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|The Journey of Somaliland|
By: A. Mohamed Ali Hashi ‘Dhimbiil’
"It is a cardinal principle of British colonial policy that the interests of a large native population shall not be subject to the will ... of a small minority of educated and europeanized natives who have nothing in common with them, and whose interests are often opposed to theirs." – Lord Lugard
Since Somaliland’s re-birth in 1991 there have been strong disagreements and differences of opinions on the role of the Sultans of Somaliland in the politics of Somaliland. In fact, there have been strong tensions between traditional/secular/military and religious leaders on basic questions of governance and power sharing. These tensions have further been complicated by the push and pull of the clans, manipulated in one direction or the other by elites and at times exploding into the social surface in bouts of civil war.
Fortunately or unfortunately these civil clashes have had the silver lining of producing negotiated settlements – however precarious – allowing for normalcy to return and producing the wherewithal for new directions in the politics of Somaliland. Indeed, the constitution of Somaliland for example, did not just appear in the minds of some ideologue committed to constitutionalism – as critics of the late president often contend – rather, it is a product of painstaking and at times difficult journey that the people of Somaliland have had to travel.
The rights of the parliament and representation of the clans being at the heart of some of the difficulties faced by Somaliland, some of these issues having found their day in the constitution as representation by clans was replaced by the ballot box: a long standing demand of the people of Somaliland.
However, the lingering and still powerful sentiment of traditional politics in Somaliland is right under the surface, exercising tremendous influence on the body politic of Somaliland and in all sectors of life. Understanding the place of our traditions and customs and the place of the clans of Somaliland in this critical transition period, I believe, is an urgent and crucial task as we begin our first footsteps in our experiment with democracy more than century after British imperialism set sail for Somaliland and signed treaties with non other than the clans of Somaliland – represented by their Sultans, Garaads and Ugaas.
Indeed, the Sultans/Gaarads/Ugaas of Somaliland who signed treaties with the British Empire in the 1800’s by definition became party to the very founding of British Somaliland. It is the Sultans/clans who agreed to be a ‘protectorate’ to the British Empire immediately conferring to them not only a traditional linage of authority and legitimacy, but and more importantly, as signatories to the very first documents that founded Somaliland; they became as it were, ‘constitutional persons’ equal to the crown of St.James and inherited a legal personality, along with their respective clans. In much the same way that aboriginals or first nations in Canada, Australia and even the United States – where the rights of first nations has taken a decidedly different path – reserve their treaty rights to land water fishing and hunting, the Sultans of Somaliland were the midwives at the birth British Somaliland; claiming that the State of Somaliland can emasculate their rights when they birthed the state itself, is, to paraphrase Milton, to make confusion worse confounded. If, then, Somaliland’s rights to self-determination is principally based on the colonial question, the Sultans of Somaliland and their clans have rights vis-à-vis the state of Somaliland and those rights cannot be displaced without great damage to the interests of the state of Somaliland. This is why it is incredulous to me that the administration of Somaliland has chosen to play off the Guurti against the council of Sultans.
The transition in Somaliland:
Lord Lugard the great architect of indirect rule argued against progressive forces, for, he knew they were most likely to fight colonialism, any advance of these forces into the population at large would signal the end of colonial rule. This is why Lord Lugard characterized these elite as ‘Europeanized natives’. With these newly minted elites that Lord Lugard despised, came the call for anti-colonialism and a new call for the British to ‘quit the colonies’ and with that the potential to influence/displace plaint traditional leaders, who, sprinkled with a few European administrators made the empire cheap and easy to administer for Lugard and his ilk. Some hundred years later, the same political divide is emergent in Somaliland, and the same political questions stand, which are, who are the traditional authorities in Somaliland? What is there place in the political order of things? Should they be involved in the political order on a permanent basis or just through these transitions to an elected constitutional order? These are large questions that need debate and intervention from all Somalilanders; I will endeavor to suggest a few entry points for discussion as a way forward for debate.
I am not arguing for a Lugardian interpretation of Somaliland, not at all. What I am suggesting is that the overturn of one system by another, however righteous, can sink a transition to the new order unless the transition is built and natured as a segway to the new order. This is called reform as opposed to revolution; the change with which Somaliland is moving towards newer forms of politics must be buttressed by innovative political structures in order for the democratic transition to work. Recent examples show that we must include traditional forces into our politics or suffer political crisis continualy. I am arguing for a political settlement, via the constitution of Somaliland, by an amendment, after an elected house to include the Sultans of Somaliland into the Guurti. The inclusion of these Sultans/Gaaraads/Ugaas will, I believe, be a bulwark against challenges of legitimacy that have been posed by these forces for a long time.
