Dancing with Both Feet on the Issue of A Separate Somaliland
According to a Somali proverb, an ostrich came to a dance floor. She put one leg on the dance floor. Then someone asked her why she had not put both legs on the dance floor. She answered, “Continue with your own dance. Once I have learned to play in tune with you I will put my other leg on the dance floor.”
In February and June of 2012, Britain, Norway and other members of the European Community took the initiative to invite the major Somali regional factions to London. The purpose of the initiative was to discuss how to avoid internal squabbling among the factions, and to find ways to deal more effectively with regional security, piracy; and the refugee crisis with its impacts on commercial trade. The European group did not want to be drawn into the internal squabbles of the various factions. The objectives were agreed by the self-declared region of Somaliland, which has no diplomatic credentials of any sort; and the current Transitional Federal Government of Somalia whose term ends in August of 2012.
The issue of recognition for Somaliland was never a part of the agreed agenda, yet the representatives of “Somaliland” attempted to derail the conference; and asked the hosts of the conference to treat them differently from the rest of the Somali factions. The Somaliland group had two primary aims for the negotiations. The first objective was official recognition of the self proclaimed Republic of Somaliland. The second objective was to secure for Somaliland a share of the money earmarked by the International Community for Somali development projects nation-wide. The International Community purposely left the issue of recognition to be settled by a future Somali government. This was a wise and appropriate decision on the part of the international community.
For Somalis of northern, eastern and southern parts of the country, recognition of Somaliland presents serious problems. Somaliland purposely went over the heads of Puntland, preferring to deal with Transitional Federal Government representatives who they deem less challenging than those from Puntland. Puntland representatives have a thorough understanding of Somaliland’s internal composition, and are more likely to support an equitable political settlement.
It is critical to examine why each regional faction is taking steps that go back to ancient, underlying clan roots and cross alliances under the guise of modern political negotiations. Only the ruling clan in Somaliland desires complete separation. The majority of the other clans want a different arrangement and a different resolution to the issue of nationhood. It is important to understand why the majority desire something other than separation.
Somaliland, like all other parts of Somalia, is made up of clans and sub-clans whose political ambitions are vastly different from the collective Isaaq desire to pull out of the rest of Somalia. Non-Isaaq groups living in Somaliland have always dreaded separation, which has led to the building of state organs that benefit a single clan and deprive the others of resources, including the allocation of land and opportunities to share power. This has never been more obvious in the last twenty years. All twelve representatives to the London and Dubai conference were Isaaq.
This strong attachment to clan identity, reinforced via the machinery of “government” is causing widespread warfare with none-Isaaq groups on several fronts. A violent approach is being used to settle disputes, especially in the Sool Sanaag and Cayn regions. The disputes are occurring primarily among Dhulbahanta people living in areas whose real estate and blood affinity are mixed with various sub-clans of the Isaaq, including Habar Yoonis and Habar Jeclo. In the words of the wise poet Hurre Wallan Wal, “Don’t try to rule the Dhulbahante, rather consult them” (Dhulbahante ha utalinina. Hala la tashado). Somaliland has lost the Dhulbahante territory due to the formation of Khaatumo State, which has the full backing of the Dhulbahanta constituency.
The Awdal state of the Gadabuursi clan and the Maakhir state in largely Warsangeli territory have established political regional administrations independent from Somaliland; and have declared themselves members of the larger state of Somalia. They have collectively said that they will not allow the arbitrary secession of Somaliland. Somaliland is caving in as these newly formed regional states exert strength and influence. To avoid the discussion of its internal shortcomings, Somaliland had sidelined these emerging regional states; and at times has attempted to divide the clans through bribery.
What is happening internally is far more serious and shows an extremely volatile region with each group vying for control of its own region. The Isaaq throughout the whole northern region arrogantly and blatantly display one-clan ownership of Somaliland by taking control of all organs and sectors of the state. The only apparent exception includes individuals who have been described as job-seekers rather than as clan representatives.
The internal crisis is characterized by nepotism, chauvinism and exclusivity. The replication of old institutions from clan-based dictatorial systems is obvious to everybody. When non-Isaaq clans saw dictatorship and the manipulation of the clan system operating under the guise of democracy and multiparty system, they respectively established alternative state organs, and forged ahead with other plans for their respective clans. To the outside world the picture is clear, but Somaliland ignores its serious internal crises like other socialist states have done in the past.
Sheekh Abdillahi, a prominent spiritual leader in Borama used a Somali proverb to reveal the truth about what is happening among Isaaq and non-Isaaq people groups in Somaliland. The proverb tells of a woman who was raising eight children. Five of the children were hers by birth and the three others were the children of her husband’s brother. She gave her five children a container of milk and said “gobble it up.” She told the other three children to “hold back” some milk for one another.
A wise elder from Awdal, Suldaan Saleebaan Cali Ismaciil, made remarks in an elder’s conference in Hargeisa about the relationship that the Gadbuursi clan has with the Isaaq. He remarked that sometimes the Isaaq said, “Guard your self from me.” Sometimes they said, “Protect me from others.” Yet other times they said, “Intervene when I am fighting within my own clans to keep us apart.” Suldaan concluded with his own remarks, “Where do you play this game?” The wisdom of Sheekh Abdillahi and Suldan Ismaciil make it clear that nepotism is thriving at a scale identical to that of the former regime of Siad Barre, in which all state organs and power were concentrated in the hands of a single clan; and that this situation will lead to a similar, tragic fate.
