By Abdisamad Mooge “Kayse”
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
The green, white, and red flag with a centered black star, inspired by Ethiopia’s regional flag of Gambela, has been flying in some parts of northern Somalia since the collapse of the central government more than two decades ago. Proclaiming itself as an independent state from the rest of the country and the successor state of British Somaliland protectorate, Somaliland has failed to gain international recognition after long 21 years of self-imposed isolations.
At first the general feeling in the north was to establish an inclusive temporary rule to stamp out various militia feuds and disarm the warring clan rebels across the north that operated with total immunity and little regard for human lives after the downfall of Dictator Mohamed Siad Bare. The idea was to establish some kind of guardians until Somalia recovered from the instabilities. After months of chaos, deadly tribal clashes and ruptured relations between the main northern Somali National Movement (SNM) rebel and the prominent southern Somali-based United Somali Congress (USC); few elders and small pocket of the SNM declared unpopular independence from the rest of the country in May 1991 in Burao. Somaliland was conceived as a temporary solution to the unrests. It was the north’s version of the south’s solution that later would be known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The declaration was quickly met with heavy opposition and deadly clashes erupted between pro-secession SNM groups and union SNM elements led by Chairman Abdirahman Ahmed Ali (Tur). A new tribal divide quickly emerged and inter- and intra-clan warfare followed. In an effort to pause the bloodshed, the tribal elders organized a ceasefire conference in the town of Sheikh after ten months of all out war that left hundreds of thousands dead and half a million displaced. A temporary ceasefire was signed but militants remained heavily armed. The conference was followed with a last deal breaker in the town of Borama, however, the summit was hijacked by secessionist groups and many invited delegates who strongly opposed the idea were misled. For instance, delegation from the Darod sub-clan Hartis were invited as witnesses to the accord between the two opposing SNM groups. Having declared the former Somali Prime Minister, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, as their new President, the secessionists cited that all Somalis in the north endorsed their new entity or Somaliland.
With the security and political situation only deteriorating in the south, many northern communities felt it was not the right time to protest their opposition to the Somaliland project. After two decades of pretend game and knocking many doors only to be rejected, the north feels it is time to rollup the temporary carpet like the TFG and tuck it away for good.
For the region’s rival nation-states, and particularly for neighbouring Ethiopia, the idea of recognizing Somaliland as a state has always comprised a security threat of its own that the government fears may end up opening a Pandora’s Box of separatist movements in its own country. But separatists maintain, Ethiopia is their closest ally even though it has no any diplomatic ties apart from a small one-man trading office in Hargeisa.
The Somali people are one of the sole ethnic groups that inhabit in much of the Greater Horn region of sub-Saharan Africa. As traditional nomads, they are scatted across four nation-states and after years of colonial and tribal divides, they failed to regroup themselves around a single nation-state. Most of the estimated 20 million Somalis now live in the Somali Republic and the rest remain under foreign rule in Ethiopia, Kenya and with an exception of Djibouti. The region, which encompasses the Somali Republic, Ogaden region in Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Northern Frontier District in Kenya is often referred to as Greater Somalia or Somaliweyn. Since early 1920s, the Somalis have been involved in armed struggles against imperial rule and have revolted against the European colonial powers of Britain, Italy, France and their African mercenaries such as Ethiopia and Kenyan rule.
Following the British decolonization of Africa, the London-controlled north gained a short-lived independence of only five days before merging with the bigger southern Italian-Somaliland to form the Somali Republic in July 1960. The new nation made several attempts to regain all missing Somali territories but all insurrections failed. After long decades of military rule under Major-General Mohamed Siad Bare and ruthless crackdown against civilians, guerrilla wars broke out throughout the country in the early 1980s. Several attempts to overthrow the socialist government were quelled in the northeast now known as Puntland region after the army colonel Abdillahi Yusuf established the first rebel group. The silence also ended in the neighbouring northwest region now known as Somaliland region when the first SNM rebels raided the main cities of Burao, Berbera and Hargeisa. Siad Bare responded with heavy tactics against the mainly Isaaq population who were accused of supporting the SNM and his move only further angered the populous and it was not long before an open war broke out between Siad Bare’s forces and the Isaaq community. Fueled by their resentment towards the southern tribes due to the lack of development in their regions, the Isaaq rallied behind the movement. The insurgency and the ruthless crackdown instigated by Siad are said to have cost the lives of 50,000 civilians in the north alone and hundreds of thousands more in the south.
