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Challenging Somaliland’s Claim to Sovereignty

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Challenging Somaliland’s Claim to Sovereignty


In a recent discussion on VOA Somali Service arch, Ambassador Abdullahi Adan (Congo) and Bashir Goth eloquently articulated Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty and presented some solid justifications for its secession. These broadly cluster around two distinct themes: first are the grievances against the injustices of the union, comprising the lopsided sharing of government posts and the crimes committed against their people; and secondly are the legal and historical back-ups in support of the secession. These include: the Charter of the former Organisation of African Unity (now the AU) and its provisions on borders; recourse to historical precedents of countries that were formerly united but subsequently broke up; the support of the people of Somaliland for the secession and their inalienable right to self-determination. These are the issues I will respond to in the following sections.


1. Blaming the union for the wrong reasons


A number of complaints, some more bitter than others, are often presented by the proponents of secession as being the direct consequences of the union between the North and the South. As examined below, all these complaints have little bases.


i) The unfair sharing of government posts


For Bashir Goth, the beginning of the disillusionment with the union goes back to union day, and the obscene inequitable sharing of the top posts, in which the South grabbed all the top posts, thus making the union in their eyes not one between two equal partners but practically one between the dominant and the dominated.


No doubt this misgiving about the distribution of posts on union is well-founded, but this inequity was as much due to the selfishness and insensitivity of the South as to the immaturity of the members of the days-old Somaliland transitional government headed by Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal. A different outcome would no doubt have been possible if only the Northerners persevered and pressed their rightful claims in a more determined and business like manner and not let themselves carried away by the intoxicating rush for union. But you would rarely ever hear a fair, balanced apportioning of the blame. It is always the South, as the Somalis say “wixii xunba Xaawaa leh”.


Proponents of secession are however selective about the ups and down s of Somalia’s political history. While they miss no opportunity to point to the downside and the initial raw deal meted out to the North, they rarely ever acknowledge the positive side and how two countries under different colonial administrations for nearly a century were able to integrate so quickly apart from initial understandable teething problems; or how the northerners came to dominate the top echelons of the civil service within a matter of few years; or the fact that Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal himself became the Prime Minister of Somalia in 1967, or that Mohamed Hawaadle Madar, another northerner, was Prime Minister in Siyad Barre’s last government. On this score, the North did not fare any worse than other regions or clans in Somalia.


ii) Asymmetrical development


Another complaint is that just as the South netted all the top posts, following the union, so they also took the lion’s share of development funds, whether domestic or international, leaving the North starved. It is true that most of the state enterprises established during the early years of Siyad Barre’s military regime were based in the capital. Most were managed by people from the North and whatever benefits accrued from them in terms of employment were open to the population of Mogadishu both southerners and northerners. The most important infrastructural development in the country was the Chinese-built road and that went across the North all the way to Berbera. Worth mentioning also was the cement factory near Berbera, What development can one point to in such regions as Mudug, Bari, Bay, etc.? The fact of the matter is that the country was equal in poverty and underdevelopment.


iii) Atrocities against the North


The more serious misplaced grievance against the union by its opponents in the North are the atrocities committed by Siyad Barreh’s regime which it is claimed has bushed the people of the North to the point of no return in their aversion to the union. No one in his right mind can fail to empathise with these sentiments and the emotions they raise. Indiscriminate use of force was one that the dictator has adopted in order to stamp any challenge to his rule. The North was not alone in being the object of this policy. The regions in the East were equally subjected to collective punishment for SODAF’s anti-regime activities. These stopped only when SODAF gave up the struggle. Any other region would have been treated similarly should any challenged the dictator was mounted from that quarter. Much as these crimes are heinous, it is not the Union itself which is on trial but those responsible for these crimes who deserve to be indicted at home or at the International Criminal Court.


While the union has been a success, bad governance has been the ultimate cause for the collapse of the Somali State. For proponents of secession however, the union and the dictatorial misrule of Siyad Barre are inseparable.


iv) Examples of other countries experiences


Bad governance, atrocities, genocides and widespread human rights violations have been endemic in other African counties since the 1960s without resulting in secessions. The Hutus killed nearly a million Tutsi when they were ruling Rwanda, and the latter’s militia under Paul Kagame avenged themselves on the Hutus when they in their turn took over the country by force. Although internal fighting over power continues to the present day among these two tribes, neither has threatened secession let alone embark upon it.


