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The Sovereignty Of Somaliland And Its Role In The Conflict Resolution Of The Region
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- The Sovereignty Of Somaliland And Its Role In The Conflict Resolution Of The Region

Farhiya Ali Ahmed, Johannesburg, South Africa

This paper was presented by Farhiya Ali Ahmed, who lives in South Africa at a seminar organized by the “Africa Institute of South Africa” last May in Pretoria on Somaliland And Somalia:

Over the past 13 years, Somalia has become known more for its problems of conflict and instability than anything else. 13 years of anarchy, with several feuding warlords in charge of what is left of the country, has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the total absence of law and order, the destruction of the country’s infrastructure and the general collapse of governing institutions as well as of the economy that was already on an external aid life-support system for years. The world witnessed Somalia descent into a morass of instability and a conflict that would continue a decade later.

States, organizations and institutions around the world have intervened in the Somali conflict since its implosion in 1991 in the hope of resolving it. There have been more than a dozen attempts by the international community to resuscitate a national Somali government since then. Millions of dollars have been spent on peace talks and conferences. Yet to date, Somalia remains without a recognized and functional central government _ it is currently the only country in the world without a central government _ and the killings still continue just as the peace talks continue.
An obvious question that comes to mind is: why? Why hasn’t a peaceful solution to the Somali crisis been reached yet? Despite good intentions, outside intervention has done little to help the situation, and has at times even made things worse. The failures of these initiatives to restore peace and a central government to Somalia, points to defects in such initiatives and begs the questions: where do such initiatives go wrong, and in what other alternative ways can peace and good governance be restored to Somalia?

In answering these questions, this paper offers a daring assertion and challenge: it proposes that a lack of understanding on the part of the international community of the true nature of the conflict, its various dimensions and dynamics, as well as of the actors in the region, has thus far made the task of conflict resolution an impossible mission to accomplish. The international community has been deluded into seeing the conflict for what it is not, and for this reason, resolving the conflict has thus far eluded them. In supporting this position, four factors are significant and need to be taken note of:

1) Because of certain cultural and traditional practices and beliefs, only Somalis can resolve the Somali conflict;

2) Contrary to popular perception, the Somali conflict is no longer ethnic based and solutions sought out under such perceptions can bear no fruit;

3) The conflict has become a profitable project _ for some influential and powerful actors, there is more to gain, materialistically, from the conflict and the ensuing peace processes than its resolution; and

4) Somali conflict resolution on foreign soil with only warlords and former military officers, who are not representative of the larger Somali populace, is not possible.

Based on this premise, and with these factors in mind, this paper offers a new and different view of the nature of the Somali conflict, and thus its resolution. The focus is on the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland and the possible role an internationally recognized Somaliland could play in resolving the Somali conflict. In any consideration of the Somaliland experience, an analysis of its claims to statehood and the international community’s reluctance to recognize it is important, and as such Somaliland’s case for independence will also be presented here.

Somalia-Somaliland* Riddle
Somalia has been described as “the very definition of … a failed state.” Ironically, the last time Somalia possessed anything resembling a ‘normal’ government, was under dictator Siad Barre who was driven out of the country by a national rebellion in 1991. Since then political power fell into the hands of feuding warlords who each deploy their private armies to battle for power. Militias of rival warlords often clash in cities and kill civilians in large numbers. In Mogadishu alone, United Nations officials say the city of one million has about 60,000 militiamen.

After Barre’s fall in 1991, the Capital City of Mogadishu was polarized along clan lines and was in a in bloodbath that resulted in the killings of 14 000 people and wounding three times that number in that year alone. Somalia collapsed into chaos and central governing institutions fell. Law enforcement, tax collection, banks, ministries and social services all collapsed.

