Somaliland: consequences of possible disintegration into tribal fiefdoms

Many Somalis were greatly shocked by recent escalation of armed conflict between Somaliland government and tribal militia in Buhoodleh district. The conflict is probably a precursor to unpredictable security and political developments to unfold for the coming months and years. It indicates that peace is to wane in regions formerly defined as relatively stable areas in the North of Somalia.

The parties involved in the ongoing hostilities have actually lost their sanity to be at each other’s throat to destroy nothing else but their very bones and souls. Arguably, each side claims to have a noble cause to defend and even to die for; for Somaliland leaders it is a question of sovereignty and independence which cannot be subjected to any compromised deal, while it is for the opposing clan a liberation movement for self-determination to establish a system for self-governance on their own choice and will; it is an exercise of God given human freedom and dignity which cannot be taken away by any existing authority from its owners. Albeit such positions taken by parties of the recent fratricide in Buhoodleh, it does not amount to more than an inter-clan struggle for power and prestige; at its stake is the lives of innocent children, mothers, elderly and youth who generally bear the brunt of armed conflicts being waged by blood mongers on sacred Somali soil.

Generally, Somali politicians pursue vicious policies through dirty means to achieve selfish aims irrespective of magnitude of egregious crimes to be committed against vulnerable population. A case in point is Somaliland leaders who are preoccupied with secessionism to the extent that they could not understand the end results of resorting to military hardware instead of using peaceful means to resolve their differences with their brethren in Sool, Buhoodleh and Sanaag regions. In his annual speech to parliament, Silanyo arrogantly referred to the apparently mounting tribal revolt against perceived dominance as a conspiracy against Somaliland’s sovereignty. No sooner did he deliver such malicious statement in order to rally the general public behind his executive war order than political parties, PMs, and laymen echoed Silanyo’s buzzword for a military defense against dangers emanating from the wicked enemy.

Understandably, unanimity on a decision related to national issues of cardinal importance like launching an offensive against a segment of the society is hardly found among any given rational leaders owing to its unpredictable far reaching implications on the whole region. In such circumstance, prudence necessitates that leaders have to at least meditate on pros and cons of such move before reaching an agreement. Unfortunately, Somaliland parliament failed to do so and loudly clapped for Silanyo’s hysteric reaction to groundbreaking resolutions reached by Khatumo tribal conference in Taleh as though he were a comedian narrating a funny story rather than a president calling for the death and destruction of certain groups of his subjects. This event sheds light on how the mindset of Somaliland leaders is in a dire need for a complete reconfiguration.

On the other hand, opportunist politicians spearheading Khatumo tribal conference are also to be blamed for the underdevelopment and violence in the region. Initially, they were divided; some partnered with Somaliland authority on the basis of its underlying secessionist aspiration, others joined Puntland as a tribal homeland for Harti clans while some others shifted frequently their loyalties from one administration to another for personal gains. The local community, whom they claimed to be representing in Somaliland or Puntland, has never had any significant benefits from both administrations in terms of repairing or building social service providing infrastructures such as hospitals or provision of other needed development projects. Equally, the fact that Buhoodleh, Sool and Sanaag regions are recognized as inaccessible hostile areas by international humanitarian and development agencies prevented local community from getting an equitable access to international assistance which could have otherwise improved availability of basic services to save lives. For instance, due to lack of well-equipped health facilities, a mother with pregnancy complications would die on her way to distant main referral hospitals in Garowe, Burao or even Hargeisa.

Hence, Taleh tribal conference came probably as a logical response to appalling conditions. After thoughtful deliberations, the delegates came up with initiative of establishing a State in regions conventionally claimed by Somaliland and Puntland. Among the hallmark resolutions passed by the conference was to renounce any previous agreements they have forged with Somaliland and Puntland and then to proclaim creation of Khatumo State of Somalia. Nobody has a legitimacy to argue against their right to come together in a conference in order to discuss prevailing social, economic and political conditions and to make informed decisions accordingly; our Almighty Allah bestowed freedom and intellect on human being to make a choice in the face of our changing environment.

