By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
On March 2, Mohamed Abdi Mohamed posted on Hiiraanonline and other Somali websites his “Commentary on Prof. Michael Weinstein’s Article ‘S.F.G.’s Strategy of Political Conflict dated February 23, 2013.’” As the writer who is the subject of Abdi Mohamed’s commentary, I have decided to write a commentary on his commentary in order to try to clear up serious misunderstandings that appear in it. I approach my response not as a polemical attack, but as an opportunity to explain what I conceive my analyses of Somali politics to be, including the article that Abdi Mohamed addresses, which was posted on Garoweonline..
Before moving to a substantive discussion, it is necessary for me to address some observations that Abdi Mohamed makes that pertain to me personally and to my relationship with Garoweonline. Abdi Mohamed did not have to make those observations; they are completely independent of the substantive points that he makes and can only be intended to discredit the objectivity of my analyses. Reluctant as I am to do so, I believe that I should defend myself, because if I did not do so readers might believe that I have no adequate answer to Abdi Mohamed’s effort to discredit my work.
The Personal Attack
At the outset of his commentary, Abdi Mohamed writes: “I would have thought that the Professor [Weinstein] would have found it appropriate to express an objective analysis of the Constitutional challenges facing Somalia and not allow himself to be a victim of misinformation and propaganda.”
It is obvious that there are two ways of attacking an analyst personally; one can claim that he is willfully biased or one can say that he is an unknowing dupe, which is just what Abdi Mohamed says about me. Each of those personal attacks is devastating to the prime virtue of a political analyst: his objectivity. Perhaps Abdi Mohamed thinks that by calling me a dupe rather than a stealthy partisan, he is doing me a favor. Such, of course, is not the case; he is being patronizing and condescending, treating me as a child.
The answer that I have for Abdi Mohamed is: Read my writings on Somalia and understand that they are based on a methodology that requires me to read dozens of articles each day on Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and the international actors involved in Somalia; take notes on those articles and put those notes into sequential grids that generate timelines of events; and review those grids to discern the power configuration among the conjuncture of actors at a particular time. That basic methodology, which I have practiced regularly for seven years, is supplemented by a wide correspondence with Somali and non-Somali sources who provide me with information that is not available in open sources, and call attention to any inaccuracies or misinterpretations that appear in my analyses, making the methodology self-corrective.
Have grasped the methodology that I use, Abdi Mohamed is free to continue saying that I am a “victim of misinformation and propaganda.” I think that his personal attack is ludicrous. I am not a “victim” of anything; Abdi Mohamed and I simply disagree and, in addition, he seems to misunderstand entirely what I am trying to do.
Not satisfied with attempting to cast me as a dupe, Abdi Mohamed proceeds to write: “It is, in my view, not coincidental that this article was published on the Garoweonline website which is owned and operated by relatives of the President of Puntland. It is also not a coincidence that the article seems to establish clear divides between Puntland and the Somali Federal Government (SFG).”
While I find it offensive to be cast as a dupe by Abdi Mohamed, I find it deplorable that he attempts to sully my relationship with Garoweonline, a relationship for which I am grateful and of which I am proud. I post on Garoweonline because it has extended a hand of friendship to me with no strings attached, and has always treated me with perfect respect and has given me complete freedom of expression without ever even suggesting what positions I should take, much less asking that I take a position. One could not wish for better editors.
Again the word “ludicrous” comes to mind. Those people who have read my analyses over the seven years that I have been writing them know that I give readings of the power distribution among political actors and make short-term predictions based on them. Sometimes one of the actors’ perspectives coincides with one of my analyses, whereas the next analysis coincides with the perspective of another actor. That happens because I am trying to follow the power distribution rather than pursuing any particular political interest. My readers, including my editors at Garoweonline, are well aware of the many times that my analyses have not coincided with the positions of Puntland’s government.
How does Abdi Mohamed get the idea that it is “not a coincidence” that the article that he addresses was posted on Garoweonline and that it “seems to establish clear divides” between Puntland and the S.F.G.? Would he say the same about the series of analyses I wrote about the possibility that Somalia would become balkanized? I establish divides to which my research directs me and I try to make them plain so that all the actors can see them and adjust their own positions accordingly, if they find my analysis to be cogent. My aim is for all the actors in the conjuncture to understand where they are positioned in relation to the others. Practically that kind of analysis should help prevent gross miscalculations by one actor or another. In the analysis that Abdi Mohamed has addressed, I was giving what I called an “early warning” of an impending conflict between the S.F.G. and Puntland unless genuine processes of reconciliation were undertaken.
Abdi Mohamed can back the S.F.G. against Puntland if that is what he wants to do; by doing so his statements become data for me to feed into a conflict analysis. Abdi Mohamed can dismiss Puntland if that is what he wants to do. I am simply warning Abdi Mohamed and the others who take his position that Puntland is not going to dismiss itself and that it is serious about its model of decentralized federalism. Does that mean that I am a propagandist for Puntland? If there is one rule that guides political analysis it is to take the position, interests, and power-resources of each actor seriously, and never to dismiss an actor. My bottom line to Abdi Mohamed is: Get real.
