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A Vision Of Somaliland
By Ahmed M.I. Egal
The Rationale behind the Impending Recognition
During the last several months, it has become clear that the recognition of Somaliland by the world is now on the cards. It seems that a ‘critical mass’ of support among the international community for accepting the painfully self evident reality that Somaliland has made itself into a peaceful, mature, stable and democratic state has won the day against the previous, ostrich-like policy of senseless denial. The juridical argument that Somaliland won its independence from Britain in 1960 and was a recognized nation-state before joining with the Italian-administered UN Trust Territory to the south to form the Republic of Somalia is true, and it certainly provides legal justification for the recognition that is now in the offing. Nevertheless, the undeniable and compelling rationale for recognizing and supporting Somaliland’s nationhood is simple: the people of this country have made for themselves, with no outside help and indeed against the sustained efforts of regional powers in their neighborhood to undermine their efforts, a functioning, representative, indigenous, democratic government.
The recent shift in the position of the United States in favor of a more active engagement with Somaliland is certainly an important catalyst in mobilizing international support for Somaliland’s recognition. This is only to be expected, after all in a uni-polar world, the blessing of the sole superpower is essential for any significant, international, diplomatic undertaking. Many Somali and foreign commentators have explained this recent shift in US policy with reference to a purported wish by the US Department of Defense (DOD) to base the newly created Africa Command (AfriCom) in Somaliland’s port city of Berbera in the Gulf of Aden. Of course, this argument gave rise to the usual chorus berating the ‘imperial’ motivation behind the America’s decision to engage Somaliland more robustly and directly. However, the idea of basing AfriCom in Berbera seems very far fetched, given Somaliland’s extremely poor level of infrastructure development and lack of the necessary support services that such a facility would require, e.g. housing, transportation, catering, fuelling facilities, schooling etc.
A more reasonable explanation can be found with reference to several, interrelated factors which directly impact upon US security concerns:
a) The failure of the so-called Transitional Federal Government of Abdillahi Yusuf (TFG) to establish even the semblance of government in Mogadishu more than a year after the Ethiopian army kicked out the Union of Islamic Courts and installed the TFG in its place. Indeed, as Yusuf and his gang of war-criminal thugs set about fighting over the aid monies pledged by the sponsors (including the US) of their fictional government, the Ethiopians found themselves caught in a political and security quagmire with no end in sight. As an increasingly ailing and aging Yusuf and his cohorts engaged in their in-fighting, oblivious to the misery of the people they purportedly represent, and as the isolated and poorly-trained Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu became increasingly trigger-happy and indiscriminate in their response to the natural hostility of the occupied Somali citizenry, it was inevitable that the ousted UIC gained popular support in Mogadishu.
b) When the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia, many of the young, clanbased fighters that had flocked to the UIC ranks at the height of its popularity deserted, thus Ethiopia was able to take over the country with relative ease. However, as the TFG showed its true colors by turning on itself over the spoils of their beggary under the protection of an increasingly harsh and brutal Ethiopian army that found itself in the midst of a sea of hostile, Somalis united only in their opposition to the TFG and their Ethiopian protectors, the young, clan-based fighters drifted back to the UIC. But the UIC itself had fractured, with the moderate leadership of the home-grown Islamic Courts movement ensconced in Asmara, while the radical, Al-Qaeda-inspired and trained cadre that had seized leadership of the UIC had mutated into the Al-Shabab Militia that now laid claim to the Al-Qaeda franchise in the Horn of Africa. It was to this shadowy, violent and nihilistic organization lead by Adan Hashi Ayro that these young clan fighters gravitated and it is Al-Shabab that now poses the most intractable and growing military threat to the TFG and the Ethiopian army.
c) By contrast, the authorities in Somaliland had demonstrated an effective counter-terrorism capability which had the enthusiastic support and participation of its people. In 2002, the Somaliland government arrested eighteen armed ONLF guerrillas traversing its territory to undertake attacks in Ethiopia and handed them over to Ethiopian authorities. In 2005, Somaliland security forces succeeded in capturing and imprisoning the perpetrators of three terrorist attacks which had resulted in the murder of several foreign aid workers, including the English principal of Sheikh Secondary School and his wife. In one incident, the residents of a small village some 40 miles from Hargeysa arrested and detained two fleeing terror suspects which had engaged in a gun battle in Hargeysa with Somaliland security forces prior to fleeing in a commandeered vehicle.
