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Reflections On Somaliland & Africa’s Territorial Order, Part: III
ISSUE 109
Front Page
Index

Headlines

- Students Uprising Of Feb 20th Observed By SONYO
- Senior Puntland Official Defects To Somaliland,
Abdillahi Yusuf’s Regime Crumbling From within

- Hargeisa Urban Household Economy Assessment
Part X

- Dire Conditions In The Togdheer Region - Fews Net

- Nun Who Saw It All And Died With The Story

Business

- Defying Mayhem, Somali Plans Coca-Cola Venture

International News

- U.S. General Visiting Ethiopia Warns That A Clear Terrorist Threat Exists In East Africa

- Somali Was A Flight Risk In US

- Pakistani Said to Have Given Libya Uranium

- Double Agent Plan U.S. Attempt to Turn Al Qaeda Suspect Into U.S. Informant Soured by Press Leak

- Immigrants Celebrate Britishness With New Ceremony

- Reflections On Multicultural Immigration's Threat To Women

- How Fidel Castro Convinced The Former USSR To Abandon Siyad Barre In Favor Of Mengistu

Law

- Woman Asks Bush To Let Her Somali Husband Return
The call from the White House came Wednesday night

People

- Iman The Somali Model Facing Boycott

Editorial & Opinions

- KULMIYE's Leaders

- Reflections On Somaliland & Africa’s Territorial Order, Part: III

- Again Opposition Party Member Goes to Jail in Borama: How Sad!

- The Self Defeated Colonel

- The Colonel's Bluff


Ian S. Spears

Review of African Political Economy No.95:89-98
© ROAPE Publications Ltd., 2003
ISSN 0305-6244

[Continued from the previous issue]

War & the Creation of States-within-States
Scholars have long emphasized the importance of violent conflict in European state formation (Herbst, 1990; Tilly, 1985). War forced states to become more efficient in carrying out key tasks such as resource extraction and in creating more durable administrative structures. Warfare also tended to break down divisions between groups and generate domestic solidarity for the purposes of defeating another common enemy. Indeed, specific battles – ones which involved great victories or painful losses – helped forge common identities, which define the sense of nation for succeeding generations (Howard, 1978:9). In this way, a war-prone environment tended to strengthen some state structures and absorb other weaker territories into larger more powerful states.

The experience of European state formation, however, is regarded as unique and not likely to be repeated in the developing world. Most new states in Africa and elsewhere were not exposed to the demands of inter-state warfare in ways that European states were. Indeed, prior to 1945, states with such weak administrative structures and divided populations would likely have been swallowed up by much stronger powers. Lacking the empirical qualities that were previously associated with statehood, these quasi-states were sustained during the cold war through a combination of foreign aid, the provision of military hardware, and a benign international environment which was respectful of the norm of juridical sovereignty.6

Nonetheless, processes of state formation similar to those in Europe were important in generating and strengthening sub-state units within these larger juridically-based states. While these political entities were rarely able to overthrow their host governments during the cold war, they frequently carved out portions of territory and some of them have since emerged to become potentially viable members of the international community. In the Horn of Africa, for example, it is possible to identify three different entities which emerged in this manner: one which has since achieved formal statehood (Eritrea), one whose political viability has yet to be translated into formal statehood (Somaliland), and one whose secessionist ambitions have been put into abeyance (Tigray).7 While central governments in quasi-states made (and continue to make) pro forma claims to all of their territory, these substate political entities have come closer to satisfying Weberian notions of statehood. .. .8

Indeed, the comparative strength and solidarity of these units was largely a product of their respective wars with centralized governments. In Somaliland, for example, by the late 1980s the Siad Barre regime had effectively lost much of the northern region to the Somali National Movement (SNM), which had established a rudimentary administrative authority of its own. Moreover, the SNM was increasingly well armed with weapons captured from government forces. Foreign medical personnel who treated SNM fighters noted that 8 of 10 gunshot wounds were frontal indicating that the level of motivation and discipline was extremely high. Today Somalilanders continue to make frequent reference to the bombing that was sustained in the city of Hargeisa during the late 1980s. While few dispute their ethnic links with their Somali ‘brothers and sisters’, the sheer brutality of the Mogadishu’s attacks during the late-1980s has been burned into the collective memory and has furthered the psychological gulf between north and south. As one resident of Hargeisa remarked:

We cannot understand how they could take off from the [Hargeisa’s] airport [which was under central government control] and bomb their own people. They came and cut down our trees. They poisoned the wells to kill the animals. How can the people ever forget that?9
In 1997 mass graves were discovered which some Somalilanders have since sought to have preserved as a tangible reminder of atrocities committed by southerners against Somalilanders. As one prominent Somalilander stated:

It’s very important that we at least go and see those graves and feel sorry that this kind of thing can happen to human beings. … The only crime they were guilty of was just being human beings who wanted to decide on their own destiny; who called themselves Somalilanders and wanted to live where they had always lived, Somaliland, and not be part of any other kind of administration. Because the union with our brothers in Somalia just ended up in aerial bombings, killings and atrocities.10

