Somaliland - The Unknown Republic
Somaliland And Its Bid For International Recognition
"Somalilanders are caught in a vicious Catch-22 position. They are being told, “Destroy your nation by joining the destroyer in the south, and we will recognize you. Stay outside, with stability and democracy, and we will ignore you.”
AFRICAN CARBON ODYSSEY, JUNE 29, 2008 -- The revelries of 18th May 2008 as the Somalilanders rightly celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of their democratic republic fell upon deaf ears amongst the international community.
Somaliland is a small country located in the northern part of the Horn of Africa with Djibouti to its northwest, Ethiopia to the south and west and Puntland (another separatist part of old Somalia ) to its east. The capital of Somalia is further south in Mogadishu .
After declaring its independence the country was leveled by the Mogadishu based dictator, Siyad Barre. Since then the Somalilanders have built themselves a country based upon the greatest ideals of democracy, with the zeal of people in search of personal safety, education, free speech, healthcare and food.
But Somaliland is running three-legged in a race where the other competitors run unimpeded.
International non-recognition ties Somaliland to Somalia and is thus preventing it from becoming a model for African democracy.
Somaliland is being asked to give up its democracy and stability and join with a war-torn country in a state of collapse. This entails Somaliland 's great potential for investment, its rich mineral, coal and oil reserves remaining unutilized. Somaliland's ability to import and export goods is being seriously impeded as the insurance costs set by Lloyds of London is extremely high for any ship which uses the port of Berbera. The country's merchants, whose main exports are camels, frankincense and myrrh see the situation as far from wise.
But as the long-time Somaliland supporter, Tony Worthington, ex- MP for Clydebank and Milngavie explained in his 2004 House of Commons speech on the matter of Somaliland's independence,
Somalilanders are caught in a vicious Catch-22 position. They are being told, “Destroy your nation by joining the destroyer in the south, and we will recognize you. Stay outside, with stability and democracy, and we will ignore you.”
The ignorance on the part of governments is voluntary but for the average citizen of the international community it is mainly down to being ill informed. In his speech he went on to explain why it is imperative that action is taken now (now in this case being four years ago),
The longer the world ignores the achievements of Somaliland in creating stability and democratic institutions, the greater the risk that wilder elements will take over, and the longer Somaliland is left to fend for itself without resources for schools, for example, the more willing will radical elements be to step in.
With the recent spate of Somali pirating and kidnapping the case for action is ever pressing. In the face of such adversity the Somalilanders have a national pride that comes of seeing the horrific repercussions of political instability. They are quick to welcome strangers with open arms in order to show them what they have achieved. The reverence one is shown as a foreigner gives some indication of the Somaliland people's collective desperation for international recognition.
One hurdle which Somaliland is successfully tackling, which is going some way to keeping Somalia in the political Dark Ages is the knowledge of ancestry peculiar to the region. From a young age Somalis / Somalilanders / Puntlanders are expected to know their paternal lineage for ten to twenty generations as writ. Many Somalilanders we met knew theirs for more than forty.
This puts all citizens in sub-sub-clan divisions with a complex system of allegiances. Of the five major clans, Isaaq is dominant in Somaliland . However, the government has included a section of its constitution to ensure that clan based discrimination which plagues Somalia is minimized. There is now a multi-party democracy with district councils contested by six parties. It seems that Somaliland is keeping a close eye on Somalia and learning from its mistakes.
After the Greeks, Egyptians and the Ottomans the Colonialists came to the Horn of Africa and divided what was then Somalia along typically uncompromising lines.
1880's: In the far north the French occupied French Somaliland for Djibouti 's capacity as a port.
The Italians were permitted to occupy Somalia with Mogadishu as its capital after their siding with the Allies in WWI.
Southern Somalia was incorporated into British Kenya.
Ethiopia took the western deserts.
1900: The ‘Mad Mullah', Mohamed Abdalla Hassan began to sow the seeds of a struggle for a reunited Somalia with his failed attacks against the British.
1920's: Britain got a firm grasp of the region after a series of ‘pacification campaigns' which decisively formed the borders of what is now Somaliland .
1940's: During World War II the Italians in Somalia attacked the British garrisoned in Somaliland which resulted in Britain taking Somalia from Italian rule and forming Greater Somaliland. During WWII 9,000 Somaliland troops from the Somaliland Scouts and Somaliland Camel Corps fought with the British against the Italians, holding back an army of 291,000 Italian and local troops.
