By: Ahmed M. Hassan
In the Wardheernews archives, I recently encountered an interesting discussion on the Ogaden National Liberation Front. I commend the intellectuals at the center of the discussion for their civilities and respect for each other. Having said that, tackling sensitive issues that have the potential to easily agitate some requires above average impartiality, fair-mindedness, and the stirring of emotionally laden assumption and thought; if not proven beyond any reasonable doubt. In response, I decided to use different platforms; not because I accuse the website of chauvinism and xenophobia, but simply to exercise my freedom. The essence of the discussion gravitated around two points: (a) the ouster of the ONLF leadership, and (b) the front not being inclusive enough.
The infamous online encyclopedia defines the word trustworthiness as: “A moral value considered to be virtue. A trustworthy person is someone in whom you can place your trust and rest assured that the trust will not be betrayed.” In essence, trust is the core of any leadership position no matter how trivial that position may seem to you. Untrustworthiness, on the other hand, automatically disqualifies a person to assume any power, regardless of his advanced degrees, communication skills, and experience. All divinely hired messengers elevated their résumés in being trustworthy. In advanced business schools and global transactions, trustworthiness is the epicenter around which all converging matter orbits. However, when it comes to leadership, trustworthiness is the first guest of honor, and the dignitary who clears the security line while all others lag behind. Trustworthiness is a toolkit containing all necessary survival skills. When everything else fails, any leader possessing this quality can easily navigate the harsh terrain despite being bombarded with incendiary opprobrium. Allah instructed each of His Prophets to proclaim both covertly and overtly, in public and in private, the concept of trust while denying omniscience.
Coming back to this planet and briefly perusing the current Horn of Africa leaders: Addis Ababa, Jijiga, Mogadishu, Hargaisa, Bosaso; an astute observer will be dumfounded with disbelief. One could not comfortably entrust to even one of them a pair of eggs, to say nothing of an entire nation. Wherever one sets his eyes, the scene is dismal and gloomy, and the magnitude of the corruption in leadership reaches the stratosphere. A plague of corruption, nepotism, parochialism, and self-interest has engulfed the region with no light at the end of the tunnel. Furthermore, these leaders have become so sadly entrenched in their corruption; they are beyond any hope of rehabilitation to rejoin the civilized world.
In contrast, the Admiral has been so far immune to this disease thanks to his highly reputable public service. He has an unimpeachable résumé in the arenas of ethics and virtue; an impeccable, trustworthy, and charismatic leader with advanced communication skills. You can attempt to denigrate him, but his integrity and probity are simply too far beyond reproach. As a fallible human being, he may possibly fail to meet expectations from time to time. Nonetheless, his sincerity and rectitude qualifies him to hold reign until he either voluntarily relinquishes power, or is discharged honorably.
Freedom is ultimately justice for all, rather than merely for some. At any given time, when nations are at the mercy of oppressors, there are always some who confront the aggressors, and there are others who spurn to fight. Abraham, Moses, and Mohamed (pbuh) confronted tyrannies and aggression upon different occasions. Human beings are inherently inclined to resist any form of oppression. They will preferentially make the ultimate sacrifice, rather than live under an oppressor. Patrick Henry led the movement for independence in Virginia in the 1770s, and is well remembered for his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. Sayid Mohamed Abdullah Hassan had a similar vision as Patrick Henry when he confronted the colonizing power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
However, in the Ogaden region, ONLF refused to accept tyranny and oppression, and has been waging a belligerent war against the enemy for over two decades. Some have accused ONLF for not being inclusive, or worse, having a parochial nature, while the front implicitly and explicitly invited all clans in that part of the world to join the struggle. Unfortunately, no one heeded the calls, and there are some who have even conspired with the enemy to debilitate the front. A broader coalition base to encounter the enemy has always been my primary preference, but if that is not to be, certainly being idle is not an option either. ONLF is engaged with the enemy, punches are flying, and blood spilling. A momentary loss of focus yields a detrimental knockout punch. Not being inclusive or acting to impede others from joining the struggle should be out of the question. Personal responsibility and the bigger picture matters most. Countering the oppressor from different elevations is crucial to the cause, even if the upper-cuts and the overall fighting atmosphere of ONLF is obnoxious, odious, and reprehensible to those clans. It could well be a blessing in disguise, for the enemy has to deal with different fronts simultaneously.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence of that by the good people.” This deafening silence amid summary executions, genocides and, extra-judiciary killings is reprehensible. Malcolm X eloquently implored his fellow blacks who spurned to join the civil rights movements to have a do it yourself attitude, a do it now attitude, and it is already too late attitude. Divinely measured success often conflicts with the literal translation of victory by human intellects. On different occasions, victory bypasses real winners while docking at the ports of the vanquished. If ONLF has not yet achieved the ultimate prize during the last 20 years of the struggle, ask a geologist how short 20 years really is.
Finally, I want to address what some called the share of deaths and destruction by ONLF under liberation banner. Did ONLF make mistakes? Of course they have. Will more occur in the future? Absolutely…. Navigating through fast paced combat zones that require constant, dynamic adjustment and configuration with facts on the ground always yields many errors. In these 21st century, asymmetric conflicts, even superpowers are prone to such misfortunes. No one is condoning those innocent civilians being caught in the crossfire, but the fact remains that not a single incident has ever been recorded by impartial, independent analysts, in which ONLF premeditatedly harmed its citizens. All that has been brought to light falls within “he said, she said”--i.e. mere speculation--by special interest groups with hidden agendas. Perpetuating those senseless accusations while the facts tell us otherwise, is deplorable and unmitigated blunder. Regardless of these indictments, history will finally exonerate the Front. Rather than sitting on the fence and reserving allegiance until the final outcome of the war and tolerating despicable and unimaginable scale of oppression, it is incumbent upon these clans to reverse course and come back to their senses.
Again, human beings are inherently impelled to resist oppression at any cost. I would argue that those who tolerate and keep silent under any circumstances call into serious question their status as members of the human race.