EDITORIAL: Agent Ikran’s death and Somalia’s poor justice system
MOGADISHU, Somalia: When the National Intelligence Security Service (NISA) revealed last month that an agent in its ranks, who had vanished two months earlier, had been killed by al-Shabaab, they probably thought they were closing a chapter.
What NISA, and its then-leader Fahad Yasin, didn’t know is that they were opening another: a peek into Somalia’s indigent justice system. Agent Ikran Tahlil Farah was a young woman working for an organization that should be one of Somalia’s most revered. In Civilised societies, working as an intelligence officer, a soldier, a police officer, a doctor, or even a teacher are considered some of the most patriotic duties.
In Somalia, these are supposedly wretched jobs where workers’ welfare, rights, or even justice can be thrown to the wind. Agent Ikran’s disappearance and subsequent death weren’t a first for security officers. There are persistent reports of how security officers go without pay or are subjected to a burn-out environment. In Somalia, this has led to pain for the public: Underpaid, overworked officers, can hardly be productive and may only be susceptible to corruption. It is no wonder that al-Shabaab’s parallel justice system has peaked in some regions of the country.
Back to NISA, the case showed that it could sit on its hands and cover up its misdeeds. Ikran’s death, whose actual date nor the location of the body has not been explained, was supposed to be a straightforward investigation issue. If NISA says she got caught in the hands of al-Shabaab, they should at least have given adequate information to the family. Ikran’s mother, who has been distraught since her daughter vanished without a trace, has been inconsolable. Her tears are a show of pain for a woman who looked forward to seeing her daughter, who never returned. But those tears also reflect the pain of ordinary Somalis, especially women.
It should be routine to expect that authorities investigate anomalies, be it murders, theft, or other criminal offenses. It is an expectation that those incidents and their perpetrators face the full force of the law. At NISA, we learned that officials were not enthusiastic about the truth. If her death was a national security issue, NISA should have come forth and at least explained why they were sitting on the information. Instead, the intelligence chiefs led by Yasin ventured on a path to cleanse themselves.
First, they refused to divulge information. Then they frustrated bids to investigate the issue. Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble suspended Yasin and ordered the military court to investigate. As an independent body, the military court should have had judicial authority to dig. But their work has faced walls erected by those seeking to save their skins.
It is not any better than the lead participant in short-circuiting the process is outgoing president Mohamed Farmaajo. He sabotaged the military court by launching a parallel team, incidentally composed of cronies of the suspended intelligence boss Yasin. If they were to investigate their friend, then there is no need to guess the case's conclusion. Farmaajo, therefore, was playing for the defense, without saying it.
The family of Ms. Farah may weep over their lost daughter. But outgoing President Farmaajo and his associates must know that this incident represents the entire nation. By pushing to cover up for his friends in the Intelligence Service, he has reneged on his vows to defend justice for all.
Somalia has not had a good record of women’s rights, press freedom, and a transparent justice system. Historians may blame it on three decades of conflict and insecurity. But none of these could happen if leaders chose to stick to the law. There may exist, among Somali communities, those who prefer to dominate the poor or vulnerable. But that can only persist if leaders choose impunity. Farmaajo, in determining to cancel out his Prime Minister, did not just impose a blockade on those seeking justice. He showed that he could not be trusted with a simple, clear-cut process.
What is shocking too is the fact that women leaders in Somalia, or defenders of women’s rights, have remained mainly mute. Is it for being scared or just participants in the mutilation of people’s rights? Perhaps things would have been different had they joined the mother in protesting against the government.
For now, there is some window of opportunity. Prime Minister Roble’s decision to pursue this case not only provides some guarantees to the grieving family that one day they will get to know the culprits and use that to heal. This is why we must all support an independent investigation. Ikran’s blood may be the ink with which we will use to rewrite our journey to justice. It will benefit us all.