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Somaliland: A Dichotomy Between Vestiges of Colonial Construct and the Fallacy of Statehood

By Mohamed Jama

The Genesis of the SSC-Somaliland Conflict

Most of the Sool region has been under Somaliland  administration since 2007, after the control of the regional capital of Laasanood fell to the grip of Somaliland following a daylong skirmish between Puntland and Somaliland that led to unchallenged takeover of the city of Laasaanood. Somaliland remained the de facto administration of Laancaanod owing partly to geopolitical diplomatic pressures in favor of Somaliland that prevented Puntland’s efforts to retake. Moreover, there are grievances held by some of the SSC political elite who opted for Somaliland due to disillusionment of their communities with the successive Puntland governments which they deemed as not living up to its commitment following the state formation in 1998 which the SSC Harti sub-clans in the north namely Dhulbahante and Warsangeli partook its establishment together with their brethren sub-clans in the north east.

The reality on the ground has changed and political landscape has shifted as a result of  more than a decade long subjugation of the SSC communities by Somaliland which has eventually culminated with the Laasaanood upraising. This was instigated by the targeted assassinations of dozens of the town’s residents that commenced in 2009 of which no due process for bringing the perpetrators to justice was done, whilst the other localities under the Somaliland administration enjoyed relative stability. These targeted killings in Laascaanod raised suspicion as to the motive behind it. The Laasaanood residents viewed the perpetual targeting of the cream of SSC community  that were confined to their territories  as deliberately woven acts of violence devised to intimidate by way of labeling the region as safe haven for extremists, so that they will always find themselves at the mercy of Somaliland’s brutality. This was followed by the deportation of many IDPs from the southern part of Somalia under the pretext that they are aliens harboring terrorists, but the targeted assassinations remained unabated. Some pundits posit that the targeted killings were sponsored by Somaliland to partly rid themselves of those deemed as threat to the secessionist agenda, so that they can keep the rest of the civilian population under their thumb.

On the 26th of December 2022, Abdifatah Abdullahi Abdi “Hadraawi”, a young politician of the Wadani opposition party of Somaliland was the last victim of the targeted assassinations. This was followed by peaceful demonstrations by the Laasaanood residents demanding justice to be served, then all hell broke loose as the Somaliland authorities responded with heavy-handed disproportionate excessive brute force including but not limited to the use of live bullets, arbitrary detention, intimidation of the civilians, disconnection of telecommunications, interruption of water supply and imposition of curfew which claimed the lives of nearly 20 civilians. On 3rd January 2023 another resident carrying a rifle to guard his business was shot dead by the Somaliland police under the pretext that he violated the curfew rules, this instigated a swift response by a militia belonging to the Dhulbahante that the deceased hailed from. Short exchange of firefight ensued and the Somaliland authorities were ousted in a flash forcing their retreat to Military barracks on the eastern flank of the city. Deeming the ouster as a respite from the Somaliland chokehold, a self-determination conference was announced by Garaad Jaamac Garaad Ismail, an eminent traditional leader from Jaamac Siyaad sub-clan of Dhulbahante.

Reception for the Homecoming of Garaad Jaamac Garaad Cali in Laasaanood

This occasioned a long overdue homecoming of many  SSC elite and the prominent Traditional Leaders who came to the town in droves with large entourages and heavy security detail aimed to protect the conference and fortify the city defenses against an impending Somaliland attack. The traditional leaders were received by overwhelming Laasaanod residents waving the blue Somali flag stretching kilometers beyond the reach of human eye. This was shortly followed by the replacement of the Somaliland insignia with the Somali flag and Khaatumo-SSC emblem to signify rejection to the Somaliland secession and identify with the unity of Somalia in what became known as “the Blue Revolution”. The conference lasted for two weeks.

It was indeed foolhardy on the part of Col. Muuse Bihi, the President of Somaliland, that on the 6th of February 2023 the Somaliland war machines rolled into Laasaanood getting a wind of an imminent Declaration of Self-Determination by the SSC Leadership and majority of the Dhulbahante and Fiqi Shini representatives from all walks of life. The Declaration was the culmination of what has transpired from the two-week long Consultation Conference held in Laasaanood. The Somaliland invasion was aimed at preempting the announcement of the declaration. Fortunately the people of Laascaanood put up a formidable defense and thwarted the Somaliland attack up until the moment they received back up from their fellow SSC and the Laasaanood civilians. The declaration came out unhindered and surfaced on social media during the firefight.