However, there is a doubt whether politicians leading the process of establishing Khatumo State are knocked out of their complacency by existing harsh realities on the ground and therefore made up their minds to form a distinct regional state whose primary aim is to improve the wellbeing of the local community or whether the idea behind the State is influenced by current emergence of mushroom of clan-based federal states throughout Somalia. Anyway it is a choice made by the concerned local community which warrants to be respected by all.

On the other hand, Somaliland leaders should not have to worry about losing these regions and should be aware of illegitimacy of going to war in defense of an entity that no country wants to recognize. They should not overlook existing disincentives to their secessionist project; they had better contemplate on as to why they should try to impose independence on others through use of force if they had already failed to win their minds and hearts. They should comprehend that fact that they had ignored to address misgivings felt by others about fairness of their political representation in Somaliland, since the heads of the executive, judiciary and legislative branches as well as key ministerial portfolios all went to a single clan; they should accept the fact that delegates from other clans in Burao conference acquiesced to unilateral declaration of Somaliland under duress otherwise the issue of separation would not become a bone of contention among clans today.

Moreover, Somali unity is very often cited by anti-Somaliland politicians and elites as a strong reason for forming tribal states in the northern regions like Khatumo and Awdal State; they apparently did so only to garner support from Somalis and to justify their antagonist stance towards Somaliland. Reasonably, formation of such states within territories historically belonged to what was known as Somaliland British Protectorate is virtually tantamount to a downfall of secessionist project in Hargeisa.

However, the paradoxical truth is that Somaliland’s disintegration into a several kinship fiefdoms including Khatumo, Awdal States and possibly others to emerge merely constitutes further complications of Somali agony which will inevitably cause unprecedented chaos and untold human suffering; rivalry between clans can revive past wounds and push them into violent competition in which thousands of innocent citizens will either be perished or forced to lead a destitute life devoid of minimum standards for human being to survive. Consequently, the regions that at least enjoyed absence of widespread violence since the collapse of Somali government will be turned into a theatre for massacre and graveyards for our beloved sons and daughters.

Given the potential lurking dangers in the dark, employing a strategy splitting up Somaliland into clannish cantons as a vehicle for re-establishing unity of Somalia has a lot of contradictions in itself and manifests ideological and political bankruptcy which cannot be an option for any true unionist. Historically, tribalism proved a very dividing and devastating factor in the social and political relations among Somalis. The unfortunate collapse of Somali government is widely attributed to tribalism and therfore it cannot be used as a medium for resurrecting the unity of Somalia from rubbles under any circumstances. 

However, some learned individuals disguising themselves as Northern unionists employ a counterproductive strategy based on tribalism for unionism. Through lack of genuine nationalism coupled with clannish sense of purpose, they horribly upload their writings with hateful overtones labeling a certain clan in the North as troublesome secessionists as though they were less Somali than others. These articles appearing frequently on Somali websites are not only characterized by myopic views but they truly reflect paranoiac attitudes towards others as well. For them, once Somaliland is cut into pieces, the true Somalis are well positioned to fill the void by establishing federal states!!! Then, all is required to do is simply to get rid of Somaliland irrespective of other existing challenges because they pose a lesser degree of animosity to restoration of Somali unity.

Frankly speaking, neither Awdal State nor Khatumo or others already declared in the South can lead us to reestablishment of a strong Somali government, but we will end up in creating another epoch of total anarchy, bloody inter-clan hostilities, disunity, devastation and human suffering in the modern Somali history. What is the point in declaring a tribal State here in my hometown, Hargeisa, or in any other region in Somaliland? Would it marvelously contribute to Somalinimo or tear it up into pieces? Does the declaration of States in Puntland such as West Puntland State, Ras Aseyr State or possibly Coastland State – to be announced soon – contribute to the unity of Somalia?!!!

