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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 4th, 2008 - 00:43:41

Somalia's leadership: substance or rhetoric?
By Sadia Ali Aden
Online Journal Guest Writer

Mar 4, 2008, 00:41

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These are serious times with serious challenges that require serious leadership capable of envisioning free and united Somalia based on peace, justice and equality. Devoid of that, the current bloodshed will only continue and the humanitarian crisis will worsen.

Despite the disillusionment with the process that produced the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in October of 2004 in Kenya, war-fatigued Somalis, those in the homeland and the Diaspora alike were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a government formed neither by its vision nor capacity to deliver, but by the clan one belongs to or by the brutal reputation or the deadly arsenal one possesses.

It did not take long for the TFG to demonstrate its incompetence. It failed to articulate a new vision and grew more dependent on Meles Zenawi's regime (Ethiopia). Furthermore, it adopted an ill-advised mantra of threat and polarization and failed to set a foot in Mogadishu due to the instability created by the same warlords that the TFG was made of.

It would take them over two years and for tens of thousands of Ethiopian troops, tanks and fighter jets, and US AC-130 gunship to oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and shield TFG right into their barricades of apathy and corruption.

The invasion that brought TFG into Mogadishu abruptly ended six months of peace enjoyed by the people of Mogadishu under the ICU and it ushered in an occupation force with relentless brutality and no exit plan.

ICU came to the forefront of the Somali politics as part of a grass-roots movement spearheaded by the people of Mogadishu who were eager to get rid of the warlords and have found in the courts interest to advance the common good and willingness to stand up against the warlords. And get rid of the warlords, they did. But, to the utter dismay of civilians sighing relief, a number of these fleeing warlords were granted safe haven by the TFG and later were appointed to critical positions. A case in point is the appointment of two of the most brutal warlords, Mohamed Dheere and Abdi Qeybdiid, to the security of Mogadishu upon TFG's arrival in Mogadishu.

Despite their lack of good public relations and a holistic view of world politics, for the six months that they governed Mogadishu, the ICU afforded Somalis, particularly those in Mogadishu, a sense of hope, empowerment, and national pride that mobilized the locals to organize volunteer services to clean the city's mountainous garbage and debris of the devastation. More importantly, after a decade and half of lawlessness, they established a safe route for the delivery of food aid and ensured equitable distribution, and they established law and order to the point that Somali women of Mogadishu could leave their homes without the fear of being raped or robbed.

Having done what they accomplished in such a short time and in the spirit of giving peace a chance, one would assume that ICU would earn the support of the international community. Unfortunately, the fear of "terror" and "terrorism" by the West overshadowed Somalia's chance to climb out of the hellhole dug and ignited by the warlords and their militias.

The ICU method that defied all logic and proved wrong the prediction of many analysts could've been the blueprint for the recovery of Somalia- nationwide. The ordinary people's victory over the CIA-backed warlords showed all the vital signs that could eventually save Somalia. Somalis, at least while it lasted, were awakened from their deep slumber and were willing to reclaim their national dignity and rights.

In 2006, drought and flood were suffered in different regions and ordinary Somalis (in Somalia and in the Diaspora) responded with commendable unity to aid those faced with a natural catastrophe. I was particularly touched by the courage, unity, and the love demonstrated by the people of Mogadishu, who, despite tremendous pressure from the warlords, united to save their brethren.

Now the current situation: Somalia is under a ruthless occupation that killed 7,000 civilians in its first year, created approximately 1 million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), and pushed 1.5 million people to the verge of utter starvation, thus creating what is officially recognized as "the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa."

On February 14, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that "there are up to 2 million vulnerable people in need of assistance in the country. In the capital, Mogadishu, the number of people escaping the city to the poorest areas of the Horn of Africa nation has doubled to 700,000 in the last six months." The following day, on February 15, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was urging the international community to step up their support as in the coming months about 90,000 children in war-ravaged Somalia were facing the threat of annihilation by malnutrition resulting from lack of food, supplementary nutrition, and therapeutic feeding.

A few weeks ago the new Transitional prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein (Adde) has formed his government which clearly is a much leaner cabinet of ministers than those formed by his predecessors. To his credit, his cabinet is also free of warlords though many still dispute this as the most powerful positions in the TFG, all so-called defense and security oriented positions, are held by infamous warlords. Also to his credit, the prime minister has changed the provocative rhetoric of his predecessor and, by and large, has adopted a language of reconciliation.

Now that the prime minister has proven that he can "talk the talk," the million dollar question is would he prove that he can "walk the walk?" After all, good leadership is not appreciated by empty words that one employs to lull the masses but by the positive initiatives they take and actions they implement. And no initiative or action is nobler than to say "No" to the Ethiopian occupation.

Sadia Ali Aden is a peace activist and a writer whose work has appeared in various publications.

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