Thursday, January 17, 2019
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“Somaliland”: Is Invading Las Anod Part of Creating “New Reality on the Ground”?

By Faisal Roble 

Editor’s Note: In light of Hargaysa’s non-restrained  war mongering and occupation of most of Sool, Sanaag Cayn regions, including the historic city of Taleex, WardheerNews would like to repost one of Faisal Roble’s analysis on the subject matter.  In 2007, at the wake of Somaliland’s invasion of Lasanood, Mr. Roble penned down this timeless essay and opined on the objectives of Somaliland in its invasion.  It is perhaps compelling for our readers to take note of this essay and evaluate/understand the reasons behind the latest successful invasion of Taleex by Hargaysa administration.



Following is a part of a larger study (to be published soon) which discusses local and global challenges facing the separatist region of “Somaliland” in its search for recognition. These abridged excerpts are intended to put into perspective the recent re-occupation of Las Anod by troops loyal to the administration in “Somaliland”.  There are generally three types of separatist cases some of which easily win legitimacy and recognition while others fail to do so. The most salient case is the question of colonial countries (native peoples) where indigenous people seek their full freedom from a colonizing power. A second related case is the case of native peoples (such as Palestinians and former Namibia) where displacement and long term dislocations have resulted in conditions akin to colonial conditions.  Both of these cases are understood and defined as colonies or peoples under occupation within the framework of Resolutions (1541) (XV) and (2649) (XXV) as promulgated by the United Nations General Assembly.  Since 1955, close to 100 separatist movements came and disappeared without achieving their main objective.

The “Somaliland” case, just like the Biafra case before it, fits neither scenarios, and that is the source for its challenges.  However, in recent years, a third school of thought has emerged whose debate hinges on whether separatist movements can achieve their goal by creating a new “reality on the ground.”  Establishing a functioning government system with an economy that works for all those engaged in is indeed a new “reality on the ground” in Somaliland.  Despite international and national norms, altered “reality on the ground” makes discussions about recognition a mute subject, and simply a matter of semantics, argue students of this school of thought.  In this regard, “Somaliland’s” leaders claim that they have established a new country on the ground and reversal to the old system is impossible.

The surprising fall of Las Anod in to Hargeisa with ease on October 15, 2007, a town that rejected secession in favor of unity, could be viewed as an effort to complete the reconstruction of a new “reality on the ground” by those seeking secession.  Dispatching emissaries to the Gulf Countries immediately following its successful Las Anod mission to explain to the outside world “the new reality on the ground” was all the more telling of a new strategy towards seeking recongnition.

Separatism versus Unity in Somalia’s Segmentary Society

Traces of separatism have been feasible for many years among some of the Issaq elites in what is now called “Somaliland”. But the reunification of the ex-British and ex-Italian Somaliland regions in July, 1960, and the unconditional adoption of the “Act of Union” on January 31, 1961, undermined that sentiment, and most likely dealt it a permanent blow.  With the failed Somali republic,(2) the Somali National Movement (SNM) declared a unilateral declaration of secession on May 18, 1991.  Since then, the Hargeisa administration took a concerted effort to established a new “reality on the ground” to effectuate a separate rule in what was Northern Somalia.  After several inter clan and intra-clan conflicts in the 1990s, ending inter-Issaq’s second civil war “in part by awarding a greater share of parliamentary seats to members of “opposition” clans and in part through the development of an “interim constitution” which, after much negotiation and modification, served as the prototype for the current version,” “Somaliland” seems to have established a new “reality on the ground.”(3) A form of government with an elected president, although not quite perfect electoral system, a bicameral system and a local army, “Somaliland” claims to have satisfied the requirements for a nation state that deserves world recognition.

Nevertheless, the region still remains part of Somalia, albeit with a relatively better administration than the rest of the country.  As the West re-engages the ailing Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG), headed by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, to secure the capital city, Mogadishu, the prospect for any forthcoming recognition for Somaliland becomes more challenging. There is a general understanding by both unionists and secessionists alike that stable Southern Somalia may greatly hinder, if not fatally kill, the hope for recognition.  And this is a source of political frustration in “Somaliland”, often leading to cross-border conflicts with the neighboring autonomous region of Puntland.  A complete change of “Somaliland’s” status quo may lead into a larger scale inter-clan conflict in the region.

