By Ali H. Abdulla
British Somaliland ceased to exist on 26 June 1960 when the blue Somali flag was hoisted in Hargeisa, the then administrative seat of the British Colonialist in Northern Somalia. A famous poet by the name of Timadde described the momentous event in his famous poem “Kaana Siib, Kanna Saar” which roughly translated means “Lower that (the colonial flag), and raise this (the glorious Somali flag)”. With those words, the British era in Somalia came to an end and the Somali people embarked on the long and arduous journey of restoring the Somali map back to its original pre-colonial shape, “Greater Somalia”, the dream of every Somali, then and now.
The historic and joyous moment was however marred by the hidden mines and snares that the British left in its wake: mines that would later threaten the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali people; mines that created an atmosphere that would lead to a destructive civil war which eventually caused the collapse of the only credible government that the Somali people have had in centuries. In his epic poem, Timadde did acknowledge the evil of the British imperialist by describing it as a sorcerer: “Saaxirki kala guurnaye ….” “We have parted ways with the sorcerer…”.
The sorcerer departed but used its sorcery to sow the seeds that would ignite a destructive war between Somalia and Ethiopia and the massacre of ethnic Somali residents by the Kenyan government in the Garissa District of the now North-Eastern Province of Kenya. The 1977 war with Ethiopia led to the weakening and eventual collapse of the Somali army which lost the backing of its traditional ally, the Soviet Union after it switched sides and backed the Ethiopian Dergue under Colonel Mengistu Haile Miriam. Somalia’s new western and Arab allies such as the USA and Saudi Arabia straddled the fence and refused to bolster the ailing Somali army.
The mines that the British left behind made it difficult for the Somali people to resume their pre-colonial cohesion with ease. Before granting Northern Somalia its independence, the British transferred the Ogaden or Western Somalia to Ethiopia while it later granted a large chunk of Southern Somalia to Kenya against the will of the Somalis who lived in those areas. Since Djibouti was under French domination, the Somali people managed to only restore part of the Greater Somali map when Southern Somalia, which was under Italian trusteeship, united with the newly independent Northern sibling.
In the first half of the 16th century, Somali clans were in an existential war with the Abyssinians to the west in defense of their territories under the leadership of the Somali leader Ahmed Gurey who managed to unite all the Somali clans under a single banner. The written records from that era, like “The Conquest of Abyssinia (Futuh Al-Habasa)”, clearly illustrate that Somalia, from Ras Hafun in the North to Ras Kamponi in the South formed a cohesive and united State. More recently, the Darwiish movement that waged a liberation war against all the colonial powers in Somalia from 1895 until 1920 managed to establish a presence in all Somali territories from Medeshi in the North to Beledweyne in the South. The Taleh and Daawad forts along with many other forts bear testimony to that widespread reach.
Unlike other areas of Africa that suffered from colonialism, Somalis share a common language, religion, ethnicity and a strong case for being a nation. They even have the highest frequency of the E-V32 Y DNA chromosome haplogroup found in any single sample population.
Even in colonial times, Somalis never recognized any colonial borders and the nomads moved back and forth across the phantom colonial borders with their herds in search of green pastures without let or hindrance. The borders only served as demarcation lines to mark the sphere of influence of each colonial power in Somalia. In the case of Northern and Southern Somalia, the British removed the demarcation line between the two areas when it managed to defeat the Italian fascists in Southern Somalia during the second World War. However, the Italians somehow sneaked back into Southern Somalia through a UN mandated trusteeship program to supposedly prepare the South for independence. This weakens the claims of the separatists in Northern Somalia who argue that there were two distinct and separate Somali enclaves to which the African agreement of preserving colonial borders apply. If colonial borders have legitimacy, then the separatists should accept the fact that the British did rule the North and the South as one county before the UN tasked the Italians with preparing the South for independence. The only reason Italy was chosen for this task was the prevalence of the past Italian influence in the South before independence: Italians owned large banana plantations and somehow convinced the UN of being the best nation to prepare Sothern Somalia for independence.
Somalia can be compared to Germany which was temporarily divided after the Second World War but regained its unity after the Berlin wall collapsed and the German people regained their sovereignty.
The separatist claims and the destabilization of Somalia
After the collapse of the central government, the rebels that overthrow the Somali government in the North sought to restore what they perceive as recognized colonial borders and unilaterally declared independence from a weak Somalia that emerged from civil war and embarked on the long road to recovery and rebuilding. However, a sizable portion of the population in the North are opposed to the move and expressed their strong desire to remain part of the Somali Republic that was reborn on 31 July 1960.
