By Osman Hassan
Madame Adna Ismail, who has been designated as roving emissary to promote recognition for her one-clan secessionist enclave calling itself Somaliland, takes her mission with a missionary zeal but often goes over the top. At a press conference she organised on 6 June 2019, she used the occasion to lash out against the State and government of Somalia. Somalia’s crime in her eyes was to sever diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guinea for receiving the enclave’s “president” like a visiting head of State. Clearly, Madame Adna is either ignorant of the rights of sovereign States but more likely cannot bring herself to accept the fact that what Somalia did in regard to Guinea was merely exercising its sovereign right to defend its unity and territorial integrity when threatened which Guinea did.
When the whole international community recognizes the right of the government of Somalia to defend its sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, which includes her own one-clan enclave masquerading as the territory of the defunct British Somaliland, it does not need permission from her or anyone else to exercise its sovereign right. One would have expected Madame Adna, as former Representative of WHO in Djibouti and Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean in Egypt, to be conversant with the basic tenets of the UN and AU charters. That does not seem to be the case when she sees Somalia’s warning to take action against any country that undermine its sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity not as ones in line with the UN/AU Charters but as ones tantamount to what she calls acts of “terrorism” for denying other countries to be free to recognize her enclave. It is a misguided perception that no one else in their right mind would share.
Summing up Madame Adna case in support of Somaliland, one could divide it into three planks: The first was to demonise Somalia, calling it all sorts of names like Faisal Ali Waraabe –failed, fragmented, foreign-occupied, and terrorist-ridden with leaders that are in office in name but not run a country. Her aim was to paint Somalia as doomed not worth denying “Somaliland” the recognition it deserves as a cradle of peace, progress, unity and democracy as she claimed.
While there are some truth in what she said about Somalia and its leaders, the picture she paints of her enclave is a travesty of the prevailing reality given the sub-clan oligarchy that monopolise power to the exclusion of others, the demise of the rule of law entailing the denial of basic human rights and freedom of speech, the arbitrary arrests of dissidents (journalist Abdimalik Coldoo is the last victim), the rampant runaway corruption, not to mention the repression and occupation of unionist regions which refuse to do anything with the enclave and its secession.
What she failed to understand as she often does in this matter is that none of the disparaging expletives she lambasts at Somalia in no way negate its sovereign right to defend the unity and territorial integrity of its territory, which is what she is pointlessly challenging. On the other hand, the undeniable appalling state of her enclave makes the recognition it craves all the more remote. Unless they happen to be the rotten corrupt cash-strapped African types like Guinea that the enclave is now chasing with bribes, no country in its right mind is likely to recognize a one-clan renegade enclave, and even less one blighted beyond the pale.
The second and third planks are ones Madame Adna claims uphold “Somaliland’s” continued independence. The first is the stand of the AU on borders which she grossly misconstrues to say that the borders that independent African countries inherited at independence are inviolate. On this basis, she deduces that the defunct former British colony that united with Somalia in July 1960 is after all still alive and well!
Anyone can google the position African Union stand on borders and that is bound to lead to the resolution on “ Border Disputes Among African States” adopted by its predecessor , the Organisation for African Unity, in Cairo in July 1964. This resolution declares that “all Member States pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence” (bolded and underlined for emphasis). It is plainly referring to borders of member countries and not to a defunct Somaliland that could have been a member of the OAU at the time. As member of the OAU at the time, it applies therefore to Somalia’s borders with its neighbours.
Needless to say, both Morocco, which claimed Mauritania at the time, and Somalia, which was claiming its missing territories, refused to sign this resolution. Haile Selassie was the prime mover of this resolution aimed to pre-empt Somalia’s claim to the Ogaden and NFD.
The second blank she adopted is recourse to the congratulatory message that the Queen of Great Britain sent to its former colony on Independence. Madame Adna cites this message as supporting the enclave’s continued existence and independence. This is a somewhat hilarious claim. The cited message was a routine message drafted by desk officers in the colonial office in the name of the Queen which were sent to colonies on gaining independent and Somaliland was no exception. Even if it were to come from the Queen, which it did not, it signifies nothing more than a goodwill message. More likely, Madame Adna was sending an endearing message to the enclave’s former colonial “motherland” that the umbilical cord binding them is still alive.
To her credit, Madame Adna did not repeat the baseless claim often recycled by her secessionist compatriots that more than 40 countries recognized Somaliland on the night of independence. Nothing of the sort happened and could not happen given that all countries were aware that Britain granted independence so that the colony could immediately unite with its sister territory, Italian Somaliland.
The failure of Somalia
Since it declared secession in May 1991, the one-clan secessionist enclave spared no effort to get recognition by whatever means. If success has eluded it all this time, it is certainly not due to sustained thwarting from Somalia. Indeed if that was the case the secession would have been ended long ago.
Since the advent of the federal system, federal leaders have been ambivalent if not indifferent about the union. In pursuing his own political ends, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, a former President, did more than anyone else to bolster the enclave’s status and recognition prospects. That is clear from his announcement that the ascension of Galmudug has completed the federal member states’ make-up. His message to the secessionists was clear: that the North/Somaliland is a separate country. What else could it be once the north is excluded from the federal structure? He translated his perspective on the enclave into concrete action when he granted it equal status with Somalia at the talks in Turkey and Belgium. It is a gain once given that the enclave will not forgo in future talks.
President Farmaajo’s actions or achievements in contrast amount to zero apart from sending sweet words to the enclave on the 26 of June independence anniversary that he is ready to give them whatever it takes to make up for their grievances presumably to bring them back to the fold. Almost every clan has a grievance, some worse than theirs. So, why the exception and how does he expect his offer to down with the rest of Somalia?