The genesis of the conflict has its roots in the secession instigated by  the fact that the Siad Barre regime has marginalized the Isaaq clan in the north western Somalia and committed a degree of inhumane acts of violence,  prosecution and widespread human displacement, often the architects of the Somaliland secession project would argue, but the same is true of many regions in Somalia including the north eastern (present day Puntland) and parts of the southern Somalia that were also on the receiving end of the regime’s brutality. Moreover, there is a degree of truth to Somaliland’s claim though some on the other side of the argument would posit counternarratives that after the ouster of the Siad Barre regime, the Somali National Movement (SNM) which predominately filled by a political elite from Isaaq in its ranks have returned the favor targeting Darood subclans such as the Dhulbahante and Warsangeli in Sool and Sanaag regions.

Former Somalia’s president Siad Barre

Sadly, what is happening in Laasaanood today is a stark reminder of what the Isaaqs were allegedly subjected to under Siad Barre regime, it is classical example of history repeating itself. On that note, one would only ponder how rationale it is to repeat the similar tactics as the ones employed by the perpetrators of the acts that led to Somaliland’s grievances and of all people Col. Bihi who witnessed firsthand the ill-treatment of the former dictator should know better regarding the fate and finality of such acts, a Deja-vu zero-sum outcome of anarchy, disintegration and social disharmony. Ironically Col. Bihi expects a different result, Albert Einstein denoted the definition of insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

Nevertheless, Somaliland’s point of reference for the statehood argument hinges on the fallacy that it gained statehood status upon independence on 26 June 1960 without an iota of evidence that backs their claim, nor a single State within the United Nations that have granted a recognition which is clearly manifested the fact that the British Somaliland united with their brethren in Italian Somaliland on 1st  of July 1960 to form the Somali Republic. Thereafter, the Act of Union which come into operation on 1st July 1960,  was adopted by the National Assembly on January 18, 1961, and promulgated on January 31, 1961. This fact of the matter debunks and more importantly renders any argument of Somaliland’s statehood irrelevant.

To set the record straight a bit of context is in order. On May 18, 1991 the establishment of new self-styled state dubbed Somaliland was unilaterally declared in the Burco conference which did not provide an ample time for thoughtful deliberation as the proclamation happened hastily and some accounts indicate that the few Dhulbahante leaders present at the conference posit an argument that they consented to the SNM demands under duress. 

The Somaliland Protectorate which is a colonial construct and the history annals detail that the British Somaliland Protectorate per se was not  a legal entity as it was made up of a mosaic of clan fiefdoms with the Isaaq under the British rule; the Dhulbahante forced under British military rule after the defeat of the Dervish Movement led by Seyid Mohamed Abulle Hassan a.k.a the “Mad Mullah” (a derogatory nickname symbolizing his brazen valor of putting up formidable struggle against the might of the British and Italian colonial powers) and the Warsangeli territories of the present day Sanaag region and beyond  administered under the Warsangeli Sultanate led by Sultan Mohamoud Garaad Ali Garaad Shire who signed a separate treaty with Britain. Notwithstanding all the above, Somalis have coexisted since time immemorial in a pastoral clan setting where the territories of each clan were under separate rule of traditional aristocracy prior to the advent of the European Colonization which intrinsically was not a legally binding arrangement as the colonial powers coerced the indigenous inhabitants of the Somali Peninsula and were subjected to colonial occupation and conquests and eventually crafted artificial boundaries without the consent of the local people.

Somaliland’s narrative of statehood which to this day remains nothing more than a mirage and has proven to be elusive with the majority of the people from Somaliland buying the intoxicating false narrative of statehood in hook line and sinker are unreservedly chanting erroneous notion of statehood and that the SSC people cannot exercise their inalienable rights of self-determination, self-rule and pursuit of happiness. It is irrationality of the highest order that both the political class and the ordinary people in Somaliland subscribed to this flawed notion of wishful thinking that defies all logic and doesn’t respect the will of those who do not share their secession ideals and are devoted to keep the Somali unity intact. More so, inexplicably the statehood fallacy is so ingrained in the psyche of the younger generation whose only knowledge of their history is confined to a selectively concocted narratives befitting the elite’s mantra which finally have boomeranged. 

