By Osman Hassan
Colonel Muse Bihi, the leader of the one-clan secessionist enclave calling itself “Somaliland” (otherwise the northwest region of Somalia), is on the warpath, this time not against his old nemesis- Somalia. After all the crisis he created following his reckless invasion of Tukaraq and the armed conflict it sparked between his clan enclave and Puntland, he has now turned his guns on Michael Keating, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN for Somalia (UNSRSG). And this is because he did not get his way with him all the way he wanted. In two letters to the Secretary-General (SG)of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres, dated respectively 28 May and 18 June, the colonel attempted (first letter) to deal directly with the SG and plead with him the enclave’s case (no response). In the second letter, he complains among other things about the SRSG for disrespect to his enclave and in particular for not treating them as a separate sovereign country with its borders (again no response from SG).
Colonel Bihi’s main case (and that goes for his followers) is that the borders they inherited at independence from the former colonial power are inviolate as enshrined, he claims, in the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the current African Union (AU). As they contend, they had merely handed their borders and independence as a gift for Somali unity but not renounced the right to reclaim them. He claims this is what they did in declaring their secession from Somalia.
For the colonel, it is neither here nor there that the other four clans in the north of Somalia are unionists opposed to their secession, or that the union is irreversible after the act of union, with no caveats that any one clan could at any time abrogate its membership of the union – unless that is permitted by an act of Parliament, followed by a nation-wide referendum. Ultimately, they reckon, reality, realpolitik and facts on the ground would trump legal niceties and the world would deal with them as the dominant clan in the territory imposing its will on the rest. In the specific case of the SSC regions, they consider them, like borders, as their heritage from the British colonial power, all the more so as they had been loyal collaborators in the defeat of the anti British Darwish liberation movement based in the SSC regions. It is as simple as that and the indigenous SSC people don’t come into their calculation.
This hogwash about borders is part of a wider mantra that the one-clan secessionist enclave has come to believe as an act of faith since they declared secession and chasing recognition, forever a chimera. Other baseless assertions include the claim that they had been recognized by numerous countries on Independence night/day from Britain on 26 June 1960. The truth is that a number of countries have sent congratulatory messages to the newborn government of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal (I was at the BBC Somali Service on that day and vividly remember when these foreign messages were announced). Recognition entails the intention to establish diplomatic relations and exchange of ambassadors. It would not have made sense for outside countries to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the ex British colony that would exist only for four days and thereafter merge with Italian Somaliland.
Just as they make baseless claim about their recognition by some countries at independence, so too they claim to have diplomatic missions and ambassadors in other countries (implying recognition) such as Ethiopia, Kenya, the UAE and Djibouti. Time and again, they have been confronted with the facts but all that seems to fall on deaf ears. That is clear from colonel who has been regurgitating these make-believes on the commemoration of Somaliland’s Independence Day on 26 June. Hitler’s minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, used to say that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.
They seem to have taken a leaf from Goebbels’ book. How often one hears their smart cocksure “foreign minister”, Dr Said Ali Shire, reiterating the same stories with a straight face: that they are as good as recognized, that the full one is round the corner, that they have all the necessary attributes of a State such as having a defined a territory (what territory is he alluding to, ours or his clan enclave?), flag, borders (what borders- clan one?) and all the other paraphernalia. And so what? To follow his logic, my own Cayn region (Buuhoodle) have the same attributes as do those of Puntland and the other federal States and could claim the same thing. The clan had 12 “foreign ministers” since they declared secession and each one has been serving the same diet to their folks. It is as if they are talking to children in a kindergarten.
When someone is fanatically beholden to fallacious bygone borders and make-believe sovereignty, one can dismiss it as an isolated harmless day-dreaming. But when that state of mind is endemic in the enclave and among its diaspora abroad, it leads – and indeed has led-to all sorts of nefarious consequences: secession, occupation and oppression of others in pursuit of delusions. And not least, it has led to the current crisis at Tukaraq in which the clan is claiming to be repossessing the border bequeathed to them by the former British colonial ruler.
That mentality has put them at loggerheads with SRSG. But one can only shudder at the colonel’s naivety that they can get their way with the Secretary-General of the UN. This is the very person who is no other than custodian of the Charter, and whose job after all is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member countries of the organiszation, such as Somalia, and not a defunct ex-colony which he is bound to see as part and parcel of Somalia within its internationally recognized borders. He did not even bother to respond to them and left it to his SRSG, Mr Keating, to deal with them, the very man they put in the dock in the first place. All they achieved is to shoot themselves in the foot and be losers both with the Secretary-General and his representative in Somalia..
