By H.E Mohamed Abdi Hashi, former President of Puntland
After all the horrors we have gone through since the collapse of the Somali State, and thought we had a break with the past and learnt our lesson to live peacefully together as a nation, it is with shock and disbelief that we still have the one-clan secessionist enclave going by their self-declared name of Somaliland still continuing to commit one aggression after another against other regions and clans in Somalia. This time they launched a naked unprovoked attack and captured Tukaraq, a Puntland customs outpost right next door to Garowe, the capital of Puntland. On first hearing it, my first reaction as former President of Puntland was to dismiss it as unthinkable and took it for fake news.
Where next one might ask? Possibly Garowe itself as they threatened to attack which cannot be dismissed as empty rhetoric given their track record of wresting from Puntland half of what used to be part of it (Lascanod, Taleex and all) without resistance or comeback. Clearly, Puntland’s perceived weaknesses beget further aggressions. It will not stop unless stopped and their wider threat to Somalia’s unity and stability eliminated once and for all.
The secessionists calculated from the outset that the rest of Somalia would eventually climb down and accede to their demand for secession only when confronted with faits accomplis: first by occupying the northern unionist regions (ex British Somaliland), secondly remaining intransigently opposed to reconciliation, and thirdly by weakening and destabilizing the rest of Somalia by one means or another. Those hailing from the SSC regions were under no illusion of the threat from the secession obsessed Somaliland, not only to their regions but also to the unity of Somalia. It was these trepidations and the need to guard against it which was the rationale for the establishment of Puntland in August 1998. I pride myself of played my part in the birth of Puntland and to have served as one of its presidents.
Puntland was principally a loose defence-cum-political association of kindred like-minded clans/regions to serve as a bulwark against external threats (Somaliland) until such time as the Somali State would be resurrected and able to defend its territory from internal and external threats. Once the Somali State was back on its feet and able to perform its national functions, the need of the SSC regions for Puntland’s protection, or to remain part of it, would have became redundant. Contrary to what some claim, the Puntland regional/clan association was never meant to be a permanent binding act of union akin to the act of union between British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland of July 1960. Such interpretation as some would have it now is contrary to the position of the SSC people at the time.
The first Puntland governments led by the late Abdullahi Yusuf and subsequently myself were faithful to the principles for which Puntland was created. While the rest of Somalia was in turmoil, we in Puntland did our utmost to ward off the danger to the unity of Somalia. Only once in October in 2004 did the secessionists try to threaten Lascanod and they were defeated at Adhidcadeeye. That defeat deterred them until I left office.
Unfortunately, subsequent Puntland leaders did not share the same commitment to defend all parts of Puntland but merely cashed in on the association at national and international forums at the expense of the SSC regions. The evidence of this betrayal is the capture of Lascanod and most of the SSC regions over a decade and Puntland’s unwillingness to defend them in the first place or liberate them anytime thereafter. Undoubtedly, such failures have bred Somaliland’s bellicose and predatory behaviour for which Puntland is today paying the price. Not only has the secessionists largely swallowed the SSC regions but are on the doorstep of the capital of Puntland, poised to invade it. This is not mere empty rhetoric. They reckon, not without good reason, that Puntland would blink and buckle under pressure and accept the facts they have created on the ground at Tukaraq. Acquiescing to this is unacceptable. Puntland would not buy peace but only invite more aggressions.
Much as Puntland has betrayed them in the past, this is not the time for some in the SSC regions to be petulant and glee over Puntland’s conundrums as poetic justice. This is the time when the SSC people and their former partners in Puntland join hands and eliminate the common threat they face once and for all. Just as Hitler’s miscalculation in attacking Stalingrad in the Soviet Union was the turning point for Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, the secessionists too overplayed their hands. Their reckless attack on Tukaraq could well turn out to be the beginning of the unraveling of the secession. Towards that end, I for one would volunteer the following suggestions for action which I consider indispensable for restoring the unity and peace of Somalia:
- The Right of the SSC Region to Self Defense and Self Rule
For more than ten years since the secessionist clan first occupied the capital of the SSC regions, appeals for their withdrawal has been the clarion call from the traditional leaders as well all other sections of the SSC clans. Far from heeding these peace overtures, they continue expanding their occupation and in the process committing atrocities and massacres as they did in Kalshaale and Buuhoodle. We are in the unenviable position of being the only clans in Somalia occupied by another. It is not as though we have threatened their regions let along attack or occupy them. Our patience has run out and we are forced to exercise our self-determination and our inalienable right to defend ourselves in our own lands.
In this regard, the prerequisite and linchpin for restoring the unity of Somalia and peace in its northern regions is the liberation of the SSC regions. That should be the endgame of Puntland and the SSC forces counteroffensive as they first go for the liberation of Tukaraq.
- SSC as a Federal Member State
Once the occupied territories are liberated, the federal government, mindful that the SSC people have already democratically established their Khatumo State at Taleex, and aware that they fulfill the necessary conditions for federal State membership, should speedily proceed along these lines. Puntland should play a leading role in this project and reconcile itself to the wishes of the SSC people. It is in the interest of both Puntland and SSC to remain separate sisterly federal member states of Somalia drawing on their complementarities and communalities.
- The Role of the International Community
The key members of the international community tasked with Somalia’s affairs have dealt with the secessionist enclave as quasi independent country and gave it disproportionate portion of their bilateral and multilateral aid at the cost of others such as the SSC regions. Whether intended or not, this has given rise to high hopes among the secessionists that recognition would be forthcoming in due course from some of these countries giving them preferential treatment, above all Great Britain. If this perception is right, then these donors are clearly part of the secessionist problem and dealt accordingly. Otherwise, then the best credible way to dismiss it is to channel all development aid through the ministry of Planning.
- Reaching out to moderates among the secessionists
If the SSC regions are liberated and become a federal State of Somalia, all that would remain of the secessionist territorial claim is the clan rump and with that they can forget about recognition. When that reality dawns, some of the sub-clans less dogmatic about the secession are likely to return to the fold. Once that happens, others are likely to follow suit. The federal government should pro-actively encourage this process. After 27 years, it is time to realize that it is better to be part of the Somali nation than renegades.
Mohamed Abdi Hashi
Former President (2004-5) and Vice President (1998-2004) of Puntland State
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