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Sanaag region and the path forward

Mohamed Ahmed Elmi (Dhooley)
Tuesday January 23, 2018 


WardheerNews recently published an opinion piece The Perils of Arrogance and Clan Chauvinism that made sweeping and quite deceptive statement on Sanaag Region, painting it as either occupied or part of the secessionist sphere of control. “Having put their relative military might to the test by occupying all the unionist regions in the north —except for Buuhoodle district,” Osman concludes unequivocally.

The purpose of this brief response is to illuminate Sanaag Region, Somalia’s second largest region. Important to mention, however, is the root causes of the occupied Sool region. 

The militarization of Sool and Buhotle district in Togdheer Region, the principal homeland of the Dolbahante, did not happen overnight. Las Anod was in the hands of Puntland when Haabsade, a Dolbahante, held the Interior Minister of Puntland. In 2007, Haabsade was sacked from his post; he then switched sides to tip the balance in favor of “Somaliland” with the full backing of his own sub-clan. 

In the ensuing weeks, the disgruntled minister had led Somaliland forces in alliance with heavily armed local clan militia to the fall of Las Anod. Puntland made multiple attempts to re-capture the city in the next 2 -6 months, but it was undermined by a series of defections in the ranks of its military and found itself fighting in the hearts of Sool region against an unholy alliance.  

“Somaliland” then deployed more troops and expanded eastward into surrounding villages while capitalizing on the vacuum left by Puntland and the fission of Dolbahante clan, complicated by divided traditional and political leadership.

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After many setbacks, Puntland forces finally retreated to Tukarak village, which then becameits permanent and customs checkpointuntil recently. “Somaliland” officials have continued to makesecurity threats that Garowe, the capital of Puntland, will be their next target. The fall of Tukarak, which is roughly 70 km from Garowe, serves as a reminder that Puntland is weak and unable to deter an emboldened and expansionist “Somaliland”.

Sanaag Region

Sanaag Regionis the principal homeland of the Warsangeli clan.

ThereareseveralfactorsthatcontributetotherelativepeaceandstabilityinSanaagregions. TheWarsangeliSultanate haslong history of civilization, characterized by defined population, defined territory, and organized political structure. The borders of its territoryextend to the west ofErigavofrom Bosaaso (Bari region), straddling from the shore ofLaasoSuurad, (“Ras Surad”) in the Gulf of Aden totheplateausofSoolHaud (a land mass the size of Sool and Awdal regions combined). 

Traditional and modern governance structures exist to maintain equilibrium amongst the clans in the region. Court systems that hear and adjudicate claims and public disputes have been established. A 2016 study by OCVP found the level of mutual trust between the elected executive and council members and their constituents to be as high as 90 percent. The police are regarded to be the formal institution providing security, per OCVP.

In addition, several districts have functioning police headquarters. The construction of one major penal institution in the capital of Sanaag region is nearly complete; additional corrections facilities are planned to be constructed in Dhahar whose residents recently elected a new mayor and an executive committee.

The recent tour of the Federal Minister of Planning, Gamal Hassan, with a sizable delegation of dignitaries and government officials, corroborates this relative stability and law and order in Sanaag and Haylan regions. During his tour, Gamal saw the progress of several infrastructure projects, including the Maakhir University and the rehabilitation of the main road that connects Ceeldaahir of Bari region to Ceerigaabo, Sanaag. Gamal is the first federal official to tour Sanaag region. In an interview with BBC Somali, Gamal said he held discussions with community leaders, the civil society, and government officials to assess the country’s general security, economic growth, and development.

The minister emphasized in his interview that the federal government has a mandate to reach every region in Somalia and that the community cannot be denied of their share of development resources. 

The Sanaag region has its share of problems based on a systematic and prolonged economic marginalization, exacerbated by UK and UN involvement in Somalia’s internal affairs. For instance, Matt Baugh, UK Senior Representative for Somalia sent a letter dated February 21, 2011 toHE Mohamed Ali, Somalia’s former Ambassador to Kenya. The letter expresses the intention of the UK Government to bolster the security sector of “Somaliland” and if necessary bypass UN Sanctions Committee regarding the arms embargo imposed on Somalia. “I am sure you can appreciate Somaliland currently offers greater stability and a framework to which we can give targeted support,” the UK representative passionately writes in his letter. 

Under the last permanent government, the administrative jurisdiction over this area was divided into five districts: Laas Qoray, Ceelafwayn, Badhan, Dhahar and Ceerigaabo (Erigavo). The people of Badhan, Laas Qoray, Dhahar and some of those to the east of Ceerigaabo and the West of Boosaaso belong to the same sub-lineage entity. The made the situation much worse by diverting priorities for development. The people proved, however, their resilience and firm resolve to build the capacity of modern yet fragile institutions that deliver basic services. 

The Secessionist Incursion 

The current regional administration in the region maintains a strong, disciplined, and well-trained armed forces serve the primary deterrence against secessionist aggression. Incursions from the West of Erigavo happened numerous times in the past but was summarily reversed. The illusion of closing a defunct, colonial border is a shared sentiment.

For instance, the famous Dhahar battle prompted the former "Somaliland" president to fire his "defense minister" after heavily armed forcesunder his commandmet their first ignominious defeat.

The sacking of the late "defense minister" in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict was humiliating to the hard-core secessionists who had been hoodwinked to believe the historical myth of the "British Somaliland" protectorate’s border. 

