By Osman Hassan
The one-clan secessionist enclave calling itself Somaliland has been doing its utmost to gain recognition ever since it declared secession from Somalia in May 1991 but all that hit the dust. Its patience has borne fruit for what it is worth and at last its breakthrough came, of all places, from Taiwan, China’s renegade Island. The two agreed to forge ties due to “friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law”. Measured self-praise is one thing, but all this baseless hyperbole flaunting their common values is going over the top.
What brought together the rebel Chinese Island and the similarly rebel one-clan Somali enclave is obvious. Just as birds of a feather flock together so too do renegades look for each other. What they share are not common noble values as the would have the world believe but the distinction of being the only two places in the world whose raison d’être is not to be part of their motherland at any cost.
That common denominator is what draws them together when the rest of the world has shunned them, and the recognition they desperately crave has proved so hard to come by. This is particularly the case for the Somali one-clan enclave which has failed to net a single recognition after 30 years since it declared secession from Somalia. What better tthan giving each other what others had denied them.
Other than this, one can only speculate about how long their euphoria will last, or for that matter how long they will be around and on the run. What one can say is that they face different challenges which will determine their future. In the case of Taiwan, a sword of Damocles hangs over its head. How long it will remain an independent country would depend solely on China. Once the later decides the game is up, that would be the end of the story for its errant Island.
Direct and Indirect Help from Somalia
When it comes to talking about the fortunes of the separatist Somali enclave, one can only point out to its longevity as it approaches the thirtieth year since it declared secession from Somalia. And for that it can only thank first and foremost its endurance, perseverance and unity of purpose not to give up hope when the recognition it craves and chases looks in sight but always recedes away like a mirage. These qualities are in many ways atypical of the Somali race, and least of all associated with the secessionist clan, hitherto stereotyped as least steadfast and mercurial.
But it’s most important fortune comes from unexpected quarter: Unlike the case of China’s unwavering will to bring Taiwan to heel by whatever means, Southern Somalia (for that is what Somalia is today) has no heart to using military means – even if it had one – to ram the union down the throat of rebellious northerners, all the more when they were the very people that brought the union in the first place and thrust it upon unenthusiastic foot-dragging southerners.
Where there is a will there is a way and if the federal government (southern Somalia) had the will, it could have defended the union through other non-military ways by, for example, supporting politically the northern unionist regions defying the secession. Without them, the secession would be seen as a one-clan affair not representing the wish of all the northern Somali clans and for that reason not cut much ice in the eyes of the international community. What then explains this disinterest in the union which seems to reign since Siyad Barre was ousted and the State collapsed?
If the support for the union was lukewarm in southern Somalia in the first place, what has since eroded it rock bottom are the multiple traumatic shocks that its people have gone through since the collapse of the Somali State. These made them more insular and preoccupied with those issues that touch them directly. In this paradigm of a failed State, what is happening in a distant land, which many of them have never set foot, is out of their minds much to the detriment of the defence of the union against the secessionists.
Southern Somalia’s disinterest in the union is only part of what helped the secessionist enclave to survive all along if not bolster. Since the advent of the federal system, that disinterest has morphed into open supportive actions taken at two fronts by southern federal leaders. The first action was to shut the door on the north to be part of federal Somalia. This is what former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud did when he denied Khatumo/SSC regions to accede to the federation as a Member State when it more than met the required conditions.
President Hassan’s justification was that the federal process has been completed with the accession of Galmudug State. Since there cannot be one federal (southern) part of Somalia and a non-federal northern part, what his action amounts to is that the northern regions are de facto excluded from Somalia, or seceded in Hargeisa’s parlance, but it comes to the same thing – a breakup of the union.
Apart from military defeat, nothing else could have defeated the secession more than extending the federation to eligible northern regions; and vice versa, nothing could have been more supportive to the secession/Somaliland than excluding the north from the federation and keeping it an exclusively southern club.
Keeping the north out of the federation was not the only action President Hassan took in favour of Somaliland. He also bolstered its status as one representing not a specific clan/region but the whole of the north (former British Somaliland). What is more, he granted them equal status to Somalia at the talks between the two parties as de facto two negotiating countries.
The message President Hassan Mohamoud sent to Hargeisa and indeed to the world was clear: that the enclave have nothing to fear from Somalia and are free to go their own way. Nothing could have been more helpful to them than when that support comes from the very quarter they feared most to undo the secession. It can only happen in Somalia where one man can dispense with the unity of a nation at the stroke of a pen and still remain unaccountable to no one for his action
His successor, President Farmaajo, did nothing for all the years he was in office to reverse his predecessor’s pro-Somaliland actions. Indeed, he went one step further to ensure they have no cause for complaint. While President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud at one time included northerners in his delegation for the talks, overriding objections from the enclave, President Farmaajo for his part heeded their objections and excluded northerners from his delegation at the Djibouti talks. The enclave got almost all it wanted from the Djibouti talks short of recognition.
