Once again, Somaliland grabbed the headlines by cracking down on young people flying the Somali flag.
Young people, girls and boys, who were celebrating the country’s independence on June 26 outside the city of Borama were seized by police and then were taken to Hargeisa, Gabiley and Mandera Prison, near Berbera.
Their video of their joyful parade went viral and brought smiles to many. Their joy and innocent celebration was cut short however when police raided their party and loaded between 50 to 60 children, some of them minors, in pickup trucks.
This repression of a peaceful manifestation is not new as the young people in Awdal region have organized similar celebrations against family and friends’ advices who had the same painful experience.
Criminalization of the Somali flag
Every year, Somaliland police, infamous for criminalizing young Somali patriots rather than apprehending real criminals, keep these youth in prisons hundreds of kilometers away from their homes until their parents beg the authorities for mercy and pay a sum.
As, unfortunately, we have seen it many times in the past, the dark forces of division have crowded into jails young people who wanted to celebrate in private or in public their thirst for unity.
This criminalization of patriotism is a recurrent event that runs counter to all principles and is done under the watchful eyes of the Hargeisa administration.
A few months ago, police shot and wounded a young man who was flying the Somali flag.
Last year, Degan Mirash, a young mother who decorated her bedroom with the national flag was kept in jail for six months without even being brought before a judge.
On the verge of ridicule, in 2019 Hargeisa police arrested a young man by the name of Abdirahman Mohamed Ali who was wearing a blue and white tracksuit.
The thought police scour social media to suppress activities or ideas that authorities consider to be “qaran-dumis” (anti-national) and so far no one is sure what ideas or activities might lead someone to end up in jail.
Hargeisa’s governing class increasingly operates like the worst totalitarian regimes. Basic rights and freedoms are increasingly violated in favor of a single thought making martyrs who pile up in prisons..
Fight against nationalist movements
It is no coincidence that these incidents take place in Somaliland where the white star has been blackened to demonstrate hostility to the “five Somalis” unity.
After 30 years of separation, the Hargeisa-based administration stifles any manifestation of belonging to Somalia.
But real divorce will never take place until a real debate on secession has taken place and the people of the northern regions are consulted through a free and fair referendum.
Interference with the freedom of expression of those who do not approve of secession will inevitably create tension.
Additionally, Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s June 26th speech had the effect of an earthquake in Hargeisa.
The Somaliland administration links its mention of a youth movement from the separatist northern region working towards a Somali unit to the recent celebration.
But this is a misleading exaggeration because this kind of flag celebration of youth has taken place regularly in the past in Borama, as well as Hargeisa, Burao and Las-Anod.
Many dissidents living abroad, including members of the “Markale Midnimo” movement, have said that stifling the voice of the people is not a solution and only mimics the policies of the old regime.
They said to speak was to move forward. There is no shortcut to a peaceful discussion and settlement with the central government in Mogadishu on the issue of secession.