When the rebel groups led by SNM and USC overthrew the military dictator, few self-styled leaders of the north (Somaliland) declared their independence from the union with Italy-Somaliland. While Somaliland region has enjoyed relative political stability compared to parts of the south, the suffering is common throughout the Somali Republic. Lack of tangible development, unemployment, poor infrastructure and education remain uniform across the two artificial borders after 21 years the north has managed to isolate the population.
Apart from small emerging private sector, the north’s own acute domestic problems remain at large and year after year the inadequate infrastructure left behind by the Siad regime is slowly fading. While their favorite slogan has become “Africa’s best kept secret” -- interestingly the public feels nothing has changed for them and the region has failed to turn the corner in two decades.
After two decades of isolation and optimism on the rise again in the south, northern Somalis are increasingly abandoning the temporary Somaliland solution for better opportunities. For years, the Somaliland project presented itself as a solution to the regional security problems of terrorism and maritime piracy but the international community treated them as a mere “semi-autonomous” region in Somalia or de facto.
One indivisible nation under God
Breaking up the most homogenous race in Africa due to the mistake of one military dictator is not the interest of the international community or the regional bodies. The international community cannot afford feeding yet another disintegrated Somali region with outdated tribal mentality and policies. Worse still, it has already opened the Pandora’s Box of clan rivalry and for the last three years clashes have been occurring in the eastern regions of Sool and Sanag where restive Harti tribes set up their own autonomous rule.
Those behind the Somaliland drive, only a minority, often claim that their declaration was their right to self-determination but when the same forces were unleashed in Awdal, Sool and Sanag regions, they were met with violent confrontations. Clearly, Somaliland supporters represent the highest level of hypocrisy and deceit on their part. People in these regions as well as those in many parts of togdher, Hawd and Northwest are akin to Somalis. Their desire and aspirations are to remain with the rest of the Somali state.
They remain voiceless and the Council in Hargeisa has handpicked few opportunists as representatives of these people. It is not only hypocritical that they deny the internationally recognized and legit representatives of the north in Mogadishu but at the same time it is okay for them to force few individuals on others.
Today more than ever, the desire to reunify the Somali people is on the rise and optimism is gaining momentum both in the north and south. Today, Somalia is close to ending two decades of chaos and lawlessness. Old groups that once divided the Somali race due to their personal indifferences are slowly fading and new generations are restoring the Somali dream.
In the last quarter of a century, the northern tribal secessionist administration has been denying people the right to travel south to seek better opportunities using all kinds of scare tactics and illusory stories of horror. They were hoping that fear, tribal identity and illusory threats would help reinforce a new identity of “Somalilander” and favor disintegration of the Somali race.
Along with these tactics, the mainly few Isaaq sub-clan project hoped using colonial history and a myth of a common ancestry would create a strong bond and appeal. However, northern Somalis are discovering that the tribal regime in the north only wants to keep them in the dark and loyal to a system that has failed them for two long decades.
In protest to these ill policies, more than ever, northern Somalis from all walks of life are now migrating in masses to the south to look for a better life elsewhere in the Republic. After so long in the darkness, they have became immune to boogeyman tactics. The tribal Council in Hargeisa is running out of ideas and lies just like Pyongyang and its closed totalitarian state.
The latest to abandon the northern protest is Somalia’s newest and most powerful woman -- the newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dr. Fowziya Yusuf Haji Aden. It was just months ago when she was nurturing a small political party in Hargeisa before she discovered the realities on the ground. The north is entirely driven by clan politics and the democracy card is only used against Western agencies and governments to cough up some aid. She could not bear the idea of fighting with every tiny sub-clan for some small votes so she decided to walk away and chase a bigger dream. That long walk to Mogadishu came after she was thrown behind bars by separatists for forming a party led by a female. On Sunday, she made history becoming the first ever Somali female to hold such high profile portfolios in a man-dominated society under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon.
Now Fowziya must be worried for her family and those close to her who are still in the north. It is important to understand that speaking out against the secessionist system can render harsh consequences, and seeking political career in the nation’s south causes a person’s family to be labeled as having “spoiled blood.” This is certainly true against Fowziya. The protest camp under the leadership of former SNM rebel leader Ahmed Silanyo have already began labeling her as “woman of Wanlaweyn”, a designation used against the south, since her ex-husband, who is no longer with us, was from the south-central regions of Somalia.
