By Mohsin Mahad
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The past fortnight has undoubtedly been glorious days for Somaliland and hence bad times for Somalia’s unity. Of course, Somalis had become so inured to bad news over the years that nothing short of an earthquake will shake them from their moribund and down in the dumps state. As for those who refer to themselves as “Somalilanders” rather than fellow Somalis, they have every reason to be more than pleased with themselves. Their tireless efforts to leave no stone unturned in order to advance their recognition has finally borne fruits. But their efforts would have been doomed were it not for the absence of a true Somali government in the 1990s or the impotence or indifference of the current Transitional Federal Government. The past two weeks demonstrate more than anything else the contrasting performances and fortunes of the Somali government and the renegade enclave in Hargeisa when it comes to their respective score for maintaining or destroying Somali unity.
Two succeeding and significant events took place in the last two weeks or so. The first was the visit of Mr. Riyale, the self-styled “President” of the secessionist enclave to Washington for talks. It is true that as one claiming to be head of a state, he did not meet President Bush in conformity with established diplomatic practices. But for an isolated enclave, starved of official contacts let alone recognition, for over 17 years, meeting even a junior desk officer in any USA Department would have been beyond their wildest expectation. For them, meeting Ms. Frazier as they did is as good as meeting President Bush.
The second was the return visit of Ms. Frazier to Hargaisa. If the first visit of Riyale to Washington could have been dismissed as an isolated flash in the pan, the visit of Ms. Frazier to Hargeisa, so soon after Riyale’s trip to Washington, has definitely sent an unmistakable signal signifying the importance the USA attaches to its budding relation with the rebel entity. Her subsequent explanation that her visit to Hargeisa was merely aimed at assisting the renegade enclave on fostering democracy and organising free and fair elections is meant to calm possible negative fallout from her trip.
|US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on arrival at Hargeysa airport
No one in their right mind will fall for her incredulous explanations and nothing she said can conceal the wider political significance of her trip. Providing technical assistance on democracy and elections could have been undertaken by junior technocrats from her Department and not someone of her political stature. If her visit does not have political implications, nothing else does.
Although overzealous “Somalilanders” tend to read too much into token empty gestures by outsiders and magnify their significance out of all proportions, they have good reason this time to sniff that things are at last going their way-slowly but surely. Even if no one on their side realistically expects recognition to be granted so soon after two exchanged visits, yet the writing is unmistakably on the wall, and nothing the USA government had said excludes that possibility. Given recognition from some African countries within the framework of the AU - a condition apparently required by the UAS and Britain among others- and barring strong counter reaction in Somalia, from the government, parliament and the public, in particular those from other regions in the North Western Region of Somalia (former British Somaliland), the way could be open for Somaliland’s recognition. And if and when recognition happens, it is a goal as much earned by them as ceded by the Somali government and its people by default.
The USA administration has dealt Somalia two successive blows within a short time. First, was its decision to invite the head of the rebel, one-clan-based entity in North Western Somalia to Washington for talks over the head of the internationally recognised government of Somalia. The second, and even more amazing action, was the decision of Ms Frazier to go to Hargeisa after attending the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa where she met Somalia’s Prime Minister, Nur Adde, and his entourage. She could not have been under any illusion that her visit would signify not only a major shift of USA policy towards Somalia but that its timing would be seen by independent observers as a an insensitive provocative action that was bound to publicly humiliate the PM, and antagonise willy-nilly his government, his country and people.
All the same, one can only ask as to what has prompted the USA government along this perilous road, bearing in mind its past policy plunders towards Somalia: from Operation Restore Hope, to supporting the warlords against the Union of Islamic Courts, to bankrolling, aiding and abetting Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia? Has the USA discounted similar pitfalls might lie ahead in its flirtations with Somaliland or does it consider them if they occur to be of no consequence or manageable? Does it assume that it policy towards the secessionist enclave is cost free in terms of its relations with Somalia? Has it persuaded itself that its recognition of Somaliland would not spark conflagration that could engulf the whole country, pitting Somalia and unionists on one side against the secessionists and, worse, one clan against another in the North West region, an outcome that would render Somaliland’s existence unsustainable and its recognition misguided and counterproductive? Last but not least, is the USA aware of the irony of its surreptitious diplomatic and financial backing to the secessionists against the unionists in Somalia as flagrant betrayal of the USA raison d’être as a country symbolising the victory of the unionists over the separatists or does think realpolitik trumps over anything else?
Only the Americans can answer the above questions but it does not stop us from seeking plausible explanations for their recent actions: first and foremost is the de facto separation of the secessionist enclave from the rest of Somalia for over 17 years; secondly, the current Somali government has given every impression that the North Western Region and Somali unity are of little or no concern to them; and thirdly, Meles Zenewa, counting on the concurrence or indifference of the Somali government, have routinely meddled in Somali affairs and summons Riyale and Adde Muse to Addis Ababa for talks as if their respective fiefdoms, Somaliland and Puntland, were administered from his capital.