It is intractable that Somaliland brags about their armed struggle against the Siad Barre regime as well as their achievements on multiple facets of governance and development, yet, they are hellbent to deprive the SSC people of the same.  The old adage that “one should treat others how one would want to be treated” has no place in the Somaliland lexicon. For more than 30 years Somaliland has been trying to justify the secession project using their grievances with the Siad Barre regime, but this claim will have no any bearing considering the fact that Col. Bihi’s army is committing atrocities of similar kind. As they say “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”.

Somaliland has for decades projected disingenuous image that portrays it as an oasis of tranquility and democracy but notwithstanding all the braggadocio for attaining idyllic democratic ideals and good governance, which, despite with is imperfections, would have served an impeccable model for replication in many parts of Somalia, has with ascendency of the Col. Bihi to the helm started cracks appearing on the sugarcoated Somaliland governance. The current conflict in Sool renders Somaliland a pariah entity with its  current barbaric violation of human rights amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity being just the last nail on coffin and conspicuously attests to the fragility and incongruity of the much acclaimed so-called democratic institutions it has purportedly formed over the years speaks volumes. Somaliland ‘s bid for secession which hitherto have not garnered recognition of any degree for the past 32 years and has now hit a snag and became nothing more than an exercise in futility, with the Laasaanood invasion violating the tenets of universal human rights and civil rights to self-determination only adding to its volatility and laying bare to its autocratic tendencies.

On the development front, SSC regions have been between a rock and hard place, labelled with misnomer of disputed land, it has become apparent that the international development and humanitarian partners mostly stationed in Hargeisa and Garowe found themselves in situation where their hands are tied behind their back as both Somaliland and Puntland lay claim SSC regions as part and parcel of the regions under their jurisdiction. This has occasioned a scenario were development and aid for the SSC regions remained minimal at best with Somaliland taking advantage of this reality to stifle the aid from the international community earmarked for the SSC regions and in effect misused as a political bargaining chip which proved to be a bottleneck that doesn’t allow the meager resources to trickle down to the masses in the SSC regions. The most ironic notion is fact that Somaliland is bombarding Lasanod district as we speak  and, on the flipside, appealing to the international community to channel the humanitarian assistance for Sool region to their less transparent institutions and briefcase NGOs based in Hargeisa.

In this connection, the international humanitarian aid has become a weapon for by Somaliland to entice some unscrupulous pseudo-leaders such as the quisling Saleebaan Yusuf Ali Koore, Somaliland’s Minister of Information who hails from the SSC regions but lacks political clout and leverage among them. Somaliland uses the humanitarian and development aid for political and military purposes employing a stick and carrot and at times reportedly diverts the aid to areas like Togdheer which is the closest neighboring region to the SSC territories. The SSC Leadership voiced their concerns that any aid channeled through Somaliland will not trickle down to the needy people. The aid have the potential of being misused and diverted. Thus, to ensure the unimpeded access and proper reach of the needy- the people of Laascaanood whom the humanitarian was meant,  who in gut-wrenching circumstances, the Humanitarian Partners should heed SSC Leadership’s call, respect the will of the people and channel their aid to the besieged Laasaanood town and the other settlements where the IDPs have fled to, through alternative reliable humanitarian corridors and avenues.

Conclusion:

The situation in Laasaanood  is so dire to the extent that the SSC traditional leaders are under constant threat of bombardments and deliberate targeting as witnessed in the recent experience of Garaad Mukhtar Garaad Ali’s close call who narrowly escaped from bullet coming through  the window of residence while giving live streaming TV interview. The Garaad did not budge and portrayed a hallmark of immense bravery as he went on with his interview.

The world has watched with horror the gory details of the atrocities committed by Somaliland as the SSC people lost life and limb but ensured their defenses in tact albeit under gruesome circumstances and heavy casualties. On the other hand Somaliland lost its luster and good standing. Mark my words, with this degree of hostility and Somaliland’s unchecked brutality, things will never be the same again.