All these suspects were tried in criminal courts, and in December 2006 fifteen suspects were sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in prison. Only eight of the suspects had been apprehended in Somaliland and were brought before the court, while the others, including Hassan Dahir Aweys and Adan Hashi Ayro, were sentenced in absentia. In 2007 four other suspects also linked to Aweys and Ayro (indeed one of the suspects was a brother in-law of Ayro’s), were convicted of the murder of the English school principal and his wife and executed after their appeals were exhausted. Thus, Somaliland demonstrated its determination not to permit its territory to be used to mount armed attacks against neighboring countries, while also demonstrating its security and intelligence capability to thwart terrorist operations mounted against it by groups from Somalia. After the 2005 attacks against foreign aid workers, the Somaliland government established a new, elite, paramilitary unit to guard and protect foreign workers in the country and since that time, there have been no further terrorist attacks against foreign workers and aid organizations
d) Finally, Somaliland’s success in creating a stable, peaceful country with representative government, freedom of the press, freedom of association and the rule of law under an independent judiciary, in a part of the world where such freedoms are the exception rather than the rule, became increasingly impossible to ignore. The US had conferred upon Ethiopia the responsibility to counter and eradicate Al-Qaeda inspired or sponsored terrorist activity in the Horn of Africa under the so-called global ‘war on terror’. With Ethiopia bogged down in Somalia protecting a vile and venal cabal of warlords masquerading as a government, and the concomitant rise of an increasingly effective Al-Shabab as Al-Qaeda’s Horn of Africa franchisee, the US had to reassess its options. Clearly, its policy of supporting the TFG in Somalia, while arming and encouraging Ethiopia in its military campaign in support of the TFG was failing, if not backfiring entirely.
These are the cold, hard, real-politik reasons behind the recent shift in US policy in favor of a more active engagement with Somaliland and a more objective understanding of the TFG’s inability to secure popular support in Somalia and thereby undercut or eliminate Al-Shabab’s rise and possible ascendancy in local politics. Of course, Berbera has a very strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea and it is a natural deep sea port capable of docking the US Navy’s largest vessels, and its airport has the longest paved runway in Africa. Thus, it is fairly certain the US Navy would like to use it. However, an ideal location for AfriCom with all of its concomitant infrastructure and communications requirements, it is certainly not.
Overlaying all the hard realities listed above is the argument, posed by this writer among others, which posits that the road to a solution for the crisis in Mogadishu lies through Hargeysa. This approach to solving the seemingly intractable conflict in Somalia focuses upon an indigenous, bottom-up, grass roots approach to reconciliation based upon Somaliland’s own experience, in contrast to the top-down, foreign-sponsored approach that has proved such a signal failure and resulted in the creation of illegitimate, Frankenstein-like ‘governments’ with little or no popular support such as the TFG, and the TNG before it. It may well be that the international community, including the US, is waking up to the benefits of this alternative approach, since their efforts to date have failed miserably.
The Likely Impact of the State of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa
To get a clear understanding of how Somaliland’s formal statehood will impact upon regional politics in the Horn, it is necessary to understand its role and history in Somali nationalism and the irredentist dream of Greater Somalia. It is true to say that modern Somali nationalism, as with the nationalisms of much of Africa, Asia, Arabia and Latin America, was the natural response to colonial rule, since prior to European imperial entry into the Horn of Africa, there had been no pan-Somali political structure or state. Instead Somalis were organized economically and politically along clan and sub-clan lines with allegiances shifting vertically depending upon lineage and horizontally depending upon alliances, geographic proximity and marriage ties. The European carve-up of Africa resulted in the Somali people being divided between the imperial powers of Britain (British Somaliland Protectorate and the Somali-populated Northern Frontier District of Kenya), Italy (Italian colony of Somalia), France ( Djibouti) and Ethiopia (the Haud & Reserved Area which is now the 5th Governorate).
