The Story of Mandeeq: A Modern Somali Fairy Tale – Ahmed M. I. Egal:
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a land called Mandeeq which fell under the grip of an evil tyrant called Jaws – he was called Jaws because he ate the heart and soul of any unlucky or unwise soul who ventured too close to him. After suffering under his evil rule for many years, the people of Mandeeq freed themselves and their land from his cruel and evil rule. Their freedom did not come easily or cheaply as it was won only after a long and costly war in which many of their people died and many more were forced to flee for their lives and live in the forest like wild animals.
But their will was strong and their hearts were brave and slowly, bit by bit, they were able to defeat the evil hordes of Jaws’ Red Heads and chase them from their lovely land. Jaws’ soldiers were called Red Heads, because they wore red hats and helmets to signify the blood of their enemies and so strike terror in their hearts. However, once the people overcame their fear, the red hats and helmets made Jaws’ soldiers easy targets for the Mandeeq freedom fighters which came to appreciate that their enemies made their job easier.
After defeating the evil tyrant Jaws, the people of Mandeeq were happy and excited and they rejoiced and celebrated their hard won victory. However, after the celebrations were over, they woke up to the hard truth that they now had to govern themselves and establish freedom, equality and justice for all. So they gathered all the elders and wise men from all the different communities and regions of the land and asked them to come up with a solution to this difficult and vexing problem.
After long debate and discussion during which everyone had their say, the wise men agreed that the land should be governed by a leader chosen by all the people through a free vote and that this leader and his appointed Ministers should be overseen and answer to a parliament of representatives chosen by the people of each region of the land. The wise men also agreed that the first leader should be Wadani – a wise and noble man that was much loved by all the people and who had been the leader of Mandeeq before Jaws seized control of the land and imprisoned him.
The people rejoiced and were happy – at last Mandeeq was not only free, but would live up to the hopes and dreams of its entire people. Wadani proved to be a wise and humane leader as the wise men had hoped and Mandeeq began to thrive and grow. The parliament was established and the people started to get used to governing themselves and rebuilding their lives and their homes after the long years of war. Everything was looking good and the people got on with their lives and raising their children. After some time, Wadani became sick and various men began to covet his position as leader.
Prominent among these pretenders to the position of leader were four: Isqor, Mitit, Macaangag and Kubood. These four pretenders began touring the land proclaiming their readiness to become leader and promising to make things even better than they were. After some time, Wadani died from his illness and his death caused great sadness and suffering among the people. They came out in droves for his funeral and there was much weeping and wailing.
In his will, Wadani implored them to continue with the system of government established by the wise men and choose their leaders for their character and their merit and not for any other reason. The people and parliament honoured their dead leader’s final request, and his deputy, Dulqaad, duly assumed the position of leader. Dulqaad proved to be a calm and steady leader, and he slowly won the trust and respect of the people as he worked to ensure that the peace and stability he had inherited from his predecessor was maintained and protected.
Meanwhile, Isqor, Mitit, Macaangag and Kubood continued their tireless campaigns with each presenting himself as the true successor of Wadani. Let us draw a picture of these four campaigners, two of whom had worked for Wadani at various times while he was leader, one which had earlier sought to replace him as leader, and the fourth which had been encouraged by Wadani to pursue a political career.
Isqor had been a Minister and supporter of the evil Jaws during most of the time that Jaws had ruled Mandeeq. During his long years as one of Jaws’ Ministers, Isqor had learnt the tyrant’s secret of leadership which was to rule by dividing, then conquering his enemies. Isqor only fell out with Jaws when Jaws sought to imprison him towards the end of his rule. Isqor then joined the rebellion in Mandeeq and was elected the third leader of the rebellion. Isqor had never before been leader of any group of people, instead he had spent his life following the instructions and commands of other leaders. This quickly became obvious as he managed to antagonise nearly all the military commanders of the rebellion and the other civilian leaders of of Mandeeq.
