The day is 20th July 2011, After two rough and long days drive from Nairobi to the semi desert land of North Eastern Kenya, I together with couple of friends from Khalsa Aid (an Indian charity Organization based in London) reach Dadaab Refugee camp, the world’s biggest and the most populated refugee camp, we met people with beyond imaginable magnitude of problems, I recall that day the words of a Somali mother with half a dozen of children saying “we are doomed, no HOPE for us”. So when someone talks about HOPE and Somalia what comes to the minds of many is the most extreme of corners apart, but that is what I have today for Somalia. As the new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed is inaugurated in Mogadishu.
Less than a year after witnessing the most devastating of famine in recent Somali history exacerbated by the restrictions and the political volatility on the ground, more than two decades of protracted civil and faith based wars, coupled with lack of visionary leaders, today many Somalis around the world are breathing with new found hope, they have optimism on what the future holds for them, saying it loud ‘surely there can’t be a repeat of the last 20 years’ and who can blame them, if there is any people that deserve hope in this world, it has to be Somalis. Somalia has in the past 2 decades suffered hunger, wars and displacement with unparalleled proportion in post independence Africa.
Despite all of that, I too remain hopeful for the future of Somalia and with the following argument I will try to show why I am optimistic about the future:
1) Change of leadership: as evidenced by the election of the President H.E. Hassan, and Hon Speaker Prof Jawaari, there is a paradigm shift in Somalia’s political landscape. While in the past there was emphasis on clan, warlords and more recently Sheikhs (Islamist), now the shift is to the educated, intellectuals and more liberal pragmatic leaders. This class is untested in the highest political offices in Somalia, the last time there was a similar faces in charge was the first generation of leadership in independent Somalia. This class though they appeared in recent governments, has not had the highest of powers in the country and their influence has been lagging behind the political structure in the country.
2) The Development in neighboring Ethiopia: another important element to be hopeful has been happening across the border. Ethiopia since the collapse of the central government in Somalia in early 1990s has been supporting one group against another in the conflict of Somalia; the EPRDF government with Meles Zenawi at the head had major influence in Somalia’s politics. The majority of Somalis distrusted Meles’s intent in Somalia. With the Ethiopian ruler Zenawi not in the limelight any more after his recent death to cancer related illness and the subsequent appointment of Haile Mariam, who seem to be facing a challenge to live up to his predecessor’s expectations, Somalia could be left to its own device and that instead could be a positive development for Somalia.
3) The change in desire of the Somali people: For the first time in my short lifetime, I could see Somalis around the world expressing desire for peace, readiness for change and optimism for the future, while in the recent Somalia has been characterized by division along clans lines and political fiefdoms, the new Somalia encouraged by the recent changes in the country exacerbated by the freedom of the Social Media and outside based Somali speaking Television channels Somalis is interconnected like never before, with healthy debates on the political and the social aspects ranging on the internet and Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter. the best example to this is the recently concluded parliamentary and president elections in Somalia and to a lesser important but equally compelling London Olympics event where the Somali representatives and double gold winning Mo Farah positive stories dragged on for a while.
4) The emergence of Turkey: since 2011 when the charismatic Turkish leader Erdogan with his large delegate including his family visited Mogadishu at the height of drought the eyes of AK party and the people of Turkey have been placed on the plights of Somalia. Turkey with its dynamic leaders have placed a firm interest in the forgotten people of Somalia, it has emerged as important humanitarian, economic and political big brother for Somalia, best showed not by least the presence of the Deputy Prime Minster. This also presents a great triumph for the Somali people who have been yawning for a support from Islamic nations but were neglected by their Arab brothers. Turkey remains an important partner in the rebuilding face of Somalia and hopes later as a strategic economic partner for a post conflict modern Somalia.
5) The weakening of Alshabaab and other radical groups: Alshabaab since the turn of the year have been losing town after another to the Somali and AMISOM army, there seems to be fading support among both the Somalis and their outside donors, this though has not completely diminished Al-shabaab, but it has reduced their ability to make exerted strikes against rejuvenated AU and Somali soldiers, if the expected onslaught in Kismayu goes ahead and as expected Al-Shabaab loses its last stronghold then their days could well be numbered paving the way for the new government to exert its authority on all over the country.
Much will be expected from the Somali president Hassan Sheikh by the Somalis people, he now faces polarized public both in the country and the Diaspora, they will be watching him every step he makes starting with the appointment of the prime minster and which type of post transition government he will appoint, the recent changes of the road map including the constitution, the election of the parliament and the president has set a high standard for itself and the new leaders have to perform accordingly.
Having said that and probably pictured a perfect utopia, Somalia still has bumpy tough ride ahead, there will be long days and nights and months and probably years, but optimism has been long gone in the Somali people and negativity and pessimism has been the norm not rather the exception. Let’s go with the ways of Lao-Tzu who once said “ the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, we have taken the first step by electing responsible leaders, lets stand behind them and take once the second fiddle, let’s hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, let’s see that humanity has a limit and once it says enough, it actually means enough, let’s say never again the last 20 years, never again to corrupt leaders, never again to rhetorical Sheikhs and never again to destruction and wars.