Technically speaking, prior to the advent of European colonialism at the turn of the 19th century, the term “Somaliland” applied to all Somali speaking regions in the Horn of Africa. The British carved up British Somaliland Protectorate, and, since independence in 1960, it became the Northern region.  The former British Somaliland Protectorate, with a total area of 137,600 sq. km. and a coastline of 850 km. is bordered by Djibouti (ex-French Somaliland) and the Gulf of Aden to the north, Ethiopian occupied territories to the west and ex-Italian Somaliland to the east and south. (4)  The region is home to about 2.5(5)million inhabitants comprising of several major clans, notably the Issaq, Darood (Dhulbahante and Warsangali), Gadabursi, Issa, Gaboye, and a host of less numerous clans. In the later parts of the 19th century, Her Majesty Queen Victoria of Great Britain signed individual and separate treaties with some of the major clans in the region, excepting the Dhulbahante clan.(6)  Such treaties were signed about a decade prior to the time Sayyid Mohammed Abdulla Hassan started his war of independence, a war mainly supported by the Dhulbahante, a Harti Darood subclan, and opposed by most of Issaq chieftains. Until the reunification of the two territories on the eve of July 1, 1960, each clan had run its affairs separately and maintained disparate channels of communication with the colonial administrators in the region. “As such, territorial administrations were merely clan-based, and fiercely independent from each other.

By the 1940s, with the winds of change for independence sweeping the region, clans established separate political parties. The most important party at the time was the pan-nationalist Somali Youth League (SYL), which was the more inclusive party; other smaller but equally nationalist yet clan-based parties included the Somali National League (SNL), National United Front (NUF)), and later on the United Somali Party (USP).  Political reintegration among clans was achieved only at or after the reunification of the two ex-colonies.

The political objective of reunifying the two colonies originated in earnest with the rise of Somali nationalism at the end of WWII.  At the closure of the War, the question of the ex-Italian Somaliland and its future plus the fate of “Greater Somalia” was raised at the Paris Peace Conference in 1946, an idea with a wide spread appeal to most enlightened Somalis, who felt that it was about time for such a proposal.”(7)  By 1956, Britain could no longer avoid, but to agree to a gradual introduction of a representative government and an eventual independence for its protectorate.(8)

As the independence of the Italian Somaliland approached, the British authorities facilitated and proceeded with speed for its respective Protectorate’s independence and reunification with the ex-Italian territory, thus prompting “the British government… in principle to end its rule in time for Britain’s Somaliland to reunite it with the Italian trust territory on the July independence date that had already been decided by the UN”.(9)  The reunification of ex-British and ex-Italian Somalilands, therefore, was not an overnight love affair, in which one side won at the expense of the other, but an evolving social-political consciousness of a people “in search of a nation,” thus hitting a high note with the British colonial Secretary (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd) stating in February 1959 that his government would facilitate the voluntary and unstoppable reunion of the two territories.

In February 1960, Mohamed H. Ibrahim Egal was elected a Chief Minister, for 4 days (10)by a wide unionist vote in the constitutional election. With the sponsorship and facilitation by the United Nation, Egal led a delegation to Mogadishu in April 1960 and meets Southern leaders; the two sides agreed to reunify their territories without conditions in a unitary state under a single president who will be elected as head of state and a unified parliament with 123 seats.(11) Thus, the creation of a unitary Republic of Somalia on 1st July, 1960 was indeed the “icing on the cake” of a long struggle.  But such reunification would have been difficult to attain without the endorsement of the clan elders in the region.  As such, at the wake of reunification, each clan sent its own delegation to Mogadishu for representation as well as for endorsement.  The role of the clan elders in the reunification and their travel to Mogadishu in significant numbers underscores the separateness of clans in the absence of unified government, as well as their “centripetal” role for the greater good, i.e., creating a unified Somalia.(12)

But the centrifugal forces within the Somali segmantery social system, coupled with the Barre regime’s targeting of Issaq civilians in the preceding years of the Somalia civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, have arguably re-enforced the latent political separatism among Issaq clans in northern Somalia. What hitherto remained a “muted” separatist sentiment among Issaq elites(13) was rejuvenated in the hands of Barre’s failed policies and the radicalization of clan politics by the SNM.  Another related theory for the wide spread separatist attitude among Issaq elites is that the historical oppression and injustices they suffered in the hands of southern dominance.  While it is plausible to substantiate the former complaint of Barre targeting certain communities (mainly Issaq and Majerteen communities), there are no historical and sociological literature to substantiate whether Issaqs suffered any particular historical or social oppression by their southern compatriots. To the contrary, the three major Somali clans (Darood, Hawiya and Issaq) have had equal muscles in running the affairs of the country.