By comparison, in the northwestern city of Hargeisa, a phenomenon that international observers and Somali studies experts labeled “a breakaway northern province with a functioning government” was in progress. After Barre’s fall in January 1991, as the struggle for power in southern Somalia deteriorated into a civil war, the rebels of Somali National Movement (SNM), consisting of the clans of the north, abandoned hopes that an acceptable government could be established in Mogadishu. The SNM withdrew its forces from the south and convened a peace conference of the northern clans in the city of Burao in April. On 18 May 1991, the delegates at the conference made up of traditional and political leaders representative of all the northern clans, announced the restoration of Somaliland’s sovereignty as an independent state and the dissolution of the 1960 union with southern Somalia.

Since 18 May 1991, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland has not only succeeded in maintaining a functional government but has also succeeded in maintaining a degree of peace, stability and democratic values unknown of in other parts Somalia. Despite this however, Somaliland remains unrecognized by the international community as a sovereign state.

The Republic of Somaliland has neither exchanged ambassadors with any other government nor has been admitted to any major intergovernmental organization. Instead, the Transitional National Government (TNG), whose mandate expired in August 2003 and whose control only ever extended to a few blocks in Mogadishu even at the height of its popularity, holds the Somali seat at the United Nations, the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Conference and African Union.
International Relations experts, politicians, writers, academicians and the like are beginning to acknowledge the need for the international community to stop turning a blind eye to Somaliland and pretending that Somalia has a government that rules over the entire Somali territory. With southern Somalia still in the hands of the feuding warlords, Somali studies experts and scholars note the necessity of Somaliland’s recognition in resolving the Somali conflict. Professor I. Lewis guru of Somali studies, notes that “for the moment…despite the reluctance to recognize Somaliland officially, this might actually be for some time the only viable Somali state on offer. It might accordingly prove necessary to recognize that, in this as in so many other case, half a loaf is better than none.” In the same tune, Kenyan scholar Professor Ali Mazrui holds that Somaliland should be allowed to go its way “for it has resources to sustain itself, [and because] the situation in Somalia is a culture of rules without rulers, a stateless society [whereas in Somaliland] there is order there, [and] they have the potential to survive.” Mazrui regards allowing Somaliland its independence to be a worthwhile move that could eventually result in a pan-Somali reintegration.

Somaliland’s Case for Independence
In their demands for international recognition as a sovereign entity, Somaliland governments have often chosen to argue their case on legal and political grounds. Somaliland president Dahir Rayale Kahin often emphasizes that “Somaliland’s existence as an independent state is both a historical fact and today’s reality.” Like wise Somaliland’s late president H.E Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal often highlighted the country’s success in establishing good governance, consolidating peace and stability and persevering in social and economic developments despite the country isolation from the world community and the absence of foreign aid.

Significant factors often raised, not only by Somaliland’s governments and leaders but in academics circles as well, are the historical fact of Somaliland’s existence as an independent state prior to unification with south Somalia, the legality of the 1960 union, the political atmosphere during Barre’s regime, and Somaliland’s political achievements after Barre’s fall.
Somaliland’s early existence as an independent state Somaliland was established as a British Protectorate in 1884 after the British government concluded a series of treaties with the other imperial powers. It’s existence as a geopolitical entity was only temporarily disrupted twice between 1941 and 1948. First by an Italian conquest which resulted in Somaliland being briefly incorporation into the Italian East Africa Empire. Then came the British reconquest, and union of all the Somali territories except French Somaliland, a union in line with the British government’s Bevin Plan aimed at uniting all Somali territories under a single flag. When the Bevin Plan failed, British Somaliland was restored to its prior status as a separate independent entity by November 1948, and it remained as such until independence in 1960.

Somaliland’s history of colonization and decolonization cannot be looked at separately from that of the other Somali territories. Especially since the aspiration of most Somalis, at the time, was a unification of all five Somali territories under a single flag
Somalia and Somaliland: A historical background
Pre-independent Somalia was the only country in Africa that was divided into five regions each with a separate power ruling or colonizing it. The northern part of the country _ the part that is now Somaliland _ was a British protectorate. What is today known as Djibouti was under the French power while southern Somalia was an Italian colony. Somali NFD (Northern Frontier District) fell under Kenya, and the Ogaden region became part of Ethiopia.

