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Somaliland’s Perilous Road for Recognition

by Mohsin Mahad
Wednesday, November 21, 2007


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Invasions or pre-emptive strikes against other countries/territories/regions deemed pushovers had been for years the preserve of America and Israel as unchallenged super powers, the first worldwide and the second in the middle East. But latter-day copycats casting themselves as heavy weights in their regions had also taken leaf from the pioneers’ book and resorted to blatant force in pursuance of their goals, whatever those might be. Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia early this year and now Somaliland’s invasion and occupation of Lascanod should be seen in this context.


The occupation of Lascanod by Somaliland - or Somalidiid as others prefer to call it- is indispensable to its quest for recognition as it sees it. This elusive goal is above all driven by the need to be in control of the recalcitrant SSC regions (Sool, Sanaag and Cayn), and the desperate race against time as the nightmare of the revival of a strong Somali government in control of SSC regions and much of Somalia increasingly appears on the horizon. But there is also an element of electoral shenanigans as the “presidential” race in Somaliland gets underway and “president” Riyale plays his Lascanod card and scores instant kudos against his wrong-footed political opponents.


Invasions and occupations rarely ever proceed the way they were envisaged and more often than not backfire and end in disaster. Poor and blinkered leadership at all levels in Somaliland, short-sighted political opportunism, chasing pie in the sky aspirations and pursuing misguided military calculations have all played their part in prompting the invasion of Lascanod and the adverse consequences that inevitably will follow. When the partying engendered by this hollow achievement has passed away, and people finally sober up to the realities, the inescapable reckoning would arise as to how far this reckless adventure has damaged, rather than helped, Somaliland’s much-sought recognition. This article will address this question as part of the overall strategies that guide Somalilands drive for recognition.


The four- pronged strategies for recognition


Since its declaration of secession from Somalia, the secessionist enclave based in Hargeisa has been following, inter alia, a four-pronged strategy for gaining recognition from the international community as an independent country separate from Somalia: These strategies are:

  • A concerted worldwide public relations campaign;
  • Aiding and abetting the continued collapse of the Somali State;
  • Maintaining close alliance with Ethiopia and disowning common Somali bonds;
  • Extending its control to the recalcitrant regions of Sool, Eastern Sanaag and Cayn (SSC). 

 i) Public relations campaign

Somaliland had made relentless worldwide drive for its recognition, not least spearheaded by its Diaspora and organisations. The thrust of this campaign rests on the following pillars:  

  • That Somaliland has done nothing more than restoring its former independence;
  • That its right to be separate from Somalia is in conformity with the OAU/AU charter;
  •  That it deserves recognition given its impressive democratic achievement and its admirable peace and stability in contrast to the enduring turmoil and lawlessness in Southern Somalia;
  • That the secession is supported by all the clans in the territory.


Undeniably, the secessionists had made notable strides worldwide in registering Somaliland’s existence and swayed significant numbers of opinion-makers to their cause but none among governments and that is what counts in the end.. The fact that Somaliland remains unrecognised by a single country after 17years since its secession declaration despite all the efforts it expended towards this end is very telling. The reasons are obvious. These claims for recognition are ether baseless or else they do not cut ice with governments who would not legitimise secession not only because it would add oil on an already burning Somalia but because it would destabilise other fragile, unstable African countries- the so-called Pandora Box.


This bleak prospect does not dishearten those indomitable secessionists who still count on the continued turmoil and collapse of the Somali state and a possible subsequent change of heart among the international community who, they hope, may abandon Somalia, as beyond salvation. Even so, this is still wishful thinking for all the reasons cited above.


ii) Alliance with Ethiopia

Somaliland has banked on the wrong assumption that if there is one country in the world that would be happy with the break-up of Somalia, and that would be eager to recognise its independence, it would be Ethiopia. To seduce Ethiopia in this direction, Somaliland had for all practical purposes allowed itself to be virtually an Ethiopian vassal state and has stopped at nothing that would please Ethiopia in the hope of winning a reward towards its recognition. But few Somalis expected it to go to the unthinkable and unpardonable extent of cooperating with Ethiopia in its campaign against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and hand over to Ethiopia innocent Ogadeneni residents in Hargeisa framed up as suspected ONLF sympathisers.


