How the Las Anod Killings Started the Countdown to SSC Self-rule

As in any revolution, the people is the spearhead of political change. By attempting to violently stifle the power of the people, the oppressive secessionist regime of Somaliland not only hastened its downfall but began the countdown to self-rule for the Sol, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) regions.

The brunt of the occupation

Four weeks ago, Abdifatah Abdillahi Hadrawi, an aspiring politician in Las Anod, was assassinated by an unknown assailant. As in over a hundred assassinations of public figures that have occurred in this city over the past 15 years, no one has been arrested and no investigation has been carried out.

Hadrawi’s assassination was the needle that broke the camel’s back. For one week, youth and mothers flooded the streets of Las Anod fed up of the constant abuses they live in. They showed to the world the injustice they subjected to and their desire to have meaningful change to the way the region is administered.

The breakaway Republic of Somaliland’s armed forces responded by using the British trained and funded anti-terror Rapid Response Unit (RRU), infamous for using live bullets and torture to repress political dissent and stone-throwing protesters. The RRU has used similar tactics in recently in Burao and Hargeisa, and in the past in Awdal.

The anti-terror unit was reinforced by pro-Somaliland militiamen and the bulk of the armed forces of Somaliland entrenched in the vicinity of Las Anod since its conquest by the secessionist forces. This conquest and occupation facilitated by the then Ethiopian regime in October 2007 transformed Las Anod into a garrison town.

The violence carried out by Somaliland forces was unprecedented as dozens of unarmed young lives fell. These armed forces shoot to kill by targeting the vital parts of the protesters. Hundreds more were arrested and taken out of the area. Some have been tortured and scarred for life. Others lost their livelihoods or fled the onslaught.

These escalations and complete disregard of human life exacerbated the situation rather than dissuading the scarred residents. They infuriated not only the protesters but the entire SSC region. The political disagreement of the locals gave way to the feeling of being the victim of an indiscriminate oppression.

The reactions: from condemnation to cowering

The ripple effect of these senseless massacres has been felt by Somalis outside the region in Somalia and abroad. They called for an intervention to stop secessionists murderous madness and get aid to the beleaguered residents of Las Anod.

It also attracted international scrutiny into the separatist leadership dreadful activities in the region. Their violent repression shattered the myths of democratic values, peaceful administration and rule of law they have been milking to get funding from western nations and an elusive recognition of their separation from the rest of Somalia.

The refusal of Las Anod brave residents to back down on their demands and international backlash prompted Somaliland leader Muse Bihi to withdraw his armed forces from Las Anod to defuse the situation. Thanks to this historical people’s victory, residents have, for the first time since 2007, taken control of their city.

Somaliland’s opposition politicians, namely the Wadani party of which Hadrawi was a local member, blamed the increasingly despotic Musa Bihi for the disastrous handling of the uprising. They rightly recalled how last September he unleashed the same RRU against their own supporters who protested his unilateral term extension and demanded a presidential election within the agreed timeframe.

This internal opposition was unresponsive when in November 2021 Musa Bihi’s forces forcibly uprooted around 7,000 people, blaming them indiscriminately for the Las Anod killings. They were all from the southern regions of Somalia and had lived in Las Anod and Erigabo for decades. They were rounded up and loaded into trucks without their belongings to dump them on Puntland territory.

It is unfortunate that Puntland which has considered the SSC region as an integral part of their territory through kinship since 1998 has done nothing to help the SSC population abused by occupying secessionist forces of Somaliland.

Said Deni, the president of Puntland, who previously let the region slowly slip through his fingers, made no effort to seize the opportunity to recover the region by any means. His half-hearted reaction testifies to the awkward position that the Las Anod uprising has placed him.

For his part, the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who has always praised the “peace and order” of Somaliland, has shown a lack of empathy towards the suffering of a people who firmly rejected the secession of the northern regions and many of whom fell waving the blue flag of the Somali nation.

Hassan’s poor understanding of the Somali union and his ignorance of the northern region of Somalia also showed up once again. Also, he reportedly promised the British who supported him in his power grap to go easy on Somaliland.

Free through thick and thin

With the SSC’s Dhulbahante clans united in their stance towards Somaliland, their long yearning for a self-governing regional state called Khatumo is set to become a reality. Other major clans chiefs, religious leaders, politicians and eminent personalities have been holding marathon meetings to pave the way for declaring their own self-government.

However, these efforts are increasingly coming up against pressure from various sides. First, Somaliland sees the loss of the SSC region as a blow to its myth based on a colonial mindset of the irreconcilable divide between ‘North’ and ‘South’ Somalis. His unilateral map will now shrink to include only the northern Dir clans over whom Hargeisa will rule supreme.

For Puntland, the creation of a Khatumo State will destroy the claim that this regional state represents the Harti Darod clans, which mainly include the Majerteen, Dhulbabante and Warsangali. Unfortunately, the Majerteen who monopolized power in Puntland have alienated the SSC politicians who would now defect to Khatumo State and prevent Puntland from using their votes as bargaining chips in Mogadishu.

UK, US, EU, Djibouti, the U.A.E. and Kenya all but vow to maintain the status quo. From their self-interested perspective, Somalia’s current balkanized regions leadership serve them so well and any attempt to change the political map threatens their existing illegal agreements with the regional “Banana republics” like Somaliland, Puntland and Jubaland.

Separatist leaders in Hargeisa, sensing the end of their dream near, are struggling like hell to prevent the loss of Las Anod and the SSC region. Important sum of money are being spent to create dissension among traditional leaders supporting the formation of a Khatumo State, free from Hargeisa minions.

Somaliland politicians from the restive SSC region, chief among Saleban Ali Koore, and other politicians sent from Puntland have been trying to bribe elders and other key leaders to create dissension they could exploit to make fail an ineluctable declaration of autonomy.

The Blue Revolution

Historically, the people of the SSC region were known to be ardent nationalists and were once subjected to the full force of the British Empire for rising up against their presence in the region. Somaliland’s stubborn attempt to incorporate the entire northern region under its rule in a bid to maintain the colonial legacy that Las Anod and his region had adamantly rejected now seems to be met with a popular nationalist resurgence that some have dubbed the “Blue Revolution”.

The people of Las Anod and the entire population of the SSC under the impetus of the tsunami of blue flags should quickly put in place a transitional government which would be in charge of any discussions with Somaliland and Puntland on the borders and the jurisdiction, and to set in motion the legalization of a new Somali regional state by Mogadishu.

Today, the supreme Dhulbahante chief, Garad Jama Garad Ali, triumphant return to Las Anod after 15 years of forced exile and the lone traditional sub-clan chief who previously sided with the secessionist regime back in the fold, all 13 sub-clans chiefs are edging towards a concerted resolution as to the fate of the SSC regions within Somalia.

However, the chapter of traditional leaders unending meetings has to be closed without delay and give rise to a civilian-led administration centered on the people’s need for self-rule. That’s the only way the more than a hundred assassinated personalities’ lives and the sacrifice of dozens of unarmed local youth killed by Bihi’s bullets would be honored.

A positive outcome for the SSC people would not only benefit other trapped region like Awdal or Togdheer in Hargeisa’s secessionist madness, but also other repressed Somali communities in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Coupled with the near defeat of Al-Shabab, the people will soon be able to confront Somalia’s corrupt rulers.

AbdiQani Badar

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