The Substantive Issues
Abdi Mohamed launches his personal attack at the very beginning of his commentary and then, thankfully, engages important substantive issues. The second half of his commentary is directed to policy recommendations for the S.F.G. Those will not concern me here; I am an analyst and I stay away from policy. I have no interest in telling Somalis, or anyone else, what to do – to repeat, I try to give the most accurate description of the power configuration that characterizes the current political situation in and around Somalia. Most of the first half of Abdi Mohamed’s commentary, however, is relevant to political analysis and I will address it on those terms following in the order he examines the first three “core issues” that he defines: The Somali Identity, Federalism, and The role of the S.F.G.
On Somali identity, Abdi Mohamed and I are in full agreement that “Somalis share a common identity.” “Wherever one goes on this planet, a Somali recognizes another Somali,” says Abdi Mohamed. There is no doubt about that; the question is: What are the political implications of that fact?
I would simply say that the Somali identity that Abdi Mohamed puts forward is a social identity with no political implications that logically follow from it. The Somali people could be (and are) divided among different political entities and still remain Somalis. “The central issue is how to shape a nation ‘e pluribus unum’,”says Abdi Mohamed. Does he include the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Northeast Province of Kenya, and Somaliland? It is a serious conceptual mistake to confuse social identity with political identity. Social identity tends towards being a condition in which people find and acknowledge themselves and each other; political identity tends towards being a willed project and is subject to power and interest fluctuations.
I would say to Abdi Mohamed: The central issue is not how to shape a nation ‘e pluribus unum,’ but whether Somalis want such a nation and, if enough of them do, what political form it would take and to what extent it could be achieved in present circumstances.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that I do not have a position on the question of Somali political identity; it is the only value-commitment I have with regard to Somalia and Somalis: I would like the Somali people to be able to stand up and defend their interests with strength in the world at large. That is my “bias;” I am aware of it; I try not to let it affect my analyses, but it guides my selection of the topics that I address. If enough Somalis do not want to be strong in the world at large, if they want other things more, I will record that situation.
Having defined his basic aim of a unified Somali political community (nation), Abdi Mohamed moves to what I consider to be the fundamental issue of contemporary Somali politics: the form of federalism that Somalia will/might adopt. Abdi Mohamed says: “It would also appear that [Weinstein’s] article seeks to publicize some potential disadvantages to Puntland if they embrace the centralized model supported by the Somali Federal Government.”
Here again, Abdi Mohamed has fallen into a serious misunderstanding. Does he really mean that Puntland needs me to tell it that it will be disadvantaged if it embraces centralized federalism? Where does he think that I came up with the concepts of decentralized and centralized federalism if not from trying to find accurate terms with which to describe, respectively, Puntland’s established and explicit position, and the S.F.G.’s emerging position? Puntland perceives that its vital interests are bound up with implementation of the decentralized federalist model. Abdi Mohamed cannot wish that away by blaming the analyst. Or does he think I have read Puntland’s perceived and articulated interests incorrectly? Get real.
Then Abdi Mohamed challenges my thesis that the S.F.G. is seeking to establish dominance and control over the south-central regions, saying that I “fail to mention” what evidence I have to support my assertions. What response can I make? Half of the analysis that he addresses is evidence for my thesis. I go through the S.F.G.’s maneuvers in the south, the southwest, the east-central, and central regions. What other evidence does he want? My point is that the S.F.G. does not have the military and financial power to defeat its rivals or buy them off, so it is using a divide-and-rule strategy. I say that the S.F.G.’s strategy is “intelligible” given the constraints (mainly due to the Western “donor”-powers) on it.
Then, turning to the role of the S.F.G., Abdi Mohamed plunges into his gravest misunderstanding when he writes: “While [Weinstein’s] article seems to decry the motives of the S.F.G., it is remarkably silent on offering any constructive advice to the SFG.”
Here Abdi Mohamed shows that he does not have the slightest clue as to what political analysis does. First off, I do not in the slightest “decry” the S.F.G.; I simply try to describe and explain its strategy, showing that it is “intelligible.” Indeed, one could make a case that I am sympathetic towards the S.F.G., because I am trying to understand why it has adopted a strategy of political conflict as the only path open to it for asserting political control. In examining that strategy, I note that it is high risk and could lead to confrontation with Puntland. That is not decrying anything; it is trying to assess the conjuncture of actors as a whole rather from the position and perspective of one of them (as Abdi Mohamed relentlessly does). Secondly, of course I do not offer advice to the S.F.G. or to Puntland or to any actor. What is so remarkable about that? An analyst produces analyses, not policy recommendations.
For the rest of his commentary, Abdi Mohamed fills the gap that he believes I have left by offering his recommendations for improving the S.F.G. I leave it to others to agree with him or dispute him, or offer their own recommendations. Policy is an essential and integral part of politics; there is no politics without it. I honor it and I do not partake of it.
Simply put, I am a diagnostician and not a therapist. It appears that Abdi Mohamed does not understand the distinction. Does he understand its analogue in his professional capacity as fraud examiner? When he uncovers fraud, does he also spend the second half of his report proposing reforms in the laws defining fraud or in accountancy? No doubt he might have ideas about how to improve fraud detection and punishment, but those ideas would not go into his report uncovering fraudsters; they would go elsewhere. I think Abdi Mohamed understands the distinction perfectly, so why won’t he extend the same courtesy to me as a political analyst?
Abdi Mohamed begins his commentary with the metaphor of the “two-edged blade that can be used to cut an intended object but also cut the user if he or she is not careful.” I reply: It is fruitless to try to cut a stone with a butter knife.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago firstname.lastname@example.org