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|ISSUE 53 January 25, 2003||
A State In The Making
Mohamed Sheikh Ahmed Dalmar
Jan 20, 2003 - Legend holds that in the old days when a Chinese King could not have his troops cross a high Mountain, he called all his subjects (in the millions of course) to shout, "letís pass peacefully." With their deepest voice and highest pitch, the Mountain could not stand the awe of the masses and cracked open. The crowds rejoiced as they watched their troops cross to the other side. A living counterpart of this legend seems to be in the works: the people of Somaliland are determined to decide where they are destined despite many odds against them, and there is no obstacle strong enough to stop the masses when they stand up.
On Monday Dec 14, 2002 in Erigavo and just a day into the Municipal elections in Somaliland, I was able to cast my first vote on Somali soil, the third in my life, the other two having been in Canada. When I cast my vote successfully, I looked back through the long line of voters waiting to cast theirs. I had just witnessed something that I did not witness in my earlier two experiences. In Canada, if a voter showed up in the local electoral office and saw a line-up, he or she simply went about their business to come back when the crowd thinned. Unless one argued it was because people had no business to go about (pointing to the crippling unemployment), one had no other reason or rationalization for this incredible patience under the sun except that the people of this part of the Horn of Africa are determined to control and shape their own destiny peacefully.
When I asked a group of the people in the line-up how much of an education on the electoral process they were exposed to, a tall, middle-aged man answered, "We only needed to understand how we had to vote which took a very short time to understand."
"We did not need, though, to understand why we were going to vote," Ahmed Ali said as he moved ahead few steps up the line, "when we finish, I will talk to you more, Insha Allah," Ahmed waved me back.
When election results are published, the people of Somaliland will have already set high expectations directed towards both their own elected members and the international community. "We donít want the hand of relief work extended to us long after we might have become economically and socially disabled. We need a strong and confident foreign investment and bilateral trade. This way, we believe we will turn ourselves from a burden on others into a people who can take part in solving global problems," answered a cousin of mine and a fellow Erigavoan who is also a manager of the Red Crescent office in Erigavo, Hassan Mohamed Dunkal (Denkeli) to the question of how can the international community help Somalilandís people.
Aspirations of Somalilanders like Hassan M. Dunkal go far beyond these Municipal elections that will pave the way for the presidential elections. People really look forward to job creation and development programs that they believe will guarantee the continuation of their hard-won peace and social responsibility. From the time I boarded a cruiser that belonged to one of the international NGOs on the day after the ballot boxes were closed, to the time when I arrived in Hargeisa the next day, and after 20 hours and 800 kilometers, I continuously marveled at the successive expanses of pasture-plains and acacia forests that would fit both farming and livestock rearing in unmatched scales. As we passed the highlands of Sheikh, with its Kashmir-like scenery punctuated by the curves of the highway that meanders through the cliffs (the daw), one would only imagine the kind of economic success local people could realize had some real development programs were put in place. The skeleton of the old cement factory reminds passers of the neglect and mismanagement that is suffered by this land of plenty where, I would agree with the respondents, people only deserve to be seen as the self-sustaining and productive society that they really are and should have had the international markets open to their risk-free, virgin land.
The ultimate neglect and irresponsibility, though, had ironically taken place in the most resource-laden region and arguably the future breadbasket of Somaliland-Sanaag region. In a region that combines the tropical climates with the temperate and Mediterranean ones, thanks to its elevation, almost every crop would certainly grow had any development been done at all. If this election process goes well all the way and an elected government is eventually erected, one part of a success story will have been completed. The other part will depend on how well the calls of the Somaliland people will reach a receptive ear of the regional and international community. The latter is the difficult one since it is out of the control Somaliland and there is a limited understanding of the issue on the part of everybody but Somalilanders themselves. One election observer told me that the elections were as fair as you could see anywhere and the patience of voters was particularly amazing. When I asked him if I could quote his name in an article the observer demanded anonymity. "Donít mention my name or I will be in trouble. If you mention my name, I will know where you are. By the way, I donít like journalists," he added. I just nodded and assured him that he will be anonymous and that I was not a journalist. The encounter was brief and generally friendly, but left me with a lingering question of why no one is listening to the plight of such a peace-loving and self-confident population, independent election observers included. At one point when I asked another election observer if he thought Somalilanders would ever get credit for what they have done as a people he answered, "of course, in the long run."
One thing that particularly struck me was the way monitoring was designed: six people representing the six parties were present at each election center. That was amazing. In this case no one could say we were fooled and the elections were rigged, a cry known in many countries as a pretext for denying political defeat.
11 years is a long time without recognition I thought, as I worried about what might happen if this peopleís patience wears thin. I was consoled by the historical fact that the road to sovereignty and democracy is a tough one. The story of Latin America presented in Joe Schlesingerís Foreign Assignment in CBC News world on Sunday Jan 19, 2003 is a testament to that. Mr. Schlesinger told the host of the program, Ian Hanomansingh, that the dictatorships of the seventies and eighties gave way to the publicís demand for democratically elected governments and that the process was a gradual revolution, not an overnight affair. If that is a political science doctrine, then it is no wonder that many political moguls believe that it is only a matter of time before Somaliland enjoys its own version of custom-made democracy (one that conforms fully with the countryís Islamic values).
Until then, letís wish this peace-loving and hard-working society all the best in its quest to beat all odds on the way to self-sufficiency. I would also like to remind Somalilanders that their country is a natural refuge for anybody escaping the stresses and other social ills that being away from home is known for. But even birds build their nest before they lay their eggs. Hospitals and schools are institutions that are not far from the reach of Somalilanders in the Diaspora. Few dollars per month, per every one abroad, could work wonders if properly managed and funneled with precision to the homeland. I, for one, am on my way back home, but will work, in a small way towards that goal so that when the time surely comes when I need medical attention (sooner or later), I will not have to rush out of my own home and away from the care of people I know and identify with.
Mohamed Sheikh Ahmed Dalmar
Is a High School Principal Visiting From Canada