Contrarily, a feasible approach to Somali unity may probably be to safeguard existing Somaliland administration against any possible disintegration, but push it hard to merge with Somali nation once again. Though this is seemingly very difficult, Somalis in the North are gradually realizing that their quest for international recognition has already collided with the wall and a good number of former SNM veterans are experiencing crisis of conscience; they wish they had never taken part in the armed rebellion that produced the irremediable total collapse of Somali government. Above all, the current administration is pressured by international community to join efforts being made to get Somalia out of its wreckage as a precondition for international assistance. This indicates that Somaliland is on its way back to a unified Somalia provided that their legitimate grievances are addressed and power is shared fairly. Hitherto, time is slowly getting ripe for the process of change to take off, yet it is perilous one to be handled with a great diligence!!

Furthermore, unionists should keep in mind the boarder picture of what is happening in Somalia to mindfully make a meaningful analysis and come up with strategies towards restoration of a united Somalia. Today, our country is on the threshold of uncertain multifaceted developments; the tenure of the weak Transitional National Government is to end in this years, tribal States are coming into being day after day, disintegration of Somaliland and Puntland into clannish cantons has already started, intensification of military interventions by neighboring countries of Kenya and Ethiopia is getting momentum to further their sphere of influence in Somalia, dramatic demise of fundamentalist armed militia of Al-shabaab is rapidly expected to take place and warlords have already embarked on preparing themselves to seize such an opportunity to make a second comeback. Additionally, United States is mainly focused on eliminating Islamic militants posing threats to its strategic interests in the region but does not care if Somalia is to be ruled by warlords afterwards. It is also very important to highlight that Ethiopia, a historical archenemy of Somalia, is tirelessly knitting ties with former warlords, self-styled tribal federal states and the religious group of Ahlu-Sunna in an attempt to strategically employ them to cripple emergence of a viable Somali government. Then, a logical conclusion is that the very tribal states that we endeavor to establish are future weapons to be used for our divide and destruction.

In conclusion, the aforementioned foreseeable dramatic changes on political landscape leave scores of questions on the destiny of a unified Somalia. If one carefully scrutinizes thoroughly, all indications show Somaliland is not the only existing threat to the unity of Somalia, but the interwoven factors which are concurrently at play can divide Somali territory into dozens of conflicting tribal fiefdoms in the name of federal states marked by another saga of lawlessness and disunity that will continue several years to come. Somalia is at crossroads and any true unionist has to be on the lookout for dangers embedded in current developments that can do more harm than good to our unity or bring us back to square one.   
Considering issues raised in the article, the below lines spell out several suggestions that may be taken into account while dealing with the question of Somali unity:

All people in the North must realize that Somaliland is not one of the fundamental tenets of Islamic faith. Hence, anybody who questions its viability cannot be treated as an apostate to be killed justifiably. Like any other human undertakings, it should be subjected to criticism and appraisal to find out other alternative avenues for state building including a second merger with Somalia.
The already established regional administrations of Somaliland and Puntland should be kept intact and safeguarded against any possible disintegration into clannish states. If there is a cause for a political reorientation, it has to be done from within without disrupting existing arrangements.  Additionally, Somaliland leaders should abandon domination, aggression, oppression and intolerance to others’ dissent views and adopt a political culture letting unionists and secessionists have a role in public affairs.
Unity of Somalia cannot be attained through misinterpretation of federalism and emergence of tribal cantons, but Somalia needs a broader renaissance project anchored on true nationalism and revival of our Islamic and cultural values which should be preached as unifying factors to our dilapidated social fabric and political system.
Unionists should distance themselves from using counterproductive strategies based on divisive tribalism as a means for restoring unity of Somalia. They have to be so vociferous in criticizing themselves in order to rediscover the right path to state building.

Jama Mohamed Askar

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