The first of these territories to gain independence was British Somaliland. On the 26th of June 1960 Somaliland became fully independent from Great Britain. Five days later, on 1 July, Somalia followed suit, and the union of Somaliland and Somalia as the Somali Republic was declared on the same day. The intention was to pave the way for the unification of all the five Somali territories.

Dreams of ‘Greater Somalia’ Fail
A vision of a “Greater Somalia” that would include all the Somali territories and unite them under a single flag was the driving force behind the Somaliland-Somalia union. This dream was not to be.
The Northern Frontier District (NFD) was lost to Kenya in 1963 after Kenya obtained its independence from Britain. In 1977, the French territory voted in a referendum and opted not to join the Republic of Somalia, and thus gained independence as the Republic of Djibouti. Just a year later the final bow was dealt to the dream of a Greater Somalia. In 1978, Ethiopian and Cuban forces defeated the Somali army and Ethiopia acquired and retained control of the Ogaden region. With these developments, any hope of a Greater Somalia that would include the five Somali territories symbolized by the star (with 5 connected corners) on the new flag, were now crashed. The dream of a unified Republic of Somalia was now a marriage between Somaliland and Somalia only.

The Legality of the Somali Unity
The union of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland had immediate and profound effects on the politics of the new country and laid the foundation for the future relations of the two territories. On 27 June 1960, the Somaliland legislature passed the Union of Somaliland and Somalia Law. The authorized representative of southern Somalia did not signed this treaty, it therefore remained without force in the south.

The Union of Somaliland and Somalia Law was repealed by the new National Assembly, but “since Mogadishu-based National Assembly did not yet have jurisdiction in the State of Somaliland, the act of repealing was not effective in both parts of the new Somali Republic.” The view that the act of repealing was null and void was supported by the acquittal of a group of Somalilander officers tried for treason before the Mogadishu Supreme Court. It is stated that the British judge presiding over the case acquitted the officers of the charges “on the grounds that there was no Act of Union between the North and South, the alleged offence having taken place in the North.”

Meanwhile, the legislature of Somalia approved its own document, the Atto di Unione (Act of Union) on July 1st. This time around, Somaliland failed to sign this document. Despite the fact that neither document was signed by both territories, the marriage between Somaliland and Somalia was declared and the new Somali Republic was thus pronounced _ without a valid Act of Union having been enacted.
A proposed unitary Constitution met the same fate as the previous documents. It received a negative reception in the north.

Somaliland’s political leaders campaigned against the constitution and called for its boycott. Results of the referendum on the Constitution reveal the extent to which the Constitution was rejected. Voter turnout was low and over half of those who voted rejected the unitary constitution. Of the “slightly more than 100,000 ballots cast in Somaliland, 53% voted “no”.” In addition, irregularities in the poll in the southern region were also reported.
Aside from the recognition by other states of the existence of the Somali Republic, argue the Somaliland government, “the de facto union between Somaliland and Somalia fell short of the legal requirements mandated by domestic and international law.”

A Repressive Regime and A Rebellion
By 1981, dissatisfaction in the north with the Somali government was quite evident and widespread. “Although Barre’s rule was becoming universally unpopular, discontent was felt most keenly among people of the former Somaliland, where [there was] economic neglect and deprivation (less than 7% of all development assistance was allocated to the region), stringent controls on trade, increasing centralization of administrative functions in Mogadishu, and the growing brutality of the Barre regime. As the wealthiest and most politically influential group in the north, the Isaq were singled out for especially unpleasant treatment.”

