Samatar’s Crusade Against Somaliland Should Stop
By: Mohamed A. Suleiman
Throughout the history of Mankind, there have been stories of renegade soldiers, generals, and rulers who created havoc on planet earth. Stories of renegade professors have been a rarity in both our ancient and contemporary history. Mr. Samatar appears to be one. What sets Abdi Ismail Samatar apart from the rest, however, is the fact that the professor is a renegade without a cause. A cursory look at his short but tumultuous involvement in the Somali politics clearly indicates that the professor doesn’t get it.
Professors and others in academia are usually people who are endowed with high order thinking. They are known to exercise critical reasoning and utilize superb problem solving skills. They inspire people and give them hope in places where hopelessness is prevalent. In addition, they are flexible, open minded, observant, sensitive, objective, and generally free from dogmatic thinking and ideologies. They strife for consensus, refrain from unnecessarily divisive rhetoric, and show a tremendous respect for their peers. Most importantly, they uphold a universal protocol where members in academia stick to the issues at hand rather than engaging in personal attacks, witch hunts, and scapegoating.
Although Abdi Ismail Samatar sports the title of professorship around, his track record when it comes to his brief involvement in the Somali politics indicates that he is utterly devoid of any of those distinctive characteristics that I outlined above. Here is why:
Mr. Samatar’s involvement in the Somali Reconciliation Conference that was held in Kenya was a common knowledge. His hasty withdrawal from the conference was also a common knowledge. The question that needs to be posed here is: Why did the professor go to the conference and why did he make the hasty retreat?
Ordinary Somalis from all walks of life were familiar with the fate of the so-called Somali reconciliation conferences. One wonders what convinced Mr. Samatar that the Nairobi one was going to be any different, when in fact it had the added distinction of bringing most of the known Somali warlords under one roof. When most of us were anticipating that the warlords would be rounded up and brought before the full brunt of the law, the professor on the other hand flew to Nairobi and started dancing with the warlords.
History has taught us that reconciliation is impossible when the groups that are to be reconciled have multiple competing agendas, are ferociously hostile to each other, and, in their heart of hearts, do not want to even reconcile. Why would some one accept reconciliation when in fact they are better off without it? Mr. Samatar’s venture in this respect could only be described as a. critical lapse in judgment.
To be fair to the professor, some clues as to why he danced with the warlords may emerge when we look at the life experience of someone like Samatar who chose the comfort of living in North America over the adverse conditions prevailing at home, and as a result became alienated from the reality of the homeland. It appears that the professor slept through some of Somalia’s history, particularly the conditions that led to the demise of Somalia’s nationhood. It might also be that the professor intentionally uses selective memory when it comes to his view of Somali affairs. His contemptuous attempt to rewrite history is utterly unacceptable. The professor accused others of misrepresenting the Somali history when in fact he has been engaged in a calculated campaign aimed at misleading people about both the colonial and postcolonial history of Somalia. His blatant campaign to smear Professor I. M. Lewis, an internationally renowned anthropologist and an authority on Somali history, is a case in point.
Mr. Samatar’s erratic behaviour did not only discredit him personally, but his conduct has disappointed many in the diaspora who thought that wit and wisdom were part and parcel of being a professor. A sense of optimism was injected into the hearts of many Somalis when would be intellectuals were spotted amidst the warlords in the Nairobi conference. The anticipation was that people like Samatar would rise up to the challenge and use the ingenuity that is expected of people in academia, and therefore inject new sprit and ideas that could help steer the conference in the right direction. As we all know, the Nairobi conference resulted in the so-called Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is in complete disarray as we speak.
When Mr. Samatar failed in his quest to shine at the Nairobi conference, he naturally turned to his favourite target, Somaliland. Hiding under the cloaks of his pseudo-nationalistic tendencies, he embarked on a sinisterous mission that took him to the doorstep of the British parliament, in an attempt to thwart Somaliland’s bid for nationhood. However, several other issues that cast a serious doubt on Mr. Samatar’s intellectual capacity and judgment emerged out of his self-styled account of his trip to London that was posted on Hiiraan Online at the time.
