The Disrupted Diaspora Conference
Back in March 2008 a prominent Puntlander contacted a few of us in the Diaspora to discuss the possibility of organizing a conference in Puntland and to address the deteriorating situation there. He asked us to help him on the selection of the participants with the added instruction that the choice of the participants should be based on their character, skill, education, and experience, but also mindful of the regional and the clan balance. He also requested Puntland Development Research Center (PDRC), the premiere institution of Puntland, to host and seek funding for the conference. Eventually, we submitted the names, set the date, and suggested a tentative agenda and a schedule of the conference. PDRC also secured funding, and the conference was scheduled to start on the second week of August.There was nothing sinister about the conference and none of us had any ulterior political or personal motives. We had pure intentions and a clear purpose; just to persuade and bring the attention of the people and the government to the worsening situation of Puntland; nothing more and nothing less. Most of the participants took time from their families and work to serve a cause they thought was higher than themselves. Little did we know and perhaps naïve we were about the crude and the coarse political high jinks of Puntland. Upon arrival, the Puntland Diaspora was told that the conference was suspended and an order was issued from the highest offices of the government that no conference should take place without the prior knowledge of the Puntland government. However, PDRC informed the President and the relevant ministries, no less than three times, about the impending conference, and were given the permission to hold the conference. As a matter of fact, either the President or the Vice-President was slated to open the conference, and ten members of the government, five from the legislative and 5 from the executive, were included as participants. Therefore, we considered the suspension of the conference as capricious and arbitrary; today’s Puntland is not short of murky and arbitrary set of rules. More stunning than the ruling itself, were the poor and inadequate reasons given for suspending the conference, and some of the Ministers of Puntland were also too cavalier in using inflammatory and provocative remarks over the airwaves. Nonetheless, PDRC heeded the command and decided to postpone the conference. They also requested us to refrain from any controversy that could impair the reputation of Puntland. Therefore, I would like to applaud PDRC for choosing the moral high-ground; revenge is a dish best eaten cold.
II. A Bait and a Bizarre Invitation The President then requested a meeting with the Diaspora after he heard a growling protest from some respected elders and probably to put the best face on a bad situation. The invitation piqued our interest and we accepted it, but we also decided to express our dismay and disappointment with his decision of opposing the conference. He came to the meeting accompanied by his circle of useful idiots including the leadership of the parliament. First to speak was the vice President, a straitlaced arrogant fellow. Pursing his lips and barely able to contain his anger, he started his speech with a stridently sardonic comment, ‘Waxaan u haysanaa in shirkan uu ahaa mu’aamarad dhabarka nalaka tooganayey” which can be poorly translated into “this conference was a conspiracy and a political plot against us.”We heard an earful from him and from few other bozos, professing a pack of lies. Finally, the President spoke and admitted that PDRC informed him about the conference. He came across as more polite and respectful than his more truculent servants. However, he tried to shrink-wrap and seal the clear and unforgivable mistake he made. Most of his speech was also tangential and unrelated to the topic at hand, and was more on his obsession of drilling oil in Puntland. He could not tell us a reason or a rationale of refusing us to hold the conference.
The Dire Situation of Puntland and A Need for a Change
Puntland is at a cross-road, albeit a dangerous one. It is teetering on the brink of a collapse, and saving it needs a moral fortitude and a political will; dispositions currently lacking in the leaders of Puntland. It is facing an existential crisis caused by an unbridled greed and an insatiable appetite for power and money. The corruption that permeated Puntland and the lack of sound basic institutions created a culture of impunity where the pilfering of the public resources became a shameless and a criminal activity. The government is filled with rogue and runaway ministers who are just there to rack up the meager resources. The creation of Puntland 10 years ago gave hope and meaning to so many lives. However, many others were reluctant to believe that such a political entity will survive in the clan politics of Somalia. It so now seems that their premonition may come to pass, and so many fanatic devotees have come to believe that the whole entity might have been a futile exercise. I disagree, but I also believe that the nature of the people of Puntland is to blame for the current affair of their state. They allowed few feeble minds to rule them and wreak havoc on their future. It is not the system that determines the character of a country, but the character of a people that determines the kind of country it will be. The great British Statesman, Edmund Burke is quoted to have once said “believe me, it is a great truth, that there never was, for any long time …….a mean, sluggish, careless people that ever had a good government of any kind.” The people of Puntland are not mean and sluggish but they sure are careless about the affairs of their land. Burke also added that “great empires and small minds go ill together.” Small minds wedded to dimwitted egos cost Puntland a great deal. The young are confused and perplexed about this feckless generation that destroyed their future and the old are only left with nostalgia for the moral clarity and the mighty role they always played in the political affairs of Somalia.
IV. A Bad Omen That Might not Bode Well with UsThere is a high probability that the current Puntland administration might win the next election in January, as the alternative candidates failed to offer any substantive policy and political agenda. The likelihood of returning this regime to power might be unpardonable but clearly quite predictable. The people of Puntland are now looking forward for this upcoming election not with merriment but with melancholy and sadness. They deserve better and should do better. I am also hopeful that somehow, somewhere, things will change for the better. There might be a Houdini out there who will carry the lamp and lead the way for a better future. Let us wait and see.
Abdiweli M. Ali, Ph.D.Associate Professor of EconomicsNiagara University, NY firstname.lastname@example.org