The Sultans of Somaliland derive their place in the political order of the country from this colonial question and then history of the protectorate. Somaliland right to self determination is basically in this question of the past, finding the Sultans a place in our political system is a crucial issue confronting the country and it will not go away or be wished away. We must have an institutionalized form for the Sultans to express their views. The recent clash between the Council of Sultans and the Government/Guurti show that there exist strong and conflicting positions on the role and responsibilities of the Council of Sultans in the political landscape of Somaliland. These underlying and re-current themes of political conflict have their roots in our on-going transition to multi-party politics, and have the potential to do serious damage to Somaliland on-going experimentation with governance a decade and half since the collapse of the Somali Republic. The recent rift between the government and the Sultans and the subsequent elevation of these differences into major political crisis in Somaliland warrants an assessment of the political landscape and a debate on the validity and soundness of the political arguments put forward by both the government and the Sultans.
I argue that between these two extremes, between a purely multi-party system and a purely clan based system lies much of the political answers that has plagued our recent experiment with new forms of political organization. For the record, and as strong democrat, I believe that any representative should be chosen from the people of Somaliland, this is a basic requirement of democratic government. As well, the constitution of Somaliland is the supreme political document of the country and the very basis of our politics. However, this is all too theoretical and we are only beginning to give these theories full meaning in our political system.
As well, we have not yet matured politically to perceive the multi-party system as a set of systems based on interest and ideological commitments. Indeed, the multi-party system cannot, in this transition period, cure all our political ailments, nor can they – multi-party politics – fill completely the voids created by the departure of our traditional Shiir Beeled organized system. The basic reason for this is simply this, the Shiir Beeled system is a ‘trust and confidence building system’, it is also a ‘conflict resolution’ system and must have a place in the political system that we have drawn up in order to act as a bulwark against any crisis larger that the states capacity to resolve. No mention is needed of the political and economic problems afflicting this country as a defense of this argument, it is self-evident.
The people of Somaliland continue to hold dear much of their traditional values and continue to be attached to and have strong allegiances to their respective clans. Claiming that this is not part of the issue is simply disingenuous if not a falsehood. We have just begun our political journey to complete the statehood of Somaliland; we should not risk its success over power struggles in Hargeisa.
For the record, I am a citizen who believes in representation of the people that old and well tried maxim one man/women one vote. I further believe that our basic institutions must be elected by the people of Somaliland. However, and crucially, if there is an issue that has confounded African political economy – apart from the disastrous economic relationship with the international community – it is the lack of appreciation and political commitment to the underlying cultural institutions that effectively govern the day to day lives of over 500 million Africans, without confronting these issues, state making is doomed as the people will revolt sooner or later over perceived injustices. Somaliland has been through this experience and should know better!
To be blunt there is a power struggle in Somaliland; a struggle between the Guurti and the Council of Sultans; a struggle between President Rayyale (the executive) and the Parliament; a struggle between the opposition parties; and, a struggle for power between the various social and cultural formulations in the country. By definition, this struggle is healthy and important and must be welcomed as a pathfinder to the points in our journey where we a society wants to be politically. However, and this is the critical and complicated problem, we must find create/experiment with institutionalism as a process that helps us find answers to these questions. This is the central answer to our vexing questions; we must build on our social contract, and must recognize – in this transition to a more robust form of democracy – that there will other power centers in society other than the government of Somaliland. I have long advocated for the inclusion of the council of Sultans into the Guurti as a confidence building and politically mature thing to do. Had this been done this crisis would have been averted and a solution found.
To be sure, I believe a debate on these issues is healthy and welcome; as well I congratulate the recent discussions held in Hargeisa by political parties, civil society groups and public intellectuals on the role of our traditional leaders in the politics of Somaliland. I firmly believe that dialogue, debate, and mutual understanding construct the best way forward in confronting and resolving our political questions in this critical time of our transition.
The journey of Somaliland can be characterized as a people looking for a political system suitable to their social, cultural, and cultural world view. If anything, this is the crucial journey of Somaliland and indeed, one of the first given the failure of the state and market in post-colonial Africa. This journey of the people of Somaliland is indeed a first “foot steps” into a future that I believe is glimpses of the travails that await much of the states and peoples of Africa. Somaliland is a pathfinder in this regard.