Opinion: Somalis face a choice: Defend the rule of law or accept dictatorship

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y Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame* MOGADISHU — Monday Dec. 17 was a sad day for Somalia – not because the terrorist group of al Shabab has struck a civilian target as its fighters usually do, but because the Somali government has deprived me and hundreds of my supporters of an opportunity to mark the day I survived an apparent assassination attempt by government security forces who last year killed my driver and four of my security guards.

Since my return on Dec. 10 to the nation’s capital from months of engagement with Somalis in the diaspora, all my movements were restricted and monitored. My supporters were denied access to the airport to welcome me. That I am under attack shouldn’t surprise anyone. The current government under the leadership of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire has no qualms about taking out innocent lives.

But my suffering pales in comparison to the broader suffering of the Somali public whose rights are trampled on everyday on the pretext of tightening security and preventing terrorist attacks. On Monday, Mogadishu was on lockdown, just because the government wanted to prevent members of my party, Wadajir, from gathering at the City Palace Hotel to remember their fallen heroes.

In less than two years, Somalia’s sense of optimism gave way to hopelessness. Rampant corruption and a lack of sound political leadership have shattered any hope of creating a positive narrative in a nation wracked by a quarter-century of chaos and civil war. Opposition figures, like me, who refused to be co-opted or bribed, are considered a threat. But we can’t compromise with the nation’s future because we consider ourselves as the only remaining barrier between dictatorship and the rule of law.

Somalis have a choice to make: Defend the rule of law or accept a tin-pot dictatorship.

We should know that the ruling elite will stop at nothing to realize its dream to rule this country. Last year, government security forces killed my driver and four of my security guards after raiding my house. The deceased were later buried in a mass grave without the consent of their families. My only crime was being an opposition leader.

On that fateful day, I got no official notice banning my party’s activities. The attack shocked me. I was finishing a meeting with party members when I heard the cracking gunshots inside our Los Angeles school residence. The first thought that came to my mind was, “al Shabab fighters who often stage complex suicide attacks in government-controlled areas have finally arrived at your apartment.” For about 20 minutes, the assailants used everything in their possession: Assault rifles, machine-guns, grenades and anti-aircraft missiles. My guards didn’t fire a single shot back at what later turned out to be a government force obviously sent to assassinate me.

When a voice boomed through the loudspeaker — “Everyone must step out with his hands above his head!” — we stepped out one by one another. We were sure if we didn’t comply with the order, we would have been dead, like my guards and driver. The motive of that attack was to silence me — simple and clear. But it didn’t.

Now the government is trying to frighten every critic or opposition figure into silence. On Thursday, Ethiopian forces arrested former Islamist leader Mukhtar Robow Ali, just because he vied for the South West State’s regional leadership and threatened a government-sponsored candidate. His defection last year and renouncement of extremist ideologies didn’t even help him.

By illegally ordering the arrest of Robow, the government has trashed the federal system and the nation’s constitution that guarantees every citizen the right to elect and be elected. Somalis can’t afford to remain silent in the face of this open assault on our democracy and the rule of law and due process.

Somalis shouldn’t allow the fragile political stability to be undermined by the current administration, whose brutal tactics mirror the ones used by late Mohamed Siyad Barre, almost three decades ago. We can’t allow the Farmajo-Khaire administration to dismantle democratic institutions, such as the Legislature and the Judiciary. Somalis have a legitimate right to criticize their government when it’s failing. The current atmosphere of fear threatens to plunge the country into an era of uncertainty that will cast doubt on the federal government’s ability to organize national elections in 2020.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience, but how he stands at times of controversy and challenges.”

We should stand up to the Farmajo-Khaire dictatorship and not allow it to take us back to the dark era of Barre. We should seek accountability for the crimes and human rights violations that transpired on December 17, 2017.

We call on the international community to support Somalis’ endeavor to protect the fragile peace in their country and foil the current administration’s bid to create a repressive regime.

*Warsame is the chairman of Wadajir Party and a 2017 presidential candidate.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horn Observer’s editorial policy.