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Op-Ed: Broken promises: Why Somalis reject Prosperity Party

By Faisal Roble @faisalroble19

Addis Abeba – Winning the premiership in April 2018, Dr. Abiy Ahmed promised Somalis a meaningful change. Five years later, all they have is non-inclusive politics, corrupt regional government,, inept and unresponsive leadership, lack of safety, services, and jobs for all age groups. Although some of the same promises are broken throughout the country, the Somali anger towards the Prosperity Party(PP)  is irreversible short of a comprehensive reform of regional administration. 

Less known to most Ethiopians, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, a Pentecostal Oromo, who was born in the small village of Bashesha, Jimma, Ethiopia, came to power in April 2018. Choosing Jigjiga as one of the first regions he visited, a euphoric and grandiose idealist Abiy promised Somalis life-altering changes. He pledged to solve the politically engineered Oromo-Somali conflict. With utmost choreography and church-lik oratory, he commanded the stage at the regional gathering hall and skillfully delivered a nuanced message; he reveled in what he called the Cushitic bond between him and his captive Somali audience.  

In return, the ever-gullible Somalis joyfully reciprocated him with a rhythmic Dhaanto folk dance reminiscent of colonial Africa and warmly endorsed his leadership. Soon the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which had before then waged an armed struggle for over 30 years, decided to leave Asmara with the hope to peacefully function as a legal political party in the Somali region. 

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Dr. Abiy in 2019 was partly because of such uplifting promises and the purposeful message of pacification of the region. 

Five years later, Dr. Abiy’s promises are invariably broken. The devastating Tigray and Oromia wars notwithstanding, the Somali-Oromo conflict he had promised to solve is here with us, only with a renewed frequency and intensity. The Afar vs Somali war is out of hand. In the last five years, thousands have lost life and limbs. Entire farming communities have been displaced from Liban, Babili, and Tuli Guuleed zones. Still thousands of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) have migrated to already overburdened cities such as Jigjiga, Herar, and Dhirdhabe. Losing their farms and livestock to conflicts, about 100,000 IDPs are stranded in Qoloji camp, located between Jigjiga and Harar. Worse, there is no solution in site for these IDPs.

“While many Somalis initially rejoiced at the openness introduced into the region in the early days of 2018, the rollback of civil liberties is getting worse”

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There are  three factors that precipitated the rejection of the “prosperity agenda” as stipulated by Dr. Abiy’s Medemer concept  by Somalis. Gleaned from the below factors, most of the blame  as to why the prosperity agenda is rejected lies with his lieutenant in Jigjiga. 

Mal-administration 

Teaming with about ten million people, the Somali region is administered poorly, thus  resulting in non-functioning zonal or municipal structures to provide an acceptable level of services both to rural and a burgeoning urban population. Simply put, the administration in Jigjiga does not show any urgency to represent the political and administrative aspirations of Somalis. Alas, it shows tenacity to always put up the latest false image for the consumption of leaders in Addis Ababa.

There is widespread perception that PP Somali leaders are corrupt, inept, and divisive. Now most people would say in public that the EPRDF administration is held with nostalgia. While admitting the horrendous human rights crimes committed under EPRDF in Jail Ogaden, mainly during prime minister Haile Mariam’s reign, Somalis nevertheless decry the total collapse of local administration, the run-away theft of public resources, lack of safety in districts along border areas, and chronic nepotism. While many Somalis initially rejoiced at the openness introduced into the region in the early days of 2018, the rollback of civil liberties is getting worse. Mustafe built what Dr. Hussein Adam called  A regime of “clan Kaltura,” where power resides in incompetent individuals who share blood and bone with him. 

Malfeasance 

Pillage of public resources has been taking place in the region in the last five years. Affected by either drought or inter-ethnic conflicts, over 3.5 million pastoralists and 1.2 million along border areas with Afar and Oromia live under strenuous conditions. Oblivious to this, stolen monies are reportedly laundered to individuals living as far as Nairobi, Turkey, Dubai, Malaysia, and North America. In 2022, Dr. Abiy implicated the leadership of the region on unbridled corruption. Yet, no one was held accountable. From the president down, they just heard and casually treated the Prime Minister’s embarrassing criticism as background chatter.