The perils of "Somaliland" was painfully evident. The Dhahar battle reminded the arrogant secessionists of their limits and was reminiscent of multiple battles the SNM had lost in Damalla-Hagare, Carmaale, and Ceerigaabo. It kept the secessionist aggression at bay. 

An editorial by the Somaliland Times lamented the failed strategy only to recycle the old myth, "The DhahardebaclerevealedthatSomaliland’sarmedforcesareinapitifulstateandcannotbereliedupontodefendthecountryletalonesecureitsborders,” wrote an editorial by the Somaliland Times. Since then, the Warsangelihad resolved to participate in Somalia’s reconciliation and peace process at the national level while building peace, security, and democratic institutions in Puntland. Court systems exist in Sanaag to promote peaceful resolution of conflicts. The region has experienced the return of its large diaspora and the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructurefor the past five (5) years.   

Is Sanaag Region Occupied?

I take the wild assertion that secessionists have occupied all the unionist regions as Osman would have us believe with a pinch of salt. Rather than putting out the raging fire in Sool region, Osman wishes to export chaos —or smuggle the false narrative to the highlands of Sanaag Region. The recent clash between two feuding sub-clans of Isaq in Ceelafwayn District is not a recurring incident but noticeably an isolated case. It is traceable to unresolved feuds on scarce resources. 

The Sool debacle has dragged on for years and is an indirect tax on the stability of the whole region. Markus Hoehne, in his book, Between Somaliland and Puntland: Marginalization, Militarization and Conflicting Political Visions attributed the crisis in Sool to what he calls “border entrepreneurs.”These leaders with conflicting political visions outbid one another and sell their lands to the highest bidder in quest for political appointment and personal greed.

Dr. Ali Khalif’s disappointing defection to Hargeisa reflects a pattern ofself-serving actions that continue to dash the hopes of the people in the region, their constituents.Thedisloyalty, impulsiveness, or the blind devotion to personal interest more pronounced than any region in Somalia and undermines confidence in any future peace process. Paulo Friere observed the phenomena in his celebrated book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity."

I admit we have different values with which we correctly or incorrectly judge things. It explains that humansare conditioned by their immediate environment and/or prevailing social conventions.

Having open and constructive debate on the Sool debacle isessential but the media’s wild assertions and half-truths at the expense of the peace in Sanaag Region under insulting and sweeping fabrications causes more damage than occupation. Such false alarms would barely find a path for genuine dialogue and reconciliation.

We must examine our paradigm and change the way we interpret and perceive things. We must examine our thoughts with a view that there is another sideo four made-upreality. When a large section of a marginalized community is steeped in historical myth, they are bound to suffer from chronic leadership crisis..

The Formation of SSB

SSB is a political movement that is currently brewing and gaining strength. SSB stands to establish itself a potent alternative to the skewed and false narrative as “the disputed regions” allude to the unsuspecting reader.SSB stands for Sanaag,parts of Sool and Bari regions—basedon the historic lands of the Warsangeli clan. Although Puntland undertook to exploit the Galgala conflict, SSB is committed to work with various stakeholders, including Puntland, to ensure the region does not become a permanent haven for terrorists.

When Puntland quickly defeated the terrorist group in Gara’ad,Mudug,and Hafun,Bari, many people accused it of double standard. Puntland is accused of prolonging the instability in Galgala because it is a Warsangeli territory, not a Majeerteen area. In addition, Puntland intends to keep benefitting from the stream of funds it gets under the pretext of war on terror 

As the conflict theory posits, our fundamental relationship is not one based on cooperation but competition over scarce resources; likewise, the relationship is born out of the constraints that are created by powerful states or major institutions such as the UN, which all distribute resources and power unequally. 

SSBis creating a new political realityin the areas under the jurisdiction of the clan. It has made considerable contribution. The organization drafted and passed its Constitution, which sets out the vision, direction, and rules that will govern its members and the leadership. The deliberation process took up to 16 months. Among its accomplishment include the evacuation ofdozens of wounded troopsfor treatment abroad. The troops were wounded in defense of Galgala from the al-Shabab ambush, which wounded over 50 soldiers and killed 7 in April of last year.SSB aims to achieve the following: 

=      Amplify the community’s voice and participation in the federation of the rest of Somalia and the review of the Constitution
=      Work with the executive and members of the legislative branches of the federal government to find a viable, long-term solution for SSB regions
=      Build and strengthen regional security and police forces and the capacity of local governments
=      Change the skewed narrative about the region’s disputed status at the national and international level
SSB aligns its vision with the peace and state-building goals as set in the Somalia Development Plan, the Somali Compact, and New Partnership for Somalia.  In addition, SSB embraces transparency, accountability, advocacy, and high-impact, sustainable development solutions as its core values.  The SSB’s management team is comprised of the Executive Director, Col. Abdiwahid, who is also a chair. The four (4) Committees areas follows:
=      Finance Committee
=      Defense and Policy Committee
=      Public and Media Relations Committee
=      Community Engagement  


Sanaag Region and by extension Sool need comprehensive national solution. It is my belief that finding a viable political solution for the so called “disputed regions” remains a core issue of a future Somali government and a united nation-state.

The federal government must not abandon the people of Sanaag and Sool or leave them to the tender mercies of an aggressive and expansionist secessionist administration that is clearly backed by Ethiopia and UK as it is evident in the Matt Bough’s letter to Somalia’s Embassy in Nairobi.

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