Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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War over The Soul of Sool’s Las Anod

By Faisal A. Roble

Introduction

Beginning with the collapse of the Somali Republic in 1990, the Somali National Movement (SNM) declared a unilateral secession from the rest of Somali Republic at the Burcoa convention on May 18, 1991. Residents in Las Anod and large sections of Sanaag region claim to have not endorsed said unilateralism. This difference in opinion is part of the cause of the current conflict in Las Anod.  According to I.M Lewis, secession was not in the political program of SNM. Posthumously, Matt Bryden, otherwise a friend to Somaliland’s political objectives, advised its leadership to seek recognition by way of the South Sudanese model to which Hargeisa turned deaf ears.

Las Anod; blue revelution

After 30 years, recognition seems a “pie in the sky.” President Muse Bihi Abdi’s ironclad approach to normal political differences with his opposition groups is one of the factors that ignited the current fire. His unfettered hate speeches towards the people of Sool also undermine the mutual respecting neighboring community nourished for generations. If not handled in a more equitable and peaceful way, the Las Anod war has all the signs of dragging parts of Somalia into a renewed deadly conflict, thus a potential destabilization of the region. 

A Glimpse of Unity’s History

The former British Somaliland, now Somaliland, got independence on June 26, 1960. Four days later on July 1st, Italian Somaliland, which had self administration under the United Nations Trusteeship (1948-1960), also ended that Trusteeship and became independent. On the eve of July 1st, the two created a union of the Somali Republic.

The union represented the triumph of the ideology of the once powerful Somali Youth League (SYL) which successfully harnessed the patriotic sentiment of all Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

Many forces, primarily the late emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, made efforts to stop British Somaliland leaders from forming a union with Italian Somaliland. However, thwarting an idea whose time has come proved difficult both for Emperor Haile Selassie and for others unfavorable to pan-Somali ideology of the time.

The reunion was not an overnight affair. It has been in the book since the mid 1940s. Influenced by Arab nationalism and the experience Somali soldiers gained from their participation in World War II, Somali men came back with a heightened awareness of Somali nationalism. The late Farah Omar, educated in India, also was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings, for example, and was one of the first Somalis from British Somaliland to endorse pan-Somali ideology. 

As far back as 1956, Great Britain understood that it could not avoid the dawning of independence of Somaliland and a powerful pro-unification sentiment. Eventually, In February 1959, Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, the British colonial secretary, relented to the pressures of pan-Somali nationalism and agreed with leaders of British Somaliland to facilitate the independence and the inevitable reunion of the two regions.

Months leading to the looming independence days for both British and Italian Somaliland, Hargeisa was so enthusiastic for the unifications it went out of its way and drafted the first “act of union.” which was later on revised and finally adopted as the official “act of union.” The text read this:

“Section 1(a) stated that “This State of Somaliland and the State of Somalia do hereby unite and shall forever remain united in a new independent, democratic, unitary republic the name of which shall be the SOMALI REPUBLIC.”

That reputable union of Africa’s most homogenous nation state fell apart in 1990. Owing to multiple factors, including but not limited, to disheveled clan militia, negative role played by neighboring countries, and a rotten autocratic military rule that carried out atrocities in former British Somaliland, the center fell, and Somalia was pronounced “a collapsed state.”  

Genesis of the War in Las Anod

Declaration of Secession and State Formation

Following the collapse of the central government of Somalia, Somaliland saw this development as an opportunity.  Between 1990 and 1996, Mogadishu sank to the abyss. What was once dubbed “the pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its beauty became a battleground for two competing clan militias led by the late General Aidid Farah and his nemesis, the late Ali Mahdi. The two fought bitterly for the control of whatever was left after Sayyad Barre was ejected from the capital city. 

Taking advantage of the lack of stability in the center, Somaliland declared and methodically strengthened its unilateral secession.  

