EDITORIAL: On Somali troops saga in Eritrea, where is Farmajo’s voice?
EDITORIAL | Somalia’s Information Minister Osman Dubbe never stops charging at a crisis like a bull; whether it is a diplomatic tiff with Kenya or battling domestic opposition politicians, he usually does it full swing. In contemporary life, it could be unfair to compare him to Josef Goebbels; Germany’s Propaganda Minister during World War I.
Dubbe is obviously, assumed, not to be speaking for a President keen to oppress his citizens. But his response to the saga of ‘missing’ Somali troops sent to Eritrea was appalling.
In the wake of a UN Special Rapporteur’s Report, Dubbe came forth to fight for the reputation of his boss: Outgoing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. But he blamed the opposition rather than show the public where the troops are.
On Thursday, he argued discussing the matter amounted to divulging a “supreme national secret” and urged the politicians to learn from other countries he didn’t name.
Of course, Dubbe told the public that no Somali soldier had fought in the Tigray war, only saying that indeed Eritrea was training Somali recruits as a “friendly” nation.
We have a problem with his statement on Thursday. First, political leaders have a moral, and sometimes a legal responsibility, to represent the views of the people they lead. No leader in his senses can sit on his hands when women are wailing in the streets demanding to know where their sons are.
This is why the bare minimum from Mr. Dube would have been to assure the women and their families that the troops are safe, and then provide evidence that they are safe. The cries of the women, which we have reported diligently since the claims emerged three months ago, have been that they haven’t heard from their sons for the last two years. They do not know if their children are alive or dead.
Dubbe spoke of patriotism. But Patriotism that seeks to cover up the feelings of families is self-destructive. Every Somali would love to serve in government and help rebuild their country whether as a civil servant or a soldier. It is a pride that cannot be defined.
But to expect a mother on the streets to be proud of their country when the same government of that country is not allowing her to access her family is cruel. These women, rather than feel proud of their country and government, are now seeing authorities as to the source of their misery.
It is true Dubbe may have been doing his job: shielding his boss by managing the crisis. But unless authorities gag those women, there is going to be no respite for Dubbe and his boss. There are questions he has been unable to answer.
For example, can he table the entire list of recruits sent to Eritrea for training? What state secret will he be protecting if he shared these names in public, so we know everybody who is away on training. Secondly, how long do these training sessions take? In normal military service, training takes less than a year. So, assuming Dubbe is borrowing from best practices around the world, we should have transparency, not opacity clothed as “supreme national secret.” Nobody wants to know their syllabus if at all he is concerned about secrets.
All these poor ladies have demanded is to at least speak to their children. A telephone call arranged between the two sides can help ease their pain and anxiety. Nobody wants to keep waiting and hoping for the return of a son she has no idea if alive. By the way, it should be easier to advise these families if any of the soldiers ever died.
But we presume Dubbe’s s paygrade limits him to blockading criticism, rather than explaining the policy. This is why we should hear the President himself talk. Farmaajo has remained quiet, even tone-deaf, to the cries of these women. He was there when the supposed agreement to train soldiers was signed in 2019. The key people in his government then have been replaced.
That leaves him as the only person with institutional memory to explain this controversial policy to the public. Unless Farmajo speaks and soothes these women, their protests will continue to be his nightmare.