updated 7:33 AM MST, Nov 17, 2017

Our Version of Events: Somalia or Somaliland

  • Published in Opinion

by Bashir Ali

I write this article because I have scoured the internet for Somaliland related opinion pieces and to my surprise I have found that there lacks a genuine viewpoint from young Somalilanders in Somaliland and those in the diaspora. With myself being from the diaspora and London to be precise I felt that I could offer a fresh perspective on Somaliland and our hopes and aspiration for Somaliland.
Being a Somali person in the West and part of the wider Somali diaspora one always comes across the topic of allegiance. Should our allegiance be to Somaliland or to Somalia? To put it frankly my allegiance is to the Somali people first and foremost and then Somaliland as my mother country. Some would argue that this is contradictory so here I shall elaborate. The whole concept of nation states is a new phenomenon in human history and more so in African history.
Somaliland became the first Somali territory to gain de jure independence and international recognition on 26th June 1960 and followed by Somlia (then Italian Somaliland) on 1st July 1960. As Somaliland chose to unilaterally join Somalia on 1st July, therefore, the first genuine notion of nationhood for Somali peoples existed then and the blue and white flag became the flag of the Somali Republic (as it was officially known then). Therefore, those who argue that supporting Somaliland is wrong and that your allegiance should be to Somalia as a whole use only 31 years of nationhood (1960-1991) as a standard bearer (subtracting the 21 years in which Somaliland declared its re-independence). Whereas Somaliland as an entity existed for 80 years previously (although a protectorate).

The whole notion of colonialism is indeed a dirty chapter in the history of Africa, however, before the British, French and Italians colonised Somali speaking peoples was there ever a united nation of Somalis? Although I wish there was, sadly the facts remain that as Somalis we have always been disconnected and concentrated into distinct entities, whether they be the Awdal sultanate, Majeerteen sultanate, warsangali sultanate, Sultanate of hobyo, dervish state the list goes on. So according to the facts of Somali history there has never truly been a united Somali nation and the closest was witnessed during the union of 1960 and the formation of the Somali republic. Needless to say this ill fated union proved to be disastrous and destructive (due to the nature of Siad Barre's rule). Going back to my topic at hand I am not arguing for the piecemeal division of Somali territories, rather what I am asking is why do some consider it so sacrilegious when people choose to have an allegiance to Somaliland considering that it existed as an entity first (albeit briefly) and that a united Somalia only really ever existed for 31 years and even then political, economic and cultural power were all concentrated in Mogadishu unevenly, meaning that sadly Northern citizens barely got to taste the fruits of union within this 31 year period due to the centralization of power in Mogadishu.
Therefore, people have to understand that when one supports Somaliland it does not mean that they forfeit their allegiance to the Somali people in general whether they be in Ogaden, Djibouti, Somaliland or Somalia. I genuinely believe that one can be a Somali nationalist and still have allegiance to Somaliland. What surprises me so much is that there is a genuine hate for Somaliland among some Somalis despite the fact that when it declared its re-independence in 1991 it did not step on anyone rather all it did was reconcile the various clans and elements within society to bring about state-building and empowerment, surely this is a noble venture.

When one says they are a Somalilander a common misconception is that the person is claiming not to be Somali and therefore a traitor of somesort. However, this misconception is very easy to banish, an individual from Somaliland is a Somali by ethnicity and Somalilander by nationality. An example can be found in that of a Moroccon person, they are Arab by ethnicity and Moroccon by nationality so whenever they refer to themselves as Moroccon they have not necessarily forfeitted their Arab heritage. An example closer to home can be found in that of Djiboutians who are of course Somali yet referred to as Djiboutians freely with little controversy and likewise Somalilanders should be able to encounter little controversy, because despite nationality we all share our common heritage, being Somalis and although it would be ideal to all share a country (a Greater Somalia if you will) in reality this is far from feasible as history has shown. Arguments often state how because Somalis are one of the most homogenous peoples in the world then they should have a united country, however countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia are equally homogenous and to such an extent that the people who rule both are from the Hashemite kingdoms and are actual cousins, yet this does not entail a shared state.
People have to understand the difference between idealism and realism, every Somali would like a united state just the same way as every Muslim would like a united Ummah, however conditions at the current time do not favour the former or latter occurring. For this reason Somaliland is within its rights to pursue its statehood free from rebuttel and demonization. In its relationship with Somalia; Somaliland follows the political/economic mantra "whatever is yours belongs to you and whatever is mine belongs to me", compare this to the political/economic mantra Puntland adopts in its relationships with Somalia, "whatever is yours is mine and whatever is mine belongs to me". It is plain to see which relationship is more exploitative and yet it is Somaliland that is demonized amongst some so called diaspora intellectuals from Somalia who always try to downplay every little achievemnt Somaliland undergoes. In fact of all the Somali administrations, Somaliland is the one of the few to actually offer refugees fleeing from the Mogadishu war safe settlement in Hargeisa and its other cities, as evidenced by the recent creation of homes for 300 families displaced by war in Burao, Somaliland. Compare this with the actions of the Puntland administration which has been criticized by Human rights watch for dispelling and violating the rights of fleeing refugees from Mogadishu and South Central Somalia.
Often I hear other Somalis say the past is the past and we should move forward together and yes this is a noble idea but in the next instance you will hear these same people praise Siad barre as a patriot, when this is the same man who actively tried to commit a genocide against the Northern citizens (see objective publications such as Human rights watch 1990). Furthermore, the recent mobilization in the US of Somali unionists defending the indicted war criminal General Samatar (who coincidentally pleaded guilty to war crimes committed in the North in the 90s) also show this fallacy along with the fact that General Morgan (aka the butcher of Hargeisa) still holds influence in Somalia's politics. Granted Siad Barre also committed atrocities against all tribes and Somali citizens bar his own, however none of this was in comparison to the active, genocide driven aims that his administration pursued in the North. If one truly wants to look at the reason for the failure of the Somali republic then one has to look no further than Siad Barre whose ruthless divide and rule policies still leave a toxic legacy for Somalis today in the Horn of Africa.