Mr. Milton Obote and Idi Amin, both former presidents of Uganda, have committed worse crimes against each other’s clan than Mohamed Siyad Barre ever did in Somalia, and still Uganda remains united. In 1980, soon after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Robert Mugabe’s army massacred nearly 20,000 civilians of the minority Matabele tribe, and since then literally destroyed the country and yet the Matebele tribe is as patriotic Zimbabweas as Mugabe’s Shone tribe. Except with few exceptions, each country in African below the Sahara has been dominated politically and economically by one clan or other with the rest marginalised. Unlike Somalia, none of these countries are blessed with a homogenous people, and yet none of their clans or region has sought secession as is the case with a dominant clan in northern Somalia.


11. Somaliland’s right to reclaim its former independence


Bashir Goth and Ambassador Abdullahi justified Somaliland’s right to reclaim its former sovereignty on several grounds: recognition of its sovereignty on independence by numerous countries, its past existence as a former colony with recognised boundary; historical precedent of countries that were at one time united but later separated; and the existence of a people called Somaliland their right to self determination.


i) Recognition of Somaliland’s sovereignty at independence


Ambassador Abdullahi Adan, repeating a common claim among proponents of Somaliland’s independence, asserted that 32 so countries recognised Somaliland on its independence on 26 June 1960. If that was the case, the first country that would have recognised it would have been Britain, the colonial power. It did not do so for the simple reason that it hastened granting independence, in response to the wish of the Somaliland politicians, in order to expedite union with Italian Somaliland on the first of July. This is a simple matter to verify since the records are available in the archives of the Britain’s Ministry of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.


In those days, I was a student in the UK, freelancing for the BBC Somali Service and I definitely recall the Service announcing congratulatory messages sent by governments on the occasion of Somaliland’s independence, but nothing on recognition. These governments knew that British Somaliland would unite with its sister Italian Somaliland. in a matter of days and hence there would have been no point for them to recognise a state that would only exist a mere 4 days and thereafter disappear altogether as an independent separate country.


ii) Colonial borders


The Charter of the former Organisation of African Unity regarding the inviolability of colonial borders is often cited, as Bashir did, as giving Somaliland the right to reclaim its former borders and hence its separate status from Somalia. Article 111 para 3 of the OAU Charter adopted in 1963 by its member States calls for “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each State for its inalienable right to independent existence”. This is further elaborated by resolution 16(1) on the border disputed between African States adopted by the OAU Assembly in 1964. Its operative paragraph 1 and 11 declare the following:


1. Solemnly reaffirms the strict respect by all member statesthe Organization for the principles laid down in paragraph 3 of article III of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity;


2. Solemnly declares that all member states pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence.


Both article 111 in the Charter and resolution 16(1) as cited above were addressed solely to member States. Clearly, the borders that are to be respected are those of the member States of the OAU (now the AU). Hence they do not apply retroactively to non-existent member States like Somaliland. It should be recalled that this specific article of the Charter and the subsequent resolution were initiated at the behest of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as a ploy to ward off Somalia’s claim to large parts of Somali-inhabited territory in Eastern Ethiopia. Haile Selassie was not thinking of Somaliland’s defunct border with Ethiopia but that of Somalia and his country.


iii) Historical Precedents


Examples of countries that were united at one time and then broke up are often cited, as Ambassador Abdullahi Aden did, as providing clear-cut precedents for Somaliland’s secession from the rest of Somalia. The break-ups of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria in 1957 and Senegambia between Senegal and Gambia in 1989 are the ones often mentioned. If Egypt and Syria, both Arab countries and sharing a common language and cultural ties, can break so can Somaliland from Somalia, as Ambassador Abdullahi put it. What the ambassador has left out, however, is as important if not more so than the similarities he drew case histories of these countries. Those countries voluntarily and amicably agreed to separate which is not the case with Somaliland and Somalia. Indeed, this is what the British Riyale and his delegation last wee when they met last week with the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.