Despite his lack of a clear vision behind which to unite the people and, therefore, his inability to win their confidence, Isqor nurtured a cherished and towering ambition to become the leader of Mandeeq, and he was prepared to do anything, promise any rainbow and sacrifice any principle to achieve this ambition. Early in his leadership Wadani had appointed Isqor as one of his Ministers, but it soon became clear that Isqor was so preoccupied with campaigning to succeed Wadani that he had no inclination or time to discharge his Ministerial duties. Accordingly, Wadani politely thanked him and replaced him with someone who was prepared to fulfil the job.
Mitit had also been a supporter and confidant of the evil Jaws, and he had also run away from Jaws and sought exile in foreign lands when he began to suspect that the tyrant was going to turn on him. After Mandeeq was liberated, he returned home and sought a position in government with single minded determination. Wadani appointed him to a very important position from which Mitit quickly managed to antagonise the elders and wise men as well as the poets, the learned and the young. After receiving endless complaints about Mitit and his high handed behaviour, Wadani politely asked him to quit.
Mitit immediately declared his conviction that he would be Mandeq’s future leader and began his campaign towards this objective. Like many educated people, Mitit held an exaggerated, if evidently false, estimation of his own abilities and the role he could or would play in the advancement of Mandeeq and its people. He was absolutely convinced that he was indispensible to the future growth and development of the land although, as anyone can tell you, no individual is indispensible in the history of nations.
Macaangag had been one of the founders of Mandeeq’s rebellion against the evil rule of Jaws and was widely known for his honesty and his frankness. After the liberation of Mandeeq, he was put in charge of rehabilitating the destroyed capital of the land. He did such a good job that he quickly became one of the most loved and admired leaders of the land. Macaangag showed what hard work and honest administration could accomplish in a short time and the people responded to his service and determination to accomplish good works with widespread admiration and took him into their hearts. Unfortunately, Macaangag misread this genuine public adoration for his work in the capital as an endorsement to rule, so he decided to challenge Wadani for the leadership of the land.
Many of his friends as well as the elders and wise men advised him to reconsider and not seek that which he wasn’t qualified to attain. They assured him that while he had all the qualities to become the leader of Mandeeq in the future, he should serve an apprenticeship under Wadani to prepare himself for this role. Macaangag pointedly refused such advice and sharply sent the elders and wise men on their way with the riposte that he required no advice from them, with the result that his challenge to Wadani was resoundingly defeated.
Kubood was a young man with no experience in politics or leadership who had fled the land during the latter part of Jaws’ evil rule. Upon his return after liberation, he was eager to get into government and play a role in the development of Mandeeq. He met Wadani many times and impressed him with his energy and his evident desire to contribute to the advancement of his people and their land. Wadani advised him that instead of seeking governmental office, he should start a political organisation for like minded young people and strive to contribute to the future of Mandeeq by seeking leadership through elective office.
After some reflection, Kubood happily agreed and Wadani assisted the young man by providing him with advice and support to establish his organisation. Thus, without any experience or background in leadership or management of people, Kubood jumped into the dangerous waters of politics with the energy and optimism of youth and the bravery of ignorance. He quickly endeared himself to many, particularly among the young, for his many tactless, but honest, declarations on various matters that amused many and angered some.
These, then, were the men who sought to inherit the mantle of leadership that had been vacated by the death of Wadani and was now worn by his faithful deputy, Dulqad. For his part, Dulqad was determined to avoid any hasty or unwise action during his leadership that would undermine the peace, stability and spirit of brotherhood that he had inherited from Wadani. He finished Wadani’s term of office with a cool and steady hand that delivered the continuity that he had promised the people. When the time came for the people to choose a leader once more, they had a choice between Dulqad, Isqor and Kubod since Mitit and Macaangag had not been able to fulfill the requirements set by the wise men. However, they were united in their opposition to Dulqad and spent their time belittling him and decrying his rule. After much soul searching, the people of Mandeeq chose Dulqad over Isqor and Kubod by a small margin.