While some historians erroneously cite the anti-British campaign mounted by Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassan during the second decade of the 20th century as the first manifestation of Somali nationalism, the impetus to establish a modern Somali state first emerged after the end of World War II when anti-colonial nationalism swept across Asia and Africa. During the 1950s, there emerged within all the Somali territories political movements agitating for independence and self determination. In addition to this natural response to the nationalist “wind of change” that was sweeping through Africa, the straight lines drawn by the imperial powers in their carve-up of Africa artificially separated kith and kin, not to mention water and pasturage from nomadic inhabitants that had used them for millennia. This direct impact upon the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of the Somali population fuelled the nationalist impetus and politicized the rural population. As was to be expected, Somali nationalism quickly developed an irredentist outlook which sought to unite all the Somali people in one nation-state comprising the territories populated by them, and the dream of Greater Somali was born.
Nowhere did this dream of Greater Somalia have greater resonance and mass adherence than in the British Somaliland Protectorate (BSP). This is explained by several factors:
a) The population of the BSP was overwhelmingly rural with more than 90% of the population comprising pastoral nomads roaming far and wide with their herds of camels, sheep, goats and some cattle in a seasonal search for water and pasturage. Conversely, the Italian colony to the south had a significant agricultural sector with some 20% of the population comprising sedentary farmers based in the fertile basin between the Juba and Shebelle rivers. In Djibouti, there was a large minority (some 30%) of Afar people which are not Somali, thus the irredentist impetus of the majority Somalis was somewhat muted. The development of openly nationalist/irredentist political movements in the Haud & Reserved Areas in Ethiopia were muzzled effectively by the imperial regime in Addis, while the irredentist yearnings of the Somalis in the NFD in Kenya was drowned out by the violent campaign of the Mau Mau to evict Britain from Kenya.
b) The defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II resulted in Italy being forced by the UN to grant internal self-government to Somalia to prepare it for independence within ten years. In addition, Italy had settled several tens of thousands of Italian immigrants in the territory during the colonial period and had effectively integrated it economy with Italy’s. Thus, the principal exports from Somalia of bananas, some cotton and tropical fruits went to Italy while nearly all imports came from Italy. In addition, Somalia was relatively urbanized compared to other Somali territories due to the longstanding efforts of Italy to settle the nomadic population through pacification efforts and the provision of basic educational and medical facilities. By 1950, Somalia boasted two large cities (by Somali standards) with populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands, i.e. Mogadishu and Kismayo, and several urban, regional centers with populations in the tens of thousands, e.g. Jowhar, Beledweyne, Bossasso, Merca etc. When the pro-independence political parties emerged in the early 1950s, they paid lip service to the dream of Greater Somalia, but in reality their energies were focused upon the ‘real’ prize – ruling Somalia in place of the Italians.
c) The ten years of UN Trusteeship provided Somalia with a decade of limited self rule and, therefore, the development of a parliamentary political culture focused upon the achievement of political power and the allocation of civil service positions through patronage to maintain said power, along the Italian model of multi-party democracy. Coupled with its comparatively developed economy, not to mention greater levels of urbanization and social infrastructure (i.e. hospitals, schools, roads, communications etc.), the allure of Greater Somalia was not as great in Somalia as it was in the BSP, the Haud & Reserved Areas and the NFD. Indeed, nationalist politics in the BSP was explicitly predicated in the popular mind upon the creation of Greater Somalia. Independence from Britain was not seen as an objective in itself, but as the first step towards the realization of the dream of Greater Somalia uniting all Somalis in one nation-state. The evidence of this symbiotic linkage in the popular psyche between independence and the irredentist dream was the public clamor within the newly independent Republic of Somaliland for immediate, unconditional unification with the UN Trust Territory when the first Prime Minister suggested a period of six months to negotiate the terms of union. This public pressure was so intense and evidenced by mass demonstrations, that the government had no choice but to accede to the terms demanded by the new government of Somalia, which were iniquitous to say the least, and effectively deliver the BSP to Somalia. When the terms of the union were put to a national referendum for ratification a year later, in 1961, the overwhelming majority of people in the BSP rejected them. The cold reality of the terms of the unequal union had triumphed over the heady nationalism of the previous year.
