As a Success Story, Somaliland is Africa's Best-Kept Secret
July 15, 2003
Some major African players are taking a new look at Somaliland, that state on the strategic Horn of Africa that continues to pay the political and economic price for declaring independence twice (1960 and 1991).
Somaliland is labeled as a "breakaway state" by some analysts, while others describe its success as "the little country that could"2.
In fact, Somaliland did nothing more than end a union it had entered into as a sovereign independent state, and has since pulled itself up by its own bootstraps.
Recently, Senegal, the European Union and Somaliland's neighbor Ethiopia have shown promising signs of wanting to end the impasse.
Ethiopia hosted Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin on a state visit late last year and President Wade of Senegal hosted the Somaliland president recently.
A South African delegation, paid a fact-finding visit to Somaliland in January 2003 and declared it to be "a challenge rather than a problem for the African Union".3
"The country has shown the African renaissance spirit of self-reliance and resilience and has produced a sustainable government and constitution."
"They have got their act together while in the south (Somalia) the Transitional National Government (TNG) has been unable to do so."
"The international community must take notice of this. It cannot remain ostrich-like with its head in the sand", said Fatima Ismail, a human rights activist.4
The energy that the international community has put into the process that led to the installation of the southern TNG has not produced the desired result.5
The Kenyan government earlier appointed a new mediator to take over the Somalia peace talks in Eldoret, Kenya, which have been bogged down since they began in October 2002.
Bethwell Kiplagat, a senior Kenyan diplomat, will replace Elijah W. Mwangale, who was blamed by Somali warlords and Western diplomats alike for not properly managing the talks.
"Warlords continue to hold sway in Somalia and violence has resumed to a disturbing degree. The international community should be looking at the reality on the ground," said Ismail.
"If the international community plans to apply the principal of territorial unity and the fiction of a "sovereign Somalia" without understanding the history, facts on the ground and the genocide experienced, it would be planting the seeds for conflict more deadly than previously seen in Africa", said Professor Hussein Bulhan, head of the Somaliland Academy for Peace and Development and former head of the Anti-Apartheid Movement at Boston University.
"The expectation of the Somaliland people has rightly been raised by the success of their democratic and modest economic development. To frustrate this expectation and to force a union with the South, against the will of the people, is also to court a deadly conflict," he said.
Supporting peace in Somaliland where it only prevails, providing an incentive to it and extending it, is a worthwhile and realistic target.
Ethiopia, which makes increasing use of the Somaliland port of Berbera, has opened a diplomatic trade-liaison office in the capital of Hargeisa along with numerous EU and UN agencies.
The United States and other Western powers, mindful of the strategic importance of the Horn, continue to investigate establishing an interest office in Somaliland -- something that would be impossible in the ungovernable Somalia.
Somaliland's major problem is that it is too small to wield any muscle against the international organizations that ignore it.
But as the African focus moves increasingly off the Great Lakes and onto the Horn of Africa, this country of 3.5-million people will become an example of stability, good governance and economic discipline.
Geographically Somaliland, an area of 137,600 square kilometers forms the top of the figure seven made by the Horn of Africa. It is roughly the size of England and Wales. It was formerly British Somaliland while Somalia, the bottom of the 7, was an Italian colony. Both colonies gained independence in 1960. Somaliland decided shortly after independence to form a union with the south. Before taking this step, however, it had already been recognized by 35 countries. The partnership was decidedly biased in favor of the south.
When southerner Siad Barre took power in a coup he brutally crushed northern opposition. This included flattening the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa, using a combination of artillery, South African mercenaries and bomber aircraft that took off from the airport on the outskirts of the city. On the outskirts of the capital, lie a number of UN acknowledged mass graves as testimony to southern brutality.
After Barre's fall in 1991, the Somalilanders wasted no time in ending the union with the south. After months of deliberations attended by many sectors of society, the grand conference of Burco as well as the second conference at Borama, a sort of South African Codesa, revoked the act of union and reinstated the independence that their territory enjoyed.
This action raised hackles in the then Organization of African Unity, ever nervous about secession and determined, for better or worse, to maintain colonial boundaries. In fact, Somaliland's declaration of independence transgressed neither of these. The country was not breaking some pre-independence bond with the south. It was merely breaking a union that it had entered into as an independent state, for which there are numerous African precedents.
Somaliland has not violated colonial boundaries. It has occupied no more than that territory once occupied by the British and recognized as independent in 1960 by the international community.
Not only are Somaliland disenchanted with the uneven arrangement and traumatized by the civil war that killed more than 50,000 of their compatriots and 500,000 displaced, but they see no inducement to return to formal ties with what is to all intents and purposes an anarchic state.
The TNG of Somalia -- that carries the seat at the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union, cannot pretend to control anything more than a few blocks of Mogadishu. What caused this rush towards recognizing a government with no territory nor administration, after having ignored arguably real and effective government in Somaliland?
