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Public Meeting on Somaliland Security & International Representation
Dr. Kibble, Dear friends and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen
I am honored to have the opportunity to address you tonight. We are deeply appreciative of the work that Somaliland Focus and the All-Party Parliamentary Group are doing for Somaliland. We in Somaliland see, for the first time, our friends in the United Kingdom coming to bat for an old friend. We are grateful for your work, we pledge to work with you not only in your effort to help Somaliland advance its democratization program, but to help spread democracy throughout the world and especially in the Horn of Africa.
The political party that I represent, Kulmiye, is committed to creating a strong Somaliland willing and able to live in harmony with its neighbors and the world community, a Somaliland whose citizens live and we hope prosper in an environment of good governance, where the rule of law is the norm, not an empty slogan.
I also want to emphasize in my introduction that we are passionate about Somaliland’s full sovereignty. We know that Somaliland will one day become a sovereign member of the international community. This outcome, as far as we are concerned, is inevitable.
But we will be patient and concentrate on our economic reconstruction, development and democratization in the meantime. The title of my presentations includes the word “reflections” and my reflections of the political turmoil in Somalia and the Horn and how it affects Somaliland is what I intend to give you in this short presentation. But be aware that I am not a political scientist or an academic historian. My academic training and research are in the field of microbiology, immunology and experimental medical research. My ideas are based on activism and not on scholarly endeavor. Having lowered your expectation for a stellar presentation let me give some of my thoughts.
I strongly believe that any discussion on Somalia’s political predicament, especially in the home of I.M. Lewis, and I am very glad he is here tonight, must address state failure in a society susceptible to clan fragmentation. Any conflict resolution scheme that ignores clan competition in Somalia is likely to end in failure. It was, therefore, disconcerting that the 2-year long IGAD-led Imbagathi conference culminated in the formation of a transitional federal government (TFG) where one group or club of contenders clearly won over their competitors, rather than a government born out of reconciliation. The selection of Colonel Abdillahi Yusuf, an obstinate politician who favors coercion over reconciliation, as President of the Somalia TFG was particularly ill-advised. His subsequent insistence for an outside force and especially from an old ally, Ethiopia, was seen by all others as a not-so-subtle maneuver to grab power for himself and empower his base. Warlords jawboned by mediators into the TFG institutions bolted out of the door very quickly and formed their own alliance, I believe in part as counterweight to a perceived threat. I also believe that the quick and surprising emergence of the Islamic Courts was in part due to the Imbagathi outcome. Leaders of the Islamic movement in Somalia also saw the new leader of the TFG as a sworn enemy. His selection was a threat to them and encouraged collaboration of the various divided factions within the Islamic movement, bringing radicals and moderates together and making their movement more popular in central and southern Somalia than it really was. I am, therefore, not hopeful that the Islamic courts movement, or its remnants, and the TFG can find reasonable accommodation.
For Somaliland, Abdillahi Yusuf’s selection as the president of the TFG was a particularly unpleasant surprise, because he was the only leader in Somalia fomenting clan division in Somaliland and undermining Somaliland’s successful reconciliation. Somaliland has had a long, difficult relationship with him dating back to the years when he was the leader of the SSDF and his Puntland forces occupy parts of Somaliland.
The TFG and the rise of the ICU placed Somaliland between a rock and a hard place, because both were and are still intent on destabilizing Somaliland. While Somaliland’s successful establishment of an all-inclusive democratic government is a strong shield against religious or political radicalism, we think that accepting Somaliland’s sovereignty is the only way of preventing conflict between Somalia and Somaliland.
The sense we get from Somalia is that people are tired of war and destruction and are now willing to give the TFG a chance, not because it is the government that they would have preferred, but because they hope it could lead to something better. Unfortunately, the TFG appears to be disintegrating into various camps, and it is emphasizing peace and stability through international intervention and assistance, rather than through reconciliation and power sharing. The defeat of the Islamic courts militia has not really ushered a new era. It is a return to the political environment that existed in October 2004 when the TFG was formed in Nairobi, with the added problematic presence of Ethiopian troops. The situation in Somalia cries for reconciliation, accommodation and the formation of an all-inclusive government.
