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LANCING THE BOIL

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 singled 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 way it is time get to the bottom of the malaise. IT IS TIME TO LANCE THE BOIL!

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 is a 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 Somalis 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 elucidation.


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