By Guled Ismail
Monday, October 22, 2007
As a Somalilander I share the bitter 1980s memories
of Ogadeni refugees whom we welcomed into our homes as brothers and sisters
enthusiastically responding to Siyad Barre’s war cry of Darod unity against the
`Iidoor enemies’ and forming the vanguard of the brutal militias indulging in
sprees of raping and pillaging that would have impressed Genghiz Khan’s men on
a bad mood day. Siyad Barre’s most trusted henchman and son-in-law General
Morgan even devised a policy of ethnic cleansing the Isaqs from the whole of Somaliland and repopulating it with Ogaden refugees.
Crazy as it may sound now this was seriously considered and even attempts at
The betrayal was deeply felt because only few
years earlier these very `Iidoor enemies’ were dying in their droves fighting
for Ogadenia’s `liberation’. No other Somali region or Somali clan group
sacrificed as much for the Ogaden cause than Isaqs of Somaliland. Ethiopia
knew it and it was Hargeisa, Gebilay and Berbera it bombed not Galkacyo, Baidoa
or Belet Wein.
Moreover the Ogaden Liberation Front are no
saints. They missed a historic chance to actively and peacefully participate in
the politics of new Ethiopia
after an idealistic Meles Zenawi and his TPLF took over Ethiopia and opened a new page for
the peoples of this huge and diverse nation. If the Ogadeni leadership had any
vision at all they would have organised politically and lobbied for the rights
of their people within the dynamics of the new Ethiopia. They chose to hide in the
bushes and take pot-shots at peasant Ethiopian soldiers instead. No one knows
why they opted for this futile and completely unjustified stance.
Sadly it is too late now and in an ironic
twist, their armed struggle may now be justified by the ferocity with which
reacted to ONLF’s provocations. Addis is now conducting massive
counter-insurgency operations and hurting innocent civilians in the process.
The ONLF which has a habit of deliberately torching food and medical supplies
because it did not like the clans of the truck owners(at least 50 lorries have
been torched by the ONLF in the last four years alone) all of a sudden realised
the propaganda value of Ethiopia’s
heavy-handedness. It started to lobby allcomers: Naïve US congressmen,
ill-informed NGOs, left wing Western Journalists desperately looking for yet
another angle to blame US policies around the world and airey-fairey human
rights groups in trendy corners of London and New York outraged by an American
ally behaving `badly’.
The lobbying is bearing fruit with scorn some
of it deserved being heaped on Addis. But Ethiopia is determined to break the
back of what it sees as a terrorist organisation and its backers even if this
leads to loss of face and reputation around the world.
Part of this campaign has been tracking down
and arresting ONLF’s financiers many of whom live in neighbouring Somaliland. The Hargeisa government, fully well knowing
that there will be no major popular outcry from Somalilanders, has been
routinely arresting and handing over `suspects’ to the Ethiopian authorities.
On many occasions these suspects were either Somaliland
nationals or long-term residents of the region with extended families residing
there. They were denied all due process and often held by the CID or the Secret
Police who then `disappeared’ them. A favourite ploy has been to `release’ them
and then deny all knowledge of their whereabouts. This amateurish attempt at
deception was typified by Somaliland’s Police
Chief Colonel Dubbad Saqadhi addressing the latest incident which took place in
September and Early October this year. He accepted the police held the men
briefly but added “We released them..we don’t know what happened to them after
that!”. The whole saga is shrouded in such a mystery that no one is even sure
of the numbers involved in these clandestine arrests and disappearances. The
latest batch is put at anything between 5 and 12 members but no one really
There might not have been a popular outcry but
many Somalilanders feel deep unease about the very concept of handing over a
fellow Somali to a `foreigner’ even if the former is a foe and latter a friend.
There is something deeply visceral and fundamental about the threads of race
and ethnicity and culture that bind the Somali to one another, even though they
are readily willing to kill each other.
Incomprehensible sentiments of nationalism
aside, many Somalilanders are offended by the complete disregard of the rule of
law and the bypassing of due process. Many say Ethiopia
should not be allowed to push Somaliland around in return for the few aging
guns it occasionally gives to the Somaliland
army. Others go further and claim that the reason Ethiopia
refuses to recognise Somaliland is because it wants to keep the place weak and
under its thumb because a strong Somaliland
may ask questions before handing over citizens for example.
This belief in Ethiopian perfidy is growing
among Somaliland’s diaspora-based
intelligentsia and could lead to fundamental shifts in peoples views of their
relations with their giant neighbour.
The ONLF reacted in a typically shoot yourself
in the foot manner: it captured 50 ordinary Somali nomads in Ethiopia because they belong to the same clan as
the one in Somaliland!
Somaliland is a democratic government ruled
through the constitution and bound by its laws and bylaws. It cannot simply
ignore the rights of its citizens, residents or visitors at the behest of a
foreign power no matter how friendly or vital that Power is to the national
interest. A Nation that ignores its own laws does not deserve to call itself a
nation. Somaliland must ask serious questions
next time before handing over anyone to any country including big powerful
neighbours who give you guns.