The cost of survival: Somaliland, 2007–2020

A snapshot of the situation was given by Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin in 2007:

It is too simple to say the T.F.G. has captured Somalia because … Abdullahi Yusuf cannot come here. It is a daydream that he can come here and govern Hargeisa … We cannot be one government any more. We made our final decision in 1991 not to be any longer part of that failed union.[495]

For years, Somaliland had had to face two dangers: a centralist threat from whoever was in control of Mogadishu and internal Islamist subversion. For years it had managed to live rather easily with both: those in control of Mogadishu (when anybody was in control) were short of means and had many other problems besides Somaliland on their list of worries; as for the Islamists, they existed more as an external irritant than as a home-grown problem. Ahmed Abdi ‘Godane’, the al-Shabaab leader, who was a Somaliland Isaaq, was finally killed by a US drone strike in September 2014 without ever having managed to develop a Somaliland branch of his organization. Getting the UIC out of the way and easing the Ethiopians out of Somalia altogether[496] had finally ‘re-set’ the TFG in a reasonably acceptable position, at least on the international scene. But this did not change the terms of the confrontation with Hargeisa.


Somaliland remained independent even if it had begun to choke on its own independence. In 2015 Somaliland’s immigration commissioner, Mohamed Ali Yusuf, declared: ‘Each month, around three hundred people—mostly young men—leave Somaliland to migrate illegally to Europe.’[497] Somaliland was slowly losing its breath, losing what had been the vital energy that carried it through all the war years and the post-war restoration of peace. Before being a ‘government’, Somaliland had been a state of mind, a collective resolve to move together towards a better future. But the future had been too long in coming and it was now slowly going flat. Somalilanders under 20 years of age represented nearly three-quarters of the population and it was getting harder and harder for them to wait for a better future. Contrary to the late colonial years, the Greater Somalia dream had nothing to offer them anymore; it just stood for southern domination. The economy, starved of any foreign investment, was still centered on cattle exports and was running out of steam. Per capita income was estimated at around $430, one of the poorest rates in the world. Formal democracy was still wobbling along but it was on a course of diminishing returns.

The De Facto Recognition Problem Somaliland
Independence Monument in Somaliland, Hargeisa

The threat did not come from authoritarianism but rather from stagnation and decay. In April 2008 President Dahir Rayale Kahin had asked for an extension of his presidential term, which the Guurti almost immediately granted. The following month all three political parties permitted by the Constitution agreed to meet within the framework of the Electoral Commission, reaching a consensus on scheduling local elections for 15 December 2008 and presidentials for 15 March 2009. But neither date was kept and the presidential election was delayed for more than a year. The reality was that the Guurti had turned into a kind of Somali version of the House of Lords. Members were chosen by clan origin and their seats were practically hereditary. The result was a highly conservative body whose decisions were linked to tightly knit clan and family interest groups. Business as usual meant, in fact, careful stagnation. The only important business which had some kind of a Somaliland ‘stamp’ was the biggest Hawala, Dahabshiil.[498] But its CEO, Abdirashid Duale, downplayed his Somaliland origin for fear of antagonizing his many customers in other parts of the Somali world by appearing to back the ‘secessionist’ state. It was hardly an ideal for the youth.

Somaliland was alive but knew it looked weak and feared that this might be true. For the hardline wing of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, which mixed old-style nationalism with Islamism, this political landscape seemed inviting and in late October 2008 it started a campaign of bombings in Hargeisa. As a result, 26 people were killed and several more wounded, but it had no real impact. From his Asmara sanctuary Hassan Dahir Aweys called frantically for ‘attacks on the collaborators of the Jews and the Americans’,[499] but for the Somaliland public that just made him sound like another Hawiye fanatic attacking them. Five of the six suicide bombers were from the south, so the propaganda war was lost before it had even started. Meanwhile, there were 27,000 refugees from the south living in Somaliland, but they were not a fifth column since they had no sympathy for what was snapping at their heels.