Without reconciliation, Somalia will not only return to the clan-based politics, disintegration and factionalism, but may see a destructive insurgency by the Islamic courts militia and also by the various groups opposed to the TFG and Ethiopian army presence in Somalia. Insurgency in Somalia and the lawlessness and anarchy it breeds pose a real danger for all of us in the region and may very well recreate the conditions that led to the emergence and rise of the Islamic courts. The problems in Lebanon are vivid reminders of the dangers inherent in military intervention by a neighbor and the potential for long-term entanglement. It is, therefore, wise for Ethiopia to withdraw its forces. On the other hand, it appears unlikely that an African peacekeeping force will be assembled and dispatched to Somalia soon, and even whether such a force could make or keep peace in the absence of goodwill within Somalia’s competing leaders and factions. Here again one clearly sees that reconciliation and accommodation are imperative for Somalia; there are no substitutes that we can contemplate. We in Somaliland have already been affected by conflict in Somalia. Somaliland has suffered from acts of terror from groups hiding in the chaos of Somalia. Indeed, while these terrorist groups have tried, but failed, to derail our nascent democracy, they have slowed our economic development by targeting and scaring away foreign workers and visitors.
The impact of continuing conflict and instability extends well beyond the borders of Somalia. The Horn of Africa community is intertwined politically and socioeconomic ally. Conflict in one country threatens the stability of all the other countries and slows or reverses economic development and magnifies the ill-effects of poverty in already very poor communities throughout the region. Despite earlier assumptions in some western circles that anarchy in far-away third world countries could be tolerated, it is now abundantly clear that internecine, protracted instability and the anarchy it fosters can pose serious problems for the West. Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid recently said during an IGAD Summit: “The impact of continuing regional instability extends beyond the Horn of Africa. There are growing concerns back in Europe on the fall-outs of this chronic cycle of poverty and instability: we feel the consequences of large numbers of migrants and refugees and the risk of trafficking and terrorism in the region. These are important political and security concerns to all of us”. I must hasten to add here that politically stable Somaliland has been able to absorb back nearly one million of its refugees and even those who emigrated to Europe, Canada and the United States during the height of the conflict are now voluntarily migrating back to Somaliland.
I want to digress a little bit and say a word about outside intervention. In my visits throughout Western Europe, I am often amazed at the vast number of castles, forts and chateaus that dot the landscape. It reminds me that not long ago Europe was also fragmented militarily and politically. The question whose answer I hope to obtain from historians is whether those conflicts and factions ended through enlightenment or whether they ended by reaching “a natural death or conclusion”. In either case, outside intervention as happened through colonial rule may have postponed “conflict resolution”. In Somaliland, left to its own resources not out of benevolence but out of benign neglect, was capable of coming together, while international assistance and intervention has not so far helped Somalia.
The world community, including our old friend the United Kingdom has often told us to wait and negotiate with our former partners. But although we united with them to form the Somali Republic and were an equal partner at the time of Union, we are not being treated as equals internationally. The former Italian Somalia, as disintegrated as it is, is allowed to occupy the seats we shared in all international fora and the powers and privileges of Statehood. Yet we are expected to one day negotiate with them. I am not a strong proponent of interim arrangements, however, giving Somaliland interim observer or associate status in the AU, the Commonwealth and in the United Nations, would partially address this injustice.
Somaliland has been in limbo for almost 16 years now. Perhaps, because we threw away our independence prematurely before “baptism” so to speak, we are destined to exist in the limbo of the children; deserving neither the turmoil of Mogadishu nor the fruits of full statehood. Keeping Somaliland in limbo does not serve any useful purpose because as I said in my introduction, there is no going back for us.
We, however, take heart that the Catholic Church may soon do away with the idea of limbo of the children altogether. Many world leaders who applaud our achievements in reconstructing our destroyed economy and democratizing our institutions have told us that while they will not be the first to recognize Somaliland they will most definitely be the second. Professor I.M. Lewis decries this scenario aptly as “after you Gaston”. We have also been unfairly subjected to a 16-year long “wait and see” approach that has involved more than 15 internationally-sponsored reconciliation conferences for Somalia. We are, indeed, hostages to a failure, being asked to wait for our former partner to put his house in order.
Thank you for your time.