With the current conflagration in Laascaanood, it is obvious that, Col. Bihi has crossed the Rubicon as he has taken a pathway that resulted in a self-inflicted quandary that portends the imminent degeneration of Somaliland’s stability, hence its bid for secession.  Over the past thirteen days of lopsided and asymmetrical warfare bearing heavy bombardments and indiscriminate shelling by Somaliland have reportedly rendered close to 190,000 Lasanod inhabitants IDPs in many parts of Sool, Buhoodle, Nugal, Mudug and Bari whilst estimated 50,000 vulnerable and frail residents who couldn’t move were left trapped in the city. The city is almost reduced to rubble and the death toll of civilians including children, women, elderly and humanitarian workers has become the order of the day. Yet Col. Bihi’s regime has the audacity to carry on with their disinformation campaign, distorted narrative and propaganda of waging war against supposedly phantom terrorists in Laasaanood.

This mantra has indeed rid the word terrorist of its proper meaning. Last time I checked the indiscriminate shelling of civilians and civilian infrastructure befits the  definition of terrorism. Paradoxically, it is worth mentioning the glaringly flip-flopping of positions manifested in the in the statements issued  by the Somaliland authorities stating the fact that traditional leaders are respectable eminent personalities on the one hand, in the vain hope that they will arrive at a decision favorable to Somaliland as the Commander of the Somaliland Forces Gen. Nuux Taani asserted prior to the onset of the current conflict and upon culmination of the SSC conference when the SSC leadership chose the opposite and the result proved to be one that didn’t auger well with Somaliland’s wish, all of a sudden, the tone has changed and the same respectable traditional leaders were labeled terrorists. This pretext of fighting terrorists is red herring aimed at hoodwinking the International Community in Somaliland’s pursuit of carte blanche  to legitimize their unwarranted carnage and cold-blooded massacre of the SSC people. It is also fathomable that Col. Bihi and his henchmen cannot accept the fact the SSC Freedom fighters purely drawn from Dhulbahante clan have dealt his forces a formidable blow and suppressed his constant attacks for the better part of the past two weeks. The notion that a ragtag militia have subdued the Somaliland armed forces wouldn’t bode well with masses in Somaliland, then the only option to resort to is obviously to employ a disinformation strategy taking matters out of proportions by claiming that the freedom fighters are made up of Darood clan, the Puntland forces, the Somali National Army (SNA) forces and terrorist elements. In warfare the first causality is  always the truth. This strategy enables Col. Bihi to recruit more conscripts to the Somaliland campaign in Laasaanood in creating an invented enemy and common cause that some will think it is worth dying for. The end goal is to keep his forces intact and muster more troops, but indeed Col. Bihi knows better.

Fortunately, we live in an era in which the outdated tactics of the aggressor playing the victim’s card and shedding crocodile tears is a thing of the past and is no longer practicable. In this mentality the old maxim “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks” rings true. The world is well versed with every nitty-gritty visa-a-vis the Somaliland brutality in Lasanod, and the smoke screen will not change the reality on the ground but only add an insult to injury. The entire  district council members of Lasanod led by the Mayor and his Deputy attested to fact that their so-called government of Somaliland is indiscriminately shelling the city and its inhabitants without regard for the civilian population, they called for the withdrawal of the Somaliland forces and quashed the terrorism false narrative by Bihi’s Somaliland.

Moreover, Somaliland has lost a lot of political capital as its image was dented and the international community condemned its indiscriminate shelling of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The U.S’s planned military training exercise slated to take place in Berbera was relocated Kenya at the eleventh hour. The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) recognized the SSC Declaration, called for the SSC people’s to be respected, stated the fact that Somaliland is part and parcel of Somalia, condemned the Somaliland invasion and called for cessation of hostilities.

Ironically, it is a laughable matter that Somaliland has been hellbent to sell a false narrative of cessation of hostilities and called for unilateral ceasefire for the mere ploy of buying time which eventually did not held and proved to be a lip service as Somaliland never honored to uphold it and went out of its way by resuming its bombarding of civilians the next morning. What makes matters worse, is Somaliland’s sarcastic claim that lumps a supposedly apparition of the Somali National Army (SNA) forces and Puntland Defense Forces together with terrorist elements. Sounds likes classical oxymoronic as these groups are just like oil and water and cannot mix, nor can they be lumped together as they cannot coexist. The world knows that the current conflict is between the Somaliland forces and SSC freedom fighters many of whom are former Somaliland soldiers who broke ranks with the Somaliland Army and defected to the SSC Liberation.

