By Jaafar M Sh Jama Oct 07, 2015
Professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar called for the dissolution of the Somali state at small gathering of northern Somali migrant workers and refugees at Brunel University in London on 17 July 2015. He was reinforcing a decision that was made by the central committee of the Somali National Movement on 18 May 1991. The movement to secede from Southern Somalia represented the political interests of the Isak tribe, and acquiesced to other northern tribes.

The colonial boundary the tribe is reasserting was not of its own making; it served the political and economic interest of Britain 76 years ago. Twenty-one of the 76 years of British occupation were consumed by war and internecine violence. In fact that period was so horrific that some people during the occupation were forced to eat the carcasses of animals. Many people remember this period as the era of eating filth. During the remaining 55 years, Britain exploited resources and gave land that they did not own to others. Now “Somaliland” finds that ugly and unpleasant history attractive because it serves the political and economic interest of the Isak tribe.

For 24 years, the tribe has been seeking recognition based on this principle: Somaliland was a British “Protectorate” and subsequent Somali governments oppressed, alienated and destroyed them. Other tribes who share Somaliland with the Isak tribe blame the tribe—along with others—for the indiscriminate destruction of their communities; and the annihilation of the Somali state backed by the Marxist Ethiopian regime of 1988. The tribes did not sign up for dismemberment of the Somali state. They expected reconciliation and disarmament.

The Ethiopian regime has been seeking to dismantle the Somali state since its inception in 1960.
In fact, Mohamed Hashi Dhamac (Gaariye), the poet who trumped violence through poetry stated that when he and Mohamed Ibrahim Hadrawi defected to Ethiopia they were taken to the Ethiopian presidential palace to meet with Mengistu. When Mengistu came out to meet them, he looked fierce and spoke very harshly in Amharic. Gaariye said he became afraid and, not knowing the language, he thought that Mengistu had ordered them to be put them in jail. They breathed a sigh of relief when the interpreter said Mengistu explained that his government had been waiting for a Somali to defect and dismantle the Somali people for 100 years. It confirmed that it was a blessing to have the defectors come to Ethiopia.

Samatar’s Stance:
It is within these dark shadows that I reflect upon Samatar’s recent argument that going back to the colonial boundary would somehow resolve what ails the Somali people. Who would have thought an economist and political science professor would strike a Faustian accord with a tribal undertaking.

I recap the eight points he cited as reasons to secede from southern Somalia. From there I will highlight the weaknesses of his position.

  1. The first point he laid out is the historical alienation of the north from the political power sharing of the government. Northerners are alienated from the highest offices of the government. The country was not a shared place and continues beau geste allocations of positions to northerners. There is no point in being part of a place in which you have no sharing of power, influence, or decision-making ability.
  2. The union brought more damage to the north, which deserves to have its own independent country.
  3. Atrocities were committed against the north during the civil war of 1988-90, which decimated civilians and livestock; and caused massive displacement of the population.
  4. The north cannot remain on hold while the south continues the struggle to settle its own onflicts. After 24 years of squabbling, the south continues to be in chaos. It is still wrangling over the sharing of power and land.
  5. There is pervasive corruption in southern Somalia. It has become a way of life that destroys what should be the peace and tranquility of civil life. Tribalism is out of hand in southern Somalia and continues to fragment its society.
  6. There is no prospect for a better system in southern Somalia, which seems bent on perpetuating the status quo. Northern Somalia (Somaliland) has no unique obligation to remain in the union of greater Somalia. There is no rule that says Somaliland can’t withdraw. Greater Somalia encompasses Djibouti, the Northern Frontier District in Kenya, and the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, Somaliland, and southern Somalia. Djibouti has become independent, and the Northern Frontier District and Ogaden remain respectively in Kenya and Ethiopia through acquiescence.
  7. The north is in limbo and southern Somalia holds the Somali state in name only.
  8. The southern Somali elite have never asked themselves what they should do to accommodate northerners.