Since the secessionist clan has more than their fair share in the federal structures under the 4.5 system, any better treatment as he is promising, assuming they will accept it which is a moot point, would amount to making them the most favoured State and people in the federation. It is difficult to see other clans and regions going along with it. What this shoes is a president who is clueless about the challenges we face. Other than these yearly ritual anniversary announcements, he remains uninvolved and poker-faced at a time when Somalia’s unity is on the line
The success of the secessionist enclave at home by default
The success of the secessionists at home is due first and foremost to leadership failures or betrayals. But that is not all. Considering Puntland as the main opposition to their occupation of the SSC regions (which Puntland claims are part it), the secessionists have been hard at work to revive and exploit the clan alliances they stitched up in southern Somalia in the 1980s that eventually brought down the Somali State. Once again, they are winning sympathy if not solidarity, from some circles of the political elite and leading media outlets.
It is clear what the secessionists are after- the breakup, if not the collapse of the Somali State so that they could have their own recognized “Somaliland”. But what do their sympathisers or collaborators get out of the breakup or collapse of the Somali State? It is as if they have learned nothing from our recent dark history and the State and its unity mean little to them. In contrast, the occupation and repression of those northern regions struggling to defend the union rarely ever get their attention let alone the support they deserve.
But there is another source, perhaps the most important of all, which serves the interest of the enclave in Somalia. To a large extent, their representatives in both houses of parliament, cabinet, and judiciary have dual missions- serve themselves but also act as a caucus to defend “Somaliland” and by implication the secession. They are a formidable force as a body and Somali leaders running for office or want to keep it must remain on the right side of the group. Hargeisa reviles them in public but in private sees them as guardians of the interest of the enclave.
Thanks to the favourable situation at home, the secessionists succeeded to transform their status from the one-clan enclave into what they call “Somaliland” in which they now act as the sole ruler and representative of all the clans in that territory. This claim would have sounded hollow at one time but not anymore when it is tacitly accepted now by the federal governments and by the outside world which follows their footsteps. Understandably, the enclave would not give up its gains and any attempt to put the clock back is bound to be met with strong reaction. Madame Adna’s antics against Somalia should be seen in this context.
The fires next time
Unchallenged at home, the enclave has been given enough space to direct its energies abroad, using their unfettered control of most of northern Somalia as their selling point for their worthiness of recognition. If they have failed thus far to achieve their aspirations, that is for no lack of effort on their part but the reluctance of the AU and its member States, and the wider international community, to oblige them as a respect to Somalia’s sovereignty but also out of fear lest they trigger a Pander box that could unravel many fragile African countries. Unfortunately for Somalia, this resistance is now weakening if not withering with the passage of time as Guinea’s action last week symbolises.
Farmaajo and his government may not be able to resist the satisfaction that they have successfully nullified Guinea’s action. But it would be self-deluding if they rest on their laurels and conclude that they have put the genie of the enclave’s recognition back in its bottle. Africa is full of corrupt unscrupulous leaders who either care little about faraway failed Somali or simply succumb to the enclave’s temptations as Guinea did. Its action far from being the first and last of Somalia’s nightmare could be the beginning of a chain reaction beyond its control. The only way therefore to counter this is only action at home, and nowhere else than in the north- in the SSC regions to be more precise.
The road to end the secession goes through the SSC regions
The one-clan secessionists adopted the fiction of a born-again “Somaliland” for two purposes: first to have a “State” where they are equal to no other clan rather than being equal to all others if they remain in Somalia; secondly, to hoodwink the outside world that all the clans subscribe willingly to their fake “Somaliland” and are united to secede from Somalia. Needless to say, this is a big lie that only the uninformed or the biased can swallow.
If the secession is to be ended, what is needed therefore is to unravel this fake “Somaliland”. Without the SSC regions, it will simply fall apart. The SSC people have been doing their part. Only this week, their traditional leaders announced for the umpteenth time that they have nothing to do with Somaliland or any talks with it but are part and parcel of Somalia. Rallies in support of their declaration were staged in Buuhoodle and other free SSC areas.
What has been missing therefore is the role of the federal government. Since the military option is not feasible for it, the only way to scupper this fake “Somaliland” is to support the SSC struggle to be free from the secessionist hold. Without them, this fake “Somaliland” will fall apart. Faced with a one-clan “Somaliland” some of its sub-clans, more leaning towards Somalia, are likely to desert it and follow the SSC exit. The remaining diehards will have little choice but follow suit.
President Farmaajo should identify with those waging this nationalist struggle to defend the union and end the secession. And the best way to do so is to first give them material and political support; and secondly to declare the SSC regions as ones coming directly under the authority of the federal government until their final status as federal member state is finalized.
President Farmaajo has failed so far to deliver the expectations he raised when he was elected. He did worse by being the first leader in Somali history to hand over a Somali nationalist to his enemy. Worse fears lurk that he could hand Somalia through a give-away union with Ethiopia, or compromise on Somalia’s dispute with Kenya on its maritime rights. The worse fear is that the secession will triumph under his laissez-faire, do-nothing leadership and that Somalia’s unity will go asunder under his watch. What next? These are mostly fears and shows how the trust in the man the Somali people at one saw as their saviour has now sunk so low.
President Farmaajo could redeem himself; prove our fears unfounded by rising as a leader to the challenges his nation faces – defend its interests, defeat the secession to save the union and Somalia. The choice is his.
Osman Hassan is a seasoned journalist and a former UN staff member.