Thus, it is fair to say that the BSP was the depositary of the irredentist dream of Greater Somalia and the people of Somaliland were the keepers of its flame. The brief border war between the new Republic of Somalia and Ethiopia in 1964 was actually instigated by Somalilanders unwilling to accept Ethiopian border controls that sought to limit their rights to move freely in search of water and pasturage as well as trade with their brethren across the border. A decade or so later, when the dictator Siyad Barre invaded Ethiopia in 1977 to prop up his increasingly shaky regime, it was Somaliland that became the front-line in that war and it was the people of Somaliland that became caught up in the nationalist fervor that accompanied the war, with young men volunteering to sign up and women selling their jewellery to support the war effort. By contrast, in Mogadishu and the rest of the south, life went on pretty much as before with the population relatively immune to the nationalist hysteria gripping the north.
With the historic decision in 1991 to recover the sovereignty they had so lightly surrendered in 1960 and re-establish their statehood, the people of Somaliland turned a page in Somali history and, indeed, in the Horn of Africa. This decision effectively killed the irredentist dream and laid the concept of Greater Somalia to rest as the defining principle of Somali nationalism. The dream of Somali unity had turned into a nightmare of tribalism, dictatorship and genocide and the people of Somaliland are the first Somalis to clearly understand this cruel lesson of history and face up to it. They have not built their new Republic upon the heady, emotional call to ethnic solidarity, nor upon the call for a theologically pure caliphate, but upon political liberty, economic freedom, the rule of law and a separation of powers within government to ensure that autocracy never again assumes ascendancy in their politics. The fierce commitment of Somalilanders to their new Republic, their new nationalism if you will, reflects their commitment to these founding principles and their determination to never again relinquish that which they once easily gave away, and were forced to recover after four decades of oppression through a long and bloody war of liberation that forced one third of the population into exile around the world.
Somaliland’s rejection of the dream of Greater Somalia also reflects acceptance of historical reality, since the Somali peoples of Djibouti and the NFD of Kenya had perforce surrendered their irredentist ambitions during the dark years of the Siyad Barre dictatorship. There is an old Somali fable in which the carnivorous animals of the bush had killed a deer to eat and the question of apportionment of the meat had to be addressed. As King of the Beasts, the lion instructed the hyena to divide up the carcass, and the hyena suggested that half the meat should be given to the lion while the other half should be shared among the other animals. The lion roared in displeasure and smote the hyena in the head with his great paw dislodging one of his eyes which dangled bloodily down his cheek. The lion then asked the fox to share out the meat and the fox proposed that the meat be divided in half with one half set aside for the lion. The other half would then be divided in half again with one half set aside for the lion and so on and so on. The lion was mightily pleased with this share out and asked the fox how it had learnt the art of apportionment, to which the fox replied, “The eye of the hyena taught me”! Thus, did the Somali population of Djibouti choose independent statehood over union with Somalia in 1977, after witnessing what befell Somaliland after its ill-fated union with Somalia, most particularly during the two decades of the Siyad Barre dictatorship which culminated in the regime declaring war on its own people and perpetrating genocide against the people of Somaliland.
Regarding the Somali population of the 5th Governorate of Ethiopia, the federal constitution enacted by the EPRDF government permits secession from Ethiopia if the overwhelming majority of the people of any province vote for such in a free and fair referendum. Indeed, it was this provision that provided for Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia and emergence as an independent country in 1993. The 5th Governorate has an elected, regional legislature and representation in the Federal Government in Addis Ababa, in fact its first Governor after the overthrow of the Mengistu regime, Abdul Majid Hussein Omar, was a key member of the EPRDF inner circle that fought in the war that deposed the Mengistu dictatorship and installed a democratic, federal government in its place. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) that is fighting in the province is a narrow, tribally based and defined organization that remains wedded not only to the failed irredentism of Greater Somalia, but also to the equally failed quest for Darod hegemony within such a construct. They are the inheritors of Siyad Barre’s disastrous quasi-fascist vision of tribal supremacy and they are destined to join him in the dustbin of history.
