Masquerading successful Somaliland as failed Somalia,  Bashir Goth 


Reading the opinion piece “Somalia’s warlords: Feeding on a failed state” published by the International Herald Tribune on 20 Jan 2004, one doesn’t have to go any further to understand why a place like Somaliland, a peaceful, democratic and by the testimony of many foreign diplomats, writers and academics a model for homegrown African reconciliation and building of state institutions, has been ignored for so long by the world community.

It is such selective half-truths touted by people like Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, the writer of the article, taking advantage of his position as editor of the African Year Book of International Law and assumed knowledgeable background, that places blinders on the eyes of the international community, narrowing their vision to the darkness and ugliness that prevail in Mogadishu and most of the regions in the Former Italian Somalia. This kind of sweeping generalizations and regurgitating of clichés favored by foreign media such as anarchy, violence, and chaos, is what dampens and trivializes the great achievements accomplished by the people of Somaliland, former British Somaliland Protectorate, against the apocalyptic situation in the Italian South.

One would have expected from the writer, a man of law and an academic who shoulders the awesome task of editing a document, considered to be a genuine reference for African legal affairs, to have exercised some degree of fairness and objectivity in his analysis. Though right in his condemnation and exposure of the Southern-based warlords as a pack of blood suckers who thrive on the misery of the ordinary people, he utterly failed to see the light in the case of Somaliland which has managed to escape the mayhem and the anarchy of the South due to their traditional wisdom and time-worn African methods of resolving conflicts and making peace under the neem tree without any help from the international community. It is here where I would like to pick up and piece together the success story of Somaliland that Abdulqawi tried to weave it into the apocalyptic kaleidoscope of failure, thievery, violence and mayhem that prevail in Italian Somalia.

Emerging from a devastating war that killed tens of thousands, maimed other tens of thousands, grazed whole towns and villages to rubble and drove the whole population into forced exile, the people of Somaliland convened a national reconciliation conference in Buroa in 1991 immediately after the collapse of the military regime. In a traditional conflict resolving and crisis management atmosphere, representatives of all clans and all sectors of the society including elders, religious men, western educated intellectuals, militia commanders, women and youth laid down their arms, decided to put the misery of the past behind them and build a future and a state for themselves. The people of Somaliland, a former British Protectorate, which gained its independence on 26th June 1960, five days before it formed a union with the Italian colonized South, which received its independence on 1st July 1960, made a unanimous decision on that fateful morning of 18 May 1991 to restore their sovereignty and vowed to build a state on the basis of democracy, traditional wisdom and the rule of law.

Rising to the urgency of returning to normalcy and allowing the people to start the arduous task of rebuilding, the conference elected a President, a Vice President and a National Consultative Council for two years on an agreed quota basis. Soon after a cabinet was formed and the government started setting up all local government institutions and infrastructure from scratch, while traditional elders, intellectuals, religious men, businessmen and prominent personalities embarked on the painstaking and Herculean task of confidence building between the various clans, explaining the fruits of peace and consolidating stability and harmony.

Once government institutions were partly revived and returning refugees began to feel the dividends of peace and stability, the people of Somaliland convened their second conference in the town of Borama in 1993. After three months of lengthy and sometimes difficult discussions, a new president, vice president and two-tier national parliament were elected. Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, the first Prime Minister of Somaliland at the time of Independence and a veteran African statesman, had defeated the then incumbent President Abdirahman Ahmed Ali, the former head of the Somali National Movement (SNM) that fought against Siyad Barre’s regime. Contrary to the behaviour of traditional African militia commanders who believe that the chair belongs to them by default, Abdirahman, a veteran civil servant and former Ambassador, congratulated his successor and transferred the rule democratically and peacefully. Comparatively this was when the civil war and tribal mayhem was at its height in the Italian south with Baidoa symbolizing the epicenter of death and misery that moved the international community and prompted former U.S. President Bush to launch Operation Restore Hope which eventually ended up in the disastrous Black Hawk Down and the shameful flight of Americans and later UN forces from Mogadishu.

A charismatic leader, a shrewd strategist and an expert on Somali tribal politics, Egal has within a short time managed to put all government institutions in place. At the time of his next election in 1997, barely four years after, the country had functioning executive and judicial bodies namely Cabinet of Ministers, a bicameral parliament, a police force, a military force, courts and local councils. The health and school sectors were back on track, and thousands of refugees had returned home. In 1997 Egal defeated his opponents for the parliament-voted presidential elections and won a second term of office. With all government institutions firm on the ground and the infrastructure partly restored, Egal and his government turned their attention to establish the constitutional base for the existence of Somaliland. Relying mainly on customary laws, traditional wisdom and with the assistance of international legal experts, the first Somaliland Constitution was drafted and tabled for debate by the parliament. After long, vigorous and arduous debates checkered by numerous rejections and revisions, like any vibrant democracy; the Somaliland parliament endorsed the constitution and slated it for national referendum. When finally put on referendum in free and fair elections on 15 December 2002, 98% of the voters gave a resounding yes to the new constitution that laid the legal foundation for Somaliland’s proclamation of independence.

In another manifestation of its maturity and seriousness in adhering to the rule of law, Somaliland parliament showed the world one of the rare episodes of African civility and respect for democratic norms, when it made possible a smooth and peaceful transfer of power when President Egal died in a hospital in South Africa, where he was taken for treatment for a prolonged illness. With astonishing speed, the Parliament resorted to the constitution and sworn in the Vice President, Dahir Riyale Kahin, as the country’s President, thus proving wrong both African political pundits and skeptics who predicted that Egal’s death would usher in a period of chaos and tribal civil war, particularly as Riyale who was to succeed Egal was not from the majority clan, a text book recipe for tribal genocides in many parts of Africa including Italian Somalia.

