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Issue 503/ 17th - 23rd Sept 2011
The Triumph Of Democracy And Good Governance In Somaliland
By Adam Mohamed Egeh "Mardaadi"
A glimpse of historical background
The people of Somaliland were once the architects of Somali unity. On June 26, 1960 Somaliland got its independence from the British. During that time, the sentiment of nationalism and Pan Somalism were all time high and Somalilanders were so enamored with the idea of bringing all ethnic Somali speaking communities under one nation (NFD, Djibouti and Ogaden).
The union took place on July 1, 1960, the day the Italian Somalia became independent. The international community was quite surprised with this unique decision taken by the newly independent British colony to surrender its sovereignty and merge with yet to become an independent Southern Somalia. The Italian Somalia was technically under U N trusteeship and was supposed to be free in December of that year. The headlines of the international newspapers were among others, -- the colony that rejected freedom -- the colony that surrendered its independence and refused to join the Common Wealth. Unequivocally, the Somalilanders sacrificed their independence for the sake of attaining Greater Somalia.
This union was unconstitutional, since the parliaments of Somaliland and Somalia did not ratify it as a single act of union. Not a single year elapsed when the people in Somaliland showed the initial signs of resentment about the ill-fated marriage between the two Somali regions. The southerners dominated all the cabinet positions of the newly created Somali Republic. Almost all-economic development projects were shifted to southern Somalia with nothing or very little allocated for Somaliland. The northerners immediately felt as being treated as second-class citizens. Their confidence and loyalty to the Somali government suddenly dwindled; the sense of being betrayed became wide spread. Somaliland was economically marginalized and politically oppressed by the southern dominated central government. Consequently, the northerners lost faith with the union and the talk of reversing the merger became very popular. That feeling was expressed in 1961, when a young army officer by the name of Hassan Kayd - a Sandburs graduate and other northern military officers launched an unsuccessful coup in the north against the Somali government. These northern officers were brought to Mogadishu for trial. Citing the illegality of the union, the judge in the court dismissed the case against these officers on the grounds that as Northern, they could not be tried and judged by a Southern court.
On October 21, 1969 the military regime overthrew the civilian government. Siyad Barre became the president of Somali Democratic Republic. This military regime became one of the most vicious and brutal dictatorships the world ever witnessed. This was the beginning of Somalia disintegration. The death knell for Greater Somalia sounded, as the government was politically unable to bring NFD-Kenya, Djibouti-French and Ogaden-Ethiopia into one nation. These Somali speaking regions saw the brutal actions of Barre's dictatorship and their interest to unite with Somalia immediately disappeared. Djibouti opted for its own separate nation and became an independent country on June 1977. The military regime also embarked on barbaric tactics against its citizens by targeting certain clans suspected of being opposed to the policies of Barre's dictatorship. Somalilanders formed Somali National Movement (SNM) and were first to declare organized military measures against Dictator Siyad Barre. The response of the military regime was near genocidal, as they unleashed a massive military might on the major towns of Hargeisa, Buroa, Berbera and Gabiley on the summer of 1988. Some 65000 innocent civilian people were massacred and more than half million people had fled to Ethiopia as refugees. The SNM with its huge supply of reserve army (incoming refugees) continued its armed struggle and finally defeated the military regime. The entire territory of Somaliland fell under the control of SNM and the restoration of Somaliland independence was declared on May 18, 1991.
Today, the Republic of Somaliland is little over twenty years old and it fiercely refused to take the path many African nations pursued during their independence. They decided to become a true democratic state. Some of the foreign reporters that visited Somaliland were quite impressed how the deliberations in the Lower House are carried out. They confessed that these deliberations are among the freest in the world. The people of Somaliland said no to one party system that is why this state is marching towards the institutionalization of full-blown democracy. Multiparty system has been created, aimed to neutralize the influence of tribal affiliation.
Compatibility of local tradition and democracy
One of the major contributing factors to the easy transition to stability, good governance and democracy is the deeply rooted cultural conditions that have been hospitable to the tender shoots of democratization process. Furthermore, the question that comes to mind is:
Why sowing the seeds of democracy is very successful in Somaliland, while Southern Somali is still wracked by unceasing clan warfare and total anarchy? Not to mention, the political ambitions of the religious fundamentalists such as - Al Shabaab, striving to seize the hegemony of Southern Somalia, and eventually Somaliland, and the Somali dwelling areas of Ethiopia – to adapt their hard line vision of Islamic Sharia.