Recognition Challenges

Somaliland’s search for recognition for its unilateral secession is often likened to the successful case of Eritrea.  In the case of Eritrea, on September 15, 1994, a jointly administered referendum was held to conclude a thirty-year-old war to vote on whether to secede from the rest of Ethiopia, or stay in a federally reorganized Ethiopia.  The yes vote for independence of that plebiscite affirmed and legitimized the secession of Eritrea both in the eyes of the sitting Ethiopian government and in the rest of the world community.  Without such a negotiated settlement, the case of the Eritrean secession could have stalled, and the hands of the AU and UN in particular to apply Resolutions (1541) (XV) and (2649) (XXV) of the General Assembly may have been tied up to do anything but maintain the status quo.

It is the agreed referendum at which the two sides arrived that made the Eritrean case an amicably settled divorce.

It is unlikely that “Somaliland’s” unilateral secession would have the same results.  Matt Bryden, one of the more vocal advocates for “Somaliland’s” secession and a key figure until recently at the influential International Crisis Group (ICG), underscores the problematic issue of getting recognition for Somaliland’s unilateral secession(14).  In a brief typology for “negotiated settlements” in conflicts in the Horn of Africa, Bryden concludes that both the Eritrean experience (a successfully negotiated secession) and the Southern Sudan peace model (a potentially autonomous region) would pose serious challenges for Hargeisa.  In both typologies, the aggrieved regions are obligated to negotiate with their respective national governments.  The course that Eritrea traveled in its pursuit for secession is what Mat Bryden calls the Eritrean model, a model not seemingly viable in “Somaliland” due to what he calls an ill advised “impromptu” secessionist move on the part of SNM, the architect of the unilateral secession.  Until the Burao Convention of May 18, 1991, which unexpectedly undermined Ahmed Silanyo’s “Draft Proposal for A Transitional Government,” (15) the SNM advocated federalism.(16)  According to Bryden’s assessment, secession can only succeed if “Somaliland” first reverses its unilateral action and starts afresh negotiations with the South to either mutually nullify the “Act of Union” of 1961 between ex-British “Somaliland” Protectorate and ex-Italian Somali territory, or seek some other [federal] arrangement.

This proposal is plausible and could be the only way to resolve the current stalemate characterizing the Northern question. The brief period Mohamed Farah Aidid ruled Mogadishu (1991-1994) represents a missed opportunity for proponents of secession. Because Aidid was so desperate to consolidate his rule, secessionists could possibly have reached a quid pro quo deal where Mogadishu could have let Hargeisa go.

But a democratically negotiated settlement in the north, observed and preferably supervised by a third party, with a prominent role reserved for the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, could lead to broaden both the ranks of participants and the scope of the negotiation; voices that were not adequately heard in the previous Burao convention (May 18, 1991) could under this scenario prominently play a unionist role, and that may not augur well for the full-blown secession objective.


“Somaliland” has so far been walking on a fragile, thin-razor robe that could easily be broken by the slightest clan conflict, especially if triggered by changing the status quo.  In November of 2005, when the incident of a young Darood girl, who was raped, tortured and imprisoned by the body guard of the vice president of “Somaliland,” eclipsed all aspects of the live in the regions of both Puntland and Somaliland, an all-out war between the clans became feasible. In the following weeks, in Hargeisa, “for several nights Issaq neighbors threw stones at houses of a Dhulbahante member of the House of representative of Somaliland, who lived with his family in the city for years(17).”  These developments led to a limited degree of population shifts and internal displacement, often Daroods fleeing Issaq dominated towns. Two recent forays by “Somaliland” into Darood districts (in 2003 and 2007), often attempting to respond to outside events related to establishing new “reality on the ground” as a prelude to recognition, had produced low-intensity but potentially far-reaching conflicts.  Moreover, the surprising capture of Las Anod in the early hours of October 15, 2007, a town that until recently was under the administration of the autonomous rule of Puntland, and the shift of allegiance by Colonel Habsada now to Hargeisa, hardly represent the last episode of conflict between unilateral secessionists versus unionists in the eastern regions of this former British protectorate, whose “centripetal” and “centrifugal” forces of kinship-based politics is more pronounced than in any part of Somali-inhabited regions.