The fact that Col. Bihi has finally changed his tone in the face of relentless resistance from SSC Freedom Fighters for the past two weeks, with a carefully crafted ploy akin to the shedding of crocodile tears in the vain hope of pacifying the position of the SSC liberation, whilst conversely his forces are constantly trying to gain a vantage point to infiltrate the SSC freedom fighters’ defense. At the present time Col. Bihi is marshalling his troops and dispatched his tanks from Hargeisa to Laasaanood. His attempt to cajole the traditional leaders didn’t change anything but rather flared up the already tense situation as both Garaad Jaamac Garaad Cali and Garaad Jaamac Garaad Ismaciil categorically rebuffed his call for negotiations between SSC traditional leaders and their counterparts from Hargeisa. They sensed something fishy about the unilateral announcement of talks without their consent and the fact that Bihi’s forces are still in Laasaanood seemed self-contradictory on Bihi’s part. The duo responded in unison with a carefully worded statements reiterating that peaceful talks will only commence upon the withdrawal of Somaliland’s forces from the Sool region.

In the final analysis, Somaliland cannot diplomatically coerce nor can it militarily subdue the SSC uprising and the current conflict could have been averted, if the hostilities were nibbed in the bud, the only option left is the possibility of cooler heads prevailing at Somaliland’s upper echelons and Col. Bihi coming to his senses by withdrawing his troops from Sool region. Only then can peace talks and negotiations be embarked upon. This will avert a looming inter-clan civil strife that might encumber the brotherly relations of the clans and prevent potential spill-over effect as the situation might transcend beyond the current SSC-Somaliland (Dhulbahante-Isaaq) conflict and affect currently peaceful settlements in the Horn. Therefore, the only option Somaliland has is to accept its fate and respect the will of the SSC people.   

Recommendation:

I would finally posit the following recommendations:

  • Somaliland should withdraw its forces from Sool region prior to the commencement of any peace talks and negotiations.
  • The UN Security Council needs to monitor the situation and put diplomatic pressure on President Bihi to respect the will of the SSC people; if Mr. Bihi doesn’t heed the international community’s calls for cessation of hostilities and the indiscriminate shelling persists, sanctions should be imposed. 
  • Humanitarian assistance should be uninterrupted and the alternative humanitarian corridors should be opened.
  • The Somaliland people should play their role in holding Col. Bihi to account and demand cessation of hostilities as this isolated situation in Laasaanood might have a spillover effect to the currently peaceful localities in the north.
  • The SSC leaders and freedom fighters should refrain from employing similar tactics as the Somaliland’s brutal targeting of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.
  • UNSC should investigate thoroughly the alleged violation of Somalia’s arms embargo by third party country
  • The FGS and Puntland should provide advocacy and lobbying to the international humanitarian organizations as well as the local businesses to provide swift assistance
  • The FGS needs to ensure the protection of civilians in Laasaanood and demand Mr. Bihi to end his subjugation and withdrawal of his troops from Sool so that the diplomatic channels and peaceful negotiations can be embarked upon.
  • The International community and FGS need to form a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of the atrocities and the degree of destruction in Laasaanood.
  • The SSC leadership and functionaries need to collect and document an inventory of the barbaric acts of violence, the death toll of the civilian population and the destruction of properties and civilian infrastructure as evidence in terms of pictures, explosive remnants of war and so forth and maintain them untampered and unaltered.
  • The FGS should refrain from acquiescing its mandate of governing the Somali nation and state affairs to external actors who have might sinister motives or vested interests and cannot be honest brokers who may jeopardize Somalia’s Sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity.
  • The African Union should provide support to the FGS in ensuring the Somalia’s unity and territorial integrity.
  • UN peace keeping should be considered if the situation exacerbates further.

The people of SSC have always stood for Somali unity, and now bearing the brunt for keeping the union. The SSC people’s cause will eventually prevail, their sacrifices will not go unnoticed and their struggle will be etched on a golden page in the annals of  Somalia’s contemporary history.

Mohamed Jama
Email:  [email protected]


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