The background to the union of former British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland somewhat differs from those of the other countries cited. First, the compelling reason that propelled Britain to grant independence to Somaliland was to facilitate its union with Italian Somaliland. The birth of an independent Somaliland State,) with its own flag and constitution, recognised by other countries (more on this later) and preferably becoming a member of the United Nation was not one intended by Britain nor by the internal government of the time headed by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal. Secondly, Somaliland is neither monolithic nor inhabited by people with common aspirations. For a start, the SSC regions consider Somaliland as a defunct bygone colonial construct in which they were no party to it by written or oral agreement, as other clans were, and hence they have even less to do with it now in its revival. Thirdly, there is no possibility that any Somali government and Parliament will ever accede to Somaliland’s wish for secession, now or in the future. There is however room for dialogue on finding ways and means of addressing those genuine concerns of the North within the framework of democratic united Somalia.


iv)The mythical Somaliland


The names of Somaliland and Somalilanders are invariably invoked by the proponents of secession as if the people in their area are distinct from the rest of the Somali people in Somalia or in other Somali inhabited territories in the Horn. After all, it is only through colonial occupation that these clans found themselves under British rule. Though the ties between any neighbouring clans in former British Somaliland were strong as a result of intermarriage and long historical interactions, these may be secondary to the pull of the ties they hold with their kith and kin across the artificial colonial borders.


The dichotomy among the clans in British Somaliland relate to their relations with the colonial power. While some clans had accepted British colonial rule though a protectorate agreement, those in the SSC regions fought them for nearly 21 years and even refused to enter into any agreement with the British. Unlike other counties, the end of British rule in Somaliland was not succeeded by the birth of a state to which its citizens declared their allegiance. Given the strength of Somali nationalism at the time, the immediate unity with Italian Somaliland was their common wish once British colonial rule ended rather than opting for a separate State. And as Britain did so, no Somaliland State has come to existence-only a transitional government headed by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal which disbanded itself after 4 days latler as it completed the union formalities.


v) Support for the secession


Defenders of Somaliland’s secession rarely ever acknowledge in public the fact that the SSC regions, representing in area almost half of former British Somaliland, are unionists who have no truck with the break-up of Somalia. And when these facts are pressed, their next line of defence is to claim that leading Garaads and other prominent personalities from these regions were participants at the Burco meeting and that they signed to the adoption of the secession declaration in May in 1991. This was also the position adopted by Ambassador Abdullahi Aden .

It is true that the late Garaad Abdulqani, as well as Garaad Suleman, did attend the Burcao meetings but only in their own personal capacities and not as mandated delegates from all the clans and regions. As they explained on numerous occasions, they attended the meeting on the understanding that the objective was to restore peace and reconciliation among the northern clans and to consult as a region about their common position in negotiating with the South about the establishment of government that was to replace the ousted Siyad Barre regime Instead, the Burco meeting was high jacked by some extremist secessionist elements who forced on the delegates at gun point the adoption of the declaration of the secession from Somalia. This is of course denied by the advocates of the secession.


Whatever the truth about the events that led to the declaration of the secession in Burcao the fact remains that the SSC delegation on their return to a shocked and incredulous public immediately disowned the Burco declaration. Everything they did since then was to distance themselves from the secession and reaffirm their unwavering commitment to the union and Somalia. The entire elders of the SSC, including Garaad Abdulqani and Garaad Suleemaan, played a leading role in the establishment of Puntland in which the SSC regions constitute a central pillar and the Arta TNG government. All this is beside the point as far as the defenders of the secession is concerned, and all that matters is the consent to the Burco declaration by SSC participants as if this consent under duress, as claimed, was cast in stone, representing an inviolable agreement between sovereign parties


vi) The Right to Self-determination for secession


Ambassador Abdullahi Aden, echoing similar thinking among proponents of secession, invoked the principle of the right to self-determination in support of Somaliland’s separation from Somalia. This right to self-determination is of course enshrined not only in the UN Charter but also in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As interpreted by the UN Human Rights Committee, self determination is “…exemplified by the liberation of peoples from colonialism and by the prohibition to subject people to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation.”


