WHEN DEMOCRACY MEANS A DICTATORSHIP IN DISGUISE
By Jamal Madar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Many of us recall that before 21 October 1969 the former Somali Republic was a democracy that, despite its faults and shortcomings, was the envy of Africa and most of the Third World. We also recall how this thriving democracy was gradually transformed in a few years to the most oppressive dictatorship ruled by a ruthless tyrant, Mohamed Siyad Barre, until the litany of crimes against humanity that he had committed against his own people ultimately brought the final curtain down on his despotic rule.
When Barre came to power in 1969, one of the first acts of his government was to change the country's name from the Somali Republic to the Somali Democratic Republic in an attempt to hoodwink the Somali people and the international community at large following the example of communist countries around the world. But in former communist states that adopted the name "democratic" the use of the epithet was based on the claim that they provided the basic necessities of life for everyone. Barre knew perfectly well that, unlike the communist countries, he could not provide bread and butter for every citizen of his impoverished country. But, he wanted to use the name as a gimmick intended to soothe the people about the horrors that were to come.
Apart from this seemingly benign but portentous name change, the Barre regime's road to despotism had a number of landmarks, which identified each turning point. The first of these was the suspension of the constitution and the freedoms it guaranteed such as the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech. This was followed shortly afterwards by the enactment of a law establishing the National Security Court (NSC) and eliminating the few remaining civil liberties while also reserving the death penalty for any political action regarded as sabotage, subversion or "anti-revolutionary".
The next step was to remove from the Supreme Revolutionary Council those elements that were seen as an obstacle to Barre's future dictatorial rule. These included the older officers who could see through Barre's machinations and the more ambitious types. Thus, Generals Ainanshe and Gabayre and Colonel Del were tried by the NSC on trumped up charges and summarily executed. Not only was this intended as a warning to potential trouble makers but also as a means of gauging the extent of public tolerance to such executions.
Because the public was docile or indifferent, more executions followed as time went on and the slightest murmur of discontent led to imprisonment, torture and other forms of abuse. All this was intended to pave the way for the concentration of political power in the hands of Siyad Barre and this is what eventually happened particularly after assuming other roles and responsiblities besides the presidency. Nothing was done without his knowledge and nobody could tell him that a particular policy or action was wrong. We all know what finally became of his regime and the country at all large.
The descent of the Barre regime into a state of absolute tyranny despite the democratic nature of Somali society is quite instructive for predicting the future trend of the Rayale government and its probable end. This is because it has already emabarked on a course similar to that of the Barre Regime in its early days.
Nearly two decades ago, the people of Somaliland had taken up arms to overthrow Siyad Barre because of his repression against the people of Somaliland. Fourteen years after Somaliland restored its independence following the collapse of the Barre regime, the ugly face of repression is raising its head again. That regime's ghost is haunting us again because the dark forces that used to work for it and prop it up in power are lurking in the corners of every street in Hargeisa. The system and its informers, hirelings, quislings and stooges (which was called Faqash) are in power today in Somaliland or working to prop up the system. There are informers in every household. They are menacingly staring at us from every nook and cranny of the country. Somaliland is no longer the country we have cherished and yearned for, the country that so many heroes had sacrificed their precious blood for to free us from the clutches of Afweyne's repression. Unfortunately our dreams seem to be in tatters today as the country has fallen into the hands of conscienceless and unashamed clique of usurpers. They are the remnants of Faqash - a deadly breed who have learned and improved all their former master's tricks.
There are many former Faqash civil servants in Rayale's government. They are pests in our midst, who are there in that government for an illusory power and glory, for crumbs from Rayale's table, for satisfaction of their ambition and avarice. They allow themselves to be used as expendable instruments of oppression of their brethren by this despicable regime. Thus, those who are in power in Somaliland today are no different in many respects from the evil regime that we replaced one and a half decades ago.
