Puntland – Beyond The Pale – Article
The countdown is over and that magic date in the calendar came and went but the sun is still rising from the East. The predicted turmoil that was to happen the day after hasn’t materialized.
But is it the lull before the storm or there are factors that need to be examined to explain why the much talked about upheavals turned out to be a damp squib.
Either way there seems to be an air of surrealism in Puntland. People are expecting that something would happen but don’t know what. There is a sense of foreboding; apprehension that something untoward might occur that will change everyone’s life for good.
This crisis is just beginning and has a year to run. It is early days and it is foolish to make any predictions about what will happen in the coming weeks and months.
The opposition is divided. There is the old opposition, figures who fell out with the regime. People already tested in office and deemed to offer very little and nothing new. But they are the most determined opposition and they are throwing in the towel just yet. There is however no unified leadership or plan of action. Lone wolves each adept at fighting his corner in a winner takes all competition. Can they come together and form a united front; organise a proper and a believable opposition that will oppose the government effectively? That is the challenge they face.
But there is also the government sanctioned opposition. There are at present 5 of them called political organisations opposing the government sponsored one. Their credibility is in question, however. Rumours abound that some of them are allied with the government party. But there are promising elements among them.
These political organisations have the potential to develop into proper political forces capable of holding the government to task. And they are getting help from an unexpected quarter.
All the ministers, directors, figures from the security sector and local government officers joined the government party. This organisation is the brainchild of the leadership and drafted all those on government payroll not realising they are giving hostages to fortune. Many of them could be seen as a liability rather than assets; dodgy characters tainted by corruption and held with contempt by the public. A proper opposition wouldn’t find it difficult to expose them and defeat in any election hands down.
Even the president who is more popular than the rest of his government is not immune to attack. His strongest supporters, who see him as a straight talker capable of standing up to the deluded upstarts in Mogadishu, lament that he is let down by the hare-brained goons surrounding him and the excesses of his sons.
Two types of opposition with different objectives are therefore in the field. But although their objectives are diametrically opposite they are both aiming their fire power at the same enemy. One lot of opposition is calling the very legitimacy of the government into question and regularly sniping at their sincerity. While the other is competing with them for the hearts and minds of the public in order to defeat them at the ballot box. A two pronged attack that can debilitate the government and lead to its eventual downfall.
The government is the author of the current crisis and they are not even acknowledging that there is a problem. They turned their back on any attempt to explore ways of defusing the tension. Even the efforts of the former president, who travelled hundreds of miles and a punishing schedule of back to back meetings, have been completely ignored and his views side-lined.
This intransigence has weakened the bond of trust between the people and a government that was never popular even before the present mess. On their watch the territory under the administration shrunk substantially and the security situation deteriorated; not a good record of achievement.
To get the benefit of doubt from skeptical public they need to demonstrate that they have a sound programme of action that can lead to free and fair elections within the specified timeline. Old tricks of oppressing the press and the manipulating the process by a biased commission to suit their interests will only serve to undermine the credibility of the whole program.
Beyond the pale
The government has a very difficult balancing act to do. On the one hand they have to appear in control of the situation but on the other hand avoid appearing nervous and taken in by panic. The entire government is now relocated in the port city of Bosaso. This is a clear sign of nervousness. Bosaso is the cash cow of Puntland. It is where 90% of the government’s revenues are generated and it is at present swarming with troops. There are boots in every street corner; it actually resembles a city under occupation.
The Bosaso syndrome is a problem for the government. How long can the whole government stay without giving the impression that they are holed up to avoid running the risk of losing the stream of revenue from the port?
Upheaval in Bosaso is a luxury that no government in Puntland can afford. It happened before with devastating consequences. But keeping an army of this size in Bosaso is fraught with danger. Nervous soldiers expecting trouble could interfere with the town’s day to day rhythm of live. Worse still, it could be seen as a provocative measure in a city where the opposition to the government is at best low-key.
Then there is the problem of Mudug region. The opposition to the current government is strongest in that region. Lying on the southern frontier of Puntland, the region is in one of toughest neighbourhoods of the country as a whole.
There is an invisible enemy stalking the region picking prominent figures off one by one. Of all the areas in Puntland Mudug region, especially Galkaio, is the most seriously affected by targeted killings. The government’s response to the problems of the region is deemed woefully inadequate characterised by cynicism and neglect.
Ordinary people haven’t lost faith however and believe strong Puntland is the only way the challenges faced by the region could be addressed.
But there are exceptions. It is an open secret that elements tainted by links with piracy want to whip up discontent with a view to high jacking genuine and peaceful expression of public dissatisfaction with the current administration.
Extremists are also in pole position with significant infrastructure of front businesses and safe houses and can take advantage of any public disorder.
A combination of government forces stuck in Bosaso and a breakdown of law and order in Mudugh would weaken the stability of Puntland and would open the floodgates of extremism and piracy that could engulf the whole region.