With no jobs created in the last five years, youth exodus to cross the ocean became a commonplace. Diaspora who had earlier invested in the region are abandoning their enterprises in droves. Schools only exist as a magnet for craft but not to educate kids, as evidenced by the high percentage of 12 graders who failed in the leaving exam for 2023-23  (Minister of Education). Healthcare systems are basically non-existent; other services such as power, water supply, and sewage systems barely exist in the entire region.

Political issues 

There is a widespread belief in the Somali region that since Abiy came to power, the region has lost most of its autonomous authorities guaranteed under the federal arrangement. Like the Dergi’s “Ethiopia Tikdem,” or EPRDF’s “Developmental State,” which gave way to a “One-dominant EPRDF party Rule” the PP-dominated rule imposed a one-dominant political culture nullifying the Somali-owned regional party. Adding insult to injury, Dr. Abiy’s insensitivity to build a memorial statue for the fascist Dergi soldiers at Karamardha site is construed as an affront and erasure to Somalis. Karamardha is the site where over 80 Somali traditional leaders were massacred by the retreating Dergi soldiers who did not put up any fight against Somali forces. 

“Healthcare systems are basically non-existent; other services such as power, water supply, and sewage systems barely exist in the entire region”

By intimidating, bullying, and sawing sinister division within adversarial political groups, Mustafe succeeded to abolish any political activities outside that of PP. He also purged change-seeking PP members, some of whom he arrested and then released without habeas corpus. Any hope for having adversarial politics is frustrated; the nail in the coffin was when the Somali Regional State suspended 15 media outlets, including BBC, accusing them of sedition. Also, the last vestige of authority in the hands of traditional leaders have been corrupted through the use of what Alex De Waal calls “political budget.” 

All these contributed to the narrowing of the region’s political space where corrupt PP leaders are the executive, legislative, and judiciary body, thus creating a tripartite incestuous political arrangement whose goal is to suffocate public discourse and narrow the democratic space. And that they achieved it.

Misleading  Narrative as Tool for Regime Survival

Despite all these challenges, the region’s leadership seems to escape accountability. How does this culture of corruption and inaptitude go on with impunity?  President Mustafe, who regularly speaks to Amharic media but shies away from engaging Somalis, perfected the art of using misleading information as a tool to create alternate reality and escape from accountability. As Somalis choke, he has Dr. Abiy by his balls and paralyzed him to do anything in the region. 

Habitually outsourcing the region’s vexing problems, president Mustafe ad-nauseum blames all the political shenanigans he is responsible for on “extremists” and “disgruntled individuals” who live outside the region are the problem, he shouts ad-nauseum. He has been doing this for more than four years.

His last blame was on March 30, 2023, for example, when president Mustafe Omer told the Amharic Fano media that “extremists and seditious forces outside the country” are undermining his work.  But, no one asks him how a dissident outside the country stops him from providing services to the people in the region.  Even if president Mustafe’s complaints have merit, one would be tempted to inquire whether dissident groups outside the country can stop him from building children’s playgrounds, or fixing the near nonexistent services or infrastructure such as water, health, or sewage systems. To wit, there is nothing except corruption and ineptness that prevents president Mustafe Omer from apportioning a small budget out of the hefty annual budget of the region’s 29 billion bir for fiscal year 2022 and build a playground or turn his attention to the needs of the people.  

“…PP leadership in the region has failed to serve both its bosses in Addis and the Somali constituents in the region”

To set the record straight, president Mustafe Omer himself is known to have hosted and given money to extremists and right-wing ultra Amhara nationalists to spread his paranoid propaganda. Some of these groups he funded are incidentally the very same forces that are now fighting Dr. Abiy and rejecting the peace accord with the TPLF.  President Mustafe himself fought in vain for the Pretoria peace accord to fail. 

