I have made a personal pledge sometime ago not to respond to any of those pernicious articles prevailing in the ever expanding list of Somali blogs, which have become as parochial as in the topics they publish about the Somali politics. However, having read blatant distortions about the history of Somaliland and debauched misrepresentations written about its many achievements, including; peace, reconciliation, stability, democracy and good governance, I found a very strong reason for temporarily suspending my pledge in refuting those articles, notably, Mr. Osman Hassan’s open letter to Assistant Secretary for Africa Mr. Johnnie Carson: Stirring Hornet’s Nest, where rather unconvincingly, he attempted to paint Somaliland as “a one clan which, through its hegemony, occupation and use of force, is imposing its unilateral declaration of secession on all the other peace-loving unionist clans in the region”. It seems that this has been part of concerted efforts, from Somaliland’s enemies, to discredit its commendable progress and create doubts in the minds of some Western countries that have recently shown an increased interest in Somaliland’s successes and began to look closely, for the first time, at the issue of recognition. In order to rebut this kind of unsubstantiated and pejorative statement it is extremely important to enunciate, in this article, the correct version of events, surrounding the antecedents including the iniquitous union and causations that resulted in Somaliland renouncing such a union with Somalia after 31 years.
1. The Undeniable Entity of Somaliland
The entity of Somaliland did not came about as an accident nor was it contrived after the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, as its detractors would like the world to believe. It was Europe’s scramble for Africa in 1884 which resulted in Britain, France and Italy competing for the control of the Somali populated regions in the Horn of Africa. By 1886 all these three colonial powers had claimed their share of the regions, respectively. Britain acquired northern Somalia and made it a British Somaliland Protectorate. It also took the control of Jubbaland region (the area between Somalia and Kenya), which was later dubbed as North Fontier District – NFD and ceded to Kenya). France claimed the north-west coast of Somalia and called it French Somaliland territory (Djibouti).While Italy took over the control of southern region (Italian Somalia). The role played by Abyssinia in the curve up of the Somali populated regions must not be forgotten, as it gained over the control of Ogaden region and later added Hawd and Reserve Area.
In his rather in vain “open letter” Mr. Hassan described Somaliland as “a fallacy concocted up as a ploy to solicit sympathy from Britain”. Nothing is further from the truth than such a presumptuous premise, because Somaliland is a distinct entity by virtue of its colonial legacy and demarcated borders with the other Somali populated regions. A self defeating hypocrisy from those who are objecting to accept the colonial borders of Somaliland, is that they readily recognize the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti which are also inherited from the colonial powers. The suggestion that Somaliland is free for all Somalis is just like saying that “Arabian Gulf is free for all Arabs”. Such argument runs counter to existing AU charters and resolutions as affirmed in the Cairo Resolution (July 1964) which notes that “Solemnly all member states pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their national independence”. The issue here is not to denying any one from their rights per se; it is rather accepting and respecting the undeniable territorial integrity of Somaliland, which makes it a separate entity from the rest of the other Somali regions. Somaliland is a reality and it is here to stay and anyone who believes otherwise must have a perverse sense of history and reality.
2. Unequal Union and its Failure
Somaliland remained a British protectorate until 26th June 1960 when she gained its independence. Four days later (1st July 1960) the previously Italian Somalia, which was at that time a UN Trust Territory of Somalia became independent, and the same day the two Somali states have merged and formed the Republic of Somalia, in the hope of creating a “Greater Somalia”. This merger was envisaged to be the first step for incorporating other three regions (Djibouti, Ogaden and NFD) bringing all Somali populated regions under one Somali State. However, there were both internal and external factors that conspired to thwart such a notion. Internally, the union soon ran into trouble as the people of Somaliland realized that their dream was turned into disappointment, after politicians from the Italian Somalia inequitably took all the pivotal positions in the new government (including the President, Prime Minister, Defence, Interior and Finance Ministers, Army Chief of Staff, Head of the Police Force and many others, of course, not forgetting both the flag and the capital), and disillusionment after their main conditionality to cement the union with Somalia, which was to conduct a plebiscite, was denied by the first Somali government, which was clearly dominated by the Italian Somalia, as stated above. Consequently, this had provoked an army mutiny and/or attempted coup by junior military officers from Somaliland in April 1961.
