Awdal to Break Free from Somaliland

Now that Las Anod regained its freedom, all eyes are on Awdal to break free from Somaliland oppressive choke-hold. The general jubilation and the unity of the Sol population and the beautiful display of thousands of Somali flags leave regions still under the secessionists occupation in awe.

The political earthquake whose epicenter is Las Anod, the largest town in the Sol region, has drawn everyone’s attention awaiting the ongoing traditional leaders’ meeting to announce the creation of a separate autonomous region.

There are also fears of an escalation in violence as the breakaway Hargeisa-based “republic” clings to the pipe dreams of a separate Somali country. The one-clan dominated Somaliland, built on myths, skulls and ashes, is in fact falling apart.

While the now fragile secessionist order is only palpable in Hargeisa, other cities, particularly Borama and Burao, are considering putting their long-suppressed grievances on the table and initiate their own Blue Revolution.

The restive Burao population, whose local sub-clan despite being from the same Isaaq-dominated Somaliland, have felt they’ve been cheated more than once and even been militarily subdued many times by Hargeisa following attempt to lead the secessionist entity.

However, Awdal, the most northern Somali province, whose Gadabursi clan represents the second community in Somaliland has been the prime victim of the genocidal Somali National Movement (SNM) who formed Somaliland on the ashes of the Somali Democratic Republic.

Musa Bihi, now Somaliland president, was in charge of the western SNM command who committed the worst atrocities in Dila and Borama but also in Lughaya, Fardaha, Gabiley and many rural settlements in Awdal causing a staggering total loss of nearly 10,000 souls.

Stranded between two tyrannies

To date, the most notorious serial killer in Somali history has traded his fatigue for a suit, displaying a false respectability. Taking advantage of the isolation of Awdal, the entity that he now leads as an absolute despot continues to keep the local residents under its yoke, mentored by his no less nefarious Djiboutian tyrant.

What most Somalis outside the region don’t know is that Djibouti had supported the SNM during the 1980’s and pressured the minority Issa clan in Awdal to back the SNM in breaking the Gadabursi resistance up until the Borama massacre of February 4, 1991.

Since then, Ismail Omar who maintains an auxiliary army in Awdal, especially since Musa Bihi is president, in fact co-occupies the region, appoints officials – in the same way he appoints Somali federal MPs in Mogadishu – and extracts natural resources illegally from the region.

Over the past 3 decades, secessionists from the Republic of Hargeisa have used an array of tactics in an effort to keep Awdal in its fold. They have, among other things, fostered a flowering of crooked local politicians who are loyal to them, bribed amenable religious and traditional leaders, punished those who refused the omnipresent police’s constant abuses.

All the while, they have levied exorbitant taxes on the population of the region. Of the 150 millions dollars collected each year in Awdal, the majority goes to the Somaliland Central Bank in Hargeisa and is mainly used to sustain the secessionist authority and finance the development of other regions. Less than 1% of this money is returned in the form of salaries to their army, police, informants and mercenaries operating in Awdal.

Many of the infrastructures (universities, schools, hospitals, roads, even the cramped prison of Borama…) in this battered province too far from Mogadishu and stranded between two tyrants have been rebuilt by the diaspora and the resilient local population.

Moreover, now that the curtain has fallen on Somaliland’s fake peace and democratic values, arbitrary land evictions, and the transfer of that land to groups from other regions to alter demographic makeup, will accelerate.

In all of this, the resistance has continued, taking different forms, from short-lived armed rebellions, popular uprisings quickly suppressed in blood and unjustified imprisonment to basic civic demands.

Many in Borama recall the 2012 popular uprising that forced then Somaliland president Ahmed Silanyo to give up on his plan to have Djibouti annex Zeila. British-trained RRU forces were used to kill unarmed young protesters but were quickly removed to let elders took charge.

At that time, Silanyo sent a delegation to Djibouti to convince Ismail Omar Guelleh to rethink his plans for the region. With the more docile Musa Bihi in charge in the Republic of Hargeisa, Djibouti-trained and equipped forces roam Awdal, adding to the already existing mistreatment of locals.

Las Anod, an inspiration and a warning

With the good news of liberation coming from Sol and Sanaag, Awdal population is preparing to shake off the long oppression and carry out its own uprising against the sinister secessionist agenda.

Hargeisa and Djibouti who already had a concentration of informants and police in Awdal are now reinforcing their armed forces to prevent further meltdown of the SNM dream of separate northern republic.

Already clashes happened in Zeyla district between forces loyal to Hargeisa and Djibouti and local residents show how patience has run out and further escalation is possible if harassment and unfair treatment continue unabated.

Hemal region’s Wadajir residents have taken up arms to respond to Somaliland’s violent tactics, something they were reluctant to do in the past. Interviewed by Radio Borama, they cited Las Anod as an inspiration and a warning to Hargeisa and Djibouti.

According to other reports, the atmosphere is tense in Borama. Residents, especially youth, are discretely jubilant about the political development in Sol and Sanaag regions and eagerly await a spark.

The regime, however, is determined to kill any sign of protest in its infancy. The movements and gatherings of people are closely monitored by the Somaliland forces present in the city.

Musa Bihi, aware of the tremors felt in Awdal, had dispatched his many local cronies to convince the elders and other traditional and religious leaders to denounce the Las Anod uprising and dissuade any activity against the secessionist regime. So far, these attempts have not borne fruit.

Bihi has few armed forces in Awdal as with the bitter news of defection in the East, he sent the bulk of his forces armies to be prepare for a showdown with the nascent SSC’s army. Colonel Nuh Tani, his cousin and chief of staff, had admitted two days earlier that soldiers who protect Garaads in Las Anod used to be part of Somaliland armed forces.

Other soldiers, originally from Awdal, have been stationed in the Sol and Sanaag regions to prevent them from rebelling since their general, Mohamed Xudhuun, was forced to resign from his autonomous command in the coastal region of Awdal. He fell into a trap prepared by Djibouti and Hargeisa which pitted him against the Ethiopian TPLF regime.

Many in Awdal say that these soldiers should either defect to Khatumo or return to their homeland where their service will be needed in the coming weeks and months to protect their own. To them it is illogical and dishonorable to take a monthly salary of 100 dollars and kill or be killed for a secessionist project doomed to fail.

Awdal and SSC united in purpose and pain

The SNM death trail in Awdal that begun in 1986 had culminated to that February 4, 1991 Hiroshima-like bloody statement. The genocide that had happened left a deep collective trauma that crippled those who survived.

Young people who haven’t been through what their parents endured and who have been made to believe they belong to a ‘Somaliland nation’ have quickly realized they are second-class citizens in their own country.

The alienation of their community in an already discriminatory system where one clan takes all, coupled with police violence and abuse, drives their anger to a boiling point.

In 2020, a grassroots youth organization that pushed their traditional leaders to pressure Hargeisa for a fair power-sharing among northern clans was violently disbanded, leaving Borama with bitterness. Many realized at that time that the only way out is to break free from Somaliland’s clan totalitarianism.

Awdal youth now wish to replicate the extraordinary convergence of youth uprising, unprecedented elders agreement on the future of the region, their political organization around a free Khatumo state of Somalia, a common armed forces and the deep wish of the SSC population to shape their own destiny.

Ahmed Said

Ahmed is a Somali civil servant and writes a lot about the affairs of northern Somalia where he hails from.