Thus, the emergence of Somaliland as an independent country marks a crucial watershed in the politics of the Horn of Africa which began with the overthrow of the Mengistu and Siyad Barre dictatorships and the accession to independence of Eritrea some eighteen years ago. This period ushered in a new era of popular empowerment, representative government and the rule of law throughout the region, with the singular exception of Somalia which descended into a hell of warlord anarchy and state collapse. To be sure, the transition from dictatorship to open and representative government has not been easy and the countries of the region are struggling to get to grips with recognizing the difference between legitimate, political opposition and threats to the state, for example. However, the fact remains that throughout the Horn, the era of dictatorship is certainly over and there is both de jure and de facto recognition that the legitimacy of the state derives from the willing consent of the people through government that is both representative and accountable. Somaliland’s statehood will consign the irredentist dream of Greater Somalia forever to the dark past, thereby removing the last potential threat to the peaceful political and economic development of this strategically crucial region.
Somaliland will be an invaluable addition to the region as an independent state for many reasons, foremost among which are the following. Firstly, Somaliland’s statehood will contribute immeasurably to resolving the crisis in Somalia by demonstrating to the people of that country that the only solution to their problems lies in their hands through national reconciliation and the development of a new ‘xeer’ or social contract among themselves as to how to live together. Somaliland can and will provide a neutral and nurturing forum for the various communities of Somalia to come together and resolve their differences. Somaliland’s own experience in national reconciliation and conflict resolution predicated upon Somali cultural and tribal traditions will bring a unique and invaluable insight and utility that has been missing to date in international efforts towards this end. The fact is that the ordinary people of Somalia, as opposed to the coterie of warlord thugs that have held that country to ransom for the last two decades, openly admire Somaliland’s achievements in national reconciliation and nation-building, and wish the same for their own country.
Secondly, Somaliland’s accession to statehood will open the country to foreign investment and will enable it to access international capital – both commercial and discretionary. It will be possible to develop Berbera into a major regional port serving the entire region and beyond, as far as Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Cong (DRC). This will increase trade and investment throughout East & Central Africa and so enhance economic growth and development. Berbera could, and should, become a major trading hub and gateway into East & Central Africa, and its strategic location as well as easy access to the markets of Ethiopia and beyond stand in its favor in this regard. Djibouti is presently developing a large container terminal in Doraleh, under the aegis and management of Dubai Ports World (DPW) with the aim of serving this same region. However, given the size of the target region in population, resources and geography, the economic growth rates beginning to be achieved therein and the potential volume in trade concomitant therewith, there is a need for both Berbera and Djibouti as world class ports. This is not a zero sum game by any means and there will be greater demand than both ports can cope with, not to mention the fact that healthy competition will benefit users by keeping rates competitive.
In conclusion, the emergence of Somaliland as an independent nation-state is not only the righting of a historical mistake (admittedly self-inflicted), neither is it merely the recognition of the self evident, legally valid and legitimate wish for self determination of the people of Somaliland, although it is all of these things. In addition, Somaliland’s statehood is also an important, and possibly key, chapter in the progress and development of the Horn of Africa region towards representative government, economic growth and popular empowerment. Denying the people of Somaliland their liberty and sovereignty benefits no one and only provides aid and succor to those who look backwards towards tribal hegemony or nihilism cloaked in faux religiosity for their political credo. Conversely, embracing an independent Somaliland not only recognizes historical fact and the commendable achievements of the people of that country, but also welcomes a mature and responsible partner to contribute to the progress and development of the entire region.
In point of fact, Mohamed Abdille Hassan’s fight was as much tribal as it was anti-British (or to be more accurate, anti '‘kafir’, i.e. non-Muslim, rule). Abdille Hassan was from the Ogaden sub-clan of the Darod people and he wished to establish Darod hegemony in Somaliland and Somalia in which territories the Darod were a minority. Thus, in his purportedly anti-kafir war, he also fought the Isaaq in Somaliland and the Hawiye in Somalia, and it was his inability to overcome the narrow tribal focus of his political aims that not only lead to his eventual defeat, but which also negates the nationalist characterization that certain, biased historians attribute to him. In addition, Abdille Hassan was anxious to instill his Salihiya school of Islamic thought among Somali people which were, and remain, overwhelmingly adherents of Shafiya school of Islam.
Source: Somaliland Times