Externally, three unrelated historical facts had occurred and shattered the dream of creating a greater Somalia. Firstly, Britain ceded NFD to Kenya in 1963 after it became independent. Secondly, Djibouti decided not to join Somalia in a referendum held in 1967 and eventually gained its independence from France in 1977 to become Republic of Djibouti. Thirdly, Somalia’s last ditch attempt to seize some territories back from the Ethiopians by force ended up in defeat after Russia and Cuba came to the rescue of Ethiopia by reversing the gains of the Somali army and forcing them to retreat. This would mean that, with all other three Somali regions gone, only that of Somaliland had remained a pathetic captive under a sophistic union with Somalia during the following 31 years. The lopsided union between the two states limbed on, and although during the first nine years (1960 - 1969) some sort of a parliamentary democracy was observed, and democratically elected governments succeeded each other, the country became bogged down with rampant corruption and misuse of political system by its politicians who manipulated the clan-politics and polarized the Somali people along clan lines. It was the repercussions of such a failed system which resulted in the assassination of President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke by a police officer in Las’anod on 15th October 1969. This tragedy gave the army, headed by General Mohamed Siyad Barre, (also from the south), a pretext to overthrow the civilian government.
3. Repression and Alienation
On October 21st 1969, General Siyad Barre assumed power in a coup d’état without resistance. The new military government, which was also dominated by army officers from the South, soon disappointed the country by suspending the constitution and introduced a radical agenda, which significantly changed the political structure of the country. Under the banner of “equality and justice” they created a system of state control by terror and oppression (Africa Watch, 1990). In addition, the regime used a social experiment based on what it called “Scientific Socialism” and in the process abolished all democratic institutions and brought the entire economy into the public sector. The judicial system of the country was undermined by the annulment of the Habeas Corpus, soon after the revolution, in one of the first decrees they promulgated - Law Number 64. In the mean time Siyad Barres’s political and socio-economic strategy was not only repressive but was imbued with a personality cult that never hesitated to annihilate any dissenting voice.
In the north (Somaliland) the regime not only enacted numerous discriminatory policies, which resulted in considerable economic, social and political disadvantages, against the people there but also became more despotic and repressive, and in the process alienated most of the people in the region. Consequently, this had set off a great deal of negative feelings towards the regime, which gave rise to the formation of an armed resistance against the government in the form of the Somali National Movement (SNM) in London on 6th April 1981. In reaction to the formation of the SNM the regime increased its reign of terror, tyranny and oppression committing rape and pillaging against the whole nation engendering an enormous suffering and destruction based on scorched earth policy in which the world had witnessed during the late 1980s, as they devised a genocidal strategy against the SNM supporters as attested by General Morgan’s “letter of death”, which detailed a deliberate plan to exterminate the majority of the people in the region.
4. SNM and its Armed Struggle
The founding of the SNM soon gained popular support among the majority of the people in the north. Barely a year later (1982) SNM established its first military base, at Gaashamo, inside the Ethiopian border and started a serious of guerrilla campaigns and through heroic operations challenged the army’s reign of terror in the region. In response the regime unleashed considerable repression via its various security apparatus or counter-insurgency forces including: Military Intelligence (Hangash), Military Counter-Intelligence (Dabar-jebinta) and other Para-military forces, many of whom were recruited from non-Isaaq clans in the region. Unfortunately, the more heinous crimes its forces have committed against the SNM and its supporters the more it increased support for the armed struggle and created tens of thousands of guerrilla fighters, to volunteer for such a noble cause to liberate the people of the region from the nefarious helm of the southern dominated government.
