Somali-land an illegal entity being created by a particular clan (Isaaq) in order to serve personal interests, and as a proxy being used by foreign powers (mainly Ethiopia) in order to keep Somalia divided and weak.
Ever since the collapse of central regime in the1990s, Somalia descended into internecine, famine and separatist hotbed. Efforts of the global community to rescue from self-destructive mode have been in vain. A push for secessionist aspiration backed by politically entrenched clans and foreign interests, though by no means alone, is one of the main factors why Somali situation still remains in political mess. The world community and the USA in particular or any one concerned with Somalia’s crisis need to be able to see through a thick layer of smoke behind debates of the fragmentation issues. The current ill-defined American “Dual Track Policy” toward Somalia is the case in point. This is not surprising given the complexity and intertwining vested interest actors involved in the situation. Understanding the underlining faulty assumptions of the controversy is not only helpful to judge merits or demerits of secessionist bide per se but it is also vital aspect to grasp the bigger question of Somalia’s rebirth and the regional instability in the face growing extremism, sea piracy and chronic lawlessness on the ground.
Here are a couple of recycled fallacies that need to be dealt with, together with a more truthful and realistic explanations of Somalia’s disintegration prospect and other security related issues. The following pointed discussion is far being an original talking point of mine when it comes to pro- and anti-fragmentation debate, but it is something often blurred so much so that for the stranger or anyone who may take passing interest of the topic left confused at best. So, let us recap what many of us already heard about the argument once again for sake of it.
Fallacy No.1: Somaliland is at peace with self or the notion that Somaliland region is immune to terrorism and extremism threats or at least it could be used as a buffer zone against the menace of extremism in the medium term.
Reality: this is the first line of defense for the hardcore of the split cause, but further examination of facts shows different account. No one is saying that all foundations of peace and order in the territory are broken down. In fact, Somaliland experienced decades of relative peace thanks to the traditional reconciliation methods minus foreign intervention in which local elders led the effort into successful ceasefire accord. Those efforts, combined with the limited number of tribe variables in the region, saved it from much of the trouble in the south. However, the peace itself has been under pressure from two fronts of both local and foreign nature- the clan pettiness and religious extremism. The immediate assault increasingly comes from inter-clan violence and greed. These disputes are based on resources and territorial related issues where politicians from certain clans keep fueling the violence for short gains. Other societal factors like the crashing poverty, mass illiteracy and environ stress also contribute to the trend. The recent crises in Kalshaale and El-bardaale of the Sool and Awdal regions are just the tip of the iceberg of things to come. The rise of religious extremism in the region is also a real threat to the precarious peace. The zealots have extensive local and regional network of support from Al-shabab in the south and middle-east. With or without recognition, these dark forces are waiting in the wings and are ready to strike at the earliest opportunity. The last year’s deadly blasts in Hargaisa that almost killed former leader, Dahir Rayaale, is a vivid remainder of the bloody scenario.
Fallacy No.2: Somaliland is “an oasis of ideal democracy and paragon of social equality.”
Reality: This yet another erroneous proposition touted by some but it does not hold much water for further scrutiny. Since the unilateral divorce two decades ago, the administration’s lopsided power sharing and institution formula among the native clans is far from being an equitable system. Three quarter of the parliament seats, executive portfolios and NGO operatives are at the hand of one group. And do not even mention the monopoly held on the leadership of the three political parties whereas forming any different political stripe, be it nationalistic or religious is verboten. Obviously the design of the system is inherently skewed in favor of a single constituent at the expense of the rest and there have not been efforts to redress the disparity issue over many years. On the contrary, the pendulum moved even farther down with the election Silaanyo. As for the quality of the last election, 30% of the counted votes were fraudulent according to reliable observers, not to mention the incendiary clannish overtones of Mr. Silaanyo & co. during the election campaign. To its credits, Somaliland fares much better on this issue compared to the Puntland enclave and it deserves some high points, but still it is not anywhere near to a semblance of institutional equity among citizens. Insisting upon international or indigenous blessing while clinging onto the status quo is tough sell. If nothing, it seems the proverbial cart and horse order at this point?
Fallacy No.3: a credible, free and fair referendum about the question of secession took place in the region and thus vast majority people in the region are in support of the secession project.
Reality: This is yet another incongruent argument cited by the less informed and other hardcore supporters. Sure, there was a nominal referendum conducted in the early 1990s but it was hardly a credible event in terms of participation and minimum international standard, as should be the case for any serious policy decision. For one thing, the timing and framing of the question itself (a single clause buried in hundred pages of constitutional draft) were problematic. Likewise, no input was solicited from groups outside of the pro core constituents in the region. Inhabitants of the entire eastern regions of Sool and Sanaag were left out in process out while few in parts of Awdal region took part in the event. Therefore the notion that majority of the people of the enclave are unified for separate national entity is misleading. Even intentions of the exercise at the time and the leader behind it were dubious. Ostensibly, Mohamed Egal’s objectives were two fold of (1) to limit the spill-over of the prevailing chaotic situation in the South at that time (2) to consolidate his political powerbase while undermining threats of the SNM remnants in the region and he succeeded in both fronts. The solution? If need be, devising a transparent and inclusive referendum vote is the first logical step of a healthy discussion in the future.
Fallacy No.4: unilateral secession fate in the region is based on historical, legal, cultural or any other noteworthy of social and religious identity and therefore Somaliland could claim de facto borders and permanent population within.
