Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Ilyas Barre Shiil: Open Mouth, Closed Mind
Ilyas Barre Shiil: Open Mouth,
In his absorbing book, “The Young Mandela”, David James Smith set out to “rescue Mandela from the dry pages of history” and to present him as a mere human being - with foibles, ugly warts, flaws and blemishes like all mortals, and not as a saint. In the end, he discovered Mandela the wife-beater, the womanizer, the absentee and authoritative father with no capacity for affection to his progeny. The story of the alienated Thembi, the older son of Mandela, who did not care to visit his father in prison out of resentment, and the sad demise of the alcoholic Makgatho, the younger son, who was ‘deformed’ by his father’s ‘unrelenting scrutiny’ embody the audacious narratives of David Smith’s Book. Mandela’s quixotic carnal escapades with women comrades and the heartbreaks of jilted wives sit at the nucleus of the early life of the attractive and athletic South African revolutionary, who enjoys a near-papal moral infallibility at old age.
Despite all the valiant intent and solid investigation, Smith could not evade the myth buster’s trap, and hence saying “some people cannot hear a word against Mandela”, he itemized “all the words against Mandela” that he could possibly collect and sketched the picture of the Mandela he sought to see. In so doing, he left out vital details about the early life of Mandela, details that would not have subdued the potency of his inferences, but that would have helped the reader get a much broader understanding of the young Mandela.
This write-up is not about Mandela. It is not about David Smith. It is about a political wayfarer of lesser distinction, with migratory political principles. It is about our own Ilyaas Barre Shiil, former Kenyan Member of Parliament (MP), a sort of clownish political chancer, said to be swept by the information of the last generous hosts who accord him a red-carpet and confetti welcome.
The relevance of the prelude about Smith’s book is to shed light on the limits of ‘myth-busting’ missions, such as the one this man has engaged in, in his latest joyride to Jigjiga and Godey. Ultimately, missions launched with predetermined outcomes in mind defile a cardinal rule of fact-finding assignments, which is the obligation of lessening bias. But that doesn’t mean, all that biased missions come up with, is a load of nonsense that should be wholly dismissed. Nor does it mean factual statements by flawed characters should not be acknowledged and discussed.
In this leaky age of internet, satellite dishes and mobile phones, rival ideas and statements cannot be defeated by harassing or banning them. Contending narratives should be countered with compelling counter-narratives. That way, the theories of rambling political freebooters who push hard balls with tender palms can be neutralized.
In the first week of February 2012, Mr. Ilyaas spoke to the Somali Service of the BBC about what he saw in his visit to the Somali Region. And as if to cement the stubborn typecast that this Somali politician from Kenya does not own any viewpoints but merely amplifies what his hosts tell him, he approached the weighty matters in Somali region of Ethiopia, again, with an open mouth and a closed mind. In the past, he praised whoever he shared dinner with. He praised Somaliland’s secession bid in November 2010 when he was hosted in Hargeisa. He waxed lyrics about Puntland in Garowe in December 2011 when he effusively cherished the ‘welcome he received’ there. He shrieked ‘Galmudug ha noolaato’ when he was invited to a meeting of Galmudug supporters in November 2011.
Not that anything is wrong about a politician playing to the gallery; even the ones who have no say in his political destiny. Not that there is any hurt I feel because Ilyas embraces very different and at times contradicting principles all at once. But in all the occasions where he danced to the tunes of his hosts, there was a sight profoundly revealing. The man cut a piteous character, one easily titillated by the fawning clap and ululation of the crowd, and mindlessly dishing out tailor-made, fit-for-the occasion homilies and slogans, to ingratiate himself with the hosts. That it didn’t bother him if the slogans contradict each other, or that the principles of SYL which he lauded in one meeting cannot share a room with the aspirations of SNM, which he also decorated in another, is not my problem. Yes, I hate pretenders and appeasers. But this is not about my ethical fastidiousness.
The bottom-line is that anyone who saw Ilyas’s podium simulations in other regions he visited would understand that his latest artifice about the Somali Region of Ethiopia, which is where he is hosted last, is utterly banal. The measure of prosperity and peace in the areas he visits is the welcome and banquets he receives in these areas. If he eats copiously, all must be eating bountifully. If he sleeps in peace, all must be relishing a tranquilizing sleep.
The portrait of the man that these indicting precedents paint is a man whose assessments of any situation must be taken not with a pinch of salt, but with a shovel of manure. And, indeed, it is very understandable why in the corridors of Somali politics, both his foes and friends, know Ilyas for his fast-paced evolution, in tours and ideationally.
To speak about Ilyas’s intrinsic proclivity of saying what his hosts like, is not to discredit all that he said about the region. The man spoke some truths, some half-truths and some outright falsehoods and we should be fair enough to acknowledge where he is right, because we condemn where he is wrong. He is right that the region is better developed than NFD, a confession that is an indictment of his and others’ tenure as MPs in Kenya. If NFD is less developed than the derelict Somali Region, there is a lot of work he needs to do at home than to kiss the smelly political armpits of despots and puppets elsewhere. Such insight should instill in him a sense of regretful irritation about the backwardness of his own backyard, and he should be asking for more rights there, instead of denouncing those who are asking for their rights in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.He is also right about roads built; there is a nice airport in Jigjiga, and the Somali language is the working language in government offices and schools. To say there is no development in the region is to engage in offensive denialism. But, to say there is a political freedom in the Somali region and there is no oppression is to dabble with treasonous refutationContinued