Red herring in the Horn: Somalia’s latest drama

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For almost two decades, the Somali political theatre was inundated with random episodes of tragic comedies that frustrated the average observer and fatigued donor countries who funded numerous failed projects to solve the Somali conundrum.

The drama generated by these episodes routinely blurred the vision of the average Somali activist (especially in the Diaspora), analysts around the world, and indeed stakeholders from seeing with clarity and dealing with the real issues.

Recently the entertaining drama has been the sensationalized demise of a man who in ten short months left a legacy of infamy and earned his unenviable place in Somali history– The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi.

This sensationalized drama became a bigger story than the relentless brutality of the Ethiopian occupation, the systematic ethnic-cleansing, the targeted assassination of vocal media figures, the rampant piracy, the senseless violence and strategically self-destructive insurgent tactics, and the horrific humanitarian crises causing starvation and displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, mainly children and women.

So, how did a Prime Minister who perfected the marketable image of the GWT age (Global War on Terrorism) got pulled off his horse any way? After all, Gedi had all the necessary credentials to keep him in his post: the lack of vision, the Pelican throat for greed and corruption, the shallow mind and the quixotic view of world politics, the right frown, the right lingo that labeled all his oppositions with the dreaded T-word, and, of course, the Lapel pin to shield him with artificial air of patriotism.

More importantly, how can an action of this magnitude –sacking the ideal figure at the most critical hour– be credited to a cardboard president who reportedly cannot even call a private meeting in his own presidential palace without first getting clearance from representatives of the Ethiopian occupation forces.

Of course, there was a rift between President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and his former Prime Minister over the usual business: who stole the most out of the donation dollars, and who was hoarding essential posts for his closest of kin and clan; but, that is hardly the force that kicked Gedi out. And any one who simply focuses on connecting the dots will conclude that this latest drama was settling an issue much bigger than “Abdullahi and Gedi’s” myopic political claptrap.

While in pursuit of their respective “strategic interests,” the most battle-tested army in Africa and the sole superpower of the world have partnered almost a year ago to dismantle the Islamic Courts Union — a defunct entity that brought six months of peace and order in Mogadishu that many now lament –.and establish the TFG in Mogadishu.

Both Abullahi and Gedi were handpicked by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia who micromanaged the Somali political affairs for over a decade, they also had Washington’s blessings.

But, Gedi’s fortunes would dramatically change once he publicly criticizes the secret contract deal his president signed with China exposed by the Financial Times of London.

He felt left out of the deal and aired his frustration publicly. Oblivious to how his declared position would put Meles, who had his own deal with China to protect, on the spotlight, Gedi threatened to pronounce the contract null and void. Over night he became politically radioactive, so to speak.

And once Gedi sensed he was being ganged on, he pulled his clan card, and did what many thought was unthinkable: he reached out to the same clan leaders that he once labeled them with the T-word. He urged them to continue their struggle to free Somalia from the Ethiopian occupation…Something that proved to be the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

With Gedi gone, so is any opportunity for the salivating American oil companies to win contracts in either Somalia or Ethiopia. And Meles is mindful that he cannot be seen as the man who conned the US out of its economic and hegemonic interest in the region, because this will be the beginning of an end for the US/Ethiopian partnership in the Horn. But, before continuing this line of argument, let us take a necessary detour for a moment.

Most of us know what Red Herring is. It is smoked fish used by fugitives to lure bloodhounds off the scent track. And in the metaphorical sense, it is anything used to divert attention from the real issue.

Meles is determined to compete with his neighboring Sudan, even at the expense of his relations with Washington. Because, as a result of its high profit margin China oil deals, Sudan’s economy has been growing at an incredible rate; and as such, is fast emerging as the Horn’s undisputed economic giant.

And having learnt the ABCs of influencing the American political apparatus, Meles has built a strong lobby led by former high ranking Congressman Dick Army of Texas.

In early October, even as HR 2003, the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 (a bill that, among other things, called for accountability regarding Meles’ brutal human rights abuses in dealing with the people of Ogadenia, Oromia, and the Amhara) has passed the House with bipartisan support, the Ethiopian Ambassador in Washington had enough confidence to publicly rebuke those members who supported the bill.

In the meantime, the Senate is considering imposing some measure of economic sanctions on the Meles’ regime for its dealings with China. This, of course, is a long departure from that cozy relationship that lead to joint operation that led to the Iraqization of Somalia. And as the end of Bush’s second term approaches, the political pressure to avoid another failed enterprise increases.

From Washington’s perspective: the Bush Doctrine cannot face history with three failed regime-change initiatives (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia). In other words: diversionary tactics aside, Bush will either have Somalia as one success story to highlight in his exit speech or the US and Ethiopian interests will collide head-on.

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