1950's: Britain began to prepare Somaliland for its independence, holding meetings between different clans in order to broker stability after their departure.
1960's: On April 6th 1960 Somalilanders voted for independence from Britain and to unite with Italian Somalia. From the 2nd to the 7th of June Somaliland was independent before the formation of the Somalia Republic with Italian Somalia. The union was disastrous, the mainly Issaq Somalilanders were not represented fairly by the Somalia National League party of central government. In the face of further Italianization the Somalilanders unsuccessfully attempted a coup in 1962. The centralized government system inherited from Italy and Britain was unsuccessful in dealing with de-centralized pastoral peoples without the Colonial resources and the situation became anarchic, returning Somalis to their pre-Colonial days.
1969: General Siyad Barre took control of the Republic of Somalia in a military coup. Barre strove for reunification of its five states immortalized by the five-pointed star of the Somali flag. The Soviet Union was happy to oblige Barre's gung-ho intentions by supplying him with arms, he then further ingratiated himself with them by declaring the Republic of Somalia a Marxist state, thus heightening Soviet involvement.
"When I came to Mogadishu ...[t]here was one road built by the Italians. If you try to force me to stand down, I will leave the city as I found it. I came to power with a gun; only the gun can make me go."
1977: As Ethiopia fought a war with Eritrea to its south Somalia seized the moment and regained its western lands in the Ogaden War. Unfortunately for Barre the Soviet Union changed allegiances, supporting the greater power of Mengistu, the Marxist leader of Ethiopia who deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in a military coup. As a result arms stopped flowing into Somalia and with the help of the Soviets and Cubans, Somalia was crushed back into the shape Ethiopia dictated.
The bottom of Barre's internal support dropped out and internal power struggles began in earnest, leaving Somalia in a clan based chaos.
1980's: The sour taste of communism, left after the Soviet Union's flip-flop, was sweetened by the arms of American and Italian democracy, as both countries were keen to prop those with anti-red sentiments and to gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa with its strategic importance as a neighbor to the Middle East.
As the Somali Salvation Democratic Front formed Puntland, the Somali National Movement attempted to establish Somaliland on its 1960's borders. During the chaos Barre began his vindictive campaign against the Somalilanders. During the air strikes on Hargeysa, Somaliland 's capital, in which planes took off from the city's airport one of Barre's closest aides recalled Barre considering himself to be, ‘a Darod chief who had totally annihilated an enemy clan.'
1982: Students rioted in Hargeysa, in response to Barre's policies under which systematic human rights abuses prevailed.
1988: The Somalia Civil War began and the mainly Darod clans of the Somalia region commenced a campaign of destruction against the mainly Isaaq Somaliland region. Barre's preoccupation with the Somaliland region saw his opposition in Somalia grow in strength and non-humanitarian aid stopped flowing into the country.
1990: At the end of the year Barre fled Mogadishu in the face of a military attack from a rival clan member, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, who placed Ali Mahdi Mohamed in power. This left Somalia without a foreseeable future of peace.
1991: Somaliland declared its independence and established an interim government made up of representatives of clans who elected a President, beginning on the road to what should logically be international recognition by putting in place the institutions required for democracy to prevail.
2003: Dahir Riyale Kahin is the first democratically elected President of Somaliland with a winning margin of only 0.008%. The votes are counted by students and the military leave their arms in the barracks for the day.
The treasure of the three wise men – Somaliland as seen from the ground
As we traveled through Somaliland we were constantly asked, without malice, why had Britain , with such strong connections to Somaliland , forgotten them in their hour of need. Ethiopia has already stated that it was willing to be the second country to acknowledge Somaliland and with them, the African Union is likely to follow. The United Nations will be a harder nut to crack but with the support of various EU countries including the UK , already present if not written, all that is required is a bold step forward by a significant world player.
I should like to say, however, that it is Her Majesty's Government's hope that whatever may be the constitutional future of the Protectorate, the friendship which has been built up between its people and those of the United Kingdom for so many years will continue and indeed flourish.
It is easy to understand why the Somalilanders feel betrayed.
During Barre's campaign 200,000 Somalis were brought to the UK , many settling in London and Wales . The small Somaliland government, as we were informed by the Minister for Trade and Industry (who used to work for Bristol City Council) has seven members who are British citizens. He also told us of the country's energy crisis. The price currently stands at $1/kwh – the highest charge in the world. He then suggested we meet with ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency – an NGO) to find out more on the subject of how they were going to run the country on renewable energy alone.
