By Ali H. Abdulla
The only political leaders in this world who are proud of their countries’ colonial heritage dwell in Hargeisa, Northern Somalia. These leaders are prone to exaggerations when trying to convince the world about what they call their rightful and legal claim to break away from their mother country, Somalia. After twenty seven years of claiming a non-existent state, the separatist leaders in Northern Somalia are doing their constituents a disservice by lying to them and trying to convince them that world recognition is within reach as if such recognition were ripe fruits that could easily be plucked form a tree. As a consequence, youth unemployment has skyrocketed prompting many to risk their lives in taking dangerous trips across the Sahara desert to either end up in the clutches of ruthless smugglers in Libya, or in the depths of the Mediterranean sea in their attempts to reach Europe: running away from a hopeless future in Northern Somalia. Some are tempted to join hardline groups such as the “Al-Shabab” or even ISIS. Some are lucky enough to land decent jobs in the Mogadishu that their leaders paint to them as their erstwhile enemy.
An old jet on top of a concrete pedestal serves as a reminder to the Somaliland youth of those who destroyed their city and massacred their people. While there is no doubt that the collapsed Somali regime used extreme force against innocent civilians and leveled large parts of Hargeisa, Somalis in the South cannot be held responsible collectively for the crimes committed by a ruthless regime that tried to hang-on to power at any cost and that no longer exists. Many in the South suffered from similar atrocities. Many individuals from the North were complicit in the crimes committed by the defunct regime, and they are now in positions of power in Hargeisa.
To convince their audiences that the North is very different form the South and that the two cannot co-exist peacefully, prominent elders like Edna Aden, a former first lady of Somalia, tried to convince a foreign journalist that they would both need translators in the southern part of Somalia. While certain parts of Somalia speak a dialect that is not fully understood in the North, an overwhelming majority of Somalis in the South speak the same dialect spoken in Hargeisa and Northern Somalia. Even those who speak the “Mai” dialect that Edna refers to, can also speak the more widespread dialect spoken in the North and other parts of Somalia.
Former first Lady Edna also claims that unlike what she calls “Soomaalia” when referring to the southern part of Somalia, her Somaliland is tranquil and not prone to violence and mayhem. On the contrary, the North is a powder keg that can explode at any time for many reasons. Violence did flare up on several occasions. In 1994, inter-clan violence claimed the lives of hundreds in Burao and Hargeisa. When the Somaliland army tried to overrun a unionist town known as Buhodle in 2011/2012, more than 300 young civilians lost their lives in that conflict. A major conflict is currently brewing up in the Sanaag region and there is fear that this can spread to other regions in the North given the injustice many people in the North feel under the current Somaliland regime which is led by two former military officers. There are credible evidences that they both committed atrocities and deserve to be brought to justice. There are recordings about the current president being accused of murder and genocide, and there are other recordings of him boasting about his ability to murder and destroy. His solution to any problem is the use of military force. Many accuse him of coming to power using fraudulent means.
Another fallacy championed by the separatists and used to justify their attempts to divide Somalia, is their attempts to compare the union between Northern and Southern Somalia to the failed union between the Senegal and Gambia that ended in 1989.
The Somali people were united long before the colonial powers came to Africa. They are the only homogenous people in the Horn of Africa. They speak the same language. They are all Sunni Muslims. They look the same. They mostly herd camels and sheep that even in colonial times crisscrossed the imaginary colonial borders in search of water and fodder. Such frequent and recurring movements resulted in intermarriages and close relatives on both sides of the colonial borders. Somali Nomads never accepted those colonial borders and fought vigorously against them. Their unity goes back to the days when the country was known as the land of punt, and more recently to the fifteenth century when Ahmed Gurey united and mobilized all the current Somali clans to defend the Somali coast against Abyssinian incursions.
In the case of Senegal and Gambia, the Wolof is the major ethnic group in Senegal while the Fula and Mandinka are the major ethnic groups in the Gambia. Their short-lived union was the result of security concerns for both countries. Once such concerns dissipated, both sides moved back to their traditional fears and stereotypes of the other. Furthermore, according to Hughes and Lewis, the support for the Senegambia union came primarily from the two governments and their social elites; neither the Senegalese nor the Gambian people at large were particularly interested in integration, unlike Somalia where the people pushed for such a union, which is still the case despite the attempts of the ruling group in Hargeisa to stand in the face of such unity.