Reality: Any one with miniscule knowledge of the tortured Somali history needs no to be bored with repetition, but this is yet another favorite punch line for some hardened pro folks. Somali people, like rest of African, never had defined internal political border before the arrival of Colonial scourge in the 19th century. Each clan occupied certain space with imaginary lines and most had little contact with each other except with their immediate neighbors through exo-marriages and pastoralist lifestyle. It is only after the foreign invaders made bogus treaties with some groups that were loosely lumped together and drawn arbitrary lines against their will. These lines cut through even the same tribal heartlands into hopeless foreign patchwork. So, the hypothetical question is whether such old and “token” treaties could offer a legal, historical or identity bases among the Somalis, and especially after the 1960s independence which dissolved legality of the fraudulent treaty. The answer to the argument is apparently little. The point is that only nationalistic bond and the kinship, to some extent, can offer common bond among Somali race. A claim that someone from Buroa has more in common with Gadabursi native than his Awdalite kin across the Ethiopian border does or someone from the south is convoluted logic. It sounds ironic, but there is a reason to believe the current situation could get worse before it gets better- expect more tribal homelands- and the blame falls on the shoulders of the existing ones.
Fallacy No. 5: compared to united Somalia, a regional secessionist path is sustainable in terms of credible socio-economic and geo-strategic relevancy.
Reality: This is yet another overrated assumption given the poor economic standing of Somalia proper in the past and the new forces of regional economic blocs that are pulling together many parts of the world. Somalia is a resources poor country (never mind the alleged hydrocarbon reserves) with a fragile and social segmentation by any standard. The country was heavily depended on foreign charities for many years. And remember that Somalia’s breadbasket and fertile regions remain in the farther south and whatever livestock export comes through Berbera port is mainly from the Ethiopian regions. This left you wonder now what sort of economic future of a lone break way Somali region could claim. Of course, clannish politicians see things through a tribal prism and sense a tribal “Jackpot” delivered in the form of “dead aid” and handouts but such perception cannot square with the dismal socio-economic facts on the ground.
As for other strategic values, it is the much-cited significance of Berebera port and its main benefactor (Ethiopia) which uses the sea corridor for delivery of non-essential goods and food aid into the interiors. But such geo-strategic values are over sold for two reasons of (1) Ethiopia hasn’t give up its long-term strategic and traditional sea outlets on the Eritrean side. It is only matter of time before Ethiopian regime gains the lost sea outlets through either regime changes or other mutual diplomatic venues (2) Ethiopians have already unlimited access to all Somali ports from Kismaio to Zaila regardless, and they do so as long Somali state remains in coma. So, all the talks of economic sustainability and strategic importance of the region are less convincing.
Fallacy No.6: S/land factor is far removed from the protracted mayhem of the South or other assumption that main supporters of the separation issue (Isaqs) were the sole victims of the ex-regime’s brutal repression and the ensuing bloodshed in the post-collapse period.
Reality: true, Somaliland has nothing or little to do with the on going conflict and mayhem in the south or it seems so on the surface, but that does not mean it played a holistic role in the genesis of Somali civil strife and the subsequent collapse. The hitherto role of the SNM militia in the affairs is a sad reminder of the point. Later, its modus operandi amounted to obstructionist nature that made harder for every recon effort to succeed. The vehement refusal of its rightful place in the matters without proposing an alternative solution except insisting on unilateral divorce is very problematic. Instead of fishing erratically for far-flunked corners of the earth for elusive recognition cues, why not be at the center and front of the peace reconciliation venues thereby ensuring a peaceful and equitable outcome for everyone concerned? Sure, southerners have produced more than their share of charlatan politicians but that doesn’t necessarily mean one should abandon to fill in the patriotic vacuum altogether.
Another often-evoked card is also the injustice of bygone era as far as hardliners are concerned. To be honest, the masses in the northern region and the Isaqs in particular may have suffered at hands of previous repressive regime and no one is to belittle the loss, but they were not the only ones at the receiving end of the state’s security apparatus. Other Somali clans like Majirtens have also suffered no lesser pain while folks in the Awdal and Bay areas endured untold economic and political injustice under the regime. On the flip side, it is not secret that the SNM militia reinforced by the Ethiopian regulars committed atrocities against civilians in the north, including more than 300 people massacred in a single day in the Awdal region. Other armed factions used similar tactics in the south, including the genocidal famine imposed on the Rahanweyn people. Besides, if human suffering or body counts make any difference there are tens of thousands of others who lost their lives and limbs in the ensuing Somali war inferno to this date. This fact by itself further complicates the whole notion of who victimized whom and where or why.
The point here is that settling clan grievances through universal justice and principles serves the best interest of everyone concerned in the Somali conflict whether in the pre or post-collapse period, but such idealistic thoughts should not be in priority list at this point. A sense of urgency should be peace and order, reconciliation and institutional resurrection, not vise versa. The sooner every Somali citizen or clan understands such urgency and its orderly fashion the better.
My take on this is that Somalia does not need “ Dual Track “ or “Multi Track“ policy from America and its allies at this juncture. Such policies reward certain sectarian entities at the expense of the nation as whole and will prolong the status quo further. What Somalia needs most is a genuine reconciliation and holistic policy initiative- a peace deal through carrot and stick approach- that takes all local factors on the ground into account. At the very least, restrain of Ethiopian regime from its sinister conduct in the conflict could be helpful act. Saying all these things does not make me happy but doing in the opposite about the controversy is a moral hazard. To those who may suspect ulterior motives couldn’t be more wrong. I do believe that moral support of any self-styled tribal Somali enclave should based on at least three conditions and that is (1) peace and order among diverse community in the region (2) cross-communal of economic and institutional justice for all (3) a holistic role in the larger Somali peace efforts. Sadly, as long warmonger leadership cum their tribal supremacists is busy brewing one tribal toxic plot after another and killing innocent people, realizing such noble expectation remains an elusive dream.
Mohamed Awale is a Terror Free Somalia Political Analyst
What a lovely couple they are