This deprivation of political, commercial and basic human rights to Somalilanders gave way to rebellion under the banner of the Somali National Movement (SNM). The response of the Somali government to the resistance by the SNM was the documented by Africa Watch, the human rights organization:

The government exploited the emergence of the SNM to justify indiscriminate violence against individuals and groups that criticized government policies and leadership, or merely because of clan affiliation. […] Both the urban population and nomads living in the country side have been subjected to summary killings, arbitrary arrest, detention in squalid conditions, torture, rape, crippling constraints on freedom of movement and _expression, and a pattern of psychological intimidation. […] Whenever the SNM launched an attack […] that area was subject to harsh reprisals, including summary execution, the burning of villages, the destruction of reservoirs, he indiscriminate planting of landmines and the killing and confiscation of livestock, the lifeline of the nomads.

By 1988, a full-scale civil war had erupted. The SNM had briefly taken control of Hargeisa and Burao, and the government responded by bombing and shelling major towns in the north. “This included flattening the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa, using a combination of artillery, South African mercenaries and bomber aircraft.” The bombardment of civilian targets resulted in the killings of an estimated 50,000 – 60,000 people. “On the outskirts of the capital there are a number of UN-acknowledged mass graves as testimony to southern brutality.” Though the SNM became victorious in February 1991, by then 100,000 people of the region have been estimated to have died and over 500,000 systematically driven from their homes.21

Second Declaration of Independence
The expulsion of Siad Barre from Mogadishu and the failure of the feuding factional leaders in the south to come to some kind of peaceful agreement on governing Somalia meant a new lease on life for the territory of Somaliland. Somalia’s civil war became full-blown, a fight for power ensued and civilian casualty and anarchy became order of the day. Meanwhile in the north, the SNM rebels had withdrawn from their forces from the south and embarked on establishing a government in the north. A Peace Conference of the northern clans was convened in April 1991 at Burao. On 18 May 1991 the dissolution of the 1960 union, and the restoration of Somaliland as a sovereign state were declared.

This second declaration of independence was not welcomed by the international community that still chooses to ignore the existence of Somaliland, and clings to the illusion the unity of Somalia. International reluctance to acknowledge Somaliland as a sovereign entity can be attributed to the international system’s prioritization of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states over the principle of self-determination. As such, maintaining a united Somalia that includes Somaliland is given preference to giving recognition to Somaliland.

Advocates of Somaliland’s international recognition, argue that “recognizing Somaliland would be a strong signal to the rest of Africa that performance matters and that sovereignty granted in the 1960s will not be an excuse to fail forever.” The Somaliland government is on the other hand also quick to point out that Somaliland’s recognized statehood is not a defiance of the respect for the notions of sovereignty and territorial integrity since “Somaliland’s declaration of independence is predicated upon the territory’s prior existence as a recognized, independent state.”

To Recognize or Not To Recognize
Jeffrey Herbst of Princeton University notes that order is supposed to be the defining characteristic of a state. If indeed this were the case, Somaliland’s claims to sovereignty would not be contested at all. Since its second declaration of independence in 1991, Somaliland has gradually restored peace and order to its land, and steadily developed its own political, administrative and economic institutions and arrangements.

The Somaliland government’s adoption of democratic value and practices is undeniable. The government carried out an in May 2001, an internationally observed referendum in which 97.9% of Somalilanders endorsed a new constitution and confirmed their wish to remain apart from the rest of Somalia. The world also witnessed Somaliland’s internationally monitored municipal elections in 2002 and presidential elections in 2003.

While Somaliland’s accomplishments are admirable, in determining its eligibility for international recognition, international law lays down certain requirements that a country needs to comply with before statehood is proclaimed. The basic requirements established in international law are:

Permanent Population
Defined Territory
A stable government
Capacity to enter into relations with other states
Permanent Population

In fulfillment of the first requirement of a permanent population, Somaliland has a population of approximately three and a half million people, including the refugees that have been returning since the process of rebuilding the country began. These people comprise of the clans that have inhabited the territory prior to and during the time the territory was a British Protectorate, as well as during the Barre regime and after. Since 1991, Somaliland however can no longer be said to comprise or be dominated by a single ethnic group.