As you all may have noticed, the professor didn’t mention any thing of real substance in his lengthy monologue. Rather, he dwelled on some minor squabbles that he observed after he dropped in uninvited in the hall where the Somaliland delegation was meeting with members of the British parliament. You read his story of the shouting match between the two Somalilanders who belonged to two opposing political parties. You also read the heckling and boos that he received when he attempted to add his two-cent rant to the proceedings. Big deal. Again, the whole episode speaks volumes about the depth, or lack of it, of the professor’s intellectual capability and judgment.
What Mr. Samatar failed to understand is the fact that Somaliland is a fledgling democracy, and like any other fledgling democracy there will be growing pains. He totally missed that squabbles and shouting matches are the hallmarks of a healthy democratic process that is in its infantile stage. Compare that to the number of unsolved homicides that took place in the campgrounds of the Nairobi conference. Compare it also to the customary fistfights that occur in the legislatures of democracies like Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.
Instead of giving credit where credit is due, Mr. Samatar continues to use Somaliland as a scapegoat for the failed state of Somalia. He needs to be reminded that the all but certain death of Somalia’s nationhood is not Somaliland’s doing. It is not also the doing of the neutral international organizations and agencies that monitor global affairs on a purely humanitarian basis. His most recent accusation of the International Crisis Group (ICG) with impartiality is very much in line with his perverted view of the Somali affairs and nationhood.
Somaliland should be commended for the long road it took toward reconciliation, to the extent that they elected a president who has a war crimes cloud hanging over his head. It is a well-known fact that Mr. Dahir Rayale Kahin was a senior ranking officer of the notorious National Security Service (NSS), an organization that the Gestapo, the KGB, and the German SS would have envied because of its brutality. He was strategically placed at the Red Sea port of Berbera during the height of the genocidal campaign against the people of the north. It is a common knowledge that such high profile postings were created for rewarding members in the NSS force who carried out their duties with distinction.
As Raqiya Omar of Human Rights Watch documented in her much-celebrated book, “A Government at War With Its Own People”, there were witnesses who lived in Berbera and elsewhere in Somaliland who directly linked Rayale Kahin to the atrocities that were committed there. Is it not ironic then that a man who served as a senior officer in the dreaded NSS during Siyad Barre’s genocidal campaign could find himself sitting at the helm of a fledgling democracy that was born out of resistance to that brutal experience?
In this regard, I do after all share one sentiment with the professor: Riyale Kahin and his cohort have no moral or legitimate right to champion the self-determination campaign that Somaliland has embarked on.
Against this kind of backdrop, if professor Samater’s beef with Somaliland is because of the unscrupulous and corrupt clique that rules the country, then he has a point and he should be commended for that. If the professor is opposed to the nationhood and the self-determination path that the people of Somaliland had embarked on, he should be reminded that, had the American Revolution never taken place, America would still be part of the British Empire and a good loyal member of the British Common Wealth.
One thing that might be lost in the middle of all this is the fact that the professor could be a shrewd businessman. As a self-proclaimed expert on Somali politics, not on the Somali geography, he made a reputation of sorts for himself and frequently makes the media rounds here in North America, discussing or commenting on Somali affairs. Having lived in America for so long, he knows full well that that kind of exposure could only cause his stocks to appreciate. He also knows too well that playing jack-of-all-trades and becoming a master in spin doctoring are a very lucrative business in corporate America. Putting whatever other ulterior motives he may harbor aside, we cannot blame the professor if he is out to make a few more bucks.
But finally, a word of advice for the renegade professor: it is about time that his supercharged ego cools down, and that the objectivity, humility, and rational behavior that are the hallmarks of academia become part of his persona.