Prior to the declaration of a unilateral secession, however, the late Ahmed Mohamoud Silanyo floated a proposal in early 1991, which was consistent with SNM’s political program – preserving the unity. The proposal was unfortunately flawed. It limited power sharing to the Somali National (SNM) in the north and the United Somali Congress (USC) representing Southern Somalia. The Proposal alienated other major groups that participated in the downfall of Siyyad Barre. In fact, Mr. Silanyo’s proposal labeled some groups, including those hailing from Las Anod, “remnants” of Barre’s regime. Most importantly, he negated the role the Somali Salivation Democratic Front (SSDF), the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), and a host of other movements played on the ouster of Barre’s regime. For that reason alone, Silanyo’s proposal died on arrival (DOA).

Following the botched Silanyo proposal, the Buroa convention of May 1991 was dominated by the “radical Mujaahidiin,” or the armed wing of the SNM. Because of pressure from the “Mujaahidiin,’ the issue of secession sailed. Both president Musa Bihi and his interior Minister, Mohamed Kaahin, were arch “Mujaahidiin,” while a host of prominent SNM members were unionist at the time, including but not limited to Abdirahman Aw-Ali (Abdirahamn Tuur) and Sulayman Gal

Somaliland had legitimate grievances against the regime of the military dictatorship. Once the movement started an armed struggle, Somalia’s national army carried out atrocities against civilians both inside cities like Hargeisa and Buroa, but it also mercilessly pursued escaping citizens who were running for their lives. What was done to Somali citizens in these regions gave Somaliland proponents a level of legitimacy to carry their grievances against united Somalia. A never-seen anger in some of the communities in Somaliland slipped into the collective psyche of Somalilanders. Convincing certain sections of Somalilanders remains a challenge to state formation in Somalia.

In 2023, a Deja-vu of a notable grievance, only this time registered by the residents of Las Anod against the administrators of Hargeisa, was at hand. 

To consolidate power, Somaliland did three complementary strategic moves:

1.         It adopted an interim constitution in 2001. 

2.         In mid-2005, it adopted what it called the policy of establishing a new “reality on the ground.” 

3.         The surprising fall of Las Anod into Hargeisa with ease on October 15, 2007, and the inability of Puntland to do anything about it for 16 years strengthened the hand of Somaliland locally and diplomatically.  

Revolt by Las Anod

Despite reasons given by different political actors, Puntland did not nor could recapture Las Anod for about 16 years. This inability helped Somaliland establish what it triumphantly called changing the “reality on the ground” in favor of Somaliland administration over Las Anod.

Yet, Hargeisa had one main challenge: winning over the hearts of the people of Las Anod. People in Las Anod and elsewhere in the region more often than not expressed their willingness to stay within the structure of the Federal Republic of Somalia, a sentiment which in the last few years translated into anti-Somaliland political movements by the people of Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC) also known as Khaatumo.

The resistance to Somaliland began in the early 2000s. The late Sado Ali Warsame, a national icon known for songs of revolutionary contents, a woman of substance this author likened “Rosa Luxemburg,” the Polish born revolutionary intellectual of the early 20th century, popularized SSC through her popular songs. In time, however, SSC gave way to Khatumo state to which Dr. Ali Khalif Galydh lent his leadership.  Khatuma commanded serious appeal and quickly earned a larger following from people who hitherto supported SSC. Although Ali Khalif, a highly skilled political operative was on and off again pro- or anti-Somaliland, in the end he gave up on the concept of Somaliland. His last interview before he passed away in Jigjiga was telling of the pending instability in Las Anod.

That instability took shape under Muse Bihi, a former colonel in the now defunct Somali National Army, who later on defected to join the SNM. Muse is a different cut from his predecessors, especially the highly accommodative Mohamed Haji Ibrahm Egal. Whereas Igal used politics of accommodation and cooptation, Muse Bihi is confrontational and antagonistic towards constituents that are not within his narrow clan circle. Many postulate that he had destroyed whatever was good that there was about Somaliland. Moreover, Mr. Bihi, along with his right hand man, Colonel Mohamed Kahin, is famous for vitriolic hate speeches targeted against supporters of SSC or Khaatumo state. 