Given the secessionists’ perverted interpretation of the OAU stand on borders, one has to refer to the OAU Summit in Cairo in July 1964. Its resolution on border disputes among member states, unambiguously declares that “all Member States pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence”. As clearly mentioned, this provision applies only to Member States of the OAU at the time of the adoption of this resolution. In the case of Somalia, it is the borders it has with Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Quite obviously, ex- British Somaliland does not constitute a member country of the OAU within the terms of this resolution since it ceased to exist as a separate country after union with Italian Somaliland long before the establishment of the OAU. A non-existent “Somaliland” quite simply could not therefore have joined the OAU as an independent member country with its own “inviolate” borders as colonel Bihi and his followers defiantly maintain. It is worthwhile recalling that it was emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopian who was the brainchild of this resolution with the single objective of blocking Somalia’s claim to the Ogaden. It is for this reason that Somalia voted against it as did Morocco which at the time was claiming Mauritania.
If the enclave’s standings with the UN and other regional and international organizations are at their nadir, their relations with Somali-speaking peoples in The Horn are no better. One would have thought they would spare no effort to cultivate best relations with them for support. But all they do is to alienate them. And no one does that more than the likes of Faisal Ali Waraabe – a foul-mouthed loose cannon whose stock-in-trade are his animus and endless ranting and raving towards other Somali clans, regions and countries (Djibouti). As Professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar often pontificates, one wonders sometimes whether their external relations (or inter-Somali ones) are run by amateurs (granted a failed politician himself touting himself as the all-knowing sole savvy who could fix the enclave’s failings, given the chance). Having said that, the colonel and his secessionist followers are not entirely to blame for holding unattainable aspirations based on misguided claims. Others played their part in nourishing those.
Within Somalia, former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud did more than any other Somali leader to undermine the union and thus willingly or unwittingly aided and abetted the secession. First, he refrained from supporting those in the SSC regions (Sool, Sanaag and Cayn) who are resisting the secession in support of the union. Secondly, all the northern regions, whether secessionist enclave or unionist ones, were denied the right to accede to federal membership. The message it sent to the enclave was that they are a separate country which only reinforced their claim to separateness. He went further and accorded them equal status with Somalia at the Somalia/Somaliland talks – an all embracing concession that once given they are unlikely to forgo short of defeat in the SSC regions.
His successor, Farmaajo, for his part, avoids any confrontation with the enclave regarding the SSC regions or end of the secession. This stand is partly due to his aversion to problems he cannot handle if there are any he can. But his silence or inaction on these issues seems to be mainly a capitulation to the endless psychological warfare waged on him by the enclave, above all Faisal Ali Waraabe – demonising him for the alleged “genocide” of their people by his uncle’s (Siyad Barre). Seeing him as a wimp, their aim is to keep him off the affairs of the SSC regions and/or “Somaliland”. This has worked. Not only has he done as they wanted but went further by calling for national remorse to atone for the wrongs done to the clan (presumably by his uncle?).
Farmaajo’s call for remorse would have been an appropriate gesture if he was not engaged in brazen double standards and equally expressed similar feeling for the SSC victims of the secessionists who, since the collapse of the Somali State, continue to suffer their brutal occupation and oppression in defence of the union, the very job Farmaajo and company are supposed to do but failing to do. Farmaajo’s selective remorse is one-sided and an affront to those in the south who suffered far more horrendous crimes– the millions who died in the civil war, or starved to death through man-made famines, or forced across countries and perished in high seas to seek refuge – all of which pale those in the north into insignificance?. Yet, those in the south chose to bury the hatchet, let bygones be bygones and get on with their lives in the new emerging Somalia. His ill-judged action could jar old wounds if not reopen them.
Farmaajo should now be seen in his true wider perspective in regard to Somalia’s unity and sovereignty which. These are dictated by his disposition and not national vision, strategies and policies. Hence they end up as a mixture of disinterest, detachment or downright unmitigated disaster. His much-vaunted nationalism and political uprightness projected before his election are now in tatters – torn apart not least by his handing Qalbi Dhagax to Ethiopia to carry favours with its rulers. His recent rash lop-sided accord with Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, dispensing with Somalia’s destiny all on his own whims, follows that pattern. Nothing shows his political bankruptcy than his rapprochement with his nemesis for no gain to him or the nation – Ali Khalif Galaydh and Faisal Ali Waraabe at the sidelines of the Somali Partnership Forum Conference in Brussels (16-17 July 2018).The former needless to say is an incorrigible traitor and the other an unrepentant diehard secessionist – both sworn to Somalia’s destruction.
The mission of the duo can only be to seek his intervention in Tukaraq, if he wants to win back the enclave’s goodwill, and intercede with Abdiweli Gaas to abort Puntland’s liberation of the SSC regions and leave them as part of Somaliland. Farmaajo rarely says no and is likely to respond positively as is his nature to appear for his ego conciliatory, big-hearted and magnanimous.