To convince their unsuspecting audiences such as the western media, the separatist leaders in Hargeisa claim to have a democratic system of governance that respects human rights unlike their sibling to the South. One of the main pillars of a democratic system is freedom of speech which is non-existent in Somaliland. For example, journalists can arbitrarily end up in jail for writing about anything that contradicts the dogmatic beliefs of the regime.
Nacima Qorane, a young poetess, spent several months behind bars for visiting Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and for expressing her desire to remain part of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
Oldon, a young journalist and social activist, has been sentenced recently to three years in jail for writing about important social issues that affect the Somaliland society. It is the second time that he has been incarcerated for trumped up charges.
A parliamentarian ended up in jail for several weeks for denouncing the celebration of 18 May which coincides with the day that Somaliland declared its imaginary statehood. The parliamentarian referred to 18 May 1991 as a black day which divided the Somali people. He was referring to the day that a group of ragtag militias forced Northern traditional leaders and intellectuals to declare unilateral secession from the Somali Republic. The delegates assembled in a town known as Burao to discuss efforts to end the civil war in the North after the collapse of the Somali government in 1991. The separatists use 18 May as Independence Day instead of 26 June when the North gained its independence from Britain in 1960 and which many Somalis love and celebrate.
Niman Hilaac, a talented young musician who was jailed several times for visiting Mogadishu, narrowly escaped a recent dragnet to apprehend him for visiting his parents in Borama. Luckily, he escaped to Mogadishu where he was welcomed and tasked with developing Somali music
A young boy in Hargeisa ended up in jail for sporting a blue dress that symbolizes the Somali Flag.
Newspapers and TV stations are shuttered if they displease the regime. These are only some of the actions of the regime that put their claim to democracy to mockery.
The separatist leaders in the North claim that their country became independent in 1960 and that it was recognized by the United Nations. This never happened since the Somali freedom fighters on both sides of the colonial border arranged for a united Somalia long before both sides became free from colonial rule. If colonial borders were justifications for statehood, there was a time when Northern and Southern Somalia were both colonized by the British after Italy was defeated in the second World War. The United Nations later delegated Italy to prepare the South for independence as a trusteeship. Both Somali sides reclaimed their unity in 1960 when the North gained its independence from Britain after a bloody struggle that lasted for 21 years, and Italy ended its United Nations mandated trusteeship in the South.
The reunification of Somalia is analogous to the reunification of Germany which was divided by the Allies into East and West Germany when the Nazis were defeated. Like North and South Somalia, the two German sides later regained their unity under one Germany. Like the Somalis, the Germans are one people like the Somalis and could never be divided for long.
The separatist leaders ignore the fact that many regions in the North do not subscribe to their efforts to divide the Somali people. Regions like Sool, Sanaag, Ayn and Awdal in the North are strongly opposed to the concept of two countries for Somalia. The majority of the traditional leaders in Sool, Sanaag and Ayn have recently expressed their desire to remain part of the Federal Republic of Somalia and their wishes cannot be ignored. These traditional leaders have been in exile in other parts of Somalia since their capital city, Las Anod, was invaded and occupied by forces loyal to the separatist groups in Hargeisa. The presence of these forces led to instability and clan conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds. Somaliland uses funds received from the international community to bribe some of the local elders in these regions to support their attempts to divide the Somali people.
Since both sides of the impasse are largely funded by the international community, the latter can play a major role in forcing them to conduct serious negotiations in order to come up with a formula that can satisfy both sides. A formula that takes into consideration the suffering of the Somaliland youth who perish in the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better future. A formula that addresses the concerns of the regions that are not part of the separatist bandwagon. A formula that addresses the grievousness of the separatist sympathisers. A formula that is based on justice, fairness and democratic principles.
A prolonged status-quo will only make a bad situation worse and open the door to unnecessary bloodshed and suffering for both sides. The stability of Somalia and the defeat of the extremist elements like the “Al-shabab” and Isis will depend on finding a quick and lasting solution to the differences between the two Somali sides , and the emergence of a united Somalia that can cater to the aspirations of the Somali people.
Ali H. Abdulla