But even if the diplomatic campaign from Mogadishu had weakened and the radical Islamist terror attacks had almost immediately hit a dead end, this was no automatic compensation for the home-grown shortcomings. The economy remained shrunken, the youth frustrated and the Guurti partly paralyzed. Somaliland lived in the hearts of its citizens and, strangely enough, in the eyes of the international community even if that same community perversely refused to turn attention into action and kept pouring money into the bottomless pit of the ‘official South’. In 2012 the UN carried out an assessment and discovered that $130 million had been ‘misplaced’ since 2009 by Mogadishu.[500] In spite of strong comments from the UN, a similar report the following year noted that 80 per cent of the withdrawals from the Central Bank in Mogadishu were made for private purposes and were never accounted for. Still, this did not mean that the budgetary discipline of Somaliland earned it any favor in the eyes of the international community.

Politically, there was much more slack. There had been postponements of the presidential election to the extreme limit permitted: first in April 2008, then in April 2009, and finally in October 2009. There were demonstrations (without repression), attempts at diplomatic blackmail,[501] even a bit of brinkmanship (Dahir asked the Army Chief of Staff to bring troops to the capital but he refused, after a 24-hour delay spent in consulting elders). Finally, Dahir bit the bullet and went to the polls where he lost, securing only 33 per cent of the vote, while his old opponent, Ahmed Mohamed ‘Sillanyo’, scored a decent 49 per cent.[502] There were 1,080,000 registered voters on the recently updated lists of the Electoral Commission and the 70 international observers gave a clean bill of health to the electoral system. But all this was part of the constitutional aspect of matters, which had finally been safely handled. Politically things were much looser. The series of Dahir-induced postponements had been nerve-grating and Sillanyo had been the focus of very high expectations. But the man was 80 and he had gone through a lot of wear and tear. In addition, his victory was seen by the Isaaq in general, and the Habr Ja’alo in particular, as payback after years of Gaddabursi power.

In reality, things were always going to run into difficulties. The first one was climatic: both 2011 and 2012 were years of massive drought. The price of cattle collapsed, exports plummeted, food was rationed, and the growth of al-Shabaab terrorism in the south drew in more refugees than could be accommodated.[503] The hopes that Sillanyo’s former diplomatic role would somehow secure Somaliland’s recognition were to be disappointed, and new layers of corruption developed, centered around the questionable handling of government funds by private financial institutions. Dahabshiil grew into a shadow Ministry of Finance. In addition, the border problem with Puntland reemerged and a small sub-clanic group of Dhulbahante proclaimed in 2012 a new ‘autonomous administration’ they called Khatumo, which took a chunk of eastern Somaliland out of Hargeisa’s administration.

This contributed to a rekindling of the old Somaliland disease, postponing elections. The President’s entourage, just like that of Dahir before, thought that the presidency was a juicy morsel and that letting it go would be a mistake. Sillanyo could at best work three hours a day, and then only with limited effectiveness. The elections scheduled for June 2015 were postponed and the Minister in the Presidency, Hersi Ali Haji Hassan, who had been progressively setting himself up as a powerful vizier to the ailing sultan, decided to go one step further. On 26 October 2015 he made his move and attempted a palace coup. Thirteen cabinet members resigned at the same time, and he contacted the Army Chief of Staff to see if he could get military backing. But this was refused and he resigned from the government. Why this refusal when the regime was visibly in shreds? First of all, there was what we could call ‘the principle of democratic legitimacy’, which had become part of the political currency since the SNM days. Moreover, Hersi’s move was seen as an ‘Islamist’ coup. Hersi had family members who were in contact with al-Shabaab even if his dedication to their cause was unlikely. His main motivation seems to have been financial, though the Islamist tag remained stuck to his move. Within the Somaliland political context, this was a non-starter because the equation in the public mind was ‘Islamists = southerners’, or at least southern government supporters.