In ending its colonial rule in line with this principle, Britain did end its subjugation, domination and exploitation of its Somali subjects when it granted them independence in 1960 for the purposes of uniting with their brothers in Italian Somaliland. But it would be a perverse interpretation or understanding of this principle to invoke it and claim that the people in Somaliland had been, or are presently being subjected to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation by their fellow Somali clans in the South The logical conclusion is that all Somali clans are alien to one another and each can in its turn invoke the principle of self-determination if it wants to go its own way. This is a prescription for the end of the nation state as we know it.


Self-determination, if granted, is a double-edged sword, from which Somaliland has as much to gain from it as it may lose. Acting as the devil’s advocate, suppose, as could well happen, the Awdal region were to withdraw, from the current secessionist Somaliland, or a future independent one; will Somaliland then oppose it by force since it is on no moral or legal ground to reject it, being itself the product of self-determination an/or secession in the first place?. Some might consider the example of Awdal as a hypothetical exercise. I beg to differ. But if Awdal’s withdrawal from Somaliland is considered by some as far fetched, one could turn to a more realistic and closer case, namely the SSC regions. While Somaliland never tires to claim self-determination as if it was its own preserve, it would at the same time deny it to the SSC regions. Worse, it went to the extent of invading and occupying Sool and its capital Lascanod. Nothing could make a mockery of this principle than this blatant double standard.


vii) Seeking SSC support through persuasion


Somaliland had a choice between the use of force in capturing the recalcitrant SSC regions or relying on persuasion and patience in winning over the hearts and minds of its people. Given the realities in the SSC regions and the opposition to the secession, Somaliland was no longer willing to hold its cherished recognition hostage to the uncertainties of SSC public opinion. And so, in the end, it resorted to naked military force, and occupied Lascanod and much of the Sool region.


Apart from the pursuit of short-sighted electoral shenanigans, the occupation of Lascanod was meant to send a message to the international community that it has full control of all the regional capitals of former British Somaliland, something it calculated misguidedly might satisfy the necessary condition for its recognition. It might be physically in control of Lascanod and much of Sool, but as long as the SSC people are opposed to the occupation and secession, even through non-violence, the clear message it conveys is that Somaliland may control or occupy territory but has no support from its population and this is the far more important factor.


The international community is now fully aware that nearly 60 percent of Lascanod population are displaced; and that all the traditional leaders (Garaads and Isimos) are either in Garawe or mobilising their people in the interior. Ambassador Aden and Bashir Goth did not say a word about these realities but only a bizarre event which took place in Burco 18years ago. In the end, the will of the people in the SSC regions will trump the military occupation as it did elsewhere in the world.


After nearly one and a half years of occupation of Sool, at huge financial cost it could hardly spare, and with the goal of recognition still as far as ever, the time has come for Somaliland to rethink it strategy and policies. For its own sake, and the rest of us, the best course for Somaliland is to undo the damage it did, and withdraw immediately from Sool and Lascanod. That would be more productive than a costly and open-ended occupation of Sool which could lead to war. If that was to happen, the gulf that would divide the SSC people from Somaliland would be unbridgeable for the foreseeable future, a sure way to forfeit a harmonious united people of the North.



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After a long essay cloaked in Somalinimo and Unity, the whole piece comes down to this desperate plea:



After nearly one and a half years of occupation of Sool, at huge financial cost it could hardly spare, and with the goal of recognition still as far as ever, the time has come for Somaliland to rethink it strategy and policies. For its own sake, and the rest of us, the best course for Somaliland is to undo the damage it did, and withdraw immediately from Sool and Lascanod. That would be more productive than a costly and open-ended occupation of Sool which could lead to war. If that was to happen, the gulf that would divide the SSC people from Somaliland would be unbridgeable for the foreseeable future, a sure way to forfeit a harmonious united people of the North.


Why not just call the essay: 'Please let Las Anod Go'

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All in all, its pity for them, my friend, that they have no other argument in here, despite their valiant and singular attempt to hide their "clannish finger-prints" that is all over their argument, other than to settled for, at the end of the day, what we always knew these lots were "really" about, in the first place.




Afkaaga caano lagu qub!

If somaliland is recognized, I bet peopel from Bosaaso will run into las canood to get somaliland passports...

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Originally posted by Shankarooni:

If somaliland is recognized, I bet peopel from Bosaaso will run into las canood to get somaliland passports...


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