EDITORIAL: On the saga of Somali troops in Eritrea, where is Farmajo’s voice?
EDITORIAL | Somali Information Minister Osman Dubbe continues to run like a bull into a crisis; whether it is a diplomatic row with Kenya or a fight against national opposition politicians, it is usually in full swing. In contemporary life, it might be unfair to compare him to Josef Goebbels; German Minister of Propaganda during World War I.
Dubbe is obviously not supposed to speak for a president eager to oppress his citizens. But his response to the saga of “missing” Somali troops being sent to Eritrea has been appalling.
Following a report from the UN special rapporteur, Dubbe came to fight for the reputation of his boss: the outgoing president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. But he blamed the opposition rather than showing the public where the troops are.
On Thursday, he argued that discussing the matter amounted to divulging a “supreme national secret” and urged politicians to learn from other countries he did not name.
Of course, Dubbe told the audience that no Somali soldier had fought in the Tigray War, saying only 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 legal, responsibility to represent the views of those they lead. No sane leader can sit on their hands when women lament in the streets demanding to know where their sons are.
That is why Mr Dube’s bare minimum would have been to assure the women and their families that the troops are safe, and then provide proof that they are safe. The cries of the women, which we have diligently reported since the allegations emerged three months ago, are that they have not heard from their sons in the past two years. They don’t know whether their children are alive or dead.
Dubbe spoke of patriotism. But the patriotism that seeks to cover up the feelings of families is self-defeating. Every Somali would love to serve in government and help rebuild their country, whether as a public servant or as a soldier. It is a pride that cannot be defined.
But to expect a mother on the street to be proud of her country when the same government in that country does not allow her access to her family is cruel. These women, rather than feeling proud of their country and their government, now see the authorities as the source of their misery.
It is true that Dubbe may have been doing his job: protecting his boss by managing the crisis. But unless the authorities gag these women, there will be no respite for Dubbe and his boss. There are questions he couldn’t answer.
For example, can he submit the full list of recruits sent to Eritrea for training? What state secret will he protect if he shared these names in public, so that we know everyone in training. Second, how long do these training sessions last? As part of normal military service, training takes less than a year. So, assuming Dubbe borrows from best practices around the world, we should have transparency, not opacity disguised as “supreme national secrecy”. No one wants to know their agenda if they are concerned about secrets.
All these poor ladies asked was to at least talk to their children. An organized phone call between the two parties can help relieve their pain and anxiety. No one wants to keep waiting and hoping for the return of a son she has no idea if he’s alive. By the way, it should be easier to notify these families if one of the soldiers has died.
But we assume that Dubbe’s pay level limits him to blocking criticism rather than explaining politics. That is why we should hear the president himself speak. Farmaajo remained silent, even deaf, to the cries of these women. He was there when the so-called agreement to train soldiers was signed in 2019. Key people in his government were then replaced.
This leaves him as the only person with institutional memory to explain this controversial policy to the public. Unless Farmajo speaks up and appeases these women, their protests will continue to be his nightmare.