Puntland is dying. There are dark clouds gathering overhead and vultures circling to feed on its carrion. The writing is on the wall. A massive trouble is brewing that can wreck all that has been achieved. The sad thing is that people are aware of all this but feel somehow powerless to do anything about. For evil to prevail all that is needed is good men to do nothing is a famous quote. Is there a death wish on Puntland? Or will people wake up in time before it is too late?
At the heart of this crisis is the government and its opposition locking horns over a small matter of whether the government’s term should be extended by 12 months. It would look almost comical if it were not for the potential tragic consequences that all this is happening because of an issue as insignificant as this.
But neither the government nor the opposition are what you would expect under normal circumstances. First the opposition.
The most vocal and determined opposition are what you can call the old guard, individuals who were part of almost all past administrations. They acquired privilege and wealth as a result of their government positions. Their prized properties and visible wealth is a testimony to the privilege they once had. How officials of a regional administration surviving on meagre wages came to possess such massive riches is of course the unanswered question. But there is no doubting of their determination.
Their strident voice and the glint in their eyes however betrays their anticipation of even bigger winnings if they stay the course and regain their former positions. They are weighing all options and their opportunism knows no bounds. Some have even started testing the waters by proposing a so called unity cabinet where they will be allowed to choose the plum portfolios as a precondition of accepting the controversial extension of the government term laying bare the extent of their hypocrisy.
But what about the government – headed as it is by a small man surrounded by even smaller men with small minds presiding over a territory that is getting smaller with every passing year. A banker by trade who never managed to reach beyond the middle ranks of the banking sector. And as such never felt the need for devising a strategic vision for a bank never mind a bigger and a more complex institution.
The fact they had a year and the resources of government at their disposal to engineer an extension of their term of office without success is an indication of their incompetence.
But this administration is not only incompetent but is also guilty of being disingenuous. It is now clear that they had a trick up their sleeve right from the beginning, even as they were being inaugurated, still holding the Holy Quran to stay in office longer than agreed. No wonder then that people find it difficult to believe when they say the extension is for one year only. What if it is the thin end of the wedge, many people are asking, to be followed by another extension and so on?
Two unpalatable options are therefore on the table. A main opposition that is bereft of any ideas and lacking integrity. Their track record while in office speaks volumes. Even if they replace those now in office all they would do is to compete not on what they can do for the people but how much they can grab from the public purse, building luxury homes for themselves and extravagant lifestyles.
And the government is not any better either because they have no plan B if their preferred scheme ran into difficulties. They gambled everything on extending their term of office. They are now behaving like a reckless poker player, bluffing on a weak hand, hoping the opponent will blink first thus winning by default.
As opposition and government weigh each other up ready for the final show down, is there a third element entering the political fray albeit timidly?
As part of its cunning plan to get an extension they introduced a so called democratisation plan to use as ploy, a fig leaf to hide their intention.
Wouldn’t it be a bitter irony if this instrument of convenience actually produces a proper political dynamic that can transform the depressing political scene? A political process that can capture the imagination of the public and inspire a new generation of leaders. Better still it would be a rather sweet victory if the process culminated in the replacement of the corrupt and ineffective politicians with a new energetic leadership with integrity and vision.
But no one should be under any illusion that this process was devised with good intensions. The proof to substantiate the public cynicism of the so called democratisation is not hard to uncover. The Electoral Commission and how it was set up is the most basic evidence that a transparent programme is not possible capable of leading to a free and elections.
The members of the electoral Commission were hand-picked by the presidency and the parliament both now members of the government party, in effect the Commission is also part of the government party.
The first steps necessary to give the political process any sense of credibility if any is to first and foremost disband the Electoral Commission and form a new one that is genuinely impartial.
Puntland has been peaceful and relatively stable while much of the country was on fire. Its principled stand on maintaining the integrity and unity of Somalia and its role in the Somali peace process endeared the region to the international community.
But the region failed to capitalise on the window of opportunity provided by the relative stability and the good will of the international community. The infrastructure is crumbling and there are no social services to speak about. Even the security situation has been deteriorating in recent times.
There is a low intensity conflict with militants who are particularly resourceful and difficult to dislodge. Their preferred method of war is to target prominent figures in society creating a sense of general insecurity. In fact targeted killings have become so frequent that they hardly stay in the news headlines for more than few hours.
But inside every problem lies an opportunity is a famous quote and the question therefore is whether there are enough people, a critical mass of decent individuals who can say enough is enough.
The current sterile debate of extension or no extension is a red herring. The administration and its opposition are two sides of the same coin. They represent more of the same and no hope for the future. A proper debate should centre on grand plan beyond the current crisis; a salvage operation to lead Puntland in a different direction and towards the realisation of its potential.
As Puntland approaches its 15th birthday many are asking whether it will come of age or wither away as a result of the intransigence and short-sightedness of its political leaders past and present.
The disappearance of Puntland will not only have far reaching effect on its people who will be the biggest losers but will be felt far and wide.
There will even be winners from the disappearance of this entity. The central government will probably celebrate the passing of this anomaly as they see it. Puntland is at odds with the blue print of the young Turks currently in charge of the bullet-ridden Villa Somalia.
The entity to the north could be another early winner. Puntland has long been seen as a thorn in Somaliland’s side and in the way of realising their cherished goal of ensuring recognition for this erstwhile British colonial possession.
The stakes couldn’t be higher and it is make or break for Puntland. At stake will also be the future of a federal system for Somalia as the strongest voice for federalism will be permanently silenced.