Apparently, the achievements of Somaliland to establish the major organs of civil society through a democratic process are not per chance. Therefore, the answer to the preceding question is two folds:
The will of the people remains the major bedrock for this success. The desire to establish peace and stability became the greatest priority in Somaliland. Enjoying the full support of the people, the elders worked around the clock to disarm the many different militia groups scattered throughout the country. The people also consolidated their collective efforts to rebuild the country. There is a general consensus among the communities in Somaliland that the only way to development and nation building is through a democratic process. The elders, politicians, businessmen, tribal leaders and the intelligentsia all agreed to assemble a democratic form of government; a broad-based government of regional reconciliation including representatives from all clans of the country. Eventually this facilitated the establishment of a government in which the people hold the ruling power either directly or through elected representatives.
In addition the principle of equality of rights, opportunity and treatment are guaranteed for every citizen. When every region of the country is fairly represented in the government and no community is left underrepresented, the nexus that holds the nation together gains a substantial strength.
The mutual agreements of the community were clearly enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Somaliland, which was adapted throughout a National Referendum held on May 31, 2001. The rights of the individuals, freedom of opinions, freedom of movement, freedom of public demonstration, the right to own private property, and freedom of press and media are guaranteed under the constitution of Somaliland.
During the last presidential elections Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Siilaanyo), the candidate of Kulmiye party was declared the winner. The former president of Somaliland Mr. Dahir Riyal Kahin invited the newly elected president to his office. One of the photo images that were taken during the meeting continue to linger in my mind. Mr. Siilaanyo was no were near in a celebratory mode. Instead, the image he presented was encapsulated with the some measure of worry. Mr. Siilaanyo positioned himself as a man fully cognizant with the tremendous responsibility that will coming in his way and how he will be discharging it to the satisfaction of Somaliland community. Likewise, Mr. Riyal demonstrated positive mind set, not as a loser, but a leader quite content with the freely expressed will of the people, and heading to facilitate a smooth transfer of power. This is clearly an indicative of state on the path of full- fledged democratization. Such undertaking is integral part of democratic principles taking root in Somaliland, a rarity among sovereign nations in Africa. A case in point is what transpired in the last presidential elections of Ivory Coast and how disgraceful it was to the continent of Africa.
If two persons enter
into a competition such as sports, poem or political, only one person
will emerge as the victor. In this context, there is an inherent norm in
Somaliland tradition. As soon as the judges declare the winner, the
loser is expected to concede defeat, and he must congratulate the
opponent and shake his hand, a major requirement that has been widely
articulated in Somaliland literary poetry ethics. Therefore, when the
loser refuses defeat, the most appropriate Somaliland adage that comes
to mind is the famous poem of the late Salan Carabay. Evidently, Mr.
Riyaale must have been mindful about cultural and traditional norms of
the society when he rightfully accepted defeat during the last
Approximately, this could be translated as -- Neither reciprocate me in kind nor pay me in wealth, Oh! No, he who jealously suppresses your victory is amazingly shrouded with an incredible shame.
The impact of the colonial practices had on the native culture of Somalia and Somaliland.
The myth so often repeated; time and time again, is that all Somalis have like characteristics and are generally homogenous society with identical language, culture, and religion. Notwithstanding, their identical culture, language and religion, the reality on the two regions points in different direction. The Somali people are actually very diverse. Somaliland and Southern Somalia went through two distinct colonial experiences. Somaliland was British Protectorate, while Somalia was under UN mandated Italian trusteeship. This past colonial experience pretty much shaped how each one of them tackled the eminent anarchy that surfaced when the Somali Democratic Republic Government of Siyad Barre was chased out from the country in 1991 by the armed liberation movements of SNM and USC-SPM.
When the British set foot on the coastal city of Berbera, Somaliland, the tribal leaders entered a historic agreement with the British colony. The British were asked not to interfere with the culture of the indigenous people, and neither British children were to be born on the soil of Somaliland, nor are British citizens to be buried in Somaliland. The British honored these demands, as their colonial style was distinct from that of other major colonial powers such as the French and the Italians. The British practiced a policy of indirect rule, and they administered Somaliland through the chiefs and clans - an indirect form of rule that left the cultural practices of the society fully intact. As a result, the proper culture of the society did not suffer any significant injury during the British rule of Somaliland Protectorate.
