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Where Somaliland Succeeds & Others Fail In Africa?
By Rashid Mustafa X Noor
To wonder why Somaliland is fast becoming an African beacon for democracy, human rights and free press; one must first, look, to the traditions inherent in every African in order to come to some sort of an idea to how, why and where Somaliland gets its inspiration and stamina, against all odds, to do well in its ratings for democracy, freedom of press and in conducting fair and open elections in Africa.
The Africans have common streaks which bind them all together, regardless of creed, religion or background and these are the African tradition of "letting everyone in the village or tribe have a say in anything or issue affecting the social, economical or political concerns of the tribe or people of the village". Even in African societies where the rule of kings and queens flourished, the ordinary African villager or nomad at one time had some sort of representation in the royal courts of their kings or queens; usually, this was in the form of the king/queen’s council of elders made up of every tribe/clan or village in their kingdoms, who’d often be the major decision makers in the royal courts while the king/queens, acting as figureheads, would take such proclamation reached by the elders into the active.
Africans share the common tradition of forgiving for past atrocities committed against one’s people by other Africans or foreigners. Where in the world do you see hundreds of million’s raped of their motherlands and packed, shipped, draped in foreign names and costumes to toil the earth in servitude to another human being for generations to come. Yet, Africans, here in Africa and the hundreds of million’s who were succumbed to this sad inhumanity, executed by their fellow mankind, have not the grudge to wreak revenge against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their human spirit, being and land, nor do they lament about it, but quietly, look on and walk tall, as ever, in pride and humility doing their best just to live as ‘human’ as possible. For, forgiveness, is nurtured in the African DNA like is in no other creed. Forgive and let live is natural to the African tradition.
So why Somaliland has succeeded and other Africans are failing?
The answer lies in; Somaliland’s success has its roots tied to ‘sticking true to its African tradition’ whereas rest of Africa has not.
Somaliland clans converged in 1991 in Buroa, the second largest city in Somaliland, to 'forgive' and 'reconcile' each other. This took Somaliland clans in the ‘Buroa conference’ few months to complete and once reconciled the clans began discussing the political agenda and way forward. Politicians, traditional leaders and elders, clan militia commanders, intellectuals, prominent men and women, business folk and the ordinary man and woman gave their opinion on how to govern themselves. Some argued for unity or federation with Somalia, while many called for the outright independence from the union of the former British Somaliland had with the south/Somalia. Clan delegates argued out for or against independence and the majority of the 150 delegate 'clan' representatives eventually voted [in the 1991 Buroa conference] for an outright dissolution of the 1960 involuntary act of union enacted between former British Somaliland and Italian Somalia (south) to form the Somali Republic.
The corner stones of Somaliland’s very foundations are built on the African traditions, the collective participation of all in making a major or minor decisions and the ‘forgive and let live’ aspect of the African tradition. Many Africans have deviated from their most inherent and inert African nature and place too much reliance and dependence on the rigid ‘systematicalist’ formulae of the bureaucratic West. This system may work well for the Western nations when it comes to peace making or augmenting treaties between its people or foreign states, the simple reason being that it’s part of their tradition and has been for many centuries, this probably explains why it works ‘well’ for the West and not for Africa. However, Africans have no whatsoever relation with such ‘rigid[y]’ system or way of doing things.
Africans have an inert nature to have a collective people’s courtship whenever issues or peace making matters turn up or breakdown. An ethnic group will take up arms in Africa to defend its rights or share of government, but the ethnic group and its elders will not be consulted when time calls and is set for the stage of peace making. Only, the commanders of the military wing of the ethnic group will show up as representatives of the ethnic group and not the leading traditional heads or elders of the group. Treaties will be signed and a lot of fanfare will be made out of it and for sure, in time, will fall through and back to stage one again and another conflict spirals out of control in the Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan and many more African countries.
Ethnicity is crucial in every African society, state and government. The ethnic creed or tribe/clan of an African head of state is usually 80% of the time at the helm of state institutions or government organs. When this African state is at war with an ethnic group why should it be seen as the state against the ethnic group? Should it not be perceived as the tribe or clan of the head of state at war against so and so ethnic group or tribe/clan? This way the heart of the problem and conflict can be made a lot easier to identify and resolve between the two ethnic groups than the state against the ethnic group scenario. The African tradition will then kick in to operation and start working when the elders of the two groups come face to face for arbitration and held responsible because responsibility for the conflict will be more transparent than the elusive and vague ‘state’ or government [scenario] is fighting against ethnic rebel group ‘so and so’ and etc, etc….
A wonderful example of this African tradition working for Somaliland can be witnessed from the recent release of 76 POW’s captured from the Puntland defence forces battle's with Somaliland during last year’s Sept, Oct and November months’ Sool region conflicts.
In typical ‘Somaliland’ fashion, 30 odd traditional clan chiefs and elders belonging to the clans of 68 of the 76 Puntland combatants taken as POW’s by Somaliland’s armed forces, travelled from Sool region to the capital city. They came to Hargeysa in order to intercede on behalf of the POW’s and secure their release and freedom.
Soon as they arrived in Hargeysa, the government designated the Sool clan elders who numbered 30 persons as the official guests of the state. They were given access to the highest officials in the government including the president. After many meetings with the government, the elders and clan chiefs of Sool region got the government’s agreement to release all 76 POW’s. In the following week, President Riyale issued a presidential pardon to all 76 POW’s and their release came a day or two after this presidential decree. Only, 8 of the 76 POW’s were from Puntland's home regions and clans. The 8 were given financial aid/provisions and put on a flight to Puntland, while the majority (68) of the POW’s were safely returned to their family and homes in Sool region.
There were no documents, protocols or agreements signed. The elders presented their case to the president and government like Somali nomadic clansmen do in the countryside 'under the shade of a large acacia tree'. There were no Red Crescent, UN or human rights organisations present to validate or observe such agreements during and after the release of the POW’s. There were no formalities and international conventions used to negotiate for the release of the POW’s. It was all done in retrospect to the "lifelong African way" and "tradition" of doing things.
Somaliland has been referred to in the media as ‘Africa’s best kept secret’ but what has not been revealed or explained is the secret Somaliland has kept from the world and in particular, from rest of Africa, i.e, sticking true to its African tradition.
Rashid Mustafa X Noor
24 March 2008
Source: Somaliland Times