believing that such old and venerated habit will be eradicated with a single writ of government. The sequel is all too known.
My petite Maan-hadal salon is in danger of extinction at this point in time. Threats hail from various adversaries. A stark menace is emanating from Rayaale and his henchmen of the reconstructed NSS. My urbane interaction with like-minded souls is often interrupted by unsolicited intrusion of secret agents fishing for intelligence.
Today history is repeating itself in Hargeisa. President Rayaale Kahin sees the Khat salons as Situation Rooms where strategies for his downfall are being hatched. As a trained professional in eavesdropping, he has unleashed a horde of recycled former members of the all-time notorious National Security Service (NSS) to the bustling streets of Hargeisa. Many ostracized former spies who administrated the torture chambers of the NSS, the regime’s instrument of oppression, are now back in business with vengeance. Unabashed, many are frequent visitors of my humble Maan-hadal salon with a view to gathering useful political information for a paranoia-gripped regime dominated by reincarnated rogue characters of the infamous regime of Siad Barre - the very regime with which many heroic dissidents of Hargeisa stood against it.
The political pantheons of present-day Hargeisa are replete with recycled characters of mediocre worth from the yesteryear, including those overtly guilty of accomplice of the military regime’s years of terror. Ironically enough, President Rayaale, a former agent of the notorious security service who oversaw the NSS torture cells in Berbera, at the height of the regime’s brutal onslaught in the northern regions, is the very person in command of the “reborn” - recreated and regenerated- state of Somaliland. From secret service agent to Khat baron to president, Rayaale has made an extraordinary professional career. Rayaale has not missed the fact that the profession of presidency is a lucrative, money-spinning business in Africa. Haunted by the ever-present ghost of the SNM and often taunted as a lame duck President, Rayaale wasted no time in planning for a profligate retirement scheme. From Djibouti to Cairo and Dubai, no stone was left unturned in his insatiable quest for lavish, sprawling deluxe castle in posh locations. Not fully content with the seaside bungalow built for him in Djibouti by his comrade-of-convenience, Ismael Omar Guelleh, his wife, the First Lady, bought a splendid house in Dubai for two million dollars, early this year.
Rayaale’s right-hand man is none other than the enigmatic Hussein Du’ale (widely-known as Awil), the darling of the British MI5 and Kenyan intelligence services. Awil, a former ambassador and current Minister of Finance of Somaliland, has been described by a long time acquaintance as “a weather-vane, a malignant genius devoid of integrity”. He is regarded as a hypocrite with no political beliefs, values and principled stance who fickle constantly and change colors like chameleon. A survivalist who manages to stay alive on unsavory means. His lip-service allegiance is to all but his loyalty is to none.
Two other men with diverse reputations perch at the apex of the ideologically deficient and enfeebled opposition parties: Silanyo and Faysal Ali Warabe. Both men are known to distort facts to suit sleazy and unsavory political agenda. Inherently, both possess creative baseness and regale the luxury of exploiting moribund Somali nationalism, transmuting myths into facts for political and clannish motives. Their political praxis is marred with narrow clannish chauvinism, self-serving intransigence and bigotry, and unrivalled ingenuity in exploiting the war-weary sentiments of their anxiety-ridden fellow compatriots.
The pristine political landscape of Hargeisa is currently riddled with emergent, semi-coherent political parties that lumps together political opportunists, clannist intellectuals with entrenched clanocentric philosophical credentials, and remnants of the dictatorial regime of Siad Barre. The bizarre hybrid seems to synthesize nostalgic yearning for the past with illusive utopia. The real ideologues of these parties are time-serving bureaucrats of the old guard reeling with nostalgic reminiscence for an ignominious period in our recent past history.
Silanyo, the longest serving minister of economy of Barre’s regime, jumped out of the bandwagon only after learning that he had fallen grace with the strongman. Silanyo’s political record is marred with mediocre performance, endless tactical maneuvers, lack of steady stance and incapacity to lead people and inspire confidence on others. No wonder that he lost presidential election to a relatively obscure Rayaale with dark, ignominious past.
Ill-read and ill-educated, Faysal is an ignoble demagogue who made himself the laughing stock of Somalis of all walks of life. Unpopular in his home turf, he is known to have a loose tongue for venomous rhetoric and thoughtless diatribe. There are ample empirical evidences to suggest that Faysal had collaborated with Siad Barre’s military regime during the height of the Hargeisa uprising in the early eighties. He was known as the right-hand-man of the late Gen. Mohamed Hashi Gani, the ruthless military strongman, who ruled Hargeisa with iron-fist during much of early 1980s. Former senior officials of Siad Barre’s notorious NSS and members of the executive committee of the former Somali National Movement (SNM) are of the view that Faysal served the regime as a valuable informer, spying on the activities of the UFO youth activists - the forerunners of the SNM. Faysal was regarded by the SNM as a traitor of the worst kind and an accomplice of gross human rights abuses.
In a recent interview with a local radio, Faysal is reported to have said that the descendants of the Bini Hashim do not expect to be preached by the heretical Reer Mudug. Vulgar enough, his fateful comments flout common sense, logic and historical accounts and are all the more disconcerting for being so. The fallacious assumption of superiority of one clan over others is inherently anachronistic and erroneous notion. Faysal’s comments marked a new low of an already degenerate Somali political discourse.
In this age of disinformation, his Mudug-baiting motto chimes harmoniously with the polemics of other likeminded charlatans, the likes of Muse Yalaxow and Mohamed Dheere who call Somalis from the northern parts of Somalia as predatory and scroungers of the resources of the southerners.
Hate-mongering and Mudug-bashing actually demonstrates the bankruptcy of the argument founded on fallacy and futility. How long would Somaliland’s desire for self-rule be abetted and promoted through rancid characters and hate for Walaweyn – a misnomer often used to symbolize the southerners as a lot.
This week, the discussion in Maan-hadal will largely feature on the adverse outcome of our struggle to free ourselves from the yoke of a brutal dictatorship. What come of my bitter, heroic struggle if all I could do was to replace the cruel, human rights violators with one of their kind? What come of my struggle if all I could do was to crown the remnants of the villain torturers to continue perpetuating their old uncanny and unholy manipulative stratagem? What come of my struggle if my little Maan-hadal is still threatened by the same despised and dreaded ghosts of the yesteryear?
Another ominous threat to Maan-hadal is imminent from another dubious quarter. As the raging storm of the seemingly unstoppable Islamists from Mogadishu gathers momentum the vulnerability of the revered window of freedom in Maan-hadal is being further exacerbated. Notwithstanding the homilies of the soft-spoken Sheikh Sharif, the uncompromising Islamists are inching closer with the determination to proselytize Somalis into Wahabism and stifle my little freedom-house. Borrowing a fateful leaf from Barre’s regime, the Islamists avow to ban my leisure time hobby, and with that the grand Mafrash of all time – Maan-hadal.
By A. Du'ale Sii’arag
Member of MaanHadal Team
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