Somaliland: Waking Up To The Hard Reality

This opinion piece first appeared on on June 16, 2020. The author decided to edit it and republish it on Kormeeraha Magazine.

A month ago a friend of mine added me to a WhatsApp group created by people from the northern provinces of Somalia discussing how to save Somaliland from its current downfall. Listening to these nice fellows, I could feel the pain that some felt knowing the end of an imaginary republic of Somaliland independent from the rest of Somalia. 

Most of the participants were originally from Burao area, as one should expect because of the current discontent in that region. But I suspected some active participants to be from other regions because of their accent, their choice of words and their emphasis on key issues.

However, most of them were genuine in their beliefs and were either frustrated, disappointed or in denials of the current regional upheaval. I admit it is horrible to be brainwashed for many decades about northerners’ exceptionalism and other simplistic myths and to one day realize that it was just wishful thinking.

The central myth widely circulated by Hargeisa elite is that the 1960 union of former British Somaliland with newly liberated Italian Somaliland led to an unhealthy relationship due to “cultural incompatibility”. Therefore, the “recovery” in 1991 of the independence lost in 1960 was the obvious solution. 

Another myth propagated over the past 30 years by the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland was that the Somali National Movement (SNM) – which unleashed a reign of terror in the 80s and early 90s in the North – was saving the Isaaq clan from a genocidal regime. The word “extermination” was even uttered by the most erratic clan agitator, Faysal Ali Warabe, one of the three Somaliland parties leaders.

There was also a long list of other myths whose sole purpose was to sow the seeds of hatred and cement that hatred to make future reconciliation with the rest of Somalia a mission impossible.

Thus, as long as the South, defined as a distinct and undifferentiated whole, was in turmoil and a central government was non-existent, this incitement offered ground to sustain the myth of the incompatibility of the two regions and the likelihood of Somaliland’s international recognition as a separate state. 

Every elected administration in Hargeisa has entertained the people of the northern region with a looming international recognition of the “Republic of Somaliland”. After 30 long years, this subterfuge is curiously on the menu even when recognition looks more like a mirage.

Yet, smart and brave figures like Abdimalik Oldon continue to question the fraudulent narrative of an independent region and a near recognition despite threats and abuses, while others begin to get tired of being served the same dish but still fail to shake off the idea of having been duped for so long.

In the WhatsApp gathering of disillusioned people originally from the Northern regions of Somalia happened in a sobering up moment. The current administration under Musa Bihi has become the most despotic, divisive, inept and derided administration since Somaliland declared independence in 1991.

In addition, the call for further secessions in alienated regions of Somaliland, coupled with a new wind of change blowing in the Horn of Africa, initiated a questioning of the myths of the unity and peaceful coexistence of Northern clans propagated by the SNM’s old guards, anxious to perpetuate their political advantage and their large-scale plunder of the meager resources of the region. 

In fact, the new Ethiopian policy aimed at easing tensions between nations in the Horn of Africa region and a renewed international focus on the central government in Mogadishu led by Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo offered an alternative to all the opposition suppressed to divisive forces. 

While some clearly wonder if Somaliland will ever be an independent country and even despair of this elusive recognition, others feel lost in the changes taking place in the region and in the mediocrity of the Bihi administration dealing with these changes.

You may then understand the anxiety born out of these events and in particular of the failure of hurried and mishandled talks between the Somali federal government and the Bihi administration in Djibouti. 

Even though it seems like a daunting task for the ageing SNM elite to change the narrative and avoid a pending rout, I believe there is a chance Somaliland leaders can still change course and survive the current regional re-integration. This will require strong and pragmatic leaders to come up with a bold political strategy and embark on the path of genuine talk with the federal government. 

Since its inception, there were so many missed opportunities to show the world its worth. The breakaway region had plenty of time, almost 30 years, to show the world that not only its democratic process, relative peace and stable governance are unshakable but that its leaders have the flexibility to deal with the rest of Somalia about its aspirations. 

Unfortunately, every time there was an elected president, the Hargeisa elite, and the president’s inner circle on top, was scrambling to enrich themselves. Somaliland had an opportunity to capitalize in the peace found after the collapse of the Democratic Republic but instead wasted it.

Successive administrations have had no credible plans, or will, to reign on clan based political infighting, the widespread corruption, the uncontrolled inflation, land grabs, the plundering of the natural resources, the raise of poverty, human rights abuses, the dysfunction of the judicial system and growing discontents and palpable unrest in Awdal, Togdheer, Sool and Sanaag regions. In short, the countdown of an implosion is set in motion. 

There’s no wonder some “Somalilanders”, as separatists call the population from that region, are in admiration of the current Farmajo government’s discipline and view a possible reunification as a better alternative to the squandering of public funds by their administration. Others even see the current military achievements as reminiscent of the time Somalia was at its height of its glory. 

With this in the background, it was expected the Somaliland administration has no other choice but to accept a direct negotiation with Mogadishu and, in spite of the SNM old guard rhetoric’s, a public consultation would be unavoidable to mitigate a severe backlash from a public indoctrinated for so long in the simple and distressing concept that the “North” is a victim and the “South” is a murderous mess.

AbdiQani Badar

AbdiQani Badar is a historian, political commentator and avid writer. He has written extensively on Somali issues and historical events.