In May 1988 SNM forces attacked army military bases and garrisons including those in the two largest towns of the region Burao and Hargeisa. The regime responded by indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment of those two towns and its civilians. Those who were unable to flee were slaughtered as evidenced by mass graves discovered in many parts of the capital (Hargeisa). This had caused more than 80,000 dead and an estimated 240,000 injuries, as well as huge damages of buildings in both towns, specially, in Hargeisa alone, where an estimated 60,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed (Drysdale, 1991). In addition nearly 1 million people were displaced and forced to flee into refugee camps in Ethiopia and Djibouti. During the followed two years the armed struggle had continued and finally the SNM forces succeeded in evicting the regime’s army in all parts of the region.
5. Reconciliation between Clans and Declaration of Independence
Soon after the whole of the region was liberated the SNM leadership invited all clans in Somaliland, including non-Isaaq clans, to attend a meeting in Berbera (15-27 February, 1991). This was followed by another meeting and a Grand Conference held in Hargeisa and Burao, respectively. The non-Isaaq clans who attended were (Esse, Gudabursi, Warsengeli and Dhulbahante) and represented in those meetings by their traditional leaders and politicians. The main aim of these meetings was to bring those non-Isaaq clans, in the region, who supported the ousted regime and perhaps directly and indirectly profited from its repressive institutions, into peace and harmony with the victorious SNM supporters. In fact no less than the movement’s Chairman (who also became the first President of Somaliland, the late Abdirahman Ahmed Ali - Tuur) stressed this point. Indeed the SNM constitution clearly recognized this as stated in Article 1/7: “There shall be no persecution directed against any section of the Somali people. Punishment shall be meted out only on the basis of a crime committed and proven in a legally constituted court of law”. In addition, those clans were given assurances by the SNM that they would not be subjected to economic, social and political domination by its supporters (Isaaqs).
The initial “peace and reconciliation” meeting in Berbera referred all those outstanding issues to be discussed in a “future-determining” Grand Conference, to be held in Burao. Delegates from all clans assembled in Burao, where under the auspices of the SNM and Council of Elders (Guurti) the first Grand Community Conference “Shir Beeleed” was held between March 25 and May 26, 1991. There was a wide agreement to strengthen peace and reconciliation and revisit the act of union that never was. The final joint communiqué was signed by, apart from the chairman of the SNM, Abdirahman-Tuur, Garaad Abdulqani Garaad Jama (head of Sool delegation), Jama Rabile Ghood (head of Awdal delegation) and Ismail Sultan Mohamed Ali (head of Sanaag Delegation). In the communiqué, it was noted in the “revision of the act of union of the 27th April, 1960, in order to realize the establishment of a society based on equitable political and socio-economic rights”. This reference to a revision of Somaliland’s union clearly implied a possible renunciation of the “act of union”, and so all clans jointly decided to determine their future and declared a unilateral decision to reclaim their independence on 18th May 1991. In Burao all delegates, from different clans, signed and subscribed to the historical decision; in their own accord, and to suggest that they were foisted into such a momentous decision is simply whistling in the dark.
6. Anarchy, Turmoil and Unending Cycle of Violence in Somalia
The world had witnessed how the collapse of the Somali state, in a contrast to the situation in Somaliland, after January 1991, was ensued by upheavals and civil conflict, and how lack of central authority had compounded the situation; causing more blood-letting and internecine. It is estimated that more than 350,000 people have lost their lives either directly/indirectly in the conflict, with more than 550,000 wounded and almost 1.5 million displaced internally or living as refugees in different parts of the world. It was this anarchic state of affairs, which prompted the international community to intervene. The first intervention was decided on 24th April 1992 by the Security Council, which adopted resolution 751 (1992) in order to establish UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in Somalia). On 26 March 1993 another UN Security Council Resolution (No. 814) was passed authorizing the establishment of UNISOM II and mandated to continue providing relief and rehabilitation until 1995. After twelve years the need for another intervention came to the fore and the new Peace-keeping force in Somalia has now been taken over by the AU through AMISOM, which had been given the task to shore up the weak Sheikh Sharif government in Mogadishu, with no end in sight.
