In 1973 Hunter S. Thompson, the creator and premier exponent of ‘gonzo journalism’ and one of the most powerful voices of the 1960s counter-culture in the USA, published a seminal book titled “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72” which comprised a series of articles covering the 1972 US Presidential campaign. The book focuses upon the increasingly desperate and manic antics of the George McGovern campaign to secure the nomination of the Democratic Party despite the sustained, and equally manic, attempts of the party establishment to block McGovern. As we know, the end result of this internecine warfare within the Democratic Party resulted in their complete disarray leading to a humiliating rout in the elections by a victorious Nixon, who would end up resigning the Presidency a few years later after the debacle of Watergate.
The current antics of the Kulmiye government and party bring to mind the sense of desperation, fear and loathing that Thompson so eloquently and graphically described in his powerful book. I am not a gonzo journalist and I don’t share Thompson’s uniquely warped perspective and world view, however it doesn’t take a genius, warped or otherwise, to recognise desperation, abject terror at the prospect of losing power and the deep loathing of self and others that such fear begets. The Kulmiye government and its party stalwarts are sparing no effort to harass, intimidate, imprison and malign their opponents to the point that it has become a painful farce to observe. In fairness to them, it must be noted that they have a very steep hill to climb – after all the record of the past five years has been one of abject failure with respect all major aspects of policy: foreign, domestic, economic and security.
The recent spate of articles in the pro-government media and the portentous pronouncements of senior officials, including several Ministers, regarding the supposed recent meeting between Abdirahman Cirro of Wadani and the President of Somalia in Turkey is the latest manifestation of desperation and fear in the Kulmiye camp. The government mouthpieces hint darkly of treason by Cirro and secret deals reached by him with the foreign installed ‘government’ in Mogadishu. This is rich indeed, coming from the very same government that initiated a futile dialogue with this same government some three years ago against the wishes of the vast majority of the Somaliland public. At that time, the government spokesmen now decrying Cirro for supposedly meeting with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud were loudly proclaiming the creativity and wisdom of the Kulmiye government’s new foreign policy of diplomacy and negotiation. They welcomed, rehabilitated and appointed to senior positions the Somalilanders that had previously proclaimed themselves proud‘federalists’ and sought positions in the Mogadishu regime by disavowing and denying Somaliland’s independence which is treason under the law of Somaliland.
The fact is that Kulmiye has squandered the widespread public goodwill and optimism that swept them to power five years ago. Where they had promised open government, a lean and cost-effective administration characterised by technocratic professionalism; Kulmiye has delivered the most corrupt and bloated administration in Somaliland’s history that is characterised by incompetence, flagrant and widespread looting of public assets and the public purse and autocratic paranoia that routinely imprisons and harasses the independent media, opposition political figures and human rights campaigners. For example, the head of Somaliland’s Human Rights Centre, Guled Ahmed Jamac, was recently imprisoned, and remains in detention, for expressing his opposition, in an interview with the Somali service of the BBC World Service, to the execution of six prisoners convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the courts. Whatever the merits of the issue regarding the executions of these convicts, the simple fact is that the Constitution of Somaliland safeguards freedom of expression and everyone must be free to express their views without fear or favour. This example is but the latest in a long litany of extra-judicial arrests, assaults, threats against the independent media and summary closures of media outlets that fall afoul of the government.
In November 2012, municipal elections were held in Somaliland which were characterised by widespread irregularities including voter fraud, vote buying, theft of ballot boxes and voter intimidation. Kulmiye won the most seats and control over the largest number of municipal administrations, however the opposition parties and civil society organisations claimed that the elections were ‘stolen’ by the ruling party and supported these claims with many documented cases of malfeasance. In response to widespread demonstrations, the government responded with force and repression resulting in many civilian and some police deaths and numerous casualties. In the following three years, despite impending Presidential and legislative elections, the government did nothing to prepare the Voters’ Register as was agreed with the opposition parties and foreign donors. In fact, the government actively delayed this process by meddling with the supposedly independent National Election Commission, dismissing some members and replacing them with government supporters.
In addition, during this period, the ruling party was engaged in an internecine struggle for Presidential candidature, much as the Democrats in the US were in 1972. There was an open split between supporters of Muse Bihi, the Party Chairman, and supporters of President Silanyo which raged during 2013 and much of 2014. The rumours regarding the ill health of the octogenarian President fuelled this split and even encouraged some ambitious, if marginal, prospects to sound out support for a potential bid. The rumours of infirmity have been supported by the often mentioned fact that during his five year tenure, the President has not held a single press conference in which he responded openly and publicly to press questions. In the end, the internal feuding within Kulmiye was shelved by the decision of the Guurti (the upper house of the legislature) to postpone the Presidential elections for twelve months. Many suspect that an important motivation for the government in seeking this extension was its realisation that it was very likely to lose any free and fair contest, and that another flawed election, such as the municipal one in 2012, would lead to widespread civil unrest and its probable impeachment or forcible expulsion from office.
It is in the light of this recent history that we must view the current antics and tortured convolutions that the Kulmiye government is displaying which merit the term “fear and loathing in Hargeisa”. Let us get back to the purported meeting between Abdirahman Cirro and the so-called President of Somalia in Turkey. It is long established and routine statecraft for foreign governments to seek to get the measure of senior politicians which are considered capable, or likely, to ascend to high office in countries in which they have an interest, i.e. ‘target’ countries. Thus, it is part of standard diplomacy for these foreign governments to invite such politicians from target countries to national functions, legislative meetings and party or policy conferences so they can get to know them and interact with them in official and non-official settings. Abdirahman Cirro is the Speaker of House of Representatives as well as the Chairman and Presidential Candidate of the Wadani Party, and the Government of Turkey extended to him an invitation to be their guest at the centenary commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War. Interestingly enough, the Turkish Government did not extend a similar invitation to representatives of the Kulmiye government.
For its part, the Kulmiye government, smarting under this clear, if unspoken, rebuff by the Turks decided to malign Cirro with this pathetic campaign to cast him as a double dealer conducting secret meetings with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who had also been invited by the Turks to attend the Gallipoli commemoration. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Of course, Cirro’s supporters have responded to the government’s vilification campaign by proclaiming that the invitation extended to Cirro by the Turks is clear evidence of their support for his Presidential bid. Indeed, the Wadani supporters have gone so far as to claim that the principal foreign governments that play a leading role internationally in Somali affairs, namely Britain, Turkey, and the US support Cirro as the next President of Somaliland. This is as absurd as Kulmiye’s claim that Cirro is plotting with the so-called President of Somalia to nullify Somaliland’s independence and return it to Somalia’s poisoned embrace.
What is interesting, nevertheless, is that Turkey, as well as both Ethiopia and Djibouti, have decided that Cirro is a Somaliland politician that it is worthwhile to get to know and evaluate. As we move closer to the election, it would not be surprising if other countries with an interest in Somali affairs did not make the same decision. This is what is driving the leadership of Kulmiye to distraction and causing them to act out of desperation fear and loathing. The next twelve months promise to be amusing, frustrating and, of course, fascinating to watch. I only wish for a Somaliland Hunter S. Thompson to document for posterity the antics, madness and political convolutions to come. As television show marketers might say, “watch this space, because this surreal political saga is going to run and run.”
Ahmed M.I. Egal