Hate speech in itself does not physically harm people. In the United States, for example, hate speech is a protected speech under the first amendment. However, if not carefully monitored, hate speech in the wrong hands, can lead to hate crimes, and eventually crimes against humanity and war crimes.  Muse Bihi often likes to say “his people historically defeated the ancestors of X clan and will do so now,” thus by design promoting war narratives as the tool to solve political differences. 

Hate speech is the precursor to hate crimes, and eventually encourages atrocities, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. What Somaliland troops did in Las Anod in the last 20 days could qualify for war crimes and crimes against humanity if shelling remains unabated. Shelling indiscriminately a city with about 300K civilians and destroying hospitals and houses of worship, and causing the displacement of 185,000 civilians are facts that could bring charges against Muse and his lieutenants. By definition, “War crimes or crimes against humanity are … systemic criminal acts which are committed by or on behalf of a de facto authority … that grossly violate human rights.”  

Responding to this devastating crisis, on February 22, 2023, the Somali Ambassador at the United Nations, Amb. Abukar Osman Bale, gave an indictment of those behind atrocities in Las Anod by calling such acts crimes against humanity.” About ten nations including the US also expressed their collective grave concerns about this war and called for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. Calling for cessation of hostilities in Las Anod is a rare opportunity that united the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the Security Council.

Why did the conditions in Las Anod deteriorate so fast in the last few years? Muse Bihi is a factor. Unlike past politicians, he does not believe in accommodation; he is militaristic, and he violates traditional based mutual respect that existed between social groups in the region.  

Those attributes of Muse Bihi are only the immediate trigger of the Las Anod “blue revolution,” where residents headed by their traditional elder stood against human rights abuses. Las Anod and affiliated districts are determined to fight for their political choice which is to be part of the Federal Government of Somalia. This desire is unstoppable by Somaliland especially when the latter has no de facto or de jure worldwide recognition of statehood. 

What would happen next is anyone’s guess. What we can ascertain is that the political ambitions and “reality on the ground” in Somaliland could change. How that change would be is difficult to guess. What is less certain is what the near-future holds in store for the residents of Las Anod. At minimum, stopping the shelling must be achieved right away.

Way Forward:

  • Somaliland must unconditionally silence its guns and remove its troops to an area of no less than 50 Miles from Las Anod. 
  • The Somali Federal Government must work in unison with the United States of America, EU, and the UN Security Council to immediately deliver aid to the displaced people as well as to those still in Las Anod. Also, a program of reconstruction of Las Anod must be organized by the Federal Government of Somalia.
  • Aid to the war affected people; both displaced and inside Las Anod, must be delivered expeditiously. This effort must be assisted by all political groups in the region. 
  • The Federal Government of Somalia, in collaboration with the interim administration of Sool (Las Anod), must draft and expeditiously implement a short-term stabilization program of the region.
  • A convention of peace talks between the two warring sides must be organized, and if possible be in a neutral zone. Such talks will facilitate for drafting a comprehensive cessation of hostility and peace building in the region.

Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
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Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.

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References

  1. I.M.Lewis, Blood and Bone: The Call to Kinship in Somali Society, (The Red Sea Press, Lawrensceville, N.J), 1994
  2. Matt Bryden, “Somalia and Somaliland, Envisioning a Dialogue on the Question of Somali Unity.” African Security Review, 2004, 13/2.
  3. Faisal Roble, Local and Global Norms: Challenges to Somaliland’s Unilateral Secession,” Horn of Africa, Vol. XXV, 2007 
  4. Paolo Contini, The Somali Republic: an Experiment in Legal Integration, The Grange Press, 1969, p.9
  5. Faisal Roble, “Somalia, A Nation without an Elite-based Movement: Challenges and Opportunities.” http/Wardheernews.com, February 2006.htm;l. See “ A Proposal for Establishing a Transitional Government,”
  6. Hussein M. Adam, “Formation and REcognition of New States: Somaliland in Contrast to Eritrea, “Review of African Political Economy,” 1994.
  7. Markus V. Hoehve,”Political Identity, Emerging State Structures, and Conflict in Northern Somalia,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 44-3, Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 394-414.

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