But the failure of the coup did not improve the image of the Sillanyo administration, especially as it began postponing elections again. In May 2016 the regime had been seduced (or cornered) into signing a momentous contract with the UAE DP World company,[504] and staying in power meant more money for the entourage. New elections were tentatively rescheduled for March 2017. But in January 2017 the death in jail of Abdullahi Ali Barre caused massive demonstrations.[505] It felt as if the regime was sliding into the illegal behaviors that reminded the public of the Siyad Barre years. But the recent vagaries had seriously hurt the prospects of the Kulmiye party at the polls and the main opposition party, Wadani, was hopeful about winning. Still, it had a problem as the former putschist, Hersi Ali Haji Hassan, had joined Wadani, adding an ambiguous message to the campaign. This message was in many ways subliminal and it was one to which Mogadishu was discreetly attuned. Since the election of Hassan Sheikh Mahmood in 2012, the real power structure had shifted. Of course, the President’s clan—Hawiye–Abgaal– Waysle—remained a key factor. But he had been surrounded by a previously unknown crowd of neatly dressed young men in dark suits from London, all members of the association ed-Dam al-Jadid (the New Blood). Ed-Dam alJadid was very close to the British Tory Party and, in a way, it could be seen as a nice, clean and politically correct Islamist branch of the Conservatives. They installed themselves in Somalia during the 2012 British attempt at saving Somalia through globalization (of which more below) and stayed on. I remember trying to talk with some of them in my clumsy Somali. Two of them answered with a smile: ‘Sorry, we don’t speak Somali; but we are learning.’ Both were London-born. When Hassan Sheikh left at the end of his mandate in 2017, they stayed on with President Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’. Having himself lived for 21 years in the United States, Farmajo appreciated their quickly acquired local knowledge and considered that this type of educated ‘globalized’ Islamist was the best local antidote to al-Shabaab. In his eyes, Hersi Ali Haji Hassan was their Somaliland equivalent and he tried his best to push Wadani towards victory, even going to the extent of asking the UN to destabilize Kulmiye and support the opposition. UN envoy Michael Keating wrote to the TFG president:

I have presented your strategic initiative to our international partners and regretfully we have come to a unanimous decision not to support this effort. While stabilizing Somalia is our top priority we failed to grasp the logic of potentially destabilizing peaceful Somaliland by interfering in its local politics and favoring one candidate over the other.[506]

A few days later (on 14 October 2017) al-Shabaab carried out its largest terrorist attack ever in Somalia, causing 520 fatalities and over 1,000 wounded and creating a massive wave of emotion in the whole region. Meanwhile, in an ultimate act of homage to his own past, Sillanyo—who decided not to stand for another mandate—had chosen the one candidate that the compromised camarilla surrounding him least wanted, former SNM colonel Musa Bihi Abdi. Everybody knew he would not be soft on the Islamist threat, and on 13 November he won the election by a comfortable margin. But would his resolve and his toughness (which nobody questioned, even his adversaries) be enough?

The best summary of the situation was given by a local journalist with a prestigious name:

The previous administration has passed to its successor an almost uniformly negative legacy … we need a complete overhaul of our politics … Musa Bihi is perceived as a staunch nationalist who is irrevocably committed to Somaliland’s independence whereas his predecessor’s commitment was called into question because of his pro-federalist positions; secondly, Musa Bihi was not implicated in the corruption that enriched the senior members of previous regime; thirdly, the new president is known as a strong leader unwilling to suffer fools while his predecessor was ill and as result absent from day-to-day management; in foreign policy we compromised the country’s strong independence stance by entering into a pointless policy of dialogue with the illegitimate governments in Mogadishu … We subordinated out efforts to the dictates of whatever the ‘government of the day’ was in Mogadishu … The Sillanyo government abandoned any attempt at a distinct policy, leaving financial affairs to the whims of major foreign donors or investors in the business community … the only significant action was to impose sales taxes and increase customs duty … President Musa Bihi has inherited a toxic brew of subservience to foreign donors and domestic investors. But so far, after one year, the new administration has not made a concerted effort or espoused a new strategy … The new president’s patriotism and patience are not in question but there is an increasing groundswell of domestic frustration as many voices are raised, imploring the government to take corrective steps. Musa Bihi must take the matter to heart since this is nothing less than the independence, not to mention the very existence of Somaliland, which is at stake.[507]

