Can Somaliland state building be a model for Somalia?


Let us assume Somaliland is a sovereign state whose people the international community is helping to move from post-conflict into a robust development stage. Now consider these facts: the UNDP deems territories in eastern Somaliland unsafe for aid workers due to instability. Districts in Sool are designated as disputed territories due to Somaliland’s claim of sovereignty.Development aid channelled through Somaliland is unequally distributed. Sool region ( the eastern region suffering conflict-induced underdevelopment ) gets 5% of development aid whereas Maroodijeex ( Hargeisa) gets 46% , Togdheer 16% , Saaxil ( Berbera ) 14%, and Gabiley 9%. Except for Sool , the other four “regions” are Somaliland president’s clan constituencies . How would Somaliland fare under a new policy unveiled by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who said “legitimacy is not a presumed right of any government. It is conferred by the people, and it is sustained only by demonstrating leadership to protect and serve all citizens”?

Mohamed Ibrahim Egal
Mohamed Ibrahim Egal

Twenty years ago Somaliland was in an intra-clan war; now it is in an inter-clan war after Somaliland leaders have abandoned a post-conflict policy of institution and trust-building in favour of a return to divisive politics. There is no an army that is undermining achievements of successive Somaliland administrations but Somaliland has army that is fighting in the name of “the sovereignty of Somaliand”. Since 2004 Somaliland has fought at least six territorial wars – two against Puntland , four against the former Sool, Sanaag and Cayn organisation and its successor, Khatumo administration.

This policy of waging war has undermined a cardinal tenet of Somaliland policy that Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the second president of Somaliland, has put in place in 1993. The leaders of the mono-clan-based Somaliland National Movement leaders had dreams to be looked upon as leaders of a liberation movement similar to the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and by default a ruling party but Egal knew that such a sentiment would tear the new idea of Somaliland apart. The second challenge he faced was how to sell unilateral secession to the African Union ( then OAU). He opted for a policy of promoting Somaliland peacefully in ex- British Somaliland.

When Egal was Prime Minister of the Somali Republic (1967-1969) he adopted a foreign policy that emphasised peaceful talks with Ethiopia and Kenya regarding territories in those two countries in which ethnic Somalis live.

Two formative political experiences influenced pan-clan policy choices Egal had made in post-1991 Somalia. As a leader and founder of a major pre-independence party, Somali National League, he was unable to campaign on a pan-clan, nationalist platform similar to Mogadishu’s Somali Youth League ( SYL) . When the North and the South united to form the Republic of Somalia 1 July 1960, northern leaders came to Mogadishu under two major political parties— Somali National League (SNL) and United Somali Party (USP) . SNL was regarded as a political party for the Isaq clan whereas USP was a party for four of the non-Isaq clans in Ex-British Somaliland —Gedobursi, Dhulbahante, Issa and Warsangeli. Divided northerners were unable to negotiate effectively for power-sharing with southern politicians. To become a Prime Minister in 1967 Egal joined the ruling party, SYL. The Somali Youth League is accorded a major place in the liberation and independence narrative. Somalis remember the thirteen founding members of the SYL (all deceased) May 15 every year.

Egal’s first administration, formed shortly after his election in 1993 in Borame, faced attacks from forces loyal to the his predecessor , Abdurahman Ahmed Ali, the first president of Somaliland, causing a war that lasted more than two years. Egal opposed the clan-based SNM to be treated as a ruling party but his opponents wanted the organisation to be treated as a victorious front that should decide the political future of all people in ex-British Somaliland.

The argument of people who want Somaliland to become a sovereign state is based on borders left behind by Britain. The 2001 Somaliland-sponsored referendum was conducted in 14 of 20 districts in Ex-British Somaliland’s five, pre-1991 regions. Unlike South Sudan and Eritrea, people in ex-British Somaliland never shared political goals beyond becoming independent to unite with southern Somalia. There never was Somaliland nationalism; there was Somali nationalism. “ Different colonial experiences under Britain and Italy do not give us two identities” said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somali said recently.

There are barriers on the path of Somaliland’s search for recognition. Unlike Eritrea and South Sudan Somalilnad declared secession and conducted referendum unilaterally in 1991 and 2001 respectively.

IDr Dominik Balthasar has proposed Somaliland state building experience as a lesson and an alternative to roadmaps in Somalia. In a note on the postponement of Somaliland elections the International Crisis Group pointed out “insecurity in the eastern regions” as one of the justifications used by the Guurti to extend the president’s term in office. “This may prompt wider civil unrest that risks taking on clannistdimensions – especially between the politically dominant Isaaq sub-clans – evena possible return to their fratricidal conflict of the 1990s,” argued Cedris Barnes and Claire Elder of Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project.

Somaliland has long been known as a best-kept secret of good governance in the Horn of Africa. That reputation has not been gained through a barrel of gun. It was gained through an emphasis on peaceful-co-existence of clans and commitment to equal distribution of resources. Somaliland leaders have turned their backs on inclusive politics. Somaliland’s state building experience should not be a model for Somalia if the intention is to create durable political institutions.

Liban Ahmad