Unfortunately for Somaliland, they got nothing for all its anti-Somalia stance and it’s Ethiopianisation of the territory except the occasional theatrical display of the entente cordiale that exist between them – something that the Ethiopians are good at but the naïve, gullible “Somalilanders” are ever ready to be taken for a ride. What Somaliland has so far failed to understand is that the Ethiopians might be happy to see Somalia remain as it has been since 1991- stateless and broken up into various Bantustans under its tutelage- but it has no desire to see any change to this “dream come true” state of affairs, not least by recognising the independence of Somaliland, for no country is more vulnerable to secession and break up than itself. Ethiopia also very well knows that once it recognises Somaliland it would have foregone the beneficial hold it has on the territory. As such, keeping Somaliland as it is on a permanent limbo as far as its recognition is concerned, but cajoling it in all other ways, is the set-up that best suits Ethiopia, though this is an untenable situation for Somaliland that has sold its soul and got nothing for it.


iii) Insistence on Separation from Somalia

Although Somaliland is critically dependent on international aid, apart from remittances from the Diaspora, it is always ready to bite the hands that feed it by insisting that it be treated not as part of Somalia but as the separate Republic of Somaliland. Whatever sympathises United Nations organisations or their individual staff may have for this stance, if at all, they cannot allow themselves to be seen to be overriding the overall stand of the UN and the international community which recognise only Somalia, its unity and territorial integrity.


All the same, UN organisations based in Hargeisa had largely conceded Somaliland’s position as a de-facto separate country, although still maintaining for public consumption the appearances that it is still part of Somalia by adopting the name:” Somaliland-North West Somalia”. This disingenuous and unacceptable stance has emerged as a consequence of the many years Somalia remained without a government during which time the UN organisations found themselves running Somalia unchallenged and unaccountable to no one. They continue to do so to the present time, aware that the current weak TFG which is preoccupied with its own survival has put all other issues on the back burner. Perhaps, this is the only success that Somaliland can point to, even though it can easily be reversed the moment a strong Somali government emerges that would put down the UN organisations in their right place.


iv)Treatment of other Somalis as Undesirable Foreigners

As part of its desire to press its separation from Somalia, non “Somalilanders” passing through Hargeisa for whatever reason and carrying Somali passports are routinely deported on the spot for “illegally” entering what is internationally recognised as their own country. Perhaps another motive for this provocative, often gratuitous anti Somalia actions is to provoke a backlash among some Southerners who may feel they had enough from this hostile, troublesome enclave and who may no longer mind its secession. Since few Southerners ever go to Hargeisa, all they know about the enclave is the antics of its supporters on the BBC, VOA or other media outlets and these are unlikely to weigh much with them.


Clearly, treating Somalis this way is counter productive. It merely negates the goodwill of other Somalis while doing little or nothing to bolster Somaliland’s recognition prospects. How different this is from the warm and welcoming treatment proffered on Ethiopians as they flood into the territory. The Ethiopians, already a sizeable community in Hargeisa, may one day become a majority in the city if not in the country if the present trend of unrestricted entry continues. How ironic then that in its desire to distance itself from Somalia and other Somalis, the territory, far from becoming independent, may on the contrary end up as de facto part of the Ethiopian empire. If they don’t mind this destiny, they may wish to trade places with the Ogadeens.


iv) Destabilising Somalia: Playing the Clan Card


The secessionists have rightly or wrongly calculated that the more the endless turmoil and lawlessness in Southern Somalia persisted, the more the moribund Somali State is likely to be deemed by the international community as irreversibly defunct and who may under those circumstances come to consider favourably Somaliland’s claim for recognition as the only functioning entity, apart from Puntland. In this regard, Somaliland has been doing its utmost to fan the flames that have plagued much of Southern Somalia since the collapse of the Somali State 1991.