We were asked to believe that the western style democracy that Somaliland had adopted would protect our rights: the right to express ourselves freely without fear, the right to protest peacefully as enshrined in the constitution, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and so on. But these rights are simply written on a piece of paper called the constitution, which the President uses when it suits him and throws into the dustbin when it doesn't.
Rayale may not have sentenced anyone to death but his regime, unlike his predecessor's, has gone to an extraordinary length to suppress the truth. His regime has sanctioned the use of death threats, beatings, torture, rape and detention of innocent people without trial. People can no longer express themselves freely anymore for they are likely to be detained under the law titled "Endangering the Peace and Stability of the Country'. It is an all-encompassing law similar to those enacted by Siyad Barre's military junta and is calculated to silence the critics of the government. Anyone who expresses views critical of the government is sentenced in a Kangaroo court- a mobile National Security Tribunal chaired by the discredited Internal Minister, Ismail Adan Osman, the notorious former small-time petty Faqash informer who was responsible for the deaths of so many of his own kith and kin during Afweyne's regime. He was the first man whose house was destroyed by the SNM forces when they captured Hargeisa.
Lately, it has become customary for Rayale's regime to employ hirelings to intimidate journalists who try, in all their efforts, to report to us the truth about what is going on in the country and to illuminate from time to time the ambiguities surrounding the government's policies, priorities and programmes.
On 31st August, the Editor-in-Chief of Jamhuriya, Africa's most arrested journalist, was raided in his office around midnight and taken into custody in a local police station under the direct orders of President Rayale himself after writing in his newspaper a report from Nairobi indicating the government's leanings towards Somali unity while the opposition was firmly attached to the independence of Somaliland. Hassan was harangued and threatened by the police that he "would be slaughtered in the dry riverbed of Hargeisa". In a similar manner, the free-lance journalist, Mohammed Arrale, who sent the report to Jamhuriya from Nairobi, and who happens to be of the same clan as Hussein Ali Dualeh (Awil), the Finance Minister, was so savagely beaten up by a Kenyan gang believed to be hired by Awil and paid for from the public funds with the tacit understanding of President Rayale. Awil who was a former Ambassador to Kenya possesses property in that country and maintains extensive contacts with the local people there that enable him to hire local gangs to roughen up or eliminate anyone who exposes the government's hidden agendas.
The Minister of Interior, Ismail Faqash, as he is famously known, introduced his own measures to impose restrictions on the liberties and personal freedoms of the Somaliland citizens particularly those who live within his reach - i.e. Hargeisa and its environs. Authorised mobile courts try government critics, on the President's directive, with none of the normal judicial rules and procedures. The tribunals would not have to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt or follow established rules of evidence thus violating the basic principles of judicial procedure. One such individual, who was recently detained without trial, under this sweeping law, is Boqor Raabi Yusuf of Salahley who publicly expressed views, which were seemingly inclined towards Somali unity. He was immediately arrested under the trumped up charges of 'endangering the peace and stability of the country'. However, when the Chairman of the Somaliland parliament, Ahmed Mohamed Aden (Qaybe), expressed explicit views regarding his long-standing support of Somali unity on Somaliland TV, it was not seen by the Somaliland government as a treasonable offence despite his high position in a state claiming to have reinstated its former independence and sovereignty. This was a clear indication of the government's political leanings favouring Somali unity rather than the independence of Somaliland.
Earlier, Boqor Osman Aw Mohamoud (Buur Madow) of Erigavo was arrested for expressing his views by saying that Rayale was plotting a strategy to derail Somaliland by rendering the strategic port of Berbera defunct in collaboration with Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti. Boqor Buur Madow who exposed the degree and scale of this conspiracy was branded a 'liar' by Rayale's vengeful regime. The Boqor was held incommunicado in Hargeisa Central Prison for many months without being charged because he apparently had crucial evidence that could have implicated Rayale. The Boqor precisely identified and pinpointed Guelleh's machinations and conspiracies against Somaliland and he was alerting the public to this danger. Today, Boqor Buur Madow has been vindicated. Guelleh has not only shown his intention to render Berbera port defunct but also to destroy Somaliland itself with the collusion and collaboration of Rayale. In a recent statement, Guelleh said to his people that Djibouti would be the only port in East Africa from where all the livestock of the area would be exported. He added that he had always looked forwarded to the day when Djibouti would monopolise exporting Somali livestock.