For the past 19 years the international community had spent Billions of Dollars in Somalia for emergency aid and relief, and organized more than dozen peace conferences with a view to establish central authority. Unfortunately, all those efforts and huge resources poured into Somalia have not only failed to establish the desired central authority but also engendered further destabilization and turmoil. While Somaliland has been in peace and stable, successfully establishing all necessary building blocks for democratic institutions, law and order and good governance. The main dichotomy between the two regions - Somalia hold sway by anarchy and lawlessness, and Somaliland reigned by peace and stability – is largely due to the fact that unlike Somaliland the political and traditional leaders in Somalia were unable to insert their influences in the armed militias in their local areas to curtail the parochial advantage seeking temptations and excesses which exacerbated the tribal rivalry, feud and mistrust between clans. Sadly we all know now the byproduct of such a perpetual state of anarchy and lack of peace and central authority in Somalia, and that has been the emergence and spread of extremist groups, like Al-Shabaab and Hisbul-Islam, who pose the biggest threat to all freedom loving Somalis in the region, as they are bereft of any rational plan and program to mitigate the multifaceted predicaments faced by the people of Somalia except to bring in more death and destruction.
7. Peace and Stability in Somaliland
As elucidated above Somaliland has escaped from Somalia’s fate and enjoyed peace and stability in all its regions and therefore never warranted any intervention. Generally, there are five main factors that played their parts in sparing Somaliland from going down the same road that Somalia took into self-destruction and chaos, after the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. First, under the auspices of the SNM all clans in the region were invited into important meetings, immediately after the fall of the regime, and enlisted their full commitment for peace and reconciliation. Second, the declaration of independence and the establishment of central authority made it possible to establish and institute security and law and order, which consolidated peace and stability further. Third, traditional clan leaders in Somaliland have retained strong leverage and influence over their clans as well as politicians and thus played a leading role in resolving all sorts of disputes including political strives. Fourth, there is a thriving and functioning democracy in Somaliland where political parties and protagonists tend to settle their differences in the ballot box rather than the barrel of the gun and personal ambitions are seen as secondary to the preservation of peace and stability. A case in point is the recent incident in the Buhoodle area when two clans clashed over a new settlement. This had prompted the Somaliland army to intervene and create a buffer zone between the two clans, while at the same time traditional leaders have done their mediation successfully and contained the feud. The combination of these factors has helped Somaliland maintain peace and stability in the region.
The international community has got their eyes and ears and is fully aware of what has been happening in the region for the past two decades, specially, the progress and development that Somaliland has made in various aspects including: the establishment of most state institutions, practicing democracy through free parliamentary and presidential elections and good governance etc. In addition it is no secret that the people of Somaliland have used their peace and stability to improve their livelihoods through private sector-led growth and financial sector development; creating stable micro-economic environment through trade and investment. Somaliland has arrived where it is now, not by chance nor was it given to it as a present by the international community. She earned it with great sacrifices, perseverance and hard work; this road wasn’t easy, it was long and difficult but it succeeded against all odds. Somaliland’s existence is not, and has never been a threat to the TFG and should be seen as such. In fact the success of Somaliland should be a cause for emulation for Somalia in terms of peace, reconciliation, power sharing, consensual politics, democracy and good governance etc. There are now more than 110,000 refugees from Somalia living peacefully in Somaliland and thousands of others have established businesses and the reason they are here is because of the peace and stability that the people Somaliland have achieved, since they have extricated themselves from the shackles of a failed union with Somalia.