Since then, the country has conducted two successfully monitored elections, local council elections in December 2002 and free and fair presidential elections on 14th April 2003 in which the Udub ruling party led by then incumbent President Riyale won by only 217 votes. However, in unprecedented democratic action that recalled the U.S. presidential contention in 2000, the opposition party Kulmiye challenged the tally but has, as Jeffry Herts wrote in the Washington Post, “in a moment of extraordinary responsibility given Somalia’s history of having weapons resolve almost every conflict, eventually accepted the results,” after the country’s Higher Court supported the Election Commission’s tally. Somaliland is also planning parliamentary elections by the end of 2004. “At that point,” writes Herts, “Somaliland will have a more impressive democracy than most African countries. One would think the natural responses of the outside world to the extra-ordinary accomplishments of the Somalilanders would be respect and recognition. The Somalilanders, almost unanimously ask what more they can do when the international community continues to recognize Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and anarchic, violent places as sovereign units. It is time to give them an answer.”

And the answer comes from our next of kin who is green with envy for Somaliland’s achievements. It comes in Abdulqawi’s fleeting dismissal and counting of Somaliland’s democratically elected President among other warlords or as wannabe or anointed president among Puntland and Mogadisho warmongers.

However, refuting Abdulqawi’s deliberate attempt to conceal the truth in a malicious smoke screen comes not from me or any other Somalilander for that matter but from world renowned scholars and neutral foreign observers of the Somali political landscape. I feel obliged to quote some of them, at least for the benefit of IHT readers and the international media, whom Abdulqawi tried to lead, blindfolded into the abyss.

The contrast between chaotic Somalia and the stable Somaliland, explains Greg Mills, national director of the South African Institute of International Affairs, writing in the South African Sunday Independent ( 2nd Nov. 2003) is that donor countries frequently help sustain conflict and political strife by providing assistance.

He said that 14 peace conferences were held since 1991. The number of warlord factions increased from three in 1993, at the withdrawal of UN troops from Mogadishu, to about 50 a decade later. Based on a communications training facility outside Nairobi, the latest peace conference at Mbaghati had, by the end of 2003, drifted on for more than a year, at an estimated cost of $8 million, funded principally by the European Union.

Somaliland, by comparison, Mills wrote was left to its own devices and yet has successfully managed to emerge from decades of devastation on its own.

According to Kornegay, a programme co-ordinator, center for Africa’s International Relations, University of Witwatersrand, Kenyan scholar Prof. Ali Mazrui summed up the Somaliland/Mogadishu riddle by noting that “the situation in Somalia now is a culture of rules without rulers, and stateless society” while, on Somaliland :”there is order there, they have the potential to survive.”

Writing in the, Business Day 9 Jan 2004, Kornegay said Mazrui thus holds Somliland should be allowed to go its way as a prelude to eventual pan-Somali reintegration. The question is, though, is whether the AU will resist imposing unity and allowing such a process to unfold without continuing to penalise Somaliland?

The clearest testimony by an African official came from South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by admitting publicly “It is undeniable that Somaliland does indeed qualify for statehood, and it is incumbent upon the international community to recognize it,” ( a report commissioned by SA Foreign Ministry).

In her article, Painful push for recognition, published in South African Business Day, Dianna Games, Director or Africa@Work, a company focusing on African issues, said “So is the fact it has held two successful elections a record many recognized governments in Africa cannot claim. Its nationhood is a grassroots initiative kept on track by a determination to succeed.

“Somaliland’s lack of international recognition leaves it bound to Somalia, the lawless country to its south of which it is officially still a part despite Somaliland’s 12 years of self-declared independence.”

The list of testimonies for Somaliland’s legitimacy for statehood is endless, while titles of such stories speak volumes of the political observers’ admiration for Somaliland’s achievements. “Federalism not a kiss of death for Africa” by Kornegay, World Ignores Somaliland’s Campaign for Independence, Raymond Thibodeaux, “In Africa What It Takes to Be a Country”, Jeffry Herts, “Somaliland has a case for Independence”, Mail and Guardian South Africa, “Somaliland- the little country that Could”, Shannon Field, “Somaliland Success, Africa’s Big Secret” by Iqbal Jhazbhay and others.

Thus the final cry from Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Edna Adan Ismail “We have shown that we can be democratic and that we can respect human rights. We are setting an example for the rest of Africa. Where is our peace dividend?” she said talking to Raymond Thibodeaux of the journal-Constitution 02Oct 2003.

Somaliland today has two universities, a vibrant and maturing free press and a thriving business despite the Arab ban on its livestock exports, the country’s economic backbone.

This is the stark truth of Somaliland, a country that has built all constitutional institutions, has fulfilled all democratic legalities to the letter and instilled the culture of peace and stability. It is such achievements of Somaliland that Southerner intellectuals like Abdulqawi try to hide by lumping it with Italian Somalia with its culture of chaos and warlordism. As a Somalilander who is proud of his people’s achievements, I advise Abdulqawi that when writing next time about Somalia he should not try to insult the intelligence of the international community by masquerading successful Somaliland as failed Somalia.

Bashir Goth
e-mail: bsogoth@yahoo.com