The remainder of the country remains ungovernably in the hands of warlords.
Following the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping troops from Somalia in 1995 the international community, and particularly the United States that pulled out a year earlier, wanted nothing to do with anything bearing the label "Somali".
However security considerations of post September 11, 2001 have reinforced the strategic importance of the Horn that is now being patrolled by a German led European force.
The rebuilding of Hargeisa, which Barre reduced to rubble and turned into a minefield, has happened without assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The economic development has been largely supported by Somalilanders in the Diaspora. Proven oil reserves, coal and gemstone mining, livestock and fisheries production, remain untapped.6
More importantly Somaliland has built a strong democratic society that seamlessly passed the test last year with the death of President Mohamed Egal.
Within hours of confirmation of his death at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria, vice president Kahin was sworn in as national leader. Both Egal and Kahin had been nominated by a council of elders in 1993 that re-elected Egal in 1997.
Kahin faced a full electorate in the country's first presidential elections on April 14 this year. International observers, including South Africans, declared the presidential elections as "peaceful, orderly and transparent".7
Somalilanders had their first taste of democracy in May 2001 when an internationally observed referendum confirmed their wish to remain apart from Somalia and endorsed a new constitution.
Highly successful municipal elections -- also internationally observed and the first since 1969 -- were held on December 15, 2002.
Somaliland is undergoing a full house of democratic procedures with parliamentary elections due to follow shortly on the presidential ballot.
Relations with northern neighbor Djibouti were chilled by that French dominated enclave hosting a conference that parachuted the Transitional National Government into power in Mogadishu.
By all credible accounts, the President of Djibouti, considerably interfered in this process and some conclude hijacked the process driven by his specific interests.
Observers have rightly questioned: where in history has a president enjoyed the right of nominating delegates to a parliament of a neighboring country? In addition the election of a long-standing minister of interior in the scorned Barre regime as TNG president was received with shock in Somaliland.
This gut-wrenching shock is captured by a Somali refugee in Kenya who said "Mogadishu has fallen into the clutch of thugs, no better than hyenas, who have no idea what honor is, what trust is, what political responsibility means".
Asked whether he would go back to Mogadishu. He went on, "Would you ask a hyena to watch over your beef stew? Because you would be a fool if you trusted a hyena, wouldn't you?"8
By contrast, a recent UN 2002 review declared Somaliland as "the exception to the violence" and the prevailing anarchy in Somalia.9
Clearly, Somaliland's extraordinary indigenous conflict-resolution methods may provide an example to the southern Somalis. But, now the international community and notably South African agents of peace, cannot be delicately silent on supporting Somaliland's success story and its emerging democracy. Are we ready for this critical Nepad imperative?
NOTES AND REFERENCES
Iqbal Jhazbhay teaches at the University of South Africa and is a member of the ANC's Commission of Religious Affairs. He also serves on the Board of the Institute for Global Dialogue. E-mail: email@example.com
See http://www.csis.org/africa/ANotes/ANotes0211.pdf - for an insightful overview article by David Shinn with the title: "The Little Country that Could". See also the article by the eminent scholar Ioan M Lewis with the title "Mohamad Siyad Barre's Ghost in Somalia" at http://www.waltainfo.com/Conflict/Articles/2002/April/article8.htm. Another text of importance is the unpublished article by Matt Bryden, "The Banana Test: Is Somaliland Ready for Recognition".
This fact finding visit was undertaken by Mr. Welile Nhlapo, Head of the Presidential Support Unit in the Presidency of South Africa. The Unit primarily focuses on conflict resolution in Africa.
Amnesty International, while not the favorite of all political activists, called recently for acknowledgement of Somaliland's record of stability, political pluralism and media openness. It recently convened its regional conference in the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa.
See the recent report of the International Crisis Group, "Negotiating a Blueprint for Peace in Somalia" at http://www.intl-crisis-group.org/projects/showreport.cfm?reportid=911. The report depicts the situation on the ground and has noted that the TNG has collapsed and shows no sign of life on the streets of Mogadishu.
See the article by Shannon Field, "Somaliland elections boost oil prospects", Sunday Independent, April 20 2003, page 7 and the article by II Cornish, "Hope in the Horn of Africa", Mail & Guardian, April 25 2003, page 20.
"Interim Statement of the South African Observer Mission on the Somaliland Presidential Elections of 14th April 2003", issued on 15th April 2003. The 10-person South African election observer team also included members from the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute of Southern Africa. See http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_1348911,00.html
Farah, Nuruddin. Yesterday, Tomorrow: Voices from the Somali Diaspora. London: Cassell. 2000.
See "Somalia: Review of 2002", dated 17th January 2002 on the website of the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network http://www.irinnews.org
Somaliland -- Updated (in PDF) [Added February 15, 2004]
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