If the wily midget Meles Zenewi can do as he pleases in Somalia and get away with it, there is even less reason for the mighty USA, pursuing its naked national interest, and unfettered by respect for international law regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member nations of the United Nations, to have any hesitation to fish in troubled Somali waters. The fact that neither Prime Minister Nur Adde nor his Foreign Minister Jangeli issued a statement or some token protest against Riyale’s vist to Washington or Ms Frazier’s trip to Hargeisa only confirms a view held among increasing sections of the international community that Somali unity may still be breathing but otherwise as good as dead; an assessment based on Somalia recent history as a stateless country torn apart by warring warlords and clans and bereft of national leaders safeguarding national unity and interest. Ms Frazier counted on this assessment and was proved right.
You have to scratch your head to remember any time Messrs Yusuf, Gedi, Nur Adde et al, ever defended Somali unity when doing so was of the utmost importance. If anything, their actions have been characterised by either support to the secession or otherwise incomprehensible silence. Remember former Prime Minister Gedi’s famous indiscretion at an unguarded moment when he practically endorsed Somaliland’s secession? As for President Yussuf, he misses no opportunity to attack the enemies of his government in Mogadishu but rarely ever a word against those who have done worse by tearing Somali unity asunder.
The jury is out in the case of Nur Adde but his deafening silence is not reassuring. As a typical Benadiri, his vision for Somalia, like his processor Gedi, may not extend beyond the confines of his native home ground. Equally lamentable is the collective disgrace of our so-called Parliamentarians who did not bother to air their protest against Riyale’s visit to the USA and Ms. Frazier’s trip to Hargeisa. The lure of financial handouts by the international community and the trappings of sham power seem what weigh heavily with most leaders of the TFG and Parliament. With friends like these who needs enemies?
Much as Somaliland had good grounds for rejoicing, yet one swallow does not make summer and the prospects for its cherished recognition, even if it dangles in the distant horizon, may turn out to be no more than a mirage. The little gains they had made have to be set against insurmountable hurdles on their way. Even if they are right to discount the impotent TFT as nothing more than a straw man, they still have to reckon with Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) regions and the Puntland administration to which they belong.
If the SSC regions wee voluntarily part of Somaliland and not under occupation or coercion, Somaliland could have made a convincing case that it was in control of the whole NW region of Somalia- an import ant prerequisite for recognition. That however is not the case. Somaliland is disingenuously claiming these regions on the dubious ground that they were once together under the defunct British colonial rule. So what? The British left and no one clan has right to replace the British and claim suzerainty rights over other clans.
It was the need to impress upon the international community that it was in control over the anti-secession SSC regions in NW Somalia that prompted Somaliland to invade Lascanod, capital of Sool, in October 2007. But in this day and age in the 21 Century, the occupation of a people and their forced incorporation into an illegal secessionist one-clan entity will be seen by the international community as a violation of their right to self determination and the exercise of their free will to be part of Somalia.
The present deceptive calm in the SSC regions is only the prelude to the gathering war clouds as Puntland unleashes its long-awaited counter offensive aimed at liberating Lascanod from the invaders. The outcome of the looming clash would make Somaliland’s position untenable militarily and politically. An outright defeat of Somaliland’s militia is the worst scenario from its perspective. It would not only have lost Sool, but the tremors that defeat triggers could bring down the whole secessionist edifice.
Even if Somaliland is not evicted from Sool in the first offensive, the inevitable continued bloody struggle will wear down the invaders more than those who are on their soil and feel they are defending their region and Somali unity. The longer that struggle lasts, the higher the cost to Somaliland in terms of human and financial losses and foregone international sympathy and support.
Somaliland had invested so much over the years to promote itself as an oasis of peace in contrast to the turmoil in Southern Somalia. That meticulously acquired image has earned it much praise from the international community and did much to bolster its claim for recognition. All that good work would be in tatters once the flames Somaliland ignited in Sool engulf the whole region. No country, least of all the EU and USA, would want to reward Somaliland at a time when it is seen as a trouble maker destabilising the whole region.
This sacred land of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn was the battle ground for 21 years, over hundred years ago, between the Darwiishes and another foreign invader, the mighty British, who wanted to impose their will on the proud and freedom-loving inhabitants of those regions. Sadly, the colonisers were at the time aided as mercenaries by the same people who today, in the manner of their former colonial masters, are bent to occupy SSC regions and bring them under their tutelage. Invaders are invariably defeated and Somaliland is no exception. When that happens, the curtain will be drawn on Somaliland and the secession, and will be remembered in future as another failed African secession following the footsteps of Biafra and Katanga. It is no thanks to our self-absorbed Somali leaders but to the fearless Darwiishes in SSC regions and their allies in Puntland for once again defending their territory from invaders and preserving Somali unity. Sayed Mohame Abdalla Hassan would have been very proud of them.
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