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Toronto (Canada)

28, March 2003

M. M. Afrah

At a time when a world diplomatically scorched by divisions over how to disarm Iraq and the disputed necessity of regime change by force of arms as envisioned by Washington, the Somali peace talks in Mbagathi seemed to go belly up once again.

Skeptics believed from the very beginning that the faction leaders were not seriously interested in peace as demonstrated by their endless squabbles and even fistfights. They believed that given the track records of the faction leaders a.k.a. warlords the whole shenanigans were all pretence. None of them has ever demonstrated the organizational skills to actually run a country they destroyed beyond recognition. Nor have they elicited a great deal of broad-based public support back home.

Of course some of the very few intellectuals representing the civic society did enjoy preferred status, identified and promoted by some well-meaning delegates from the EU donor countries and the Kenyan hosts as potential leaders of resuscitated Somalia, but the powerful warlords and their financiers in Addis got wind of it and all came to naught. Their voices literally ran berserk in the Mbagathi wildness, among the warthogs (doofaar-duur).

It always struck me distinctly odd why such talks are held outside the country, but people who were well versed with the Somali clan wars said that due to the vast amount of weapons in the country, holding any peace talks between sworn enemy warlords, out to settle old scores, would complicate matters even more. They said that if there were fistfights in Eldoret, there certainly would be a bloody shoot out, if for example, the talks are held in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Kismayu or any other city in the South.
"Let them shoot it out Mafia-style. There will be a sigh of relief in the country. Good riddance!" one angry Canadian-Somali in Hamilton retorted.

Six months of meaningless talks and nothing changed. The same tensions, the same shouting matches, the same walkouts, the same belly flutters, the same fear of failure and the unwilling hopes of success. The talks in Kenya are nothing but another circus or a talking shop, waste of time, energy and resources. But to the organizers, with their deep pockets, and the greedy hotel owners the conference proved to be a gravy train out of which they milked huge amounts of money "for services rendered."

Security was lax at the Conference Hall and unruly local gatecrashers; mostly Kenyan Somalis frequently interrupted the proceedings of the talks. The place resembled the Animal Market North of Mogadishu and nobody gives damn about it.

Then there's Abdiqassim's recent proposal to hold yet another peace talks this time in Mogadishu. There's a school of thought agonizing over the proposal by a man who was unable to restore a semblance of peace in the capital despite the money his TNG receives from some Arab countries. The recent blood feud and the act of revenge killing in the Medina District went a step too far even in the Somali equation. The militia went rampage in slaughtering rival clansmen and in the process killed large number of innocent civilians, which makes mockery of his proposals.

Abdiqassim's boot camp soldiers did nothing to try to stop the bloodshed and the killings in Madina District of Mogadishu, just as in other conflict zones in the country, it was allowed to rage unchecked, then burnt itself out.

Those who knew Abdiqassim say it is a tactical pause to wear out his opponents in order to cling to his shaky seat of power and eventually force them to accept his terms, particularly at a time when EU donor countries are threatening to withdraw their financial support from the Somalia peace talks. Also, the touchy IGAD member countries and the Kenyan hosts are at the end of their tethers due to lack of any tangible progress.

Obviously the warlords had underestimated a man who had survived the tentacles of Major-General Mohamed Siyad Barre and held important ministerial portfolios, including the Minister of the Interior and Information for over twenty years and later outfoxed other candidates for the post of Interim President during the Arta Conference in Djibouti.

But Abdiqassim himself seemed to note the depth of his dilemma. He sees a city in flames, the main airport and seaport still closed and that 60 per cent of the city is no-go area, and the elusive Mooryaan demons putting makeshift barricades everywhere, threatening the starving population to pay or else…

Many people had predicted that, just like his predecessor, Ali Mahdi, Abdiqassim Salaad Hassan would lose heart and quit before his time expires, but instead he continued to cling to his shaky seat, and sometimes goes out to chastise the rookie parliamentarians, paying less attention to what was going around him. Unruffled. But even if he tries there's nothing, absolutely nothing he can do about it. His boot camp soldiers' recent attempt to collect levies from the merchants that ended in disaster is a glaring example. The city is seething with hatred, hatred of anything that reeks of authority. To many merchants in Mogadishu authority means jeopardizing what they consider as "civil liberty" and that no tears would be shed for the death of a government official.

"It doesn't matter if Abdirizaaq is good man or not. He is the one we have now," said a former minister of the civilian government currently living in New York City, rubbing shoulders with former members of the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC).

As I write this our man in Mogadishu says the militia are now running out of ammunitions and cash and are resorting to kidnapping for ransom and robbery with violence to satisfy their cravings for Qaad and cigarettes, leaving behind a devastating trauma, while their bosses are staying at Hotel 680, one of Nairobi's most luxurious hotels.

Yes. Things have been falling apart in Somalia long before the demons with guns came to the scene in 1991. But what is the best prescription for Somalia's chronic disease? It is crystal clear that the symptom has been clan worshipping.

General Barre who himself quietly played clans off one another once said: "It is unfortunate that our nation is rather too clannism; If all Somalis are to go to Hell, tribalism will be their vehicle to reach there."

M.M. Afrah 2003


Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!


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