A Defined Territory
Geographically, Somaliland covers an area of 137,600 square kilometers and comprises of the territory of the former British Somaliland Protectorate. It shares a western border with the Republic of Djibouti and its southern border with Ethiopia. Treaties establishing Somaliland’s boundaries the Anglo-French Treaty of 1888, The Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1894, and The Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897. The border demarcations under these treaties are established in international law.

A Stable System of Government
Some factors worth mentioning in fulfillment of the third requirement of a stable system of government are: the adoption of a democratic constitution in 2001, successful local elections in 2002, credible presidential elections in 2003, , the two peaceful changes of government in 1993 and 1996, and finally the peaceful transfer of power to then Vice President Dahir Rayale upon the death of President Mohammed Egal in May 2002 within hours of confirmation of his death.

Capacity to enter into Relations with other State
Somaliland’s capacity to enter into relations with other states is quite limited but nonetheless existent. Somaliland has signed agreements of co-operation with Ethiopia and Djibouti, and maintains representation in various foreign countries. The Ethiopian government has established a trade liaison office in Hargeisa and hosts a Somaliland liaison office in Addis Ababa. The two governments also co-operate on security matters.

Relations between Somaliland and other African states also seem promising. Senegal unexpectedly invited the Somaliland President and a delegation of ministers to Dakar in 2003. South Africa sent an observer team to monitor the 2001 Somaliland referendum, and in May 2003 Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Zuma hosted the Somaliland Foreign Affairs Minister. How far these states will go in advancing Somaliland’s case for independence still remains to be seen however.
Additional requirements that Somaliland has been called upon to comply with in its quest for statehood are: conformity with the Charter of the African Union, public support for independence, and economic viability.

On the issue of conformity with the Charter of the African Union, an argument presented by the Somaliland government is that its declaration of independence is predicated upon its prior existence as a recognized state. Declaring independence, goes the argument, is consistent with Article 4.b of the Constitutive Act of the African Union which affirms the AU’s “respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”, and as such Somaliland’s declaration of independence is in conformity with the Charter of the AU. Supporters of this argument also evoke the precedents set by the precursor to the African Union, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in permitting states such as Egypt, Gambia, and Senegal to retrieve their sovereignty following an unsuccessful union.

Despite the international community’s reservation, the extent of national public support for Somaliland’s independence became evident after the referendum carried out by the Somaliland government on 31 May 2001. In a process described by international observers as “open…fair…honest…and largely in accordance with internationally recognized election procedures,” of the 1.18 million ballots cast, 1.15 million (97.9%) approved the new Constitution, Article 1 of which affirms the 1991 decision to withdraw from the 1960 union with Somalia. For many, the referendum represented a vote on Somaliland’s status, i.e. to unite or to stay apart from Somalia.

Lack of international recognition places restrictions and limitations on a country’s economic development and advancement. Restrictions on trade places a strain on the economy and people’s livelihoods, and the absence of banking and insurance services deprives the country of basic financial services and hinders both domestic and foreign investment. The Somaliland government is not blind to these facts and acknowledges that “with access to bilateral and multilateral aid, much more could have been achieved, much faster, and a sound policy for long-term economic and social development could be put in place.” Despite these shortcomings, economic development has not been stagnant.

The Somaliland government often voices it pride at its self-reliance and its economic achievements in the absence of foreign aid. Its economy is predominantly pastoral, and livestock exports represent the country’s single most important source of revenue with a value of approximately US$170 million each year. The fishing industry which is supported by a 850-kilometer coastline also represents a major export item. In addition, deposits of gemstones, minerals, natural gas and oil have been identified but are not currently under exploitation. And though there’s still no reliable figures on it, remittances from the Somaliland diaspora which have been roughly estimated in the range of $150-200 million annually, account for a significant amount of foreign earnings.

In addition to these tangible features of statehood _ a permanent population, a defined territory, a functioning stable government, relations with other states (limited) _Somaliland also possesses abstract features that one associates with a state such as a national flag, a national anthem, a coat of arms, a currency and vehicle license plate.

[To be continued ….]

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