As unorthodox as was the 10th session of the Somali Regional Parliament (May 21, 2020), one must rather wish for a short-lived brawl over a bullet shot in the heads of the highest authority. That is the difference between Somali politics and that of the Amhara region.
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While about 12 Somali parliamentarians have expressed their political disagreement with the current president of the region in an inconsequential disheveled brawl, they did not go as far as what contrarian elites in the Amhara region did on June 23, 2019. In the latter case, “the president of the Amhara regional state, Ambachew Mekonnen and the region’s government advisor Ezez Wassie had been killed from gunshot injuries sustained.” It is in that context that I will take a brawl any day in Jigjiga over a bullet in the heads of leaders in Gonder or Addis Ababa.
In the end, the accused 12 members of the Somali Regional State (SRS) parliament were expelled from the house. Normally, that would have closed the case.
However, her excellency Filsan Abdi, Federal Minister for Women and Children, in a post on her Facebook page rebuked the SRS by stating that “trends of anti-democratic practices from the regional government… are leading to a volatile situation again.” She was mainly focusing on what she perceived as a deteriorating political situation in the region.
Deputy President Mustafa Omar did not directly respond to the Minister. Some source report that he privately complained about the NABAD TV and its propensity to host critics of his administration. Reliable sources report that Prime Minister Abiy asked Filsan Abdi to take down the comment from her Facebook page but to no avail. Filsan so far stuck by her position.
On the other end, Deputy President Mustafa Omar’s supporters unceremoniously hit the social media in the hundreds accusing the lady Minister of being a TPLF sympathizer, a Jawar Mohamed lackey, and some even went farther in insulting and intimidating her. Suffice here to say that some of the tactics used by these self-anointed vigilante supporters of the SRS are a copycat of Abdi Ilay’s. (Bilaa xishood beenaalayaal ah!).
Having said that, none of these pleonasm verbiages should be attributed to Mustafa Omar. Vigilantes in the region do this kind of dirty tricks and attacks on individuals as part of their commitment to clan loyalty; others are seeking personal favors from SRS. Therefore, in no way shall one attribute this to Mustafa Omar.
Rather, what worrisome is that once the short-lived Somali brawl reached Addis Ababa, it became a neftenghia cause celebre. Luminary neftenghia personalities in the comfort of Addis Ababa seized the brawl event as an opportunity to belittle the Somali region.
Thinking that he was coming to the rescue of Mustafa Omar, one neftenghia commentator, for example, argued that: “Mustafa and Mengistu Haile Mariam are alike in their unwavering love for Ethiopian Unity; the two are two identical heroes and Mustafa must use Mengistu’s dictatorial tools to safeguard Ethiopia against Somalis.” To emphasize the need for a Mengistu-style dictatorship over Somalis in protecting Ethiopia, he went on to say: “democracy does not work with Somalis!” Forgetting that Mustafa is Somali, he went on to quote a Machiavellian tool for Mustafa’s consumption from Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam, author of “Somalia: The Problem Child of Africa,” a Birhane Selam publication (1977), which was nothing more than a tapestry of a chauvinist propaganda. According to this commentator, Mustafa must head Mesfine’s advise which is to use the “sword” to farther Ethiopianism. In short, this juvenile commentator urges Mustafa to crackdown on Somalis as did the Dregi to protect and promote Ethiopianism at the expense of [undemocratic] Somalis.
Words of neftenghia (read neftanya) often hurt as does a nemesis dagger in the heart and do not bode well for people with conscience all over Ethiopia. For a better understanding, the word neftenghia comes from the Amharic word “neftgh,” meaning rifle. Neftenghia therefore is tantamount to marauding armed expeditionary militia whose method of compensation is the King’s permit to letting them loot, rape and destroy their subjects. At the turn of the 20th century, the Neftenghia descended on the South and the East during Menelik’s era of conquest. Millions of people were killed during that era encounter in Welayta, Somali, Afar, Oromo, Kamabta, etc. Since then, Ethiopia’s rural arable land were held in perpetuity by the neftenghia and their families.
As urbanization grew in Ethiopia and power shifted from rural to urban centers, children of neftenghia in the occupied regions (Somali, Oromo, Gurage, Afar regions and elsewhere) became the sole beneficiaries and protectors of the system created by their armed forefathers. Despite several changes in the political order of the country in the last half a century, some neftenghia loyalist are still at odd with the democratization of the polity.
Most unchanged neftenghia politically morphed into urban-based chauvinists (tim-ki-tenyoch), whose rigid political positions do not bode well for neither oppressed Ethiopians nor progressive Amhara. The chauvinists are the main beneficiary of the Ethiopian state. As such, they are to Ethiopia what white Boers were to apartheid South Africa, or what white supremacists are to Trump’s America. Their interest is intertwined with who controls the state. So far, they supported Haile Selassie and Mengistu without any conditions.