Even in Hargeisa, the capital of the separatists, young Somalis boldly challenge the push of some misguided elements to dismember the Somali Republic. They include Islamic scholars, social activists, poets, musicians and ordinary people. A few days ago, a young Somali poet called Naima Ahmed Qorane was thrown in jail for her belief in Somali unity and integrity. In an enclave that fools the world with rigged elections that are mere window-dressing exercises that are carefully designed to secure international recognition for their illegal separatism, freedom of speech and freedom of association are taboo.
The only crime committed by young Naima is to have appeared in a Tedx Mogadishu event in 2017 in which she emphasized her “Somalinimo”, being a Somali Unionist. In a recent interview, her father confirmed his daughter’s incarceration for her believes. The captive residents of Hargeisa make routine jokes about their paranoid leaders. One of the most hilarious jokes is the need to avoid looking up at the sky in Hargeisa since the sky is blue like the blue Somali flag and could indicate sympathy for “Somalinimo”, being a Somali Unionist. There are even actual cases where young ladies wearing blue dresses were accused of being sympathetic to “Somalinimo”.
In the absence of a strong central government in Somalia, the separatists managed to create a well-equipped army and started to use force against Somali Unionists to restore the old colonial border between the North and the South, ignoring the fact that such a border vanished when the British united Northern and Southern Somalia during the second World War. The separatists also ignore the fact that Somalis constitute one of the very few peoples of Africa who fit within the European concept of nationhood. They also ignore the fact that thousands in the North strongly believe in the unity and territorial integrity of Somalia. Even the first president of the separatist enclave, Abdirahman Ahmed Ali, eventually moved back to Mogadishu, the capital of the Somali nation.
In October 2007, the separatists occupied Las Anod, a town whose residents are committed to the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali Republic. Using bribery and coercion, the rebels crept slowly but steadily towards the old demarcation line that the colonial powers used to demarcate their spheres of influence in Somalia proper. The same strategy failed when the separatists attempted to occupy another unionist town known as Buhodle and the venture ended in utter failure and the loss of hundreds of lives on both sides of the conflict.
More recently, at a time when the Somali people were celebrating the start of a new era that portends more stability for the Somali nation, the separatists chose to move their army to an area that brought them to within sixty kilometers from their imaginary border. The move coincided with the visit of the Somali president, Farmajo, to the Puntland State of Somalia, a Federal State that is part of the Somali Republic and happens to be on the other side of the imaginary demarcation line sought by the separatists in Hargeisa. The unprecedented visit marked the first time in twenty-seven years that a sitting Somali president toured vast areas of the country and was welcomed by thousands of jubilant Somalis who hoped for a peaceful and stable Somalia that is not marred by clan conflict and extremist ideologies.
To counter the aggression of the Somaliland separatist administration, the unionist clans in the North sought the help of the Puntland administration which mobilized thousands of its forces to confront the separatists. Somalia’s Achilles Heel is clan identity and the current confrontation, unlike others before it, has all the hallmarks of a widespread clan conflict that can lead to the destabilization of both administrations. It threatens the economic and security achievements of both Somaliland and Puntland and can expose the area to the spread of extremist ideologies.
The current president of Somaliland used to be a ranked officer in the old Somali army and is well-known for his uncompromising stands. He reached power recently through fraud and vote rigging. He is also accused of war crimes and is famous for his war-mongering attitudes and stands. His disturbing saying: “I have no desire for peace as long as I can achieve my goal through shedding blood” worries many in the North.
Since both administrations get substantial financial support from the west and a large chunk of this support gets funneled to the purchase of destructive weapons and ammunition, the international community should pressure both administrations to pull back their forces from the area to pave the way for the Federal government to establish a credible federal state that is free from the influence of both administrations. This is the desire of the unionist clans in the area as expressed on many occasions through their clan elders and traditional leaders.
Let us hope that Somalia can avoid being dragged back to the era of warlords, clan divisions, toxic dumps, widespread illegal fishing, civil war and extremist ideologies. Somaliland should stop being the sick man of Somalia and rethink its twisted agenda that is based on coercion and an ill-conceived notion that can only lead to bloodshed, anarchy and mayhem. Even a well-known Islamic scholar known as Sheikh Dirir and who is based in Hargeisa, the capital of the Somaliland administration, released a Fatwa that came against the Somaliland risky adventure. He frowned upon the need to go to war over an imaginary line that the colonialists used to divide us as Somalis.
The whole of Somalia suffers from a protracted drought that threatens the livelihood of thousands of nomadic families. Thousands of youth get substandard education and graduate into a bleak future of unemployment and risky trips to Europe. Somali resources and energy should be channeled towards overcoming these challenges instead of killing each other over non-existent demarcation lines drawn by our long-gone oppressors.
Ali H. Abdulla
A Somali Unionist
Email: [email protected]
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