Furthermore, the Italians have colonized the Somali communities in the south. Apart from their imperial intentions, the Italians were involved in major economic activities in the south, such as crop plantation, hotels and the local shops. The colonial style of the Italians was direct rule. They mingled with the ethnic communities and created a working class from the indigenous population employed in the plantation and other sectors of Italian businesses in the major towns. With the meager economic incentive available to them, this emerging working class, and the government employees become a subordinate group very close and loyal to the colonial master.
The Italians also married from the ethnic societies, thus creating a maternal kingship within the southern communities. As a result, the colonial master was able to neutralize the cultural aspects of the native society. This type of colonial practices and the fact that cultural homogeneity was not wide spread; the southern Somalis suffered an insurmountable cultural dilution.
The lack of uniform cultural traits that connect them rendered each tribe to be confined in its own dwelling places minding their own interests. That is why the elders in the southern Somalia are chronically inept in undertaking regional reconciliation and effective conflict resolutions among the local clans. The leaders in Southern Somalia have failed miserably to lift their country from the chaos and anarchy, which are the hallmarks of Mogadishu. Numerous mediation efforts by the UN, the IGAD and the neighboring countries did not bear fruit. The leaders of the south were unable to map out a viable political agreement intended to rebuild the fundamental foundations of civil society.
Home grown economy verses prescribed external economic policies
Despite all odds Somaliland proved that it can self-manage economically. With its meager GDP compared to some of the African countries, the economy is fully functioning, the local businesses are booming, of course under the spirit of free market. Somaliland has maintained a healthy economy, based mainly on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, telecommunications and fishery. There has been substantial growth in the service industry, particularly the private investment in commercial activities. This has been largely financed by the Somaliland Diaspora, and includes trade and marketing, money transfer services, transportation, commercial airlines, affordable telecommunications, education, health, construction and hotels.
Livestock is the major hard currency generating industry in Somaliland. The bulk of the livestock is exported to Saudi Arabia through the port of Berbera and to a lesser degree some livestock is also exported to Yemen and United Arab Emirates.
Somaliland achieved all these without receiving an iota of economic assistance from the international communities. The economy of Somaliland is driven by local entrepreneurship initiatives, free from the controversial economic policies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund normally prescribe to the third world – eventually to their determent. That is why Somaliland is standing alone - free from foreign debt, one of the little known advantages unique to unrecognized nation.
Citing this self-reliant model of Somaliland and its ongoing success to realize some encouraging measure of economic development; triggered the desire by some media gurus to publish articles emphasizing the relevance of economic progress that Somaliland achieved without foreign aid. In this context, their main point was to reactivate the old argument that third world countries can reach real economic development without international development aid; normally managed by the IMF and World Bank.
The policies of developed countries to provide an international aid to the less developed countries serve only the economies of the western world. It acts as a chronic disincentive to the poor countries to venture into productive activities in their economies to eventually attain modest level of self sufficiency, particularly when the leaders of the third world countries are corruption prone. The massive debt that less developed countries is to assume, becomes painfully significant. Third world countries won’t be able to service the accruing interest on time. Consequently, the third world countries will be facing an insurmountable burden for generation to come. The subject of international development aid is very broad; it is beyond this article and requires a separate paper, for one to articulate a relevant arguments.
Somaliland meets the Montevideo criteria for statehood
The Montevideo convention on the rights and duties of states is the most well-known and generally accepted definition of statehood. This treaty was signed at Montevideo, Uruguay on December 26, 1933. Its criteria indicates that the state should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. Without a doubt Somaliland meets all the aforementioned requirements. The report of the International Crisis Group on May 23, 2006 had this say about the Republic of Somaliland versus Montevideo Convention Criteria for Statehood.
“Permanent population. Somaliland’s population is estimated at over three million. If recognized, it would rank 38 th among the 55 African states. Although some inhabitants are nomadic pastoralists who practice trans-border migration, the permanent population is stable.”