The imaginary two-state dialogue
When every possible door was slammed on their faces, in early this year they agreed to sit down and talk with their brethren in the south in a humiliating deal initiated by foreign officials in United Kingdom and Norway. Their self-styled President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo held less than an hour talk with the last transitional Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in the United Arab Emirates. The meeting was more of a photo opportunity for both men than actually resolving issues. The change of attitude in the north only forced them to swallow the hard truth that no nation was going to recognize few towns as a nation-state in an era when the rest of the international community was coming together to form bloc and union institutions.
The separatists having failed to convince any nation to establish any diplomatic tie with their protest camp are waiting for what they hope will be “two-state” dialogue between them and the new government of Shirdon. However, this is unlikely due to the fact that the new government is a permanent government and does not have any obligation to honor any of the transitional accords. That went out off the window along with their Sheikh Sharif. It is time someone told the separatists to say "À Bientôt" to any hope of misleading the northern Somalis into thinking anyone will entertain their notion of “holding talks with Somalia on a nation-to-nation base”. The permanent government, which represents all Somali people within the republic’s internationally recognized boundaries will not sit with every angry warlord, tribe, entity and the many organized gangs dotted around the nation.
Better they start getting used to the term “À Bientôt” soon rather than later because the inclusive Somali government will not have special foreign policies directed at its own people and territories. Those who wish to hold talks with Mogadishu should perhaps move to one of the neighbouring states and take up a career in their politics.
The new government must but a tight lid on the so called “Somalia-Somaliland” dialogue and avoid alienating those who had fought had for the Republic to stand on its feet again. The ministry of interior should handle anything concerning the internal affairs whether be with Puntland region, Banadir, Somaliland or Galmudug. The President, his Prime Minister and Foreign Minister must serve the nation and avoid behaving like the previous transitional authority.
Any tribal or territorial dispute must be left alone for our traditional elders and the ministry of Interior. We must not favor one tribal entity over another and the government’s public position must remain uniform. We cannot allow small territorial entities to dictate the destiny of the majority and the state. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud must be firm, assertive and crack the whip before small entities hijack the long awaited process. The president must stand courageously against elements that could undermine Somalia’s long awaited recovery. From now on he must make and standby decisions of his own to signal his independence from the influences of small and bent forces.
Ending transitional rule
With the south completing its political process from transitional rule to permanent government, it is now time to extend the rule to the north and unroll the transitional Somaliland rule for good. It is time the international community backed the extending of the Somali authority over all its territorial boundaries. We must not focus our entire resources and time on the south alone otherwise the tribal divide will continue for decades to come.
The permanent government in Mogadishu must be helped to expand its services to the neglected and often forgotten northern Somalis who waited long enough. Somaliland, like its TFG counterpart must pack up and dissolve amongst the civilians or take up the role of federal state. We cannot get rid of one transition entity and allow others to exist even when their time has expired.
Nations such as Great Britain should understand the days of colonial rule are long gone and there is no point of misleading the northern communities. A wise choice would be to reopen their embassy in the Somali capital and be committed to the sacred Somali unity. There is no point misleading a place even the British Empire with its vast wealth and global resources failed to run effectively.
People like me, who hail from Somalia’s second city Hargeisa and the Isaq clan, have given up on the isolation works. In most cases, it is best for one to swallow his/her own pride and do what is right for the people. I must equally point out that the south owes us no apology for the mistakes of the long-gone Siad Bare regime. All Somalis equally, directly or indirectly, suffered under him and from his rule and legacies. Bare’s fury created a ripple effect that left us all stateless and displaced. The goal for us now should be to embrace each other’s and put the past to rest. As the Red Indians used to say, we need to bury the hatchet.
Northern Somalis are eagerly waiting for a permanent solution to help alleviate the long decades of suffering and isolation. They are no longer willing to allow few to barricade them in complete darkness. The dark tunnel of fear is slowly getting illuminated.
In 1960, it was their choice to be part of the bigger Somali family and again today, their desire remains the same. They must not be alienated, stigmatized or suspected of anything. The Somali family, as usual not entirely free of dysfunction, is once again moving in the right direction together.
It is time the likes of Silanyo and his lieutenant Hersi Ali Haji Hassan accepted the will of the Somali people in the north. The days of barricading them in the former residential home of wanted General Hersi Morgan are long gone. North Somalis must rise up without violence and say no to another two decades of total darkness and international isolation. Time is overdue to end the Somaliland transition. We cannot be chasing our own tails every year from north-to-south and vice-versa. It is time to shift all small entities and unlawful tribal rules for good.
Abdisamad Mooge “Kayse”