In addition to these points, Samatar said that Somalia has dissolved just like the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and United Arab Republic (the political amalgamation of Syria and Egypt). He said Somaliland has the legal rights and obligations of an independent state. He wants the world to recognize Somaliland based on the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of State, a treaty signed at the International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay, on December 26, 1933. Based on article one of this treaty a state must have territory, a permanent population and a functioning government in order to meet the criteria for statehood.

He asserts that Somaliland meets these three criteria based on the treaties between European colonial powers that had spheres of influence on Somali tribes. The Anglo-French Treaty of 1888 established the boundary between British Somaliland and French Somaliland. The Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1894 established boundaries between British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. Finally the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897 established the border between British Somaliland and Ethiopia.

Counter point to Samatar’s position:
The question of alienation: Northern Somalia acquired independence On June 26, 1960; Southern Somalia on July 1, 1960; and the two amalgamated as one on July 1, 1960. In the civilian governments that served from 1960-1969, northern Somalis were well-represented at all levels of government. The premier would generally be from the north even though it was not specified in the constitution. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, a northerner, was the Minister of Defense 1960-1962 and was prime minister from 1967 to 1969 until the civilian government was usurped by Siad Barre. Ahmed Yusuf Duale was the Foreign Minister in 1965 and Adan Isak was the Minister of Defense. There is an impressive list of all the individuals from the north who served in different capacities in all organs of the state. They were well-represented in the government. Even Siad Barre, who usurped power, was generous in appointing northerners to high positions of authority, including Omar Arte Ghalib who served as his foreign minister from 1969 to 1977. The Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that overthrew the civilian government included at least three individuals from the north, including Ismail Ali Abokor, Ahnmed Suleiman Abdulle and Muse Rabile God. No northerner was sidelined. Samatar’s assessment of history amounts to obfuscation of the truth. Facts speak for themselves and need no defense. The question of the civil war and atrocities: Conflicts of the civil war included many overlapping levels. There was the state versus the tribes; tribes versus other tribes; and there were internal tribal wars. Every tribe has a mass grave to unearth. The atrocities of the civil war left no tribe unscathed. The question is this: does the crime warrant the dissolution of the country? If that is the case than what should happen as a result of the crimes committed by the Somali National Movement? Members of the Isak tribe became a target of the state after the tribe established bases in Ethiopia to overthrow the Somali government. Ethiopia took advantage of the opportunity to weaken the Somali state, and happily provided logistic support, weapons and bases to overthrow the regime. As Sheikh Hassan Daheye (a Gadabursi elder) said, “If Somalis from different tribes cannot forgive each other after thirty years, I, too, will exhume my victims. I have more bones than those of all the Isaks who perished in these battles.” The creation of the so-called “Somaliland War Crime Commission” to investigate the genocide was simply another effort to gain sympathy for recognition. Other tribes in the north might as well create their own list in order to acquire recognition. If the atrocities of the state justify establishing one’s own country, then the SNM crimes against the Gadabursi, Dhulbahanta and others must secede .

The north cannot remain on hold: The north remains isolated—not because of the chaos in the south but because Somaliland is not cohesive. All five tribes and others that make up Somaliland are signatories of the Arta Conference of 2000. That conference settled power distribution based on the tribal formula of 4.5, consisting of the four Somali tribes and minorities. This charter was the guiding principle of power distribution of the presidency, premiership and parliament. As part of that formula, Samatar became a Member of Parliament before he resigned. There are well over seventy individuals in the current Somali parliament representing the north. Many other individuals from the north include the current foreign minister, deputy prime minister and other cabinet member. Most of those seats are representing the Isak tribe who oppose the secession. The first president of Somaliland, Abdirahman Ali Tuur (1991-1993), dismissed the idea of secession after losing the presidency to Egal and returning to Mogadishu. Most recently, Foosiya Yusuf Xaji Adan, a northerner, dismissed the idea of separation and moved to Mogadishu. She was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister from 2012-2014. She was replaced by Abdirahman Duale Beileh as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (2014-2015). He too was replaced by Abdisalam Hadliye Omar as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