The autonomous region of Puntland is categorically opposed to the idea of Somaliland. The relationship between the two is more complicated because Puntland sees the breakup of the Somali state as a clan conflict, resulting in each family carving out its own territory. The regions share an area of land that is sandwiched between the two. Sool, Sanaag and Cayn, with the exception of a few pockets of mixed territory, are largely Dhulbahanta and Warsangeli. These groups have clan affinity with the Puntland territory. Somaliland wants to brush off these ties in order to rule all the clans that lie along the old British colonial boundary with Italian Somaliland. Both the Dhulbahanta and Warsangeli clans have decided to be independent from both Somaliland and Puntland; and each has declared autonomous regions, though both Somaliland and Puntland will try to sway them to their respective sides. Somaliland has been waging war and trying to subdue other groups through force, whereas
Puntland has exercised much greater restraint.
When the discussion among Somalis began, it immediately became clear that Somaliland wanted the dialogue to be between Somalia and Somaliland. Their delegation requested the European conference organizers not treat them as a faction, largely in order to cover up their internal sores. The Somali Transitional Government and Puntland accepted this arrangement, although the President of the TFG, Sheekh Shariif, endorsed both of the other regions between Puntland and Somaliland as regional states as is enshrined in the constitution—where it is specifically stated that the Somali people are one and indivisible.
The TFG in collaboration with Puntland appointed a committee of seven individuals to negotiate with Somaliland. Out of the seven representatives, two individuals, Mohamed Cabdillahi (Ilko Jiir) and Daa’uud Bisinle, hail from disputed territories within Somaliland. Once Somaliland saw these individuals, they threatened to withdraw from the negotiations—even though their own delegation was from their own sub-clan affiliates. Without the consultation of Puntland, the President of the TGF and the Prime Minister pulled the two individuals from the committee and allowed only five members to be in the discussion group with Somaliland. The smaller delegation continued to serve without the endorsement of Puntland.
The autonomous region of Puntland is not a signatory to any of the agreements reached, and has subsequently lodged a protest with the members of the European Community. The outcome of these meetings, which were described as between “Somalia and Somaliland” was an eight point agreement signed by the participants. The first point stipulated continuing dialogue between the two countries. The second point was an agreement to work with the future Transitional Government of Somalia, and to continue to work with the current transitional government until its term expires in August of this year. The remaining points include meetings of the presidents of the TFG and the unrecognized state of Somaliland (which have already taken place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at the time of this publication); the establishment of a technical committee; the distribution of aid to both “Somaliland” and Somalia; agreement to work jointly on piracy and security; agreement to ease travel restrictions for citizens of both countries; and a special request from Somaliland to have an expert committee set up to deal with the issues of law, economics, and security.
The representatives avoided the most sensitive issue, recognition for Somaliland, for two important reasons. With only 40 days remaining for the current TFG, all agreements reached would necessarily be left to the incoming administration in whatever form it takes. The recognition issue was postponed due to its delicacy, which could lead to the collapse of future talks.
Only a future government with a complete mandate would be able to carry forward the issue of north and south. Any current interim administration does not have the legal basis to open up a dialogue regarding recognition. For any interim government after the current one, it is important to understand that they would be operating under key guidelines laid out in both the current draft of the constitution, and in accordance with the tribal power distribution established in the Carta Conference of 2000. Many clan chiefs of the north are signatories to this document and have agreed to be part of the greater distribution of power among Somalis through the 4.5 formula (in which clan power distribution is based on size and shared force). Within the constitution it is stated that Somalia is one, and that the leaders of any future governments will conduct themselves in accordance with this principle.
If Somaliland insists that it wants to determine who should be in the negotiations committee from the south and Puntland, then it is equally important to have a balance of negotiators from the north—rather than a committee consisting of one clan, while all others from the north are effectively silenced. Committee members should be decided upon by the elders of the three dissenting clans of the north. The negotiators should be inclusive, and independent from the existing tribal power structure in Hargeisa.
It is important for Somaliland to come to these negotiations and focus on a common goal, even as they take a fair and reasonable share in power distribution. Restoration of nationalism and unity will result in much greater strength than pursuit of an ethnic state. One thing should be clear to Somaliland through its own experience in government—loyalty to kinship should be buried, not institutionalized. Somaliland’s own national symbol contains the Islamic creed, “There is no God but God, and Mohamed (May peace upon him) is His prophet.” Somaliland must explain how that is compatible with clan nepotism.
Somaliland should also negotiate with Puntland instead of overstepping them. Both countries have much at stake and must mutually address and settle issues that affect their respective peoples. It is highly unlikely that a Somali government would simply concede to a separate Somaliland without a genuine consensus of the wider collection of clans that make up greater Somaliland. It is important that Somaliland heed the advice of Hurre Wallan Wal: “Revenge will not be my companion in the hereafter” (“Anuun baa aakhiro seegee, aar walaal noqon waa.”).
By Jaafar M. Sh. Jama
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