Twenty Eight Years ago by tomorrow, 6th April 1981, Somaliland National Movement (SNM) was founded by the people of Somaliland to liberate Somaliland and regain the rejected freedom in 1960. On 18th May 1991, after 31 years, SNM succeeded to liberate Somaliland and regained the rejected freedom in 1960. For the last 18 years Somaliland has been a stable country despite some political crisis now and then as the case is at the moment. To understand why Somaliland people decided to regain their Sovereignty they threw on 1st July 1960, and how they established a stable country and overcome political crisis over the years it is imperative to unmask the facts and revisit the historical events. Without knowing a nation’s history it is not possible to fully understand the present and it is very difficult to make an informed decision and strategic plan for the future.
The Rejected Freedom
Somaliland became independent from the Great Britain on 26th June 1960. However, it gave up its freedom after four days as reported by the Daily Herald Newspaper of London on 29th June 1960:
“Somaliland, a British colony for nearly 80 years, became independent last Sunday. And on Friday, after four days of freedom, this British outpost will surrender its sovereignty and merge with its sister, Somalia. It has decided not to remain in the Commonwealth. Somaliland, eastern gateway to Dark Africa, was hardly worth a sniff in the world’s press until three days ago”.
The Results of the Rejected Freedom
The so-called Somali Republic was formed on 1st July 1960 and was born with fundamental problems because of the one-sided unification, as Somalia swallowed and colonized Somaliland, and the legacy of two entirely different Colonial Administration systems and experience. Mohamed Sheikh Ibrahim Hujaleh brilliantly presented the injustice of the one-sided unification in his book, All in The Nation (1986). Since 1960 the symptoms of the injustice and inequality of the one-sided unification were evident, among others, through the aborted military coupe in 1961, rejection of the Constitution 1961, popular demonstration “Bakeyle Qalad” in 1963, student demonstration in 1966 in which some students were shot dead and others were wounded, anti-union songs, poems and plays, The Campaign and Voluntary work of UFFO Group founded by Somaliland Intellectuals, The Dhagax Tuur of 20th February 1982 (Stone Throwing Demonstration by students) when UFFO Group were imprisoned.
Among others the results of the rejected freedom were: 31 years of bondage, humiliation, massacre of civilians and summary executions with a death toll of over 80,000, mass arrests, brutality, rape, unfair trails, harsh prison conditions and systematic patterns of torture. The atrocities committed against the Somaliland people by Somalia are well documented and the carnage during those years (1981-1990) is known as the ‘Hidden War’ in Somaliland.
Somali National Movement
On 6th April 1981, 28 years ago, Somali National Movement (SNM) was founded launched in London. It is a day that every Somalilander to cherish and celebrate the victorious rise of the movement in freeing Somaliland under the unfair one-sided unification with Somalia and the yoke of the tyrant, Siad Barre.
SNM was open for every person to join. It was not confined to the members of one clan as some people wrongly say it was ‘Issak Liberation Movement’. It is a fact that the movement was originated and more active in Somaliland and among the Somaliland Diaspora. SNM operated in Somalia as well particularly in the period between 1984 – 1987. In 1984 SNM elected Ali Mohamed Osobleh ‘Wardiigle’ (God Bless His Soul), who was from Somalia as a Vice-President. Many others from Somalia joined SNM between 1985 and 1987. SNM initiated and spearheaded the formation of Somali United Congress (SUC) giving all possible support to General Aideed (God Bless His Soul) during the formative years of SUC.
Somalia maltreated the Somalilanders from the beginning of the one-sided unification and treated them as second-class citizens in their own country. They were labelled as Somali ‘Qaldaan’, the wrong Somali. On 6th March 1982 the Economist objectively analysed the situation in Somalia, the repression in Somaliland and the strategic plan of SNM in liberating the Somaliland people. Following are extracts of the article:
“President Said Bare of Somalia is due to go to America to see President Reagan next week. On Monday, in what seemed to be last-minute move to give a shine to his credentials, he ended the state of emergency, which has been in force in Somalia for 16 months. He also reshuffled his cabinet and disbanded the supreme revolutionary council of military men who had been given absolute powers under emergency law.
Despite the lifting of the state of emergency, this opposition is now at the peak and could even result in civil war…The immediate cause of the troubles is the government decision to prosecute 27 northern intellectuals and business- men accused of subversion. The first of several riots in Hargeisa took place on February 20th when a crowd stormed the courtroom. But northerner’s grievances go far deeper than this: they believe the government discriminates against them in an increasing repressive way…The north (formerly British Somali-land) was separate from the south (formerly Italian Somaliland) during the colonial era. It could still work as an independent unit…In addition, an independent north would have the strategic card of Berbera. An isolated south would be of little interest to the big powers.
