These are turbulent times in Somaliland.
More and more Somalilanders express frustration and disillusionment today with the political institutions that govern the nation. They clamor for an alternative to the incestuous and pernicious atmosphere dominating the capital Hargeisa. They see a vast array of self-serving elected officials and entrenched interests manipulating the levers of power for their own enrichment at the expense of ordinary citizens.
The discontent isn’t confined by ideology or political philosophy. As Presidential candidate for Waddani Irro often mentions, after eight years of Kulmiye’s nightmarish rule the people of Somaliland are ready for something drastically different. “Change is in the air,” one youth activist in Hargeisa wrote recently, “as old patterns fall away and new energies are emerging.”
And so it is.
History tells us that agents for reform often generate fear and alarm among those intent on preserving their cushy sinecures. It’s hardly a shock, then, that the 2017 campaign has produced a barrage of unceasing vitriol directed toward Mr. Irro. But let us not be distracted by the constant baseless attacks from Kulmiye’s presidential candidate Muse Bihi on Irro’s integrity, the social media sideshows and carnival clatter. Substantive issues are in play this November.
Our allies on the world stage watch nervously as Somaliland retreats from its position of strong leadership leaving strife and conflict rushing to fill the void. The past eight years have pushed us into uncontrollable inflation, shady obligations that will burden our children and grandchildren. The nation’s economy came to a standing halt under the growing weight of livestock ban and Kulmiye’s mismanagement of the national budget that smother growth and innovation. Free schooling threatens to crash and burn. The lower class struggles. An administration promising hope and unity instead brought division and tribalism.
Mr. Irro instead brings a diplomatic sensibility and a steadfast determination to an otherwise corrupt political culture. He advocates for better use of taxpayer money and a emphasizes focus on the youth who make up 70% of the population, in contrast to his opponent’s plan to extract Carbohydrate from the soil in order to enlarge the Somaliland economy. Mr. Irro as a lawmaker/Speaker of the parliament for over a decade understands and appreciates the conditions that lead to prosperity and job creation and would be a friend to small business Somalilanders and entrepreneurship. Mr. Bihi has spent most of his adult life outside of government except for a disasterous and shot lived stint as an interior minister marred with civil war accusations.
Of particular importance is the newly formed Somali government. The next president may be charged with negotiating on diplomatic fronts for the just cause of Somaliland, shaping the international community’s attitude towards Somaliland. Mr. Irro prefers and recognizes the need for diplomacy to advocate our cause not empty threats coming from his rival. Mr. Bihi would be a disaster in this regard.
Make no mistake, a Muse Bihi administration would indulge the worst instincts of the authoritarian dictatorship, prosecute and curb freedom of the press while continue to swell the bloated deficit running the nation deeper into the red in pursuit of total power and line-up the pockets of the rich few at the expense of the poor Somaliland mothers whose children perish in the high seas on perilous voyages away from Kulmiye’s Somaliland.
Yes, Mr. Irro’s soft spokenness and hopeful demeanor may alienate many voters in a country where brash loud personalities are considered a good trait to have. He has trouble clearly communicating his vision and would be wise to discover the power of the right word said at the right time.
But neither candidate will ever be called to the dais to accept an award for great communication skills but a good character is a must. And we are already distressingly familiar with the Bihi overheated rhetoric way and self-enrichment schemes, which involves turning public service into an orgy of influence peddling and entitlement designed to line their own pockets — precisely what a disgruntled electorate now rises up to protest.
Mr. Irro represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave. But he promises to be a source of disruption and discomfort to the privileged, back-scratching political elites for whom the nation’s strength and solvency have become subservient to power’s pursuit and preservation.