As the 19th Ugas of Issa tribe, my paternal uncles, was concluded amid an extra ordinary week-long razzmatazz and pompous ceremony attended by dignitaries from Djibouti, Somali-land and Ethiopia’s Zone Five in the medieval town of Zeila, many people in Somali-land in general and Awdal and Selel communities in particular are asking themselves what next? Traditionally, Issa’s ceremonial Ugas-es were always crowned – at least in recent memory – in the Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia, particularly in the immediate vicinity around Dire Dawa, or Diridhaba as popularly known among Somalis where Issa tribe is ubiquitous.
The last time an Issa Ugas was crowned in Zeila in recent memory is believed to be about a century and a half ago during the heydays of Adal Empire.
This event is regarded by many as unique in the sense that it did not only attract more people and attention (around three thousand participants and almost all the regional media), but the significance attached to the venue chosen to hold the event, where there are no sufficient facilities for the large entourage accompanied the young Ugas to Zeila. It is believed the majority of dignitaries have slept in cramped tents or in the open.
Why Zeila of all places?
It is understood that the newly crowned Ugas Rooble was born and bread in or around Dire Dawa city, which effectively makes him an Ethio-Somali citizen. It is also known that the majority of Issa either live in Zone Five or Djibouti. It is also further believed that the young Ugas was given the freedom of Djibouti, where his subjects dominate all walks of life i.e. politically, socially and economically. So, why the organizers of this massive ceremony – believed to be high ranking members from Djibouti government – have chosen Zeila of all places, a place where the young Ugas has never set foot before? There are umpteenth alternative places to choose from that this ceremony could have taken place than the god forsaken Zeila where the inclement weather is unbearable. Ziela may have historic significance for most Somalis and may be more so for the local people but in its current state, it is not a place where you would even send your mother-in-law for a holiday, let alone bring in your finest man for coronation. For such a grand occasion, you would expect Issa to crown their Ugas in the best places available to them. About 20 miles down the road to the west is the bustling city of Djibouti where the wheeler dealing of Somali politics are moved and shaped nowadays.
But that did not happen in this case for reasons only organizers would know.
In an era where Somalis have become obsessed with tribalism and land grab for their burgeoning clans, this new event may signal of what is to come in the near future if the current state of affairs of Somalia and Somali-land remain unchanged. If Somali-land, to which Zeila belongs geographically, remains unrecognized and Somalia proper continues to falter, will Djibouti government stake a claim on Zeila and its immediate environs on the basis that its Ugas was once crowned there? This may sound ludicrous to some, but it is not a remote prospect and partly it is why the organizers of this crowning ceremony have chosen Zeila.
Many people were expecting Somalia to collapse following a long dictatorial and vicious regime as well as the ensuing civil strife, but very few had anticipated it to remain in this eternal debacle. When SNM waged its bloody struggle against the last recognized Somali government in mid and late eighties, Djibouti put its financial weight behind the clan-based army in the hope that its long-held ambition to put its hands on Ziela will be realized. After the demise of Siyad’s government, the clandestine relationship between Djibouti and a newly formed Somaliland had took a wrong twist to the dismay and consternation of Djibouti policy makers.
In Somali politics, where a large swath of land is often disputed on tribal basis even if the said land belongs to another country, everything is possible.
Many people are on the opinion that the whole purpose behind this well orchestrated and meticulously planned crowing ceremony in Ziela is the fact that organizers were staking a claim on the future destiny of this town.
Is there collusion between Djibouti and Ethiopia in this matter?
It is no secret that Ethiopia had an age-old strategic ambition to divide Somalia into weak tribal fiefdoms in order to hang on to Zone Five, better known Ogden, irrespective of whoever came to power. There are also others who believe that landlocked Ethiopia’s emperors had always wanted Zeila to make their main port. Even the late Haile Sellassie had reportedly made this fact clear to his confidantes before his demise. Ethiopia would love to see another Somalis fighting over a peace of land. There is already a murmur going on among the Gadaboursi that the land they share with Issa for centuries is under threat from the latter backed by the all powerful government of Djibouti. When Rayaale’s government expanded Somali-land regions and curved Selel from what was part of Awdal since immemorial, Djibouti government had sensed an opportunity to spread its influence in the newly-formed region. Since southern Somalia is under the complete hegemony of Melez Zenawi and the likelihood of that situation changing is indeed very remote, Ethiopia would rub their hands in glee to see another front opened for the clueless Somalis, particularly in Somali-land.
We also know Djibouti, void of natural resources, has benefited immensely from the collapse of the Somali state, of course through no fault of theirs I have to emphasize here. On the other hand Somali-land, which is currently in limbo as far as international recognition is concerned, can do nothing if either of the aforementioned decided to invade Zeila and make it part of their own territory. If everything is going according to your liking, hunky dory if you like, will you change that situation to disrupt your newly found fortune? The answer to this question is of course a big NO. This is where perhaps Djibouti government may be tempted to clandestinely collude with Ethiopia to gain a peace of land widely believed in their circles as Issa territory. Recent developments in Selel region, particularly Zeila show that Djibouti’s fingerprints are all over the place.
It was also busy working behind the scenes to exert its influence both financially and socially on all activities in the said region. Even the Selel football team was largely selected from Djibouti citizens and camped in Ali Sabih for training.
In conclusion, the crowing of Ugas Mustafe in Zeila should be welcomed for all the right reasons, but the manner it was conducted and the venue chosen for the occasion raise few eyebrows to say the least. It also begs the question why the whole Djibouti government has invested so much in this coronation, especially when the event has taken place outside its territory. The whole show was beamed live an uninterrupted to Djibouti households and others who bothered to watch the ceremony. We can only hope that Ugas Mustafe’s coronation in Zeila was in all intents and purposes conducted in good faith, but Djibouti and other regional governments may have a sinister agenda. Watch the space.