A northern secession is not an unrealistic aim. Southern troops’ moving northwards around the Triangle of the Ogaden, into north-west Somalia would find themselves in semi-desert, surrounded by hostile nomadis…and subjected to guerrilla attacks…They would be far from their Mogadishu base…A southern force small enough to live off the land would probably be cut off and massacred; a force large enough to win the first few battles of a major war might starve. A northern rebellion could even bring about the collapse of Mr Bare’s power in the south”.
The above Economist’s analysis was accurate and what they predicted exactly happened as we all know. SNM have successfully achieved its strategic objectives by embarking on relentless military struggle against the tyrant dictator. After 31 years at the barrel of gun the rejected freedom was regained on 18th May 1991 at the Somaliland People Congress in Buroa. SNM organised the Congress, which was attended by representatives and leaders of all the people of Somaliland, be it regions, sub-regions or BEELO. SNM had peacefully and with dignity transferred the power at the 1993 Congress held in Boroma.
SNM was a revolutionary movement driven by grass roots and based on bottom-up approach. SNM was a movement operating in many countries, inside Somaliland/Somalia and in the field and it did not and will not belong to one group or the other but was a movement by the people and for the people and every group had a role to play to liberate the Somaliland people against the yoke of Siad Bare tyranny. I wonder when I hear one group claiming SNM exclusively at the expense of the other groups and those who are not with us today. Over the years its leadership (5 elected chairmen from 1981 to 1990) was elected and changed peacefully. SNM brought peace, reconciliation, democracy and stability to all Somaliland people. It fulfilled its pledge of keeping the power for two years after liberation (1991-1993). However, with that excellent record I must say that SNM governance was not that rosy but like any other organisation, had its internal shortcomings and problems which are similar to some of the political problems Somaliland has experienced over the years and at this moment which were overcome through dialogue and round table or under tree discussions, a virtue God gave the Somaliland people.
During the 18 years of its existence Somaliland has endured and successfully overcame against all odds. In a nutshell Somaliland has a very healthy Balance Sheet. It is a fact and the bottom line that the positive achievements far outweigh the shortcomings. No doubt there are some formidable challenges facing Somaliland and the current political crisis is a test for Somaliland political maturity and stable statehood. With the experience of SNM years and Somaliland since 1991 for one I am highly confident that the Somaliland people are wise enough to amicably overcome the current political crisis otherwise what will be the alternative – destruction of Somaliland which will benefit no one?
Over the decades Somaliland People proved their tenacity, maturity, pragmatism, sensibility, wisdom, equality, freedom, civility and democratic and concessionary governance. These are the characteristics and attributes of Somaliland people, which are enshrined in their history. These are assets that the Almighty God gave them and based on the Somaliland wisdom “Oodi Ab Kadhaw”, which simply means that good neighbourly is much closer than kingship. In the 1993 Borama Congress the Constitutional Committee recommended and was approved by the Congress that the key leadership positions in Somaliland would not be allocated on clan basis but would be contested by every Somalilander no matter the number of his/her clan.
This healthy Balance Sheet is testified by the ability of Somaliland people to overcome peacefully the death of their President who was in power for nine years. The BBC reported on 6th May 2002:
“The Vice-Ppresident of Somaliland, Dahir Rayaale Kahin, inaugurated as the new leader on Friday. Somaliland managed to avoid the descent into anarchy seen in the rest of Somalia, but our correspondent says that Mr Egal’s death raises fears of a power-struggle and possible instability. Mr.Kahin comes from the Gudabirsi clan, where as Mr Egal was a member of Somaliland’s dominant Issak clan.”
So what that Mr Kahin is Gudadbirsi and Mr Egal (God Bless His Soul) was an Issak? Somaliland has a constitution which was approved by 97% of Somaliland citizens whatever clan they may be. Clanship is not the deciding factor of Somaliland leadership and it has never been and would never be! Somaliland is for all Somalilnders as it has a working constitution, institutions and political parties. The political paradigm in Somaliland is completely different from that of Somalia and they were never been the same. Through the ballot paper in the 2003 Presidential election Dahir Rayaale Kahin was elected by the Somaliland people no matter of his clan.