Even when one leaves the recent, gory history behind, the fact of the matter is that people have the right of self-determination and for this reason Somaliland has every moral right to want to pursue its statehood as proven by its constitution and referendum of 2001 in which over 95% of Somalilanders voted for this (as verified by independent institutions). However, at the same time Somaliland has to genuinely address the aspirations of those residing in the Eastern regions of Somaliland as they too deserve their own choices. Nevertheless it is a known fact that all of these clans were present in 1991 and at that time they chose the path of reconciliation and state-building. In modern times they have pursued different aims and to be honest in the Eastern regions it does seem that there is genuine confusion amongst its participants on what they want, some call for union (and pledge allegiance to Khatuumo state) and others genuinely want to be integrated into Somaliland's development projects and plans. In the case of Awdal, my home region this is a complete different story as the diaspora driven Awdal state has been just that a diaspora driven project which has influence in social media circles (such as youtube, facebook etc) but very little reality on the ground as the inhabitants of Boorama and other towns within the Awdal region are genuinely loyal and immersed in the Somaliland project as evidenced by the nickname of Boorama "the mother of Somaliland" considering it was here that the most important decisions about Somaliland's sovereignty and independence were discussed in 1991.

The fact of the matter is that Somaliland has chosen its path towards democracy and prosperity and the wishes of its people will be respected whether international recognition comes or not. Naysayers fail to comprehend that Somalilanders are genuinely loyal to their state whether recognition comes or not, the reason being the people have chosen their path and consolidated it, so for Somaliland there really is no turning back now as it has chosen its path and moved forwards. In regards to the Somalia political scene, there is little Somaliland can offer but its best wishes to Somalia. The case of Taiwan can be used to parallel that with Somaliland. Although seen internationally as a country, Taiwan is not actually a country and not even a member of the UN, instead it is considered a renegade province of China (due to China's hostility to its independence). Yet despite these setbacks Taiwan has pursued its economic and political development in a frighteningly efficient manner as proven by its rapid economic growth and democratisation, it is a wonder that Taiwan is considered an Asian superpower despite not actually being a fully fledged recognized country. Obviously it is a stretch for Somaliland (a poor East African nation) to achieve those same successes, but Somaliland could do alot worse than adopt Taiwan as a good example to aspire to considering their shared issues of lack of genuine international recognition.

Somaliland is far from perfect, however it is genuinely a marvel considering the fact that Somaliland has achieved state-building and reconciliation for 21 years with little outside influence. In contrast the US have pursued state building in countries as far flung as Vietnam (in the 70s) and Iraq and Afghanistan in modern times and despite plowing millions into these countries the outcomes have been modest at best. In contrast Somaliland achieved something which is a rarity in modern African politics, which is the armed movement (in this case SNM) voluntarily choosing to disarm itself in favor of a civilian government (in this case the administration of Egal AUN). Often we all know that in African politics if the armed movement gains control of a territory or a country then it dominates the political sphere and dictates the path of the country. Granted that there do remain SNM veterans in the Somaliland administration (principally President Silanyo), they have gained these positions because of their own efforts and it was truly amazing statecraft from President Egal to demobilize the SNM and reintegrate them into the Somaliland national army. For this reason Somalilanders everywhere should truly be grateful to President Egal for his foresighted vision of statehood of Somaliland which has laid the fondations and prevailed today.

Furthermore, when touching on democracy it genuinely surprises me how Somaliland is demonized considering the fact that it is a genuine and fledgling democracy. Critics of Somaliland often use the recycled argument that it is a one clan establishment. However, the emergence of President Dahir Riyale Kahin following Egal's death and the even more significant event of Dahir Riyale Kahin winning elections (in 2003) to serve a full 8 year term is testament that Somaliland is a democracy as one does not need to be from the main clan to secure victory in a genuine democratic elections. This was proven by the fact that Somaliland's first elected President (Kahin) was not from the majority clan in Somaliland nor did he have any links with the SNM movement of the 1990s. Instead in Somaliland all one needs to do is to pledge allegiance to the state and its sovereignty which is perfectly rational considering that a country has to always aims to protect its independence. Granted Somaliland's democratic pedigree is still in its early stages and the Silanyo administration although efficient and technocratic is far from perfect, however, Somaliland is the only nation in East Africa which freely and fairly elects its head of state and for that it is still a ray of hope in an otherwise blighted horn of Africa region.

To conclude, it is important for the young diaspora of Somaliland to continue to support their burgeoning country and thankfully I always come across increasingly well educated and motivated young Somalilanders from all hues of political thought and from both genders. Indeed it is equally important for us Somalilanders to assist our fellow Somalis wherever they may be and to always be proud of our country: Somaliland and to try and avoid the ills that have afflicted so many before us, namely tribalism and greed.

Bashir Ali
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