The Clown King of East Africa

News & SocietyPolitics

  • Author Dr Neil Watson
  • Published September 10, 2023
  • Word count 553

The Killer Clown of East Africa

Have you heard of Puntland? What about a Mr Said Abdullahi Deni? If the answer is no, then look again, for what is unfolding in Puntland is of profound importance not only to that region but to Africa as a whole.

Located to the north of Somalia: semi-autonomous and boasting a population of around 4 million, Puntland is presently led by Said Abdullahi Deni — the head of the Kaah political association and former national transport minister — but he is so much more.

A jovial character, Deni’s broad smile reminds the onlooker of the ever-laughing Idi Amin — and just like the former dictator of Uganda — Deni has a questionable past and even less credible present, for what is happening in Puntland is a depressingly familiar ‘African’ story.

Idi Amin had one redeeming quality - a genuine, albeit sporadic honesty. Amin had utter contempt for democracy and made no attempt to establish it in Uganda, so everyone knew — at least in that regard — where he was coming from (the torture, theft, and cannibalism, not so much).

But even this slither of decency is absent from modern-day Puntland, which has descended into chaos under the dubious steerage of Deni. Since taking power, this former transport minister has failed to deliver on any of his proclamations. Indeed, if anything, the opposite is the case. Corruption, violence, and vice have become worse as Deni surrounds himself with cronies and yes men. As a recent article in the online publication Garowe pointed out, despite his many denials, proof of outright intimidation and gerrymandering occurring throughout Puntland has become impossible to ignore. Journalists have been detained, opposition parties threatened, and council elections rigged – a farce that has brought the whole democratic process into disrepute.

As any student of Somalia knows tribal politics do play a part in some of the mud-slinging — however, several clan leaders have made the same observation— that even if his intentions were at first honest (a proposition most Puntlander’s find ridiculous) his leadership has nevertheless deteriorated into a reign of terror.

And there is the rub.

Sadly, Somalia is awash with such politicians: men with decidedly dubious backgrounds - each knowing a single, salient truth – most Somalians are willing to suffer any amount of nonsense if it means the dark days of total war remain in the past.

Said Abdullahi Deni understands this all too well, and exploiting the decency of the majority has turned the electoral process of Puntland into a sick joke. This is why it is important for the international community to not become distracted by recent events in Niger, for Somalia is also in trouble. If it cannot be shown that elections are free and fair, fewer people will bother to take part in the process. Cynicism can only bring paralysis to Puntland, which in turn will allow Deni to continue unopposed. This Pound Shop tyrant, intent on keeping his privileges at the expense of the many. We owe it to the average Somalian (that man or woman who simply wants stability and a voice in their future) to make sure the politicians of Puntland are held to account for their actions otherwise far worse atrocities will soon occur.

Dr Neil Watson is a London based consultant specializing in security, risk management, and human rights.

Neil Watson has worked with the policing and security field for over thirty years. The focus of his Ph.D is on how human rights legislation influences international security cooperation.

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