Successfully against all odds Somaliland has managed to overcome the destruction carried out by the military dictatorship of Somalia and has been a country of peace, freedom, equality and enterprise since 1991 when it was liberated from the Somalia. As far as August 2000 The Financial Times reported, “It (Somaliland) could serve as a model for Africa: peaceful, stable, little crime, no debt, a liberal economic regime as of this month, a multi-part electoral system”.
Since then a new constitution establishing a multi-part electoral system was approved on 31st May 2001, Local Government elections followed in December 2002 and peacefully contested presidential election was held in April 2003. Finally a peaceful parliamentary election successfully took place on 29th September 2005 which was the last leg of Somaliland’s multi-party democratisation process.
Contrary to the unfortunate and sad loss of lives in many African and developing countries not a single person was killed or arrested in Somaliland during all these elections. This is not by accident but Somaliland people have a deep-rooted tradition of tolerance, fairness, equality and freedom. Even during the colonial period the Somaliland people were highly praised for their love of justice and freedom by the British colonial power. A report (1952) by the British Colonial Administration in Somaliland to Her Majesty Government states:
“…. they have ethnological and political claims to racial individualism that would seem to be at least as good as our own, while there is no reason to suppose that their love of independence and liberty is any less than that of the Americans or ours”.
On 29th July 2005 Sub-Sahara Informer reported a revealing article titled “Faking a Government for Somalia – International diplomacy supports fictitious peace process” by Ulf Terlinden and Tobias Hagmann:
“For more than a decade the feasibility of successful reconciliation in Somalia has been proven in Somaliland. It accomplished peace and reconstruction largely by its own means and its government emerged from what observers have described as free elections. Yet Somaliland Republic is denied recognition, due to the international Community’s insistence on the principle of a united Somalia. As an ironic consequence, donors and international organisations support what could be captured as a ‘letter-box government’, which upholds a fiction of sovereignty, even over Somaliland”.
Through the hard way the Somaliland people learnt their unforgettable mistake of rejecting their freedom in 1960. A lot of distinguished politicians, academicians, researchers and commentators across the world are calling the international community to be realistic about the permanent and drastic shift and change of the paradigm that the so called “Somalinimo “ was based. They strongly and with conviction argue that no longer Somaliland and Somalia could form one government even if Somalia manages to reach peace and stability, as the case is now in Somaliland, as they are completely two different entities with different systems, institutions, ethos and aspirations.
On 28th July 2003 the highly credible lobby group, International Crisis Group, based in Brussels issued a comprehensive report on Somaliland: Democratisation and its Discontents. The report underlines:
“Somaliland’s democratisation renders the prospects for reunification with the rest of Somalia increasingly improbable, not only because the aspiring state’s political institutions have little in common with the kinds of interim, factional arrangements likely to emerge in the south, but also because its leadership is becoming more accountable to its electorate – the majority of whom no longer desire any form of association with Somalia”.
The right to self-determination, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and International Covenants of Human Rights, states that “all people have the right of self-determination” and that by virtue of that right they are free to determine their political status to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993 affirmed the right to self-determination, as part of international law of human rights. Intrinsically, it has been recognized that respect for the right to self-determination is a fundamental condition for the enjoyment of other human rights and fundamental freedoms, be they civil, political, economic, social or cultural.
It is unfortunately and unfair that the international community has thus far refused to recognise Somaliland ignoring the achievements of Somaliland people and the shining home grown democracy which is rare in Africa and many developing countries. This is grossly unfair and violation to the basic human rights of the people of Somaliland, who have struggled to build a stable and peaceful democracy with limited external assistance.
To say the least it is double standard, injustice and discriminatory that Somaliland people to be a kept hostage by the International Community for Somalia – whether ungovernable as the situation has been for the last 18 years or if at all governable in the future! Under the international law Somaliland people decided for their future and regained their freedom they rejected forty nine years ago and they have all the right to do so. Without recognition Somaliland will not receive the badly needed international development aid and investment and this international injustice and embargo is tantamount to Global Apartheid against Somaliland people. The case of Somaliland should remind the freedom loving countries to appreciate and value the democracy and equality that they strive for and have striven for over decades. Peaceful and freedom loving Somaliland people deserve no less!
God Bless Somaliland.
By Eid Alisalan Ahmed
Eid is Chartered Fellow of the UK Institute of Personnel & Development and is an active campaigner and lobbyist for Somaliland. He is one of the initiators and founders of SNM & UFFO Group.