Having secured the leadership on his own merit by winning the support of the people, Dulqad’s confidence grew and he continued his approach of maintaining his predecessor’s legacy, while seeking to improve where he felt it necessary. During his time, many good things were achieved for the people of Mandeeq, however, as the period of his leadership grew longer, Dulqad came to rely more and more upon a few trusted advisors and officials, and these advisors and officials became more and more powerful. As always happens, these advisors and officials became ever more high handed and arrogant in their dealings with the people as their power increased. It is said that the more distant a leader grows from his people, the less popular he becomes as his officials fill the gap that has grown between the leader and the people. The more high handed and arrogant these officials are to the people, the more the people begin to dislike and distrust the leader and his rule. Many leaders have fallen into this trap and Dulqad was no exception.
During this time, the four pretenders, Isqor, Mitit, Macaangag and Kubod, had licked their wounds and emerged even more determined to unseat Dulqad and claim the leadership. They decided that they could not defeat him while also competing against each other, so they had to agree upon one of them to unite behind. They decided that this person had to be Isqor, and Mitit and Macaangag agreed to cancel their campaigns and join Isqor’s campaign directly. In return, Isqor promised them their pick of positions in his government, upon defeating Dulqad.
Kubod maintained his organisation, but he agreed to exhort his supporters to give their support to Isqor in the campaign. In return, Isqor agreed to include Kubod officials and supporters in his government. Having thus secured the support of his potential rivals, Isqor proceeded to seek support from the people of Mandeeq by promising them any and everything that they requested of him. He even travelled to foreign lands to promise their leaders whatever they requested of him, in order to secure their support for his campaign.
Thus, when the second leadership contest came about, Dulqad’s campaign suffered since the people had become fed up of the high handed arrogance of his officials, while Isqor was riding a wave of popular support generated partly by his numerous promises and partly by the strong support of his new allies, Mitit, Mcaangag and Kubod. Isqor, duly won the leadership by a wide margin and proceeded to demonstrate a new approach to leadership. Firstly, he appointed Mitit and Macaangag to their chosen positions in his government as he had promised them. Secondly, he took on some of Kubod’s most senior colleagues as his advisors and confidants, again as he promised. Finally, he promised the people of Mandeeq that his leadership would bring a new dawn of prosperity, peace and brotherhood. The people were happy and there was great jubilation and anticipation of a new era of progress and peace throughout the land.
Now, some two years after this change of leadership and promise of a bright and hopeful new future, the people of Mandeeq are not only disappointed and disheartened, but also very worried about their future. Already, it seems that the Isqor era may lead to the reversal of the progress that Mandeeq has achieved since winning freedom from Jaws. The first two years of Isqor’s rule has given some clear indicators of this negative potential outcome. Firstly, both Mitit and Macaangag have been ousted from government under a cloud, with Mitit loudly declaring that he had committed a crime against the people of Mandeeq by urging them to choose Isqor as leader.
Secondly, Isqor and his supporters have successfully fomented a plot against Kubod and his organisation that has split it into two thereby wounding it, perhaps fatally. Thirdly, the people of Mandeeq have been pitted against each other, community against community and region against region, such that they have never been sodivided since the defeat of evil Jaws and his expulsion from their land. Fourthly, the promises made by Isqor and his cohorts to all and sundry have come to haunt them since they cannot all be fulfilled, thus filling the people with anger and feelings of betrayal. Finally, Isqor and his Ministers have resorted to imprisoning or beating anyone that criticises them or tells the truth about any of their mistakes.
The people of Mandeeq are now passing through the most difficult period of their recent history, and they will need all their resources of patience, fraternity and good will to weather it. They are indeed fortunate that when things get tough, it is precisely these qualities of determination, fortitude and unity that define their national character. What is the moral of this story? It is said that all great truths are eternal and that history and the experiences of each generation merely work to illuminate these great truths time and again.
The morals of this story are simply that not all that glitters is gold; that silver-tongued promises more often lead to folly than to wisdom; that a bird in the hand is better than ten in the bush; that leaders must be judged by their history, their character and their actions and not by empty promises, nor by appeals to kinship; and that nations, as with men, must look before they leap.
Ahmed M. I. Egal
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