One of the most egregiously misleading pronouncements president Mustafe Omer touted in public in 2019 was when he lamented that he built 400 schools within a year. Whether bosses in Addis Ababa believe such a misleading utterance or not is a point of serious deliberations among Somalis. They wonder how after five years the same misleading narrative serves as a shield for protection for a failed leadership.

Consequences

The combined effects of Dr. Abiy’s broken promises, undemocratic behavior of the PP regime in the Somali region, plus weak economy, food insecurity, conflicts, and constitutional ambiguity regarding federalism are all the reasons why one can comfortably argue that PP failed to win the hearts and minds of Somalis. There are more Somalis who today disapprove of PP rule than did during EPRDF. Whether this attitude came due to internal weakness of the Medemer philosophy itself or the way incompetent regional leaders sought to implement it, or a combination of both is a matter of semantics. What is obvious, however, is that PP leadership in the region has failed to serve both its bosses in Addis and the Somali constituents in the region. Consequently, the Somali public by far disapproves and has rejected the Prosperity Party as practiced in the Somali region.

“If Dr. Abiy remains ineffective in the face of deteriorating socio-political conditions, these conflicts and layered social, political, and economic problems in the Somali region could easily get out of hand”

After five years of subjecting the Somali region to the rule of a parachuted leader, whose level of seriousness is questionable especially when one reads some of his juvenile facebook messages, the region is at a perilous condition; democratic political space has narrowed; corruption, nepotism, political apathy, insecurity, and ultimately social disintegration seems to be growing like molasses in the Somali region. Worse, Addis Ababa is oblivious to such widespread public outrage.  

If the Somali region was yesterday’s impenetrable frontier of Ethiopia’s rule, it could as well be today’s cradle for a serious rejection of the Prosperity agenda. The oblivious nature of the leaders in Addis Ababa to the voices from below exacerbated what were already vexing regional challenges. 

Dr. Abiy failed to solve the conflict between Somalis and Oromo, watched in vain the war raging between Somalis and Afar, and failed to hold those who pillaged public resources accountable. Beyond publicly humiliating Mustafe Omer, he did nothing to correct the wrong but only humiliated Mustafe Omer about his culture of corruption. If Dr. Abiy remains ineffective in the face of deteriorating socio-political conditions, these conflicts and layered social, political, and economic problems in the Somali region could easily get out of hand. 

Recommendations to Prosperity Party;

1. Find a way to stop the bloodshed between the Afar and Somali in the Sitti which has cost thousands of innocent Somali lives in the last two years. Equally, the conflict between Oromo in Chinacsani and Tuli Guuleed in Somali, respectively, must be resolved by local traditional elders who know the culture and political geography of the conflict zones. There must be a direct and constructive engagement led not by corrupt PP leaders, which until now faned it, but by local leaders to settle this costly conflict.

2. Stop Shimeles Abdisa in Oromia to destabilize the Somali region and restrain him to desist from his unilateral designation of districts or projects inside the Somali territory. If need be, issues that arise from or remain ambiguous as a result of the erroneous 2004 plebiscite, which gerrymandered the Somali region, must be resolved per the constitution of the country. So far, whoever has the political muscle, in this case Mr. Abdisa, is unilaterally making decisions on the lives of millions of Somalis. And that is illegal.

3. Re-evaluate the stance of PP in its misguided course of eroding the rights of Somalis guaranteed by the federal constitution. There are powers the region needs to exercise, including the right of the region to have a functioning party able to elect its president, which now erroneously resides in Arat Kilo. Such disparity of who can elect the region’s president is a clear indication of the demise of federalism under PP leadership..

4. Carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the leadership of the region by focusing on corruption, nepotism, money laundering, derelict of duty, and failure to administer the region in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Editor’s Note: Faisal Roble, the former editor of Wardheer News portal is Principal City Planner and CEO for Racial Justice & Equity for the Planning Department, Los Angeles City. He tweets at @faisalroble19.

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