By Abukar Arman
Tuesday January 17, 2023
In the last three decades, the one thing that no unionist, cynic, or a foe could deny is that Somaliland (legally northwest of Somalia) has been a haven of peace in relation to the rest of Somalia. Though over the years a small number of analysts—this one included—have questioned the viability of the Somaliland secession aspirations and its legal merit under the international law, most of them never questioned the moral argument.
However, all of that has changed in recent weeks, as it is now certain that Somaliland did not live up to the ideals of being East Africa’s exemplary democracy.
Somaliland’s argument for secession was based on the claim that they were betrayed by the Somali government that they entrusted with the North-South union charter – unification of British Somaliland with the Italian Somaliland. And that they were denied even-handed power sharing, and when they protested against that transgression, they became targets of ruthless military oppression. As a result, they had no choice but to part ways with the Somali government and reclaim their old independent British-Somaliland status.
Granted, their declaration had certain aspect of moral merit, but the erroneous aspect of unilaterally reclaiming the old colonial demarcation had zero legal value.
However, when people of Las Anod located in the highly contested region of Sool—the epicenter of the anti-colonial movement—tried to use that same argument against the secessionist system led by a former military colonel, Muse Bihi Abdi, who is accused of committing genocide in Borama of Awdal region in 1991, the goal-posts were removed.
The Somaliland government accused them of doing Somalia’s bidding- a treasonous act (grievance) that must be dealt with extrajudicial killings, imprisonments, and torture. This Orwellian logic is mind-numbing, to say the least. Moral causes cannot be justified with fundamentally flawed arguments. Sooner or later there will be a time of reckoning.
The painful irony is this: Somaliland, as in all federal states, established a skeleton of a government that is led by a little clannist tyrant who is willing to commit all kinds of corruptions, human rights violations to stay in power or ensure his cronies positions of power. Each one of them has duplicated the very same failed political system for their own clan domination- Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland, Hirshabelle, Konfurgalbeed, and Galmudug. That said: it is naïve to assess Somaliland’s current political violence against civilians and over all instability solely from that all too familiar clan perspective.
The Foreign Fuel
As the specter of clan-based political eruption creeps around, this quartet—US, UK, UAE, and Kenya—are adamant about expediting the diplomatic leverage needed for recognition of Somaliland.
In recent months, top Pentagon officials have visited Hargeisa and toured the newly renovated Berbera air and seaport. This came after President Joe Biden redeployed American troops back to Somalia.
So on January 8, 2023 (11:39AM), the US embassy in Mogadishu posted pictures and statement that confirmed the delivery of big machine-guns on social media. The embassy’s post on twitter read, “$9 million in weapons, vehicles, & equipment from the United States will support the successful campaign by @SNAForce to liberate #Somalia’s communities from al-Shabaab. Grateful to Minister @Amohamednur & #SNA CDF Odowaa for their partnership.”
When I came across this, the first that came to my mind was: Has the arms embargo been lifted? Are these weapons for the Somali National Army or DANAB- the American trained, funded, and commanded counter-terrorism forces? Why this heavy armament at this particular time of heightened inter-clan sensitivities?
UK, the pen-holder that keeps Somalia under discreet trusteeship and arms embargo for perpetual dependency, a country that also has its own Special Forces that trained Somaliland’s– the same Special Forces that committed crimes against humanity in Las Anod. Talk about conflict of interest and checks and balances. Of course, this could be said of each one of the quartet.
UAE, creeping behind the veil of Dubai Ports World (DPW), has its mercenaries (Erik Price’s enterprises) operating across Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland, and Konfurgalbeed. Some of these mercenaries are already running illegal mining operations. In recent weeks, one third of a controversial 5,000 Somali troops trained by Eritrea for clandestine projects or to be rented out as foot soldiers to places such as Socotra and projects such as the World Cup are now back in Somalia. Currently, there is no other foreign power with more clout over Somalia politics than UAE. This is also expected to expedite the de-Turkification process that I mentioned in a previous article.
Kenya is playing a dual role: On the one hand, she is the hegemonic master of Jubbaland federal state where it is already building a buffer fence deep into the Somali territory. On the other hand, it is filling that essential African representation role that is vacated by Ethiopia as the latter is spread too thin by its civil war and is too apprehensive lest recognition for Somaliland the Tigrayan aspiration for independent Tigray.
Grand strategists of the great powers of the West and the East are convinced that the power that controls the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea will command the 21st century. Moreover, the Russia-Ukraine war and China’s rapid expansion in Africa are dramatically shifting the geo-strategic importance of those waters and geographical areas.
So, a number of the big boys of the West and East have already established military bases in Djibouti where it became too crowded; especially for the U.S. and its floating military base named AFRICOM. On May last year the U.S. has dispatched a high level military delegation led by General Stephen Townsend the then Commander of AFRICOM, and on December of the same year, President Biden has signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law- Berbera is now an American military base without settling the secession issue. Stakes have never been higher for all actors.
Against that backdrop, President Muse Bihi was given the nod and wink to march on ahead to secure total control over his claimed territory by any means necessary. He was also granted the reassurance that neither the central government of Somalia nor Puntland will interfere militarily or otherwise. This is why all stated actors remained silent on the Las Anod massacres. They started to equivocate after a volcano of activist outrage erupted on social media and some rights groups issued condemnations and accused the Bihi government of committing crimes against humanity.
Considering the extreme volatility of clan politics and the extremely sensitive timing during which they opted to execute their scheme, said quartet and their two Somali partners cannot escape collective culpability on an imminent bloody inter-clan and intra-clan strife that could prove worse than South Sudan’s. The temperature is already heating up in Columbus, Ohio.
The Las Anod Lesson
Las Anod’s popular uprising to demand their right to remain as part of Somalia marks a turning point in post-civil war Somali history. It highlighted a few crucial issues that cannot be swept under any negotiation table:
First: All current Somali political entities are nothing more than what I call a Beelistan- a clan enclave dominated by an alpha-clan that claims supremacy over the rest. And, since no clan can lord over other clans without their consent, Somalia proper is turned into poisonous house of cards that cannot withstand the will of the people. Perhaps this could explain why Somaliland would illegalize Somalia’s flag and kill any person who waves it in public.
Second: There is a Las Anod waiting to erupt in every Beelistan in Somalia. Regions such as Sanaag, Ceyn, Awdal, Gedo, and Hiiraan are only a matter of time. Nothing ignites clan wars faster than flagrant attacks to their collective honor. Last March Somalia came dangerously close to renewed civil war.
Third: We are collectively desperate for a holistic reconciliation process that is initiated, financed and owned by the Somali people. The countless foreign-funded power-sharing express have proven nothing more than money laundering scheme.
Forth: It is inevitable for the collective minds of diverse Somalis of good conscience to forge a viable strategy to prevent the next massacre, to negotiate sustainable peace, and save what is left of Somalia. Trust must be cultivated and a social contract must be negotiated.
The time is ripe to reorganize a diaspora intellectual movement—similar to the one that played a key role in ending the Ethiopian occupation. This could later connect with other likeminded across the homeland.
Abukar Arman is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. On Twitter: @4DialogSK