There are two active pro-federal movements, one of which is led by Professor Ali Khalif Galaydh who is a member of parliament and head of Khatumo state. He is opposed to separation. Sultan Wabar established the Awdal Regional Administration (ARA) to counter Somaliland’s claims to statehood. It is not the south that is holding back Somaliland; it is northerners who do not see Somaliland as a viable country. Also Somaliland is not an inclusive state. In 2014 the elders of Awdal region sent a round robin petition protesting power allocation in Somaliland. The issues addressed in the petition remain unresolved. Buuhoodle, a major urban town of the Dhulbahante is not under the authority of Somaliland. The Minister of Aviation of Somalia arrived in his home town of Buuhoodle on 10 August 2015. He was protected by local militia under the authority of the elders of Buuhoodle. The militia told the minister that he must build the airport and provide weapons and materiel for the tribe in order to integrate them with the future Somali army. The Somali government now has a foothold in the north which will integrate the militia with the Somali army.

Causes of the Augean stable:
It is true that corruption and tribalism have become more intense in Southern Somalia than in northern Somalia (Somaliland). The reason is that the south has more diverse people and alliances, each seeking to consolidate allocations of power and land before the dust of federalism settles.
They have found political settlements on paper but these have not materialized into meaningful actions. The Darod have been relegated to the premiership position that used to be for northerners before the civil war. Because the civil war changed the equation, it has become a Darod seat. The Darod have accepted this fate but are trying to empower the premiership with what the constitution allows—which is the head of the government rather than the president. The president constitutionally is a ceremonial figure. The Hawiye have naturally taken over the presidency because the seat of the government is in Mogadishu. They take credit for unseating Siad Barre from Mogadishu. Conflict and the corruption arise because the premiership position has been given the authority to run the day to day operations of the government while the president remains ceremonial.

The Hawiye tribe doesn’t accept this arrangement even though it signed off on the constitution that specifies the roles of each office. The root cause of the dispute is the distribution of power and its functions. Truly the two tribes haven’t found a political settlement pleasing to everyone; and corruption will go on until a viable settlement is reached. Southerners are still on equal footing, and a single northern tribe has taken hold of everybody else. It has closed all doors to meaningful positions of authority to non-Isaks, especially the presidency and heads of the three political parties. If citizen wants to enter the political process he/she has to come through these channels following outdated cultural practices prevalent in Somaliland.

The Darod and Hawiye are opting for a federal system of government and are consolidating power from several directions. They are empowering their sub-lineages residing elsewhere to establish federal states. This is happening in the shadow of massive input from non-governmental organizations. Even the United Nations has become a contributor to the corruption by relying so heavily on non-governmental organizations and other private firms that have employment resources for parliamentary and other civil servants. The northern tribes that make up Somaliland have a special obligation to keep the unity of the Somali people. The northern tribes are also impacted by the very colonial boundary that Samatar is trying to revive. All of the five tribes that make up Somaliland spill over to the other Somali territories, especially Djibouti and Ethiopia; and a large urban population from the north that lives in Kenya. Many of these were taken to Kenya by the British during its occupation. Thousands of families have intermarried with other Somalis since independence, making the separation of families a contentious issue if the two regions were to separate. What happened to other Somalis in Djibouti and Ethiopia and Kenya was not something of their making. Previous Somali states have tried both diplomacy and war to reintegrate with the republic, but their efforts failed and they are not living in any better conditions than before the attempted reintegration. They are not in a position to help rebuild greater Somalia.

Somaliland’s livestock economy and its remittance companies are predominantly linked to southern Somalia. It is in their best interest to keep the union together. It is also important to recognize that Somaliland has not found a political settlement to longstanding disputes. By making one tribe dominant over all the others, they have institutionalized the reprehensible tribal system and its accompanying nepotism—the very things responsible for destruction of the state. There is no cohesive southern government preventing the north from taking its fair share of power. There are possible accommodations of leadership to address the concerns of the north.

Somali tribes compete and form alliances to gain the upper hand over others outside of the power allocations specified in the constitution. All tribes are competing for the highest levels of authority within the state. Power sharing among tribes—whether right or wrong—has been instituted in the Somali constitution. It provides for the allocation of power to all tribes. In actuality, individual regions compete and form alliances to get more seats for their tribes through one or more forms of bribery. The wrangling among tribes in the south hasn’t settled and no southerner has power to influence the north.