Somaliland was politically shaken, ethnically nibbled at the edges by the Khatumo secession in the east (and the fear of another one among the Dir in the west), economically starved and socially haunted by the magnet of tahrib (paperless emigration). Youth unemployment had reached an estimated 70 per cent. The country was becoming a hologram. But it still remained proudly nationalistic, even though it was this nationalistic commitment which had driven it against the traffic in the one-way street. Could a collective soul have a price?

Globalizing the Somali porcupine: The sterile British attempt

On 25 January 1991, the global legitimacy of the state of Somalia deserted Mogadishu, and it was not until 2000 that some kind of interim reality was able to reimpose itself there and rule over some parts of the territory. But of what territory? Once the internationally recognized Somali Republic had disappeared, what was ‘Somalia’ going to be? There had never been a country called ‘Somalia’ before colonization, and since colonization there had been five territories reasonably entitled to claim that name, whether wholly or in part. Two had merged in 1960. Together they had tried to conquer a third piece— the Ethiopian Ogaden—and had failed. In 1991, the entity which failed to conquer one of these target territories had, in the meantime, fallen into a state of collapse and broken into several free-floating pieces. Back in 1960 the international community had endorsed the union of two of the former colonies; but endorsed as what? As an achieved ‘state’, delimited within its new boundaries, or as a ‘state in the making’, striving towards the inclusion of all other Greater Somalia lands? But what about the objects of this theoretical expansion? By 1991 one of them had become a fully independent, internationally recognized state (Djibouti) and two others—the Ethiopian Ogaden and the north-eastern province of Kenya—were part of other states which were quite unwilling to let go of their Somali provinces. Would this bring the international community to reconsider the 1960 Act of Union? Or would it insist on recognizing the de facto union but not the potential rest?

The collapse of the ‘united’ Somali state opened a legal gap in the postcolonial logic, a situation where reality and legality no longer coincided. And the international community did not—and still does not—have a coherent attitude towards such problems. In December 1971 it agreed to legalize the insurgent and Indian victory in East Pakistan, which was allowed to secede from West Pakistan as Bangladesh. On the other hand, when the main body of the Spanish Sahara population—in Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro— tried to attain independence, this was denied even though other ‘Moroccan’ Spanish territories—Ifni, Ceuta, Melilla—were never decolonized and left as ‘pride-healing’ Spanish possessions. Meanwhile, Morocco had been allowed to absorb the former Spanish Sahara. In that same year, 1991, the former Ethiopian province of Eritrea freed itself militarily from Ethiopia, and was recognized as an independent state two years later; while the Soviet Union was ‘dissolved’ by Boris Yeltsin on 8 December and all its former ‘colonies’— i.e. territories that were not culturally ‘Russian’—were recognized as full-fledged states. But the case of Somalia was not going to be so clear-cut.

On 25 January 1991, Siyad Barre fled from Mogadishu, leaving behind physical fighting and confusion wrapped up in a legally ambiguous package. Twenty-nine years later, while the physical struggle had largely—but not completely—ebbed, the legal situation remained highly problematic. Did ‘Somaliland’ exist as an organized political entity, did it live according to its own laws, and did it govern itself independently? Clearly yes. But did it exist as such in the eyes of the United Nations, that final court of appeal for international existence? The answer was clearly no. Somaliland was a reality in limbo, a functioning country without recognized validity, an existence whose essence was denied. The Somali national paradox has carried its logical contradictions from the 19th into the 21st century. In a basic way, all Somali are still ‘colonized’, with their ultimate fate decided by well-meaning strangers thousands of miles away; so in all logic, any possible improvement in their situation is more likely to come from outside the Somali perimeter than from inside the Somali lands themselves. For the last two centuries the Somali have been independent, imperialized, imperialist, defeated, victorious, dissolved, saved, abandoned, hologrammed and resilient. Now, in line with the zeitgeist of our times, they have entered a process of becoming globalized.

