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Somaliland’s War Of Ideology Is Over. What Will The Next Challenge Be?
Since Somaliland reclaimed its independence in 1991, what has captured the new nation’s attention most is the well-known mantra - independent state, independent state, independent state. This has since featured in every politician’s speech up and down the country, and has actually become a national vision. The phrase has also made the headlines in the government’s official rhetoric and the political parties’ manifestos. In short, it has served as a central guiding concept throughout these years. However, having the state formation process successfully managed and the independence ratified by a referendum, I will argue that the country needs to move on and adopt a new national vision.
In the nation-building process, the political leadership clearly prioritized structures over standards. The process has so far centered mainly on establishing foundations for the statehood by focusing on structural reform. The creation of Elders’ Committee and the former House of Representative; the election of Local Councilors, Members of Parliament and the Head of State are all examples of this structural change. Also, there have been reforms in the way the police, the armed force, the justice system and the basic public services are organized. The government have established many national departments with in-built provisions for the local authorities to run their own affairs. Political parties were formed, free elections undertaken and a national constitution drafted and ratified. All are intended to lead to a system that nurtures the new nation and provides it with freedom, security, justice and uni
These reforms were based on deep ideological convictions. In the initial phases of the state formation, conflicting political views had been put forward. Those who viewed an independent state of Somaliland as the only hope for this nation have won the hearts and minds of the people of Somaliland . Their vision received an overwhelming public support through referendum. With this approval, Somaliland ’s war of ideas and ideology has effectively ended in favor of this group. And after nearly a decade-and-half long debate, the unionists, or federalists as some people may call them, have been defeated. The overemphasis on strengthening state foundations, in other words, structures, should, therefore, be seen in the context of this battle.
In the course of this process, Somaliland ’s ideological conviction has been tested. The leadership asked the UNISOM to leave the country at a time when its people’s need for international assistance was at its greatest. This was because UNISON intervened in Somaliland ’s independence. Likewise, Somaliland rejected calls from the international community and regional representatives to participate in reconfiguration of Somalia , and thereby daring isolation in the face of these powerful groups. This has provoked some countries to impose trade sanctions on Somaliland and others have adopted diplomacy of hostility towards Somaliland . At home, there were also internal pressures aimed at twisting and turning the course of the independence or to slow down the democratization process. Despite of all these difficulties, Somaliland has pursued its aims, leaning only on the strength of its people and the support of few friends.
The process had a pragmatic perspective too. Somaliland recognized that a nation-building would not be successful if people were to be divided between good guys and bad guys, referring to their previous political preferences or personal records. The notion that certain groups may claim the leadership by a virtue of history or participation in a particular struggle had also been found a counterproductive and subsequently abandoned. As a result, community cohesion and national reconciliation had been viewed as having the most positive impact on the nation-building process, and as such, the government had prioritized these sectors.
However, ideas, structures and reforms alone will not be enough. In this new era, standards, not the structures, should be the new national vision. When you talk to the public, what bothers them most is the quality of education their children receive, the lack of necessary health services and drinking water, the difficulties they face in pursuing justice and the absence of opportunities for earning income. This is where the next battle of Somaliland should be fought over.
Politicians may say the answer to this is building more schools, more hospitals, more water facilities and more employment schemes, taking the structural approach again. But, this will have to go hand in hand with maintaining standards. Somaliland will need to have proper quality assurance systems incorporated into all public services. It also needs to have a transparent and accountable administration, an independent financial audit team, and a national ombudsman.
Let me be more specific on this. Firstly, building more and more schools would not be effective, where the school systems are inadequate to provide the education that is needed to help pupils learn the skills and behaviors conducive for nation building and individual development. In the new nation of Somaliland , education should help learners across the country to develop a sense of shared national identity. But, in the absence of uniformity in what is being taught at schools, let alone the quality, and in the context of poorly constructed education system, this perceived national objective seems to be far-fetched.
Secondly, the new democratic structure will have to be informed by a whole lot of new values, such as personal responsibility, law-abiding, equality, citizenship, and fairness. To achieve these aims, the nation will need to introduce a culture of accountability and transparency across the board.
Unlike the structural changes, developing and maintaining standards is an area where Somaliland , clearly, cannot do alone. It would require external inputs including funds and expertise.
A possible response to this need may come from the recent initiative by the World Bank and the UN agencies addressing the reconstruction needs of Somalia and Somaliland , using formats adopted in the Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction. According to this initiative, Somaliland ’s development needs will be thoroughly assessed and intervention plans devised by a mixture of international and national experts covering six major development sectors. The outcome of this process will be presented to an international donor conference under the auspices of the UN, the World Bank and some EC members, where a decision will be made as to the level of funding and implementation plans.
A perfect timing, you might have thought. Well, apparently not in the eyes of some people. From strategic point of view, this assessment and the expected plans of intervention will treat Somaliland and south Somalia as one entity, and will actually give the Jowhar administration the lead in the strategic overview of the process. Critics say Somaliland has jumped on a bandwagon without considering the political implications of this move.
I will have to disagree with these critics. In light of the current aid practice, I would consider Somaliland ’s acceptance of this offer as a sign of a political maturity. The government has recognized that the conventional aid comes in different formats and packages, which may sometimes contain bitter pills to be taken. The economic and social benefits are surely far greater than the perceived diplomatic embarrassment. However, the key challenge for Somaliland is to modify these conditionalities to the benefit of the national development strategy without sacrificing the national goals, and the Ministry of Planning should consult as widely as possible in succeeding this. Remember, the war of ideology in Somaliland is over and it is time for improving standards. And for this purpose, the country needs to cooperate with the wider world and to engage in the real politics of the real world.