It has been actively engaged, overtly or covertly, in supporting the former warlords against each other. And since the advent of the TFG headed by Abdullahi Yusuf, it has been trying to transform the justifiable anger and outrages against the Ethiopian occupation and atrocities inflicted on the Mogadishu population into a Darood-sponsored conspiracy against the Hawiye. This crude recourse to whipping up ancient but now dormant clan animosities has not worked for Hargeisa as expected. This is because the Hawiye people are not gullible and dupes as they think they are in Somalialand but are fully aware that ordinary Somalis from every clan and everywhere in the Horn of Africa are against Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia and its atrocities in Mogadishu


Indeed, the most focal and outlandish supporters of the Ethiopian occupation and high profile apologists for its atrocities are often high ranking Hawiye in the TGF or its leading functionaries. Nothing is to rival the uncompromising and unabashed support for the Ethiopians, at one time or another, than those coming from men like Hussein Aideed, former Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, Salaad Jeelle, Mohamed Dheere, Cabdi Qaybdiid, etc.


President Abdullahi Yusuf, though less strident in his language than his Hawiye colleagues, is nonetheless doing nothing new in Mogadishu that he did not do to his own people in his native Puntland when he usurped the presidency by force; or his earlier times as head of SSDF when crushing his opponents was also the only language he understood. Needless to say, President Yusuf does not represent the Darood clan any more than his Hawiye colleagues mentioned above represent their clan. President Yusuf has always cared about his interest and that of his Ethiopian protégés just as do those from the Hawiye and other self-appointed, self-serving lot from Embgathi. It should be born in mind that Ethiopia has a permanent interest in Somalia but no permanent friends. It patronises any particular Somali clan in so far as it does its bidding and penalises those that go against its interest in Somalia. Both the residents of some districts of Mogadishu and the Somalis in the Ogaden are subject to merciless Ethiopian aggression and atrocities for similar reasons. And who will be next?. It could well be Puntland, Jubaland, Hiiraan or even Somaliland. As the Somalis say: ”nin qayrkii loo xiirayow soo qoyso”


Thank heavens; if there is one positive outcome of the civil war in the South, it is that inter-clan conflicts are no longer susceptible to the unscrupulous manipulations of opportunists and agitators who could do so in the past at the drop of a hat.


The failure of the above-mentioned strategies to deliver recognition had left Somaliland with only the military option – an option that all the more became opportune since an irresistible favourable situation from the military standpoint has been presenting itself in Sool and Lascanod during the later part of this year.


v) Control over SSC regions

Somaliland’s effective control over the whole North West region of Somalia (former British Somaliland) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for its recognition by those governments that decide in principle to consider its case on its merit. Although Somaliland is mainly an Isaaq construct, it can claim to have the Awdal region under its authority though how far the people in that area are willingly converted to the secession is an open question. Otherwise, the enclave claim as representing the whole of former British Somaliland would be seen for the humbug it is so long as the SSC regions were not on board, a reality signifying that they do not share the desire for secession much to Somaliland’s chagrin.


For good reasons, Somaliland did not initially rush to use its military muscle in the SSC regions. Instead, it relied on a softly-softly wait and see strategy to co-opt these recalcitrant regions. But it was the creation of Puntland, encompassing all the Harti clans in the NW and NE regions, which alarmed Somaliland and forced it to bring its militia to Adhe Cadhe, just outside Lascanod.


Previous skirmishes between the forces of Somaliland and Puntland in 2003 had not been decisive with little change on the ground. However, favourable conditions for an assault on Lascanod had been presenting itself during this year. Firstly, the government of Puntland had been bankrupted by its shamelessly corrupt and incompetent leaders who only distinguished themselves in emptying the treasury, leaving many government employees including the defence forces unpaid for months. Secondly, and far more damaging for Sool, was that most of the defending Darwiish forcres stationed at Adhi Cadeeye were taken to Mogadishu to defend the TFG. There was hardly any credible force left to defend Lascanod and this explains the easy, almost unopposed, capture of the city.