8. Desperate Attempts to Undermine Somaliland
It appears there have been growing and desperate efforts, in recent weeks, from certain Somali blogs or websites, to spread misinformation and cheap propaganda to undermine the achievements of Somaliland. The question that we all have to ask ourselves is why this time? And what is the motive behind it? In relation to the first question the timing is very important in the sense that antagonists against Somaliland have enviously witnessed the successful presidential election and the peaceful handover which enhanced Somaliland’s prestige and reputation, in the eyes of the world, as a stable and peaceful country whose people have persevered against a grinding poverty, lack of recognition and terror attacks. In terms of the motives of this misinformation the enemies of Somaliland are desperately seeking to create doubts in the minds of Western countries, which have recently announced that they would deal Somaliland directly and changed their assistance level from emergency to development aid, and perhaps more critically showed an increased interest in the achievements of Somaliland and began to look closer, for the first time, at the issue of recognition.
What is strange about these antagonists is that they are being blinded by their parochial clannish interests so much so that their prescription for the people of the region is merely to balkanize them more and create new “fiefdoms” based on clan territories, as articulated in Mr. Hassan’s article. Furthermore, those who are calling themselves as SSC are in cahoots with Puntland (regional administration) and the TFG to undermine and delay Somaliland’s march towards recognition. These two administrations are enticing disingenuous groups from certain regions in Somaliland to assert their “regional autonomies”. Such a notion is absolutely irresponsible, and provocative. It plays to factionalism just like in Somalia and that will simply tend to increase fragmentation and set one clan against the other. They will also invite clan squabbles and disputes over territories and resources and become a recipe for further conflict and bloodshed. Moreover, there are some sources saying that factions like the SSC are being motivated by personal interests as they seek to rehabilitate or revive their “political careers” with the TFG by becoming more vociferous against Somaliland. It is about time that these opportunists are told, in no uncertain terms, that the people of Somaliland and their new government will not allow anyone to destabilize parts of its region and infringe its territorial integrity.
9. The Way Forward
In the beginning of the twenty first century as more nations are striving towards peace and development Somalia is facing a whole host of problems including; lack of peace, conflict and instability all of which tend to aggravate deprivation and abject poverty. Such a predicament should disturb the conscience of those who are doing the fighting in Somalia, regardless of their political inclinations, and motivate their political leaders to compromise and reach consensus, so that their children and those of their children would look forward to have a better future. In a stark contrast Somaliland has shown its democratic credentials to the wider world by successfully organizing a presidential election won by Mr. Ahmed-Silanyo, followed by a peaceful and flawless handover of power. Its new government is embarking upon ambitious program to transform the country socially, economically and politically in order to attain progressive and equitable development to improve the lives of all its citizens. The anchoring principle of Somaliland and its stability is hinged on the dual vision of traditional consensual approach to politics underpinned by democratic multiparty system of government based on equity and fairness.
My advice to Sheikh Sharif and his TFG is that they should stop blaming Somaliland and put their house in order. It is no good seeking Somaliland as a scapegoat, when they have abysmally failed to bring about any meaningful cease fire or cessation of hostilities in their own country, they should also stop using proxies such as Puntland or the factionalist SSC and mind their own business. Instead they must take a leaf from Somaliland’s experience in achieving peace, reconciliation and stability, and should value peace and co-existence between clans and regard that as paramount to the security interests and livelihoods of everyone in their region. In the meantime they should tackle the quandary and divisive ethnicity and religious-sect factors which are rampant in their midst and are responsible for engendering polarization and ripping communities apart; with all the consequences of death and destruction that we came to attest in Somalia for the past twenty years. Finally, the responsibility for political compromise and national reconciliation lies first with Somalia’s political and traditional leaders as well as the people themselves, and only they could bring peace and security in their own land. As for Somaliland, let us say it loud and clear that its people, alongside its politicians, traditional and religious leaders have all spoken, and spoken to keep their country separate and independent from Somalia, this is the ultimate will of the people of Somaliland and nothing could change that and has to be accepted and respected. The way forward for both Somalia and Somaliland is to be good sisterly neighbors where each one respects the territorial integrity of the other and work towards the common good of developing their populations.
I rest my case.
Adam Ismail (Liban)