On another count, Boqor Buur Madow was justified when he said that the people of Sool were ready to engage in a dialogue with the government of Somaliland but that government officials were repeatedly stalling these efforts. In any event, the public chose to be bystanders and to watch al these criminal acts on the sidelines.
On 18th May 2004, the National Security Committee modelled on Siad Barre's system sentenced 150 youths to prison terms ranging from 6 months to one year after they were accused of having participated in a demonstration held in Hargeisa. The youths, who were chanting 'We don't want Rayale, we don't want the dollar taker', demonstrated against the President at Khayriya on the auspicious occasion of 18th May.
The police clubbed, trampled upon and chased the remnants of the angry demonstrators all the way to Xero Jaad (Central Hargeisa Khat Market). Many of these young men were sent to Mandera Central Prison simply because they were chanting 'we don't want Rayale, we don't want the dollar taker'. The public did not react to these brutalities and gross violations of human rights.
In December 2004, Mr. Kayse Yusuf Ali, a former digital engineer, who is now a councillor in Hargeisa accused the Mayor of Hargeisa, Engineer Hussein Mohamed Jiciir and the Interior Minister, Ismail Adan of plundering public resources. In a press conference held at Hadhwanaag Hotel, Councillor Kayse stated that 'Land is a common resource and should be held in public ownership'. He was arrested by police the next morning while driving his car out of a Garage under the direct order of the Interior Minister, Ismail Adan, whose only qualification is how to arrest, beat and torture innocent people - an art which he had learned from his Faqash mentors and in which he excelled under Rayale's administration since then. Councillor Kayse was deprived of his liberty for telling the truth. But for the Rayale regime the truth is unpalatable and should not be told. It is now the rule rather than the exception for the Rayale regime to act in a highhanded manner towards traditional leaders. A traditional leader is an institution 'unto himself' and should be protected. Even Siyad Barre used to shy away from deataining Sultans. It is now common practice in Somaliland and more so under Rayale's regime. It is we, the public, who legalised these abuses by being indifferent and complacent about what is going on in our country.
No one has protested, against these flagrant violations of our freedoms and civil liberties. There was not even a whimper. We are simply bystanders. Some of us are not even aware of these invasive and criminal policies already in effect. Only a few local human rights organisations especially African Rights headed by Raqiya Omaar have expressed their detestations of these criminal acts. Raqiya has gone out of her way, time and again, to bring these human rights abuses to the international attention. She, too, was a victim. The verbally incontinent Interior Minister, Ismail Adan, had repeatedly threatened, insulted and accused her of being pro-Kulmiye for simply doing her job. But far from backing-off from any of these abuses, Rayale and Co. greedily grabbed more power to the extent that police powers far exceed the limits of tolerance.
According to African Rights, 'Somalilanders who endured years of repression under Siyad Barre find it deeply troubling to see the return of some of the most intrusive and offensive practices of that era". In May 2003, night curfews were common in Hargeisa and police routinely stopped vehicles after 10.00 p.m. when passengers and motorists were forced to leave their cars and ordered to 'go to bed'- a reminder of the "Maseexanwaa"- the time when Siyad Barre's military junta subjected the people of the then North West to a hellish nightmare. This infamous curfew was evident in an article, which appeared in The Somaliland Times on 24 May 2003, titled "Hargeisa Under Undeclared Night Curfew".