What has Somaliland gained?

The reason why Somaliland invaded Lascanod, was to show the international community that it is in full control of SSC regions. Somaliland may have captured Lascanod but it has dismally failed to gain a far more important and decisive goal for its recognition: the support of the people of SSC which is sine qua non for its elusive recognition. And without this support, the capture of Lascanod by itself will count for little and the presence of Somaliland’s militia will simply be seen for the time they are there as another unwelcome occupying force not different from others elsewhere in the world. So too will the resistance of the SSC people be viewed as their inalienable rightful to confront the occupation.


Apart from handful collaborators, the residents of Lascanod and the wider population of SSC are deadly against the invasion, secession and to be part of Somaliland. Much to the dismay of the occupiers, the overwhelming majority of Lascanod’s residents had voted with their feet by moving out of the occupied city while those remaining behind are putting up stiff resistance. But nothing is more unsettling for Somaliland than the current Dhulbahante conference at Boocame in which the entire Dhulbahante leaders, whatever their titles, together with other representatives of the clan at every level, are gathering in order to come up with a common declaration for the liberation of Lascanod and Sool.


The international community is a witness to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the SSC people are against the invasion, secession and joining Somaliland- facts that have unmasked, for the entire world to see, Somaliland’s hitherto hackneyed charade that the secession is supported by all the clans and regions of the North West region of Somalia. The international community is also aware that the invasion of Sool and Lascanod would not only unleash prolonged armed conflict between Puntland and Somaliland, regions peaceful until recently and spared the turmoil prevailing in the South. It could also usher a wider Darood/Isaaq war engulfing their areas of the Horn Africa. For all these reasons, the international community is unlikely to countenance or be supportive of the use of force by a renegade enclave as an instrument of policy in order to capture recalcitrant regions recognised as part and parcel of Somalia. Somaliland’s ill-conceived adventure in Sool could well put the final nail in the secessionist’s coffin and perhaps end their beloved dream for recognition.


A failed gamble


If Somaliland has gambled on a quick victory to capture ill-defended Lasanod, it has certainly succeeded in that gamble. But what does that patently empty victory amount to? Little or nothing. Lascanod, though important as the capital of Sool, only represents a small proportion of SSC in terms of towns, land area and population. Much of Sool, the entire Cayn and Eastern Sanaag are outside Somaliland’s control. The occupiers, coming far away from a bankrupt administration, largely funded by collections from the Isaaq Diaspora, are not the USA or Israel who can sustain the occupation in a hostile large territory beyond a very limited period. Beyond that point, their demise and defeat will creep in. As Dr. Weinstein noted in a recent article in Wardheernews, Somaliland’s capture of Lascanod is nothing more than a “pyrrhic victory.”


When you gamble and it is quite clear that the goal for the invasion is realistically beyond reach, then there is only one rational way out of this self-defeating situation. And that is to cut your losses and withdraw from Lascanod and Sool while there still remains in the SSC regions some residue of goodwill towards the people of Somaliland with whom they have undeniable bonds. But reason and foresight are very scarce resources in the errant secessionist enclave and you can expect them to stay put in Lascanod until they are ignominiously thrown out.


As the liberation of the SSC regions takes its inexorable course, an unnecessary toll will inevitably be inflicted on both combatants and much suffering wrought upon the civilian SSC population. For the SSC people, that is an acceptable price to pay for the liberation of their regions from marauding trespassers. But that is not all. The bitterness this invasion will engender in SSC is bound to leave long-lasting damage on the relations between the brotherly people in the North West region of Somalia. Those who invaded Sool and Lascanod will gain nothing from this reckless adventure and have only brought unnecessary costly damage on the region and its people. And that is the tragedy of it.


Mohsin Mahad
Email: [email protected]

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