With so little investment Somaliland's current main source of income is its loyal Diaspora of over a million, who are evidently determined to rebuild the country and are savvy enough to be wary of making the same mistakes as many other African countries.
The Parliament and President's Palace, as they were proudly described to us by Hargeysan's, were very humble. Many wanted it to stay that way, fearful of the prospect of Machiavellian machinations that will come with the might of the World Bank. They are very clued up.
The Somalilanders are rightly proud of their democracy - during the election period the police and army go to work unarmed and the votes are counted by students.
Somalilander's generally have a murky view of the UN. The officer responsible for Somaliland is stationed in Nairobi . It seems that the UN is concerned about the threat of ‘Balkanization' of the Horn of Africa. It is perceived that an independent Somaliland will jeopardize the potential for peace in the region as this peace is envisaged as a united Somalia , drawn up along the pre-Colonial borders. This view does not appear to have evolved as the situation has, and now devolution seems the only plausible solution.
Somaliland remains a graveyard for international dabbling. We were shown the NASA landing strip by the beach, the tennis courts of the British Protectorate's summer retreat in the cool of the mountains, the North Korean crates in the abandoned cement factory in the desert, the Ottoman hilltop fort, the shell of one of Barre's Soviet tanks outside the village of Hamas, the Bulgarian medical equipment in Sheik's decimated hospital. All acted as monuments to international involvement which have passed into a distant memory.
In Berbera we met with the Community Concern Group, a local NGO. Solomon, the director of the port and Dictor Jama (he was a doctor but this was how he was introduced), a one man Somaliland restoration whirlwind compered the evening. We were told about the various projects they had undertaken and were undertaking, building schools, planting trees and so on. They were keen to know our view on Somaliland 's bid for international recognition. It was announced that we were from then on partners of the CCG and plans were made for our appearance on national television the following evening to state as much and air our opinions on Somaliland 's independence.
A meeting was scheduled in a plush hotel lobby where we were met by two effervescent Kenyans from the ADRA whom we were put in touch with by the Minister of Trade and Industry. During the meeting it became clear that ADRA was one of the few NGO's working in Somaliland . A theme that ran throughout was of the possibility of making a great country. It is practically being built from scratch and there is the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other countries - skip out the less savory stages of development and become a beacon for hope.
There is a widespread fear that Somaliland 's current opposition to fundamentalism may begin to lose its strength if the international community continues to turn its back on them.
The international think tank Senlis compiled a report in April of this year on the failures of America 's ‘War on Terror'
Those bombings and sponsorship of a proxy Christian army – Ethiopia –to fight in Mogadishu have provided militant Islamists with abundant propaganda material
An embattled population found the resolve to reconstruct itself, establishing functioning organs of government without little upheaval – a rarity in post-conflict reconstruction. Its drive to create multi-party democracy upon a backdrop of relative peace and security has been impressive, if not without flaw.
Of all the states in the Horn of Africa it is the self-declared yet internationally unrecognized aspirant state of Somaliland that offers President Bush with his most viable opportunity to claim an Africa success story.
A 2006 report compiled by the international NGO, concerned with compiling independent reports on politically unstable and humanitarian situation, Crisis Group , called for the urgent action in the Somaliland debate, pointing out that,
A multi-party political system and successive competitive elections have established Somaliland as a rarity in the Horn of Africa and the Muslim world. However, the Somalia Transitional Federal Government continues strongly to oppose Somaliland independence.
Despite fears that recognition would lead to the fragmentation of Somalia or other AU member states, an AU fact-finding mission in 2005 concluded the situation was sufficiently “unique and self-justified in African political history” that “the case should not be linked to the notion of ‘opening a pandora's box'”. It recommended that the AU “should find a special method of dealing with this outstanding case” at the earliest possible date. On 16 May 2006, Rayale met with the AU Commission Chairperson, Alpha Oumar Konare, to discuss Somaliland 's application for membership.
All evidence leans towards a need to reward Somaliland and not to consider it merely as part of a potentially fractious Africa movement of ‘Balkanization'.
In March of 2006 a speaker of the Somaliland parliament was invited to speak before the National Assembly for Wales and rightly or wrongly took is as recognition of his country. It is a baby step but it is in the right direction.