If Farmaajo expects his simple-minded wooing of the enclave will endear him to them, or get them off his back, or change hearts and minds and end the secession, he is very much mistaken. Somalia has been doing that for the last 27 years and to no avail. All it does on the contrary is to validate their sense of victimhood, the driving force behind their propaganda, and reinforce their defiance. One can’t blame the SSC people if they fear that he would sacrifice them and hand them over to Colonel Bihi (if he could) just as he handed Qalbi Dhagax to Ethiopia.
Outside Somalia, support to the enclave’s claim to separation from Somalia comes from western sources: When it comes to western media, The London Guardian Newspaper serves as a platform for the enclave’s supporters (rarely ever a supporter of Somalia and the union). The inflectional International Crisis Group (ICG) -an outfit whose mission, it claims, is “Preventing War. Shaping Peace”– has gone further than the rest by openly calling for the enclave’s recognition and treats it as a separate country on par with Somalia. Equally, dedicated foreign western journalists and lobbyists, the likes of Matt Bryden and Peter Pham, relentlessly champion their cause. Vociferous British deputies in the British Parliament in London and in the EU Parliament in Brussels regularly call for the enclave’s recognition. It is difficult to gauge their impact on the west but at home in the enclave it stokes, as a minimum, the flames of the secession.
After all else is said and done, what is incontestable is that this barren impoverished enclave would not have been able to survive on its own let alone occupy other regions if it was not for the indispensable material and political support it gets from some western aid donors. These donors might feel obliged now and then to affirm their support for Somalia’s unity and territorial integrity to conform to the common official stands of the UN, AU, EU and other intergovernmental organisations. But such support amounts to lip service when, far from imposing sanctions on the enclave to end its secession or the occupation of unionist northern regions/clans, they on the contrary provide it sustenance to sustain their secession and shield it against outsiders to maintain their occupation of the SSC regions.
First, when it comes to sustenance, donors provide disproportionate aid directly to the enclave’s coffers, bypassing the relevant federal ministries. This separate treatment is justified on the gratuitous ground that “Somaliland” is a “special case” – or, in layman’s terms, it is a separate entity/country from Somalia. This is tantamount to recognizing and rewarding what the enclave has been claiming all along. A recent letter from the Minister of Planning, Ambassador Jamal Mohamed Hassan, to donors that their aid be funneled through his ministry, in conformity with established practices between donors and recipients, was unceremoniously brushed aside in a manner befitting a vassal state. Clearly, in their eyes, the wishes of the secessionists outweigh those of the federal government and through it Somalia. The Minister has admirably done his job for the nation, a rarity among his peers. It remains to be seen whether the supine Villa Somalia will back him up.
Secondly, the donors additionally support the enclave by indirectly defending its claimed “territorial integrity”, corresponding to those of former British Somaliland, thus blatantly riding roughshod over the fundamental human rights of the unionist SSC clans and their wishes not to be forced to be part of this secessionist conceived “Somaliland”. The donors’ cynical and partisan approach is clear from their perspective on the conflict between Puntland and Somaliland. They present the problem as purely a dispute over the control of the town of Tukaraq, rather than the wider picture of the illegal occupation of the SSC regions by the secessionist clan of which Tukaraq is but only a small part and the last post occupied since they captured, Lascanod, the regional capital, from Puntland forces in October 2007.
For the donors, the solution to the problem between Puntland and Somaliland is not one dealing with the core problem, which is the enclave’s SSC occupation, but rather a single issue approach revolving solely around Tukaraq, and calling for two-stages action: first for the antagonists to withdraw their forces to their ex-ante positions before the enclave’s capture of town, and then enter into dialogue to resolve their dispute over the outpost. If Puntland forces were to heed this call, and withdraw across the old colonial border, it would leave Tukaraq and Sool region entirely under the enclave’s control, thus preserving its claimed “territorial integrity”. Once he achieved his ends, dialogue over Tukaraq as the donors call for would have become an exercise in futility. For the donors, the wishes of the SSC people do not come into their calculations in the name of realpolitik.
The secessionists may be delusional to claim “inviolate” borders inherited from Britain. But it is not impossible to realize true borders if the current enclave mutates into a fully-fledged recognized independent country, based on a revival of former British Somaliland, and born with the help of donors and the abdication of Villa Somalia to defend the union. When all others have failed the defence of the unity of Somalia- Villa Somalia and all – the road to save the unity of Somalia passes through Garawe. As it is, Puntland alone remains what single-handedly stands in the way of the enclave (and their donor supporters) to realize their goal of an independent sovereign Somaliland. Its anticipated defeat of the enclaves’ occupying militia in Sool, God willing, will render the one-clan secession untenable and hence usher its demise. That in turn will keep the unity of Somalia out of harm’s way. Viva!!
Email: Osman Hassan2 @gmail.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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