“Defined territory. Somaliland’s territory is defined by three colonial treaties signed between the British on the one hand and the French (1888), Italians (1894) and Ethiopia (1897) on the other. The boundaries which encompass an area of 137,600 square kilometers are those received at the moment of independence from the British in 1960. In terms of size, independent Somaliland would rank 36 th among the 55 African states. Under international law, boundary disputes do not invalidate a state’s claim to a defined territory, although they often considerably complicate recognition by other states.”
“Government. Somaliland possesses a functioning central government that is in effective control of most of the territory to which it lays claim. In addition to the symbolic trappings of statehood – a national flag, currency, crest and the like – it has a constitution (approved by popular vote), democratically elected authorities at all levels and basic state institutions including a bicameral parliament, independent judiciary, permanent electoral commission, army and police and custodial forces.”
“Capacity to enter into relation with other states. Somaliland has entered into formal and informal cooperative arrangement with a wide variety of states and intergovernmental organizations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Denmark, UK, US, and the UN. Cooperation has covered a range of issues, including security, trade, immigration and development assistance.”
Recently, Somaliland, Ethiopia and China Signed Trilateral trade and investment agreements on gas, oil and logistic deals. The Chinese company will invest close to $4 billion in developing oil and gas reserves in blocks 3 and 4, 11 and 15, 12 and 16, and 17 and 20 in the Ogaden region. The Chinese company of PetroTrans plans to build oil and gas pipelines from the Ogaden basin to the Somaliland sea port of Berbera. In addition, the manager of the company revealed they will also build processing facilities in the town of Berbera over the next three years and has placed an order for nine additional vessels from China at a cost of $293 million. The vessels might be used in Berbera. Without a doubt, this agreement is a solid testimony for Somaliland’s capacity to enter into relation with other states.
In addition, a legal opinion prepared by the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Somaliland meets the fundamental requirements of statehood, clearly concurring with the arguments of ICG. 10
The quest for international recognition
Ever since Somaliland restored its independence, the international media was positively reporting about its progress in nation building and the stability prevailing throughout the country without international assistance, while Southern Somalia is plunged into gun-fuelled anarchy. Somaliland has been steadily progressing and managed to successfully lay the foundations of a democratic modern state in Africa. Somaliland has a multi party system and held a national referendum on May 31, 2001 which led to the adoption of a new constitution. The people of Somaliland voted for the constitution -- 97.09% accepted it. Foreign observers monitored the referendum and declared it as being conducted openly, fairly, and in accordance with internationally recognized election procedures. Since then, Somalilanders have held two successful elections for President, the House of Representatives and local government, each of which has been declared free and fair by international election observers.
In addition, the AU sent a fact-finding mission to Somaliland between April 30 and May 4, 2005, and had expressed the opinion that Somaliland had been made a "pariah region" by default. The mission takes this line of argument by stating that the Union established in 1960 between Somaliland and Somalia brought enormous injustice and suffering to the people of the region.
"The fact that the union was never ratified and also did not work to satisfaction while it lasted from 1960 to 1990, makes Somaliland's search for recognition historically unique and self-justified in African political history. As such, the AU should find a special method of dealing with this outstanding case,". The AU is yet to address and debate about the recommendation of the fact finding mission. The report is sitting somewhere in the cabinets of AU catching dust.
Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which binds member states to respect the borders that existed during the achievement of their independence. The crux of the argument in article 4 of AU has been all along that the recognition of Somaliland could set a precedent for other secession movements seeking to change colonial-era borders, opening a Pandora’s Box in the region.
In July 2011, the old colonial borders of Sudan have been altered and South Sudan ceded from North Sudan and became the newest nation of the World – a clear violation of article 4 of AU. the case of Somaliland should not be linked to the notion of '”opening a Pandora's Box'", it is no longer germane, and remains an ugly source of African misgivings about the recognition of Somaliland. The International Crisis Group, in response to article 4 of AU had this to say:-
“The description to statehood, i.e., “the claim to statehood rests on the territory’s separate status during the colonial era”. Therefore, this line of reasoning, imaginative as it is, can no longer withstand the afore-mentioned historical facts. Article 4 is not legally applicable to Somaliland’s pursuit for international recognition. Amazingly, it is a lingering paradox in the politics of AU.
Somaliland still remains without recognition by international community, notwithstanding its successful democratization, good governance and fulfilling the major legal requirements for international recognition. Only time will tell what is in store for this state.