The north is well presented in the southern government. Ali Khalif Galaydh, Foosiya Yusuf Haji Adan, Abdisalan Omar Hadliye, Mohamed Omar Arte Qalib and other prominent northerners are there to make sure that the north is well presented. “Northerners” are not marginalized and have never acted as one force collectively. The north is well-represented and no tribe is marginalized Samatar wants to reassert colonial boundaries based on treaties to which no Somali tribe ever agreed or made any formal commitment. The treaties confined tribes to certain areas and restricted their movements across different areas under the British, French, Italians and Ethiopians. The treaties never served the interests of the respective tribes; but served to trap them and restrict their grazing movements. Individuals were punished if they “trespassed” across the boundary lines. The British established garrisons at the borders to monitor tribal movements and grazing patterns to determine jurisdiction issue related to the various tribes. In some cases, they removed “unfriendly” tribes.

After Britain, Italy and France left Somalia, the boundary lines were not delineated officially; and the United Nations never officially demarcated new boundaries. They let old boundaries remain under the ambiguous title, “administrative lines.” On June 27, 1960, a day after the end of colonial rule in Somaliland, its thirty-three members of parliament unanimously passed the Act of Union with Southern Somalia, which included twenty-three articles in support of a Greater Somalia. Egal, the premier from the north, along with two members of the Somaliland parliament attended the Southern Somalia parliament session to approve the Act of Union. Egal reported that only two of the twenty-three articles passed and the rest were omitted. He didn’t specify the reasons why the articles were omitted. The premier never objected to this action, nor was there a public outcry as to why the articles from the north were rejected. Egal stated that he personally opposed the union as agreed, but was overridden by public euphoria.

The Act of Union became law in January of 1961. This document was the only document that genuinely represents purely Somali interests. Since it serves as the basis for resolving the current dispute, any action taken should be based on this document together with the interests and concerns of other tribes in the north who do not have a voice. This approach is highly preferable to simply refining leftover, non-representative “agreements” and documentation that a colonial power arbitrarily decided one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

Moving forward:
Colonial agreements or other treaties are not significant in the current Somali context. These treaties were not treaties between tribes. If treaties were “inheritable,” several tribes could claim that they had some kind of special relationship with a colonial power. After all, the tribes didn’t sign any treaties collectively as representing Somaliland.

The British, French and Italians signed independent agreements with some tribes to protect and safeguard colonial interests. Others have never signed treaties with any colonial power. It is meaningless to evoke what is essentially a one-sided, colonial-era document which none of the tribal elders was able to read, since they were unable to read and write English. Somaliland is purely tribal; and colonial boundaries are unable to serve the agenda of Somaliland’s various tribes. If we are to rise above trivial bickering, we must look more carefully at what is happening regionally.

Both Kenya and Ethiopia have enormous populations much larger than Somalia and Somaliland. Somalis have important real estate and it is critical to recognize that they must rise above tribal interests in order to utilize this strategic real estate. They must think through and settle their disputes. Continuous war and the establishment of fiefdoms will only set them back.

A strategy is needed to save the whole nation without favoring a particular tribe or group of tribes. Stalemate will damage both Somaliland and Somalia. There is significant potential for growth in agriculture, livestock, oil, renewable resources, and maritime commerce. Some form of integration between the north and south is inevitable.

To date, federalism is working well for some tribes, while for others it has become hell on earth—especially for those minority groups whose land has been trampled. An indigenous initiative is badly needed to improve tribal relations and restore healthy statehood—something like, for example, the Borama Conference of 1990.

The outcome of that conference was a firm commitment to forgiveness, clemency and moving forward. Modern politics is destroying Somalis. They need to return to their traditional conflict resolution techniques—the only approach that has proven effective over many decades of Somalia’s history and development. The old men with their hats and canes can once again do a better job than the intellectuals—who have been influenced and corrupted by a blend of modern politics and personal political greed. The goal of the intellectuals is to become personally famous rather than to be genuine, unselfish, servants of the people they aspire and purport to lead.