On 20th April 2003, a group of Kulmiye supporters, mainly women and children, who tried to protest against the results of the presidential election were brutalised by the police. Among the women who were brutally beaten up with the butt of a gun by the police included Nura Hussein Jama and Fathiya Jama Haid, both Londoners who are related by marriage to the Internal Minister, Ismail Adan Osman. Fathiya came back to London with heavy bruises visible on her body. Kinsi Adleef who was four months pregnant at the time was also beaten up with the butt of a gun. Kinsi had become very ill in the Jail and 'was foaming at the mouth, her tongue was sticking out and her teeth were stuck together and her eyes had a fixed look' according Africa Rights. The police wouldn't even allow her to see a doctor simply because she belonged to Kulmiye.
On 15 August 2004, a 16-year-old girl from Majertinia, Zamzam Ahmed Dualeh, was charged with espionage and conspiracy to assassinate the Vice-President, Ahmed Yusuf Yasin. Zamzam suffered beatings, rape and torture. A man who accompanied her, Omar Jama Warsame, was also beaten up and tortured. At an initial court hearing on 4th October, the pair was brought to trial without legal representation. Amnesty International said that 'their trial has already fallen foul of international standards of fairness'. At the latest court hearing on 24 November 2004, the judge sentenced the pair's four defence lawyers to a prison term of three years each for 'allegedly laughing at the public prosecutor'- a charge which was established later to be unfounded and baseless according to those who attended the court.
A disdain for human rights was what the Rayale regime had shown from the start. This administration tore up, rejected or repeatedly undermined the constitution from day one. This hastened the evaporation of the public good will and the sympathy the Rayale administration enjoyed briefly in the first year of its term. Within a year resentment and hostility, even among some UDUB supporters, reached its highest pitch. The administration's systematic abuse of the constitution has reached new heights of absurdity and new depths of betrayal of public trust.
On 5th March 2005, Kulmiye supporters gathered at the party's headquarters in Hargeisa. The headquarters of the party was surrounded by police equipped with automatic machine guns and high calibre guns mounted on four-wheel drive vehicles in an effort to intimidate the people. The Chairman complained about this and wrote to the president and the leaders of the two houses. The written complaint was submitted to the Interior Minister to comment on it.
In his reply to
the Chairman of Kulmiye, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Silanyo), the Minister
said in his proverb-ridden letter containing personal attacks and character
assassinations that he '
would take cue from no one and anyone
who is endangering the peace and stability of the country would be severely
dealt with'. The Minister showed an unbridled passion for suppressing
the Somaliland people by denying them the right to stage 'peaceful demonstrations'
- something that is enshrined in the constitution. Ismail's letter is
a clear testimony that this regime is in no mood to obey the constitution
and the laws of the land, which is tantamount to tearing them up and
throwing them into the dustbin.
A measure that curtails the liberty of one citizen necessarily curtails the liberty of other citizens. A citizen should only be deprived of liberty only after proper judicial process but not as a result of a political decision as is the common practice of the Rayale regime.
Thus, how people are arrested or deprived of their rights and liberties in Somaliland is no different from how Siyad Barre treated his critics. Nowadays, everyone who is a critic of the government is labelled as a 'traitor' in the eyes of Rayale's regime.
It is true that Somaliland has adopted a pluralistic system of government- a western style democracy. It is equally true that Rayale was democratically-elected, no matter how controversial. But it is also an indisputable fact that today's Somaliland is not a democracy but a dictatorship in disguise.
The vision laid out by Rayale and his unscrupulous clique is the same vision laid out by Barre for what was then known as 'Somali Democratic Republic'. There is a name for this kind of regime in which cops rule, answering only to themselves. It's called a Police State. Nothing more need be said, nothing more need be understood. It is a profoundly pessimistic view. It is a dismal dream and a spectacular self-ruin.
If people had not succumbed to the evils of Siad Barre's regime, the Somali people wouldn't have been in the state of affairs in which they find themselves today. We should remember Edmund Burke's famous words, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". It is high time we took head on this tyrannical regime of Rayale.