The conflict over Las Anod must serve us as a cautionary note.  As Hargeisa attempts to alter the “reality on the grounds,” clan conflicts resulting in large-scale humanitarian crisis are unavoidable.  To avert a looming inter-clan conflict, Markus Hohne soberly cautions us to stay course on maintaining the status quo, since “further endeavors to set up a fully effective state (be it Somaliland or Puntlnad/Somalia) recognized under international law may produce a large-scale armed conflict.”(18) The world community and international organizations can avert such a crisis by calling on Hargiesa to halt its renewed campaign to forcefully create a new ‘reality on the ground.”

Faisal Roble
E-Mail:[email protected]


(1) The complete article will be published on the upcoming issue of the Journal of the Horn of Africa and

(2)For a discussion on failed states, see D. W. Brinkerhoff, “Rebuilding Governance in Failed States and Post-Conflict Societies: Core Concepts and Cross-Cutting Themes,” Public Administration and Development 25 (2005), pp. 3-14.

(3) Suliman Baldo, Africa Program Director at the International Crisis Group, June 30, 2006

(4) Somaliland Trade Directory, Somaliland Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (SCCIA), Hargeisa, Somaliland, 2003-2004; there is no reliable census to register inhabitants, thus anywhere from 2.5 million to Hargeisa’s 3.5 million is the range used by different analysts.

(5) Asteries Hiliaras, “The Viability of Somaliland: Internal Constraints and Regional Geopolitics,” (Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 2, 20, 2002).

(6) See “The Illusory “Somaliland”: Setting the Record Straight,” Research Unit, 2006.  For a list of the treaties signed between Great Britain and Somali clans, with the exception of the Dhulbahante clan, in the Ex-British Protectorate, see exhibits A through G showing.”SOMALILAND”.pdf

(7) See British Somaliland, Vol. IX, No.I, (Published by The British Society for international Understanding, January, 1948) p.15

(8) Harold Nelson, Somalia:  A Country Study, 1982, p. 34

(9) I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of Somalia (West View Press, 1988) p. 166.  For a general discussion on the question of Somali Territory and its partition, the Haud and Reserved Area in particular, see John Drysdale, The Somali Dispute, 1968.

(10) Harold Nelson, Somalia:  A Country Study, 1982, p. 3

(11) IRIN, 10, July 2001.

(12)11.  David Latin and Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State, (West View, Colorado, 1987), p. 67

(13) I.M. Lewis, Blood and Bone: The Call to Kinship; (The Red Sea Press, Lawrenceville, N.J.) p.180.

(14) Matt Bryden, “Somalia and “Somaliland”: “Envisioning a Dialogue on the Question of Somali unity,” African Security Review, 13(2) 2004.

(15) Faisal Roble, “Somalia, a nation without an elite-based movement: challenges and opportunities” http//, February _2006.html. In “A Proposal for Establishing a Transitional Government,” which Silanyo drafted and sheepishly dropped off in a matter of days and joined company with those advocating for secession at the convention in Burao city (May, 18, 1991), denoting the “impromptu” nature of the unilateral secession of Northern Somalia.

(16) I.M. Lewis, Blood and Bone: The Call to Kinship; (The Red Sea Press, Lawrenceville, N.J.) p.180; Gerard Prunier, “A Candid View of the Somali National Movement,” (Horn of Africa Journal, April-June, 1991, p. 109-121.

17) Asteries Hiliaras, “The Viability of Somaliland: Internal Constraints and Regional Geopolitics,” (Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 2, 20, 2002).

(18) Markus V. Hohne, “Political Identity, Emerging State Structures and Conflict in Northern Somalia,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 44-3, (2006) pp. 394-414, Cambridge University Press

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One Response to ““Somaliland”: Is Invading Las Anod Part of Creating “New Reality on the Ground”?”

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