This piece was in response to the Emeritus Professor Woodward, University of Reading, England whose article entitle “Somaliland wants to secede – Here’s why caution…) on 9 September 2016which was featured in the Australian Journal ‘The Conversation’.
Somalilandsun- The Professor put forth a cautionary statement about the recognition of Somaliland.The professor is determined to propagate a cheap propaganda based on his ignorance about the peculiar history and politics of Somaliland. The article shows a great gap of knowledge about Somaliland and its people.
The professor wrongly described Somaliland as a secessionist. With due respect I would like to strongly remind him that Somaliland is not (and has never been) a region or a territory seceding from a country called “Somalia”. Unerringly this is where the professor’s argument buckles. The professor showed fatigue and lack of the proper desk research work or should I say he is out rightly dishonest about Somaliland and it apparently seems the latter.
In 1991, after the collapse of the Somali government and the defeat of its national troops by the SNM, Somaliland withdrew from the union between the two independent states (Somaliland and Somalia Italiana/South Somalia), reclaimed its lost independence and clawed back its territorial integrity. Nonetheless, Somaliland has the right to abrogate from the union according to the international law.
The history of Somaliland is uniquely and distinctly different from that of Somalia. Somaliland has been a Protectorate (British Somaliland Protectorate) for about 76 years before it achieved its independence from Britain on 26 June 1960. Its borders have been clearly demarcated through treaties and international agreements. Britain made agreements with other European colonial regimes and the Ethiopian Emperor (The Anglo-French Treaty of 1888; The Anglo-Italian Treaty of 1894 and The Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897 respectively. Therefore, the borders of Somaliland are constituted and delineated by the international law.
Soon after gaining its independence on 26 June 1960, the independent state of Somaliland voluntarily joined with ‘La Somalia Italiana’ in the South on its independence (from Italy) day of 1 July 1960. On its independence 35 member countries (including of course Britain and the US) recognised Somaliland. Even the then US Secretary of State, Christian Herter, congratulated it. Somaliland was also invited to the British Commonwealth of nations. A point to be born in mind is that both Somaliland and Italian Somaliland were independent separate states when they united. However, after nearly 31 years (of a loose unratified illegal union), Somaliland voluntarily withdrew from the union. Somaliland’s withdrawal is, therefore, a case of dissolution of a botched union. There are successful precedents including African states which are today independent states with no border problems dismissing the view the professor blindly envisages. The professor deliberately selected failed or problem cases (the Biafra region, the Katanga region, South Sudan and Eritrean) but utterly ignored a whole lot of other independent states that do exist in the African continent that have successfully separated from unions [(the united Arab Republic union between Egypt and Syria which was dissolved in 1961; the union between French Sudan and Senegal (the Malian Federation) that was dissolved in 1960; Senegambia (Gambia and Senegal) which was dissolved in 1989)] as well as in the rest of the world (see the chain of breakdown of federations of the former USSR and Yugoslavia), East Timor among others.
The professor subscribes to the most deceptive hypothetical delusive political argument that recklessly opposes to the recognition of Somaliland and which attracts rather few loony individuals. Each case has its own merit and the examples the professor picked up have no relevance to the case of Somaliland.
Somaliland has been out of the failed state of Somalia for 25 years. Since then Somaliland made considerable achievements that Somalia did not dream of. Somaliland came out of the ashes of ruins. It proved itself as a shining beacon of hope, peace and a model of democracy in the African continent. The lasting peace, security and stability Somaliland enjoys today were brought at a price and through a comprehensive process of reconciliations and peace negotiations that no other country coming out conflict, including Somalia, has used. Among the international community Somaliland is well ‘recognised’ as an oasis of peace in an otherwise turbulent region (including the neighbouring violence in Somalia). It has taken full advantage of democratic principles and formation of pluralistic society. Since its withdrawal, Somaliland made four free and fair democratic elections (two presidential elections, a parliamentary and a municipality election) witnessed by international observers and covered by the world media. Four presidents, elected through the ballot have thus far changed presidencies. The professor is well aware of the third presidential election and a parliamentary election planned to occur in Somaliland in 2017.
The fact that a presidential candidate lost vote by a mere 80 votes and, at the same time, conceded defeat is extraordinarily a miracle in the world. It happened in Somaliland in 2005. That shook the world in surprise so much so that such kind of transfer of power is not popular in Africa. But nevertheless, that shows how serious Somaliland is about the principles of democracy while Somalia is stuck in the 4.5 clan code system (marginalising minority clans) by the dominant tribes in the South. Somalia has not yet stepped on the democracy ladder. What is holding the professor back from siding with the moral imperative, humanity, the social stability and democratic politics of Somaliland rather than dragging the progressive back to the weak unstable chaotic Somalia.
