Controversy around the Presidential Envoy on Somaliland

Saturday’s presidential appointment of Abdirashi Guled as special envoy for Somaliland relations sparked an outcry among the Somali public who sees it as poor leadership and gross injustice towards the victims of Hargeisa’s secessionists in the Sool region.

Hiring an old friend

Abdirashid Guled is considered to be close to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. He supported him in his rise to power in 2012 and 2022. Having himself failed to be elected as president, he obtained from Mohamoud to have his wife Khadija Makhzumi appointed as a cabinet minister.

The politico-religious organization, Damuljadid – New Blood in Arabic – an offshoot of the Islah, an ideologically close movement to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which Guled initiated with Abdulkadir Farah, the current Minister of Education, convinced Hassan to be their candidate for the 2012 presidential election and has backed him since then.

In return, Hassan Sheikh’s choice of collaborators is dictated by his allegiance to the Damuljadid brotherhood. So it stands to reason that Hassan would hire an old friend to help sort out what foreign players like Ethiopia and the United States have at least been able to play a more impactful role.

A biased broker

The only catch, however, is that Guled is not an honest broker in the conflict between separatists led by Musa Bihi and clans that refuse to secede from the rest of Somalia. Indeed, he never hid his support for the system put in place by the secessionists since they supported him in the 2015 Galkayo clash with Puntland.

For example, in 2021 he tweeted “Somaliland’s commendable achievement in terms of peace, development and democracy”. He has also stated in many forums that Somaliland is a victim of the Somali government and should be understood in its rejection of the union.

Many now wonder how he can understand that the North is only the clan that formed the Somali National Movement (SNM). That many other clans, including the Samaron/Gadabirsi, enclaved in the north, who were victims of the ethnic cleansing of the SNM and were abandoned by the central government, do not subscribe to this secession so much celebrated by those who ought to fight against.

Whitewashing the secessionists’ agenda

For the president, Guled, as his former interior minister in charge of the Somaliland portfolio, has “good experience in matters of reconciliation, conflict resolution and the various stages of negotiations between the Federal Government and Somaliland”. Indeed, Guled was in Hassan Sheikh’s cabinet during his previous presidential term, from 2012 to 2016.

At that time, Turkey-sponsored controversial talks had made many concessions to the separatists, including greater autonomy in terms of direct access to donor funding and control of Somali airspace. These concessions cemented the autonomy enjoyed by Somaliland and complicated negotiations with the next government.

The Damuljadid movement, known for having its ideologues in the North, like Sheikh Mustafe Ismail, and even in Djibouti, Sheikh Abdirahman Bashir in particular, espouses the vision of the secessionists who want to perpetuate the arbitrary colonial time borders ditched in 1960.

In addition, there is a distortion of the clan and political representation of the north in the southern regions which puts on a pedestal the secessionists within the Isaaq clan, however negligible when dug deeper. This is a point of view that the secessionists strive to reinforce.

This posture is coupled with the accusatory attitude of certain politicians of the Hawiye clan towards the Darod clan which they consider imposing. A dangerous attitude that the Hargeisa-based separatist leadership exploits to subject the Dhulbahante, a Darod sub-clan, into servitude.

President Hassan Sheikh failing the leadership test

Imbued with this vision, Hassan did not see fit to accede to the demands of the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) regional leaders in Las Anod to begin the process of creating another regional state called Khatumo. The dysfunctional parliament also saw no reason to intervene in this blatant disregard for the inalienable rights of Somalis.

This is why the leaders of separatism insist on bringing Las Anod back into their fold by force, although they know that the region is not theirs and never accept a borderline divide them. Somaliland violence and the federal government paralysis have caused thousands to lose their lives or be crippled in this nonsensical fratricidal war.

Much more than the individual, the title of special envoy is creating a stir among the battered and beleaguered residents of Las Anod. Thus, the 33 traditional leaders who guide the destiny of the people of the SSC welcomed in principle the efforts of the president to find a solution to the crisis but rejected stuffing their region into the name of Somaliland.

So far, the president has shown no effort to understand Sool and Sanaag population’s struggle to evade Somaliland control and abuses, the particular history of this region fractured by colonialism and their uncompromising belief in Somali unity.

By naming Abdirashid Guled, a close associate of Ismail Omar Guelleh, the despotic Djiboutian leader accused of arming Somaliland militias committing war crimes in Las Anod, the president added insult to injury. It’s like rewarding the bank robber for seeing the conflict from the perspective of Hargeisa’s secessionists.

What to expect

In short, badly influenced, sparing the secessionists in their rebellion and ignoring the wishes of the victims and the leaders of the SSC, President Hassan Sheikh contravenes the oath he took during his inauguration, in particular the protection of Somalia’s territorial integrity and its population.

As for Abdirashi Guled, there could be only two outcomes. One, using his past friendly dealings with Somaliland, current depletion of their forces and political isolation, he could get concessions from Musa Bihi to rejoin the union on unique terms guaranteeing Somaliland former colonial borders, its own flag and greater autonomy.

Two, with the SSC-Khatumo leaders adamantly refusing to be thrown under the bus, Guled would be unable to resolve this crisis and would eventually quit as he has done many times in the past as Interior Minister and as President of Galmudug State. And the latter is the better of both outcomes for the besieged peoples of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn.

Omar Salad

Omar is an IT specialist based in Mogadishu.