By Osman Hassan
Once again, the misguided talks between Somalia and its renegade entity, masquerading under the defunct name of Somaliland, are to resume in Djibouti. These talks, rolling on and no end in sight, are foreign-driven whatever may be their motives: neither party has signaled any desire for talks in the first place; In the case of Somalia’s leaders preoccupied with reviving the failed State, saving the union was of low priority if not of no interest but had to go through the motions of the talks partly for public consumption and partly to oblige the organizers; as for the secessionists, fancying themselves as a separate sovereign country and, talking with Somalia was deemed as compromising their independence. Clearly, they changed their mind, having been persuaded that their cherished aspirations are pipe dreams unless they first settle with Mogadishu.
The talks were first called for by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in February 2012 at a London meeting on Somalia’s recovery. Since then, they have been held in Dubai (28 June 2012), Ankara (13 April 2013), then Istanbul (6 July 2013). Agreement was reached on few procedural and peripheral matters, mainly of confidence-building nature. Otherwise, the main substantive issue, of the secession versus the union, has been put on the backburner as the final topic for negotiation.
Domination is the Aspiration Driving the Secession
The secessionist enclave is hung up on the past when it used to be the most favoured dominant clan under the British rule of Somaliland. Much as it was in the beginning enthusiastic about the independence and the union, that soon gave way to disenchantment within a short time when it felt its hitherto former dominance in the north has been diluted by the equality of all clans in the union. Thus began the nostalgia and hankering for a return to Somaliland even if it ceased to exist as a distinct country.
The failed military coup in 1962, led by northern officers hailing from the clan, was the first organized attempt to secede. Since then, the longing for secession has been simmering but rarely came to the boil. That chance came when the Somali State collapsed in 1991 and the SNM rebels of the clan declared the secession of the north (former British Somaliland) from Somalia, using as justification alleged atrocities committed against them in the 1980s, and injustice in the share of power in Somalia since the union. They were not satisfied to have their “liberated” clan enclave to themselves but had to invade the unionist clans/regions to make good of their yearning to become once again masters in the north as in the good days under the British rule. In the face of brutal force and atrocities, Awdal was the first unionist region to succumb -at least for now – but the SSC regions, albeit largely occupied, are carrying the torch for the union. As long as that continues, the union lives.
What is so ironical about the enclave, whose secession was hailed as freedom from southern domination and injustices, has itself become the mother of injustice, a one-clan rule wielding all the power over occupied clans/regions reduced to sub-colonial status. The chicken has come home to roost and the clan is now tearing itself apart over power, a victim of its own vices. Two sub-clans formed an alliance nickname the “Jeegaanta” and are now monopolizing most of the power while rivals are marginalized to join the lower ranks of the occupied clans. The have-nots too counteracted with their diaspora in the USA and UK forming competing governments in exile.
It might be premature to sound the death knell of the secessionist enclave but the widening cleavages among its sub-clans are too deep to be papered over. The internecine intra-clan strife for power might, who knows, hold one of the keys to the demise of the secession. A more engaged federal government would seize on these opportunities and build bridges with the political have-nots of whatever region or clan rather than meekly and aimlessly pursuing these protracted fruitless talks.
The Clan’s Options for Maintaining Dominance
Gaining international recognition for their secession has been the main goal that the clan has been pursuing since its declaration of secession in 1991. That goal is however as elusive as ever. That doesn’t however dispirit the diehards. Such is their aversion for Somalia (or for Somalis for that matter) that they prefer remaining in their current pariah status. But for the more realistic and reasonable in the enclave, there is a plan B in which they would be prepared to renounce the secession but on their terms. In essence, what this means is a return to the pre-union 1960 situation in which the former parts, the South and North, would form a federation as equals with a rotating presidency.
This plan B, if accepted by the rest of Somalia, would guarantee them to remain masters of the north and equal to the south in the federation with the extra bonus of the presidency rotating to them in turns. That would make them in effect the most privileged clan in the envisioned North-South federation and not one among equals which most frown upon. It is a price they expect the rest of Somalia would accept for their return to the union.
Even if the south were to agree to this scenario, which is inconceivable, it still hinges unrealistically on the premise that the occupied unionist clans in the north would continue to serve as tools or Trojan horses to advance the interest of the enclave to achieve its goals. Taking them for granted to play these roles is a delusion if there was one. They too have their aspirations and sooner rather later they will strive to take their place in federal Somalia rather than playing second fiddle for the enclave. The SSC regions are on that road and Awdal could follow suit. With both goals foreclosed, that could strengthen the hands of the realists to bring the clan back to take its place in Somalia.
The indifference to the Union in Mogadishu
Former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud has shown all along his indifference to the union. Indeed, he relied on the enclave’s deputies for the votes he would need each time he faced crisis. And as a quid pro quo he kept away from any action they would consider hostile or inimical to their “independence” . And it is in this regard that he accepted the procedural terms demanded by the secessionists – that Somalia and Somaliland and their leaders are equal protocol wise at the meeting. Needless to say, this amounts to two equal states negotiating.