The gentleman who argued that Somalis are not fit for a democratic governance lacks adequate understanding of the epistemology of Social Science and the African Studies literature. The Somali society is by far more open society and is inclined to be democratic than the hierarchical Amhara society. In a plethora of African Studies treatises, it is documented that the Somali society is so democratic that it may even borders anarchism. Nonetheless, it is very democratic. (see I. M. Lewis, Jeremy Swift, Jamal Vali, et el).
In traditional Somali system of governance, all qaan-gaadh or “men of age” have equal say during open deliberations under the “tree of justice,” or “geedka garta.” The clan system whose vagaries sometimes pose challenges is also at the same time more democratic than any feudal system, much more so than that of Ethiopia. Amhara traditional systems of governance, unlike that of the Somalis, is organized in a rigid hierarchy. Deeply feudal, the poor is not considered citizens but only a source of cheap labor to be exploited for a surplus value that which is in turn enjoyed only by the lord and his family (Greenfield). In its extreme form of feudal culture, poor peasants are not more than serfs, and therefore do not have equal citizenship rights enjoyed elsewhere or by the lord and his family.
Ancient Russia and Ethiopia are unique sisters in two aspects as exhibited by their sociopolitical cultures – one is that they both are societies based on serfdom. This rigid social organization has even permeated in the family life. The other aspect is an offshoot of the serf-based system in that they both are “prisons of nations and nationalities.” These two ancient feudal attributes defied several political changes in the last 50 years.
The fringe VOSS-TV commentator could have also benefited from a movie made by the nephew of Girmame Neway in late 1990s. Negga, an independent move-maker and my contemporary at the graduate of UCLA (School of Theater and Cinema in his case) shows in “Girigir,” (chaos), how detrimentally a hierarchical system even exists inside the family. Only few hours before the unfolding of the coup events masterminded by Mengistu and Girmame Neway, a poignant but perceptive scene shows a Mojo feudal family having its last supper.
Kids and mom do not eat until the well-fed greedy well-fed father eats the better part of the meal including the fatty parts of the Sanga beef [meet] (Jooma). While the lord is eating, mother entertains him, and kids stand behind him as soldiers would do for their general. Oblivious to the hunger of his own kids, the father slowly but meticulously chews every bit of the good part of the meat.
To the chagrin of the kids who are fidgeting for their turn to eat the leftover, the father, unimaginative about the hunger of his kids who have been standing there for a good hour, carefully and systemically folds each piece of a slice of a sheet of Injer, picks the sauce-soaked tipse cubes of meat and throws a well-rolled full and choreographed bite of injera into his salivating wide open mouth.
The guard at the gate of this large family compound, in tattered close with his scruff hands due to the hard work of being a maid in the cold weather of Addis Ababa, is also the son of the brother of the lord himself. You would not know that from the treatment he is given, this child is not as nephew but as a peasant to be exploited. Such a rigid and cruel culture also permeates in the governance of Ethiopia. I wish this VOSS-TV commentator new his own history.
Owing to such a rigid culture, Ethiopia has never democratically elected a leader. From November 2, 1930 at the time of the coronation of regent Haile Selassie to become a king, up until April 2018, when Dr. Abiy took power, no Ethiopian leader has ever been elected. Power transfer has always come with the neftgh or at the barrel of the gun.
Because of that, I am baffled at how the VOSS-TV commentator would even know how democracy tastes, smells, or its practice. He does not have both the life experience as well as the history to comment on democratic culture. The only thing with a close resemblance to the democratic culture we borrowed from the West that this commentator knows is his off-blue cheap suit.
In his bereft of knowledge of what democracy is, he is naturally gravitated towards the dictatorial ethos of Mengistu the butcher as the best alternative to keep Ethiopia together. I hope President Mustafa Omar disavows this chauvinistic call and rebuke him – something Somalis will welcome with open arms.
For comparison, just look at Somali society: the first African leader ever, who lost an election and then gave power peacefully to the winner, was President Adan Abdule Osman. In the 1960s, power transfer through elections took place in Somalia twice. In 2000s, several elections have taken place successfully and power was transferred to the winner at the turn of the midnight clock. Even at regional levels (from Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, Jubbaland) and others, a peaceful power transfer has taken place.
Neither Mustafa Omar nor SRS is responsible for the nonsensical tirades rhetoric of this neftenghia commentator. What has transpired in VOSS-TV in principle borders hate speech, and as such the SRS must invoke the anti-hate decree against such a chauvinist. SRS owes this move to its people. Otherwise, many may construe this as if SRS and its leaders condone the venomous words of neftenghia who are always seeking opportunities to remain relevant to the region’s politics.
Faisal A. Roble
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.