That cherished recognition would have had stood good chance to come by if all the five northern clans were united in wanting to withdraw from the union. If that was the case, Southern Somalia, which in reality has been lukewarm about the union from its birth, would have had even lesser interest or legitimacy to insist on maintaining it. Given that scenario on the Somali side was the case, that would have given the green light to the international community to recognise it. Why then has this unity among all the northern clans for the secession failed to materialise?
If there was a time when the northern people were more or less united on cutting the union with southern Somalia, that was the time following the collapse of the Somali State in 1991. What united them then was the traumatic experience they have gone through in their different ways: for the SNM/clan, it was their suffering at the hands of the military government in its declining years; and for others, it was the indiscriminate atrocities and ethnic-cleansing inflicted on them in Mogadishu as reprisals for giving alleged support to the ousted government or for belonging to the wrong clan or both.
The result was that northerners were involuntarily emptied from Mogadishu/southern Somalia and forced to return to the north, or end up as refugees around the world. This forced reverse population movement back to the north took Somalia back to its pre-union two separate population situation. The returnees and those in the territory shared deep bitterness as being victims for a union for which they were its selfless originators and sacrificed their own independence. The sentiment on all sides was “never again and get me back our own independent Somaliland”.
Against this background, those who assembled at Burco in May 1991 came together from all clans and all corners of the north to seek reconciliation among the clans whose relations have been strained over the years of political strife. This reconciliation was a necessary prerequisite before possible political options for the north could be considered. Unfortunately the SNM, impatient to flex its muscles as the new masters of the land, and eager to impose its will on what it saw as the conquered clans, put the cart before the horse and forced the secession on the assembly at gunpoint.
Much as what the SNM did at the meeting in Burco was a deplorable diktat reminiscent of the ways of the military regime they demonised, it was nonetheless played down as the rash action of undisciplined militia. What mattered most to the assembly was looking ahead and charting a new era of liberty, equality and fraternity among the northern people, mirroring those promising days of independence. That aspiration was attainable but alas ruined forever by the SNM and their blinkered chauvinist supporters.
From the word go, after the declaration of the secession, the SNM betrayed the longing for a territory shared by a united equal people. Instead, the territory was designated as either their spoils of the war, or recompense for their struggle and suffering (Kaadidayadii baa loo soo cabbay!!). What they established can be likened in some ways to Apartheid South Africa where one tribe, the whites, wielded all the reins of power, controlled the economy and exclusively owned the natural resources and casted the rest as nonentities.
Similarly, the non-SNM clans, in particular the SSC regions, are not only, politically and economically excluded but also militarily occupied and at times subjected to massacres, ethnic-cleansing and land grab (Kalshaale and others).
Almost 30 years on, the enclave has had five leaders and the established order of intra sub-clan leadership rotation and hegemony has become entrenched, immutable and non-negotiable, passed on from one leader to the next as clan heritage. No one knows this better than Dr Ali Khalif Galaydh, the erstwhile leader of Khatumo. Having unilaterally handed them Khatumo on a plate, he has been pleading for years for token face-saving concessions but totally ignored.
For the colonel currently in charge in the enclave, reasoning and fair play are all dirty words in his book signifying weakness. Might for him is what counts. And since the SSC regions are under his boots, he sees Dr Galaydh as an irrelevant spent force if not a persistent irritating conman. False self-assurance, unbridled arrogance and self-righteousness are the recipes for their downfall.
The Die is Cast for the enclave
The British army in the First World War were described as “the lions led by donkeys”. This remark was reflecting the blame for some of the defeats suffered in the early years of the war as being due to bad leadership letting down the otherwise brave British soldiers. Likewise, Somaliland’s equivalent donkeys – short-sighted blinkered leaders – will also lead the otherwise intelligent people of the enclave to a dead end.
The inevitable demise of the secession is self-inflicted. It is partly the result of the wrong ways they run their affairs and partly how they treated others. Internally, the enclave is sinking from the dead weight of pervasive mal-governance; its unity is falling apart in the midst of deep schism among the sub clans along haves and have-nots; and generational gap in which the young unlike the old have no memory of the secession, or its historical background, and as such attach little importance to it. Altogether, a new wind is blowing in the enclave and the aura of the renaissance of the union is palpable everywhere. As many desert a sinking ship, they can only head for the union.
In the end, the SSC struggle will be the one that would deliver the mortal blows to the secession. As they get on with their liberation, they have crossed the Rubicon and there can be no turning back. This struggle is spearheaded by new generations who can no longer stomach to be the exception in Somalia as the only people colonised by a fellow clan in the 21st Century.
In the meantime, Taiwan and Somaliland will continue to bury their heads in the sand and get on enjoying their last Tango and togetherness, the false calm before the storm. But like death, their end is inevitable. One will end up in the jaws of the Chinese dragon while the other will perish from its own follies. It might sound pointless to speculate upon the might-have-been of history. But one can still do so and ponder what other course could history have taken if the SNM/clan respected the yearning for liberty, equality and fraternity for all the people of Somaliland that their respective suffering demanded? Speculation all the same is pointless for there is no way of putting the clock back.
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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