As for the people of Somaliland, they shouldn’t be shackled by the lack of recognition. The business of nation building and good governance must continue. Somalilanders have the right to invoke the universal principle of freedom of choice to massively support the restoration of Somaliland independence. The people are willing to stay the course for self determination, regardless of the time line, that is good enough for the international community to grant state recognition. The Republic of Somaliland has all the attributes that make it a perfect sovereign state.
Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Somaliland must multiply its efforts to promote the case for Somaliland. It is mandated to develop, implement and effectively present the foreign policy of the Government of Somaliland Republic. Its function is to represent the Government of Somaliland vis-a-vis other foreign governments and international organizations. The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs shouldn’t ask for recognition, it must demand it and explain it crystal clear that it is an inseparable right earned during the independence of Somaliland on June 26, 1960. It must also promote the economic and cultural values of Somaliland and foster lasting cooperation with its neighboring countries.
The role of traditional elders in nation building
The nomadic communities in Somaliland have their own distinct cultural traditional traits that nourish the spread of democracy. Long before the arrival of the European colonial powers in the area, the ethnic communities of Somaliland developed a traditional form of democracy, unique to their own environment. This is the concept of pastoral democracy with an effective and efficient mechanism which is an integral part of conflict resolution under the guidance of tribal elders. These conflict resolutions are normally conducted under the wisdom tree. The big shadow of the wisdom tree serves as the traditional courthouse. Tribal chiefs, Sultans and elders are the final arbiters in any unexpected situation perceived as being a treat to peace and the harmony among the various clans. Any verdict rendered by these elders is always binding on the parties in conflict. Unequivocally, it is this culture and tradition driven methods; under the skillful hegemony of the elders that paved the way for Somaliland to utilize logically and universally sound - Bottom Up approach of nation building that led the establishment of good governance in Somaliland.
The elders of Somaliland are the backbone and the brain behind the peaceful Co-existence among the clans.Their pious efforts to secure lasting peaceful Coexistence and stability throughout the country will not only serve as beacon light, but a vivifying force that encourages every individual to respect the law and order. Undeniably, they are strong pillars in the edifice of learning and maintaining lasting democratic principles. Their contribution to the cause of restoring Somaliland sovereignty and nation building is tremendous and without parallel. They are also a galaxy of unique hope and virtue whose exemplary determination for the betterment of the country was and will remain a perennial source of guidance and inspiration to everyone in Somaliland. Without a doubt, the elders are such a source of strength and vigor for which Somaliland cannot afford to lose.
Geo-politics and the rise of international terrorism
In light of the so-called global terrorism, the international geo-politics have been going through a radical transformation. It is no secret that the USA is determined to establish its military presence in Africa, with the objective of putting at bay the spread of Al Qaida in the Horn of Africa. Even though the American forces are operating at neighboring Djibouti, the facilities available there are no match to the giant airport at Berbera costal area, not to mention the hostile climate and the rough terrain they are faced with. Consequently, the Americans are fully aware of the strategic importance of Somaliland, sitting across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.
Recently, the USA policy towards Somaliland changed. The shift in policy by the United States of America took effect during the adaptation of Dual Tract Policy. The Obama administration issued a directive to its External Affairs – Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. Effective immediately, the external affairs of US will commence engaging Somaliland directly. Given the fact that Somaliland is stable and democratic, the American will work with Somaliland Administration on matters of mutual interest for both countries, such as rise of international terrorism, piracy and Al Qaida’s search for possible save haven on the Horn of Africa. In return, the American will award Somaliland some economic assistance.
The international communities can no longer ignore the ongoing progress of Somaliland. It is an entity that works, despite its meager economy; all government organs are functioning adequately. Every citizen is guaranteed political freedom, personal security, and the rule of law, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity. Democracy is flourishing through multi party system. Elections were held at presidential, parliamentarian and municipal levels. Somaliland certainly demonstrated all the attributes of viable and vibrant state, and this earned her to be referred as Africa’s best kept secret. This state is definitely enjoying a highly accelerated momentum to achieve its recognition. That is why the nations of the world including USA, Europe and Africa are becoming receptive to its case. In May 2007 the European Parliament called upon the Council and Commission to investigate Somaliland’s request for independence.
By:- Adam Mohamed Egeh “Mardaadi”
Toronto, Canada. September 2, 2011