In 1991 Somalia was dismantled by war but not yet handled by peace.

Twenty years later, in the course of 2011, advisers to the Tory Prime Minister David Cameron brought his attention to a deficit in his ‘international statesman’ image. He was seen as young, dynamic, clever, but too ‘British’, too ‘provincial’.[508] Nobody had any clear idea of what he could do to remedy this deficit, but the team got to work and the answer was Somalia. This was not unanimous. Several of the advisers, particularly those in close contact with their American colleagues, were aware of the underlying complexity of the problem and tried to oppose that choice. But they were overruled because the Somali option had many advantages:[509] it would be cheap, there were no collateral diplomatic dangers to be feared, it would have humanitarian support, and it would fit with the Western (and particularly US) War on Terror policy. Once more, the Somali world would be a test bed for policy.

But in order to fit the bill of Tory benevolent interventionism, it had to move away from any lingering colonialist flavor. Therefore, the British intervention had to focus on Mogadishu and display no soft spot for Somaliland.[510] An observer wrote:

After 25 years of getting Somalia wrong, there is no easy way out of the imbroglio today. There have been six fully-fledged international peace conferences, fourteen major peace initiatives as well as four foreign military interventions, and Somalia is no better off. As designed, the coming meeting in London is fated to be just another one of these failures. Instead of gathering Somalia’s discredited politicians and promising them more help, Cameron should support what already works well in Somalia: the vibrant middle class and Somaliland.[511]

He did neither. The new Somaliland President, Ahmed Mohamed ‘Sillanyo’, who had been democratically elected, was physically refused access to the conference premises and Barclays Bank threatened to close its Hawala accounts even though Hawala were shining examples of Somali adaptability and resourcefulness. Everything was choreographed precisely and the UK Ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, guided the delegates—including President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed—with a firm hand. Sheikh Sharif, as we saw, was a former Islamist who had muscled his way into the presidency of ‘legitimate’ Somalia. The 25-point final communiqué was studded with ‘we recognize the need’, ‘we condemn terrorism’, ‘we emphasize the urgency’, ‘we acknowledge the good work’, ‘we reiterate our determination’ and assorted buckets of verbal porridge. The only concrete measure announced in the communiqué was the creation of a Joint Financial Management Board, i.e. an international committee to oversee the accounts of the Somali ‘government’. The problem was that such a body had already been created in 2009 and disbanded in 2011 by President Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ when it reported that most of the public money had been stolen.[512]

The complaints of many Somali observers were interesting and were summed up for me by a man who had come from Mogadishu at his own cost and who said: ‘If you want to help us, at least listen to us.’ This was a useful lesson in the general Somali attitude towards politics. What we were witnessing in London was the exact opposite of a shir process, because in a shir anybody can talk even if he has nothing to say. The process is long and, for a European, exhausting. But, at great length, it moves somewhere. It creates bonds, an immaterial track is left, a verbal signpost is erected. So the London conference, in spite of its great presentation, had very limited impact on the situation even if it tried to introduce a new, more ‘modern’ approach. After the conferences,[513] a whole array of British actors, ranging from detached Foreign Office, Department of International Development and European Union officials to well-assigned UN and private company personnel,[514] descended on Somalia. Even the head of the UN New Integrated Mission for Somalia (UNSOM), Nicholas Kay, was British. His deputy was Algerian. When I met her, she told me with a wry smile: ‘But I am British-educated and I live in England.’ It is difficult to assess what the benefits were for David Cameron’s embrace of Somalia but they do not seem to have been overwhelming. And— unsurprisingly—the main problem the British-boosted Somali government had to deal with was clanic and territorial. Ironically, Brexit was soon to give this amateurish approach a massive boomerang dimension.