But if there was any lingering doubt about where former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud stands on the union, that came clear beyond any shadow of doubt at a ceremony at Cadaado inaugurating the establishment of the Galmudug Federal State. He said then that the creation of Hirshabeele State would end the process of the formation of federal state members- all in former Italian Somaliland. The message was unmistakably clear and not lost on the secessionists: that the north (former British Somaliland), would not be part of the federation and hence implicitly not part of Somalia. There could not have been a better godsend present to the secessionists, an act bordering on treason.
Once the Somali government conceded that two equal entities (countries) were meeting as equals, it has to logically accede their claim that they are the sole representative of the people of what they call Somaliland (northern Somalia) when in reality their enclave constitutes geographically around a quarter of the north (former Somaliland).These other regions are unionists, have nothing to do with the secession and the talks, and have not delegated these secessionists to represent them. But shamefully, they were betrayed. That the Somali government should agree to all this is a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of the unionist regions which renders the talks in their name as a farce. When the union is sacrificed by its custodians in Mogadishu on the altar of nefarious political and pecuniary interests, that makes its defence in the north all the more arduous.
Is Farmaajo Any Different?
Farmaajo may not have taken any action patently detrimental to the union as his predecessor did, but he also did nothing indubitably supporting it. That comes to the same thing, for lack of action is just as bad, for that could in the end destroy the union. That is what Farmaajo is guilty of for the year or so he has been in power.
Leaders are supposed to have vision on matters that are existentialist for their nations, chart the way and then seen to be leading. Unfortunately, President Farmaajo’s hands-off approach to his job, combined with his reclusive, introvert and reticent persona, makes it difficult to surmise where he stands on key issues. Under the circumstances, what do people do: withdraw to their shelves, despair of Somalia and listen to the agents of foreign governments, or simply became prey to al Shabaab? And for the enclave, is it get on with your secessionist business as usual?
The only time Farmaajo spoke about the secession to the best of my knowledge was during his campaigning for the presidency when he promised the enclave to do what it takes to make them get over their grievances (whatever that means). Perhaps he was rooting for their votes among their deputies in Parliament, or perhaps simply naïve if he thought indulging them will change hearts and minds. His actions (or lack of actions) in his recent visit to Puntland was bound to delight the secessionists but for the people in the area it confirmed their worst fears about his unionist credentials. He stayed away to cross into Sanaag and Sool just across the other side of his route, as if reluctant to cross an “international border” (the old colonial one) and meet what would have been multitudes of welcoming citizens.
The Only Approach to end the Secession
All the same, one has to give Farmaajo the benefit of doubt and assume he is a unionist at heart if nothing else. In that case, he should give up these fruitless talks which are a dead-end. Instead, he should focus on getting the unionist regions in the north away from the enclave’s clutches and as part of the federal system. Without them, the secession will ultimately fall apart. Once that is accepted, he should go back to the speech of Hassan Sheikh at Cadaado, undo the damage he did and say: “Now that the process of the federation has been completed in the south, it is now the turn of the north (former Somaliland).
The SSC people are the ones that have been knocking on the door for years to join the federation but had it shut on them by Hassan Sheikh in deference to the enclave (and Puntland). Now is the time to welcome them to take their place in the federation. Others like Awdal will no doubt follow suit. That act would pull the rug from underneath its feet and the whole edifice of “Somaliland” could tumble down like a pack of cards – all without firing a shot. Sooner or later, they would have to bite the bullet and join their fellow brothers where they are assured equality and brotherhood. What better than that unless once is blinded by clan chauvinism?
But action targeting the enclave alone may not be sufficient to end the secession. It also requires that those outsiders, who for their own short-sighted and selfish reasons have been hampering the struggle of the SSC regions to defend the union, should cease to do so. That goes above all for Puntland and its leader Abdiweli Gaas. The SSC people have been urging him for years to stop stabbing them in the back but to no avail. He may bow to the diktat of heavyweights at Tukaraq but impervious to the pleas of those he perceives as occupied underdogs. It behooves Farmaajo and the rest of Somalia who care about the union to shame him and stand up to him.
This approach focusing on the unionists should have been the government’s priority from the start instead of wasting time on open-ended talks that only enhance the credentials of the enclave as a separate country the longer these talks continue. This is the road President Farmaajo should take and the sooner the better. In the meantime, let us remind ourselves the following memorable SYL nationalist song addressing the opponents of pan-Somali nationalism in the north in the 1950s. This time, we hope, it falls on receptive ears:
“Sanduluu ku iman saca Faarso nacay Sadex maalintuu qado
Sa waxaa ka dhigan safka haatan yidhi Soomaali aan diidno”
Email : Osman.email@example.com
Osman Hassan is a seasoned journalist and a former UN staff member. Mr Hassan is also a regular contributor to WardheerNews
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