The professor again argues that the AU should be opposed to the recognition of Somaliland. What a travesty! The professor has out rightly discounted the reality that the AU Charter itself explicitly supports Somaliland in principle but the AU chose to be silent of the truth. Was it not in 2005 that the AU admitted that the legality of Somaliland’s case is out of question but rather that Somaliland remains in current political limbo for political reasons? Clauses of the AU Charter clearly stress the inviolability of colonial borders and enforcing African leaders to respect. To put the professor in the perspective in the late 1960s the late president of Tanzania, Julius Nyrere, strongly warned African countries not to violate the colonial borders. It was that same clause of the AU Charter (the then OAU) which was used for stopping Somali Republic to claim the other Somali-inhabited territories (NFD, Somalis in Ethiopia and Djibouti).
In addition, the colonial borders of Somaliland have been confirmed by the AU Fact-Finding mission (led by the Deputy Chairperson, Patrick Mazimbaka) in 2005 to Somaliland. The Mission’s official report clearly expressed and concluded that Somaliland’s case is unique and self-justified in the African political history and, therefore, should not be linked to the notion of ‘opening a Pandora box as the professor argues. Once more, Somaliland is not causing the disintegration the colonial borders of Somalia which it inherited from its European coloniser (Italy). The professor is perplexed and feels sulky by the AU’s delusional policy.
Somaliland is set for recognition. Somaliland ticks all the boxes of statehood and it has undoubtedly established the most democratic political system in the entire Horn of Africa according to the Economist Magazine (Nov. 2015). It has achieved all accoutrements of a government and has a democratically elected government and parliament. Somaliland is engaged with other independent states and deals with the international community.
Historically it was the Greater Somalia notion or Somali unity that necessitated the bringing of all Somali-speaking people in the Horn of Africa region under one banner. The concept began with the Somali nationalism to bring about all five Somali-inhabited lands (Somaliland, Somalis in Ethiopia, Somalis in NFD in Kenya, Somalis in South Somalia, and Somalis in Djibouti) under one flag. That was the birth of Somali irredentism. The union of the two (Somaliland and Italian Somalia) was one step forward to that dream and the fate of the greater Somalia at the time has been a sacrosanct issue for all Somalis. But nevertheless, that proved to be a grand ambition, surreal and practically unrealisable dream. SiadBarre’swar with Ethiopia in 1977/78 was part and parcel of that package or dream. In the end that doomed to failure and the concept faltered apart long ago since each Somali-inhabited territory went on its own way one after the other like a cascading domino. The NFD is now of Kenya since its independence in 1963; Djibouti Somalis together with Afar became independent in 1977 and Somali-inhabited lands in Eastern Ethiopia (the area commonly known by foreigners as the Ogaden together with the Haud and Reserve Area is now the 5thregion as part of the Ethiopian Federation. In 1991 Somaliland withdrew from the union of the two. Therefore, Somali unity is only a delusive and unthinkable idea. Somaliland’s withdrawal from the union finally put the nail on the coffin of the Pan Somalia notion. The union of two does not mean the unity of Somalis under Somalia as some argue.
Somaliland complies with the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, a convention that holds the conditions of statehood: a permanent population, a defined territory, a functioning government, and the capacity to enter relations with other states.
The Somaliland people who chose to unite with Somalia after achieving independence in 1960 from Britain. It was a peoples’ choice then and it is the peoples’ wish and right again to reclaim their independence again. The fact that one-million people signed a petition clearly pinpoints the peoples’ wish and right to express their choice and future prospects. In addition, the professor is reminded that a constitutional referendum has already been held in Somaliland in 2001 and that 97% of the people voted for the withdrawal from the failed union of Somali Republic or Somali Democratic Republic (whichever you call). The people of Somaliland are at a point of NO return to uniting again with Somalia. Rest assured for the professor he needs not to be concerned about any border disputes in the future.
Finally, the recognition of Somaliland is an anchor for the security and stability of the region in general and for Somalia in particular. Somaliland plays a key role in the stability and security of the region. Recognition of Somaliland will be a credit to the human rights, democracy in the region since the Horn of Africa region has always been a major cockpit for the world politics and a playground for the world powers.
Somaliland is ready for helping Somalia out of the quagmire. The Somali identity, socio-cultural and societal ties and cooperation is what Somaliland strives for but not a political unity with Somalia, the most failed state (The Economist, Sept. 10, 2016) where the security is under a force of 22,000 foreign soldiers of AMISOM from African countries under the joint a mandate of the UN and AU and government officials cannot visit the country let alone govern them.
By Hussein Nur (MA ECON), University of Manchester
(International Development Consultant, UK)