What London was trying was the soft approach, in a bid to attract Somalia into a virtuous partnership with the international community to counterbalance the destructive influence of the Shabaab and their fantasized Islamist caliphate.[515] Then what was the Somalia that London hoped to rally? Basically, it was the old Somalia Italiana of 1960. But in what geopolitical shape? We have already seen that since 1998 the Majerteen clan family had set up the quasi-state of Puntland, which had been careful not to declare its independence, periodically used its army in support of the ‘Somali government’ when the latter had military problems (all the time), and kept a low profile internationally. The government was chosen by closed-door bargaining between the various clans of the big Majerteen clan family; there were no elections and no democratic bravado in the Somaliland style. In exchange for this low-profile discretion, Chinese oil exploratory teams were allowed to roam freely (they found no oil), and pirates in the harbors of Eyl and Hobyo were supplied and protected, and later brought under (partial) control. Later, the United Arab Emirates began developing the port installations in Bosaso while Puntland supported the Khatumo secession in order to annoy Somaliland and to extend some influence over that Dhulbahante zone, just in case the Chinese finally found oil there. South of that, around Galkayo, where Majerteen and Hawiye met, there was a zone the UN maps labelled ‘disputed’.

If we go further south, the two old provinces of Galguduud and Mudug, both inhabited by a variety of Hawiye clans, had fused under the unclear name of ‘Galmudug’. At times ‘Galmudug’ presented itself as a federated state of the Somalia ensemble; at other times the assembly in the ‘capital’ Dusamareb made declarations that seemed to come from an autonomous entity. Further south, the two provinces of Hiiran and Middle Shebelle had fused to create still another administrative entity which fitted within ‘Somalia’. Mogadishu sits practically on the border of Hiiran–Shebelle and the whole region Bay– Bakool–Benadir had become the ‘south-west Somalia’ where the capital had more or less direct control. There the main problem was the cohabitation of those called the Guri and the Galti. These are not clans; they are the ‘natives’ and the ‘newcomers’, the labels indicating who was living there before the massive displacements of the warlord years as opposed to those who had come during the war years. Basically, the ‘natives’ are Rahanweyn and most of the newcomers are Hawiye refugees who have fled the intense fighting in Mogadishu. Their coexistence is the demographic product of those long years of violent conflict. The Galti are those who have passed through many painful refugee stations, regardless of their clan origin. They have finally dropped down in a place where something—food, shelter, social protection—allowed them to stop their panicked exile. Now they talk in terms of votes, representation and administrative rights.

Finally, in the far south there is Jubbaland, which is a clanic nightmare where Hawiye and Rahanweyn confront each other without any one managing to dominate, while many small clans make claims for ethnic fairness but without the capacity to build anything solid. Faced with the incapacity of the government in Mogadishu to steer this mosaic along a constructive course, both the Ethiopians and the Kenyans—who, through AMISOM, are part of the military-administrative game—have tried to rig local structures without much success.

It is that mass of contradictions that British aid and diplomacy tried to glue together to achieve a number of objectives:

  • to arrive at a minimum of peace and stability;
  • to promote the British government in the nostalgic role of non-imperialist builder of influence;
  • to prop up regionally a number of British businesses ranging from BP and Shell to PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte & Touche (both were already involved in the finances of AMISOM); and
  • to stop the regular Turkish encroachment on the Somali zone and prevent Ankara from reconquering this margin of its pre-1914 empire. As we’ll discuss further on, that ‘margin’ would soon become central to a major cleavage in the Muslim world.