Since so much of the Somaliland sense of self appears to be derived as a result of the war with the south any serious effort to reintegrate the north and south becomes extremely problematic. The contradiction now is that Somalia is perceived as a potential threat to Somaliland’s fledgling independence, and at the same time as a terminally unviable state whose transitional government, created under the so-called Arta process in neighboring Djibouti in August 2000, is unable to assert its authority in any meaningful way. In 1997, the United Nations Secretary General reported that ‘member States have expressed concern about the increasingly evident effects of the lack of a functioning central government in Somalia’. ‘Somalia’, the UN said, ‘was a “black hole“ where the absence of law and order is attracting criminals and subversives’ (UN, 1999: paragraph 62). Since the TNG's creation, it has made attempts to reconcile with other southern factions – the latest being an agreement signed in Eldoret, Kenya in late October 2002. Nonetheless, the current composition of the Somalia government makes any future union extremely unpalatable for many Somalilanders. The Transitional National Government (TNG) President, Abdiqaasim Salad Hassan, was Minister of the Interior during the attacks on Hargeisa in the late 1980s. Although not directly responsible for the bombing, he oversaw the security services that were active in the north. Others who have been associated with TNG parliament – Generals Aden Abdillahi Nuur ‘Gabiyo’ and Mohamed Siad Hersi ‘Morgan’ – were also implicated in atrocities committed by military forces in the north.

Consequently, Somalilanders now speak in apocalyptic terms about any effort to re-establish a united Somalia. The Vice-speaker of the Somaliland parliament, Abdulqadir Haji Ismail Jirdeh, warned that:
The TNG has been encouraged to claim sovereignty over other groups, territories and entities which it doesn’t control and which it doesn’t represent. … They will try to re-arm themselves and try to reconquer by war. We will resist that. By whatever means we will resist that.11
It should not be doubted that the ongoing, seemingly futile, efforts on the part of the international community to re-establish a central authority in Mogadishu will only deepen Somaliland’s resolve. Jirdeh observes that ‘The immediate plan [of the international community] is to help the Somali people in their crisis. The intentions are good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I have no doubt in my mind, this will lead to more war.’ 12 At present, however, Somaliland is more accurately described not as a state-within-a-state but a state- without-a-state; the putative government in Mogadishu cannot indefinitely claim sovereignty over territory in which it is incapable of exercising authority and whose population remains hostile to the re-establishment of the old Somali Republic.

In fact, many Somalilanders perceived the internal conflicts which infected Somaliland in the early 1990s as a central concern and likely only to jeopardize their ability to maintain their independence from the south. A series of popular assemblies, or shirs, which tackled Somaliland’s most pressing political issues, were much more effective than the UN-sponsored efforts taking place simultaneously in the south and was a testament to Somalilanders’ ability to employ their own grassroots approaches to conflict resolution. Since independence from the south was the over-riding objective, most Somalilanders preferred to rally around President Egal rather than risk an extended and divisive war, which would have jeopardized this independence. Concerns over fears of southern interference in northern affairs has arguably been a contributing factor in the maintenance of Somaliland’s traditional form of inclusive ‘consociational’ democracy during the 1990s (Adam, 1994). While Egal lacked varying degrees of legitimacy, his government clearly did not rule through coercion or extraordinary amounts of corruption or patronage. His successor, Dahir Rayale Kahin, has also indicated that there will be no changes in policy and that he will continue Egal’s efforts to achieve security and recognition. Finally, since its self-declared independence in 1991, Somaliland has become increasingly institutionalized and is currently embarking on a transition to multi-party democracy. There is evidence to suggest that, as a result, levels of human development are generally higher in northern regions where localized administrations have been able to establish themselves than in southern and central Somalia where food security, armed conflict and low household incomes have remained persistent problems (Bradbury and Menkhaus, 2001). In short, while these features of statehood may not yet amount to a political ‘driver’s licence’, Somaliland’s prospects appear more promising than Somalia’s.

Nonetheless, secession by Somaliland could set an important precedent for other secessionist movements in Africa. Some of those who have called for a redrawing of Africa’s borders provide little guidance on how this might be done, and almost certainly underestimate the difficulties that would result particularly when resource-rich territories are involved. As others have noted, efforts towards secession are more likely to lead to violence when there are many other groups within the state who might in turn take the secessionist route (Van Evera, 1994:17). Given the fluid nature of Somali clan ties and the potential axes of division, a territorial state comprised of anything but all Somali-inhabited territory is likely to be contentious. However, Somaliland does have one key advantage: the willingness of Somalilanders to settle for the previously established borders of British Somaliland – imperfect as they are – allows them to claim that they are continuing to respect the territorial integrity of Africa’s colonial states and to conform to the Charter of the Organization of African Unity.

To be continued.


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