Basically, the British plan did not work. It was a daring promotion, half trying to use the traditional tools of cooperation such as the Department of International Development or the UN, and half expecting to heave an economic world into a dimension not yet its own. Conceptually, it was a small-scale, unexpected rehearsal for Brexit, betting that ultra-modernity could promote a back-to-the-future scenario. Somaliland, the old colony still regarded by its citizens with unrequited love, was carefully kept aside. But further globalization of an even more radical nature was just around the corner, approaching from an unexpected angle.

Shifting the focus: The Great Quarrel (fitna al-kabira) splitting the Muslim world and its impact on the Somali

Globalizing Somalia from London did not work. In fact, soon London seemed to be de-globalizing itself. But far away from the English capital, the long-rumbling contradictions of the Middle East suddenly burst into nearopen conflict. The root cause went back to the 1920s spread of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology of a return to the fundamentals of Islam. In a way it was a phenomenon comparable to the Reformation in Europe, even if the cultural context gave it a very different tinge.[516] But one thing that was similar was the variety of answers to the problem. In 16th-century Europe, Zwingli, Luther, Calvin and Henry VIII all strongly challenged the religious and political dispositions of the Roman Catholic Church. But this did not mean that they agreed with each other or formed a coherent movement. Since the late 19th century Islam has been in a similar situation of ferment.

Most of the names of the key players and thinkers—Jamal ad-Din alAfghani, Mohamed Abduh, Rashid Rida, Hassan al-Banna, Muhamad Iqbal, Sayid Qutb, Abu l’Ala Maududi and several others—are little known outside the Muslim world even if their impact has indeed been massive. Among all those, one man and his movement, Hassan al-Banna and his Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), in view of their broad recruitment and good organization, have had lasting influence, political, social and economic at the same time. Long before Saudi attackers crashed their hijacked planes into the Twin Towers, the deep reassessments of Islam had had practical and political impact, one aspect of which lies at the heart of what we witness today in the early 21st century.

It all started in the early 1960s when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser broke with the Muslim Brothers, who had initially supported his takeover of the country. One of their key leaders, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, took refuge in the small Sultanate of Qatar where he acquired citizenship. He and his Libyan-born associate, Ali al-Sallabi, developed a network of radical Islamic reformers and organizers. Their political choices were radical but their tactical adaptations were often more pragmatic. Nevertheless, they developed, under Qatari protection, a particular ‘school’ or ‘trend’. And given the massive natural gas reserves controlled by Qatar, they had the means of financing their strategy.

Facing them was another geographically minimalist but financially maximalist small power, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). ‘If Qatar’s strategy was to promote political change by supporting legitimate opposition forces, the UAE’s was to help engineer coups that would put in power men who were more to their liking.’[517] In 1973, when the far-sighted Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan ascended the throne of what was then called the Trucial States, a string of discontinuous post-imperial leftovers, the only danger, communism, was mostly theoretical in the regional environment. But at the end of his long reign in 2004, communism had died before him and been replaced by radical Islam. This was a much more real threat for the bedawi (Bedouin) family dynasties reigning over a widely spread-out territory with much oil and hardly any population.[518] When Sheikh Zayed died, the UAE was the sixteenth-largest importer of military equipment in the world. Today it is the fourth, and in relationship to the size of its population, the UAE is now the most militarized country in the world. Its soldiers are well trained and the general capacity of its army is of high quality.[519] The UAE has rapidly engaged in projecting its military forces in a series of foreign endeavors ranging from local to the establishment of permanent military installations, the largest of which is in Assab, Eritrea. The result has been to develop a string of colonial harbors, amounting to an informal empire. Its interventions have been essential and generally opposed to those of Qatar. In Libya, Qatar backs the UN-supported regime of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, while the UAE helps Benghazi strongman Khalifa Haftar; in Palestine, the UAE is anti-Hamas and supports a tolerant attitude towards Israel;[520] in Yemen, the UAE, which is supposed to support the ‘legitimate’ government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is in fact discreetly behind the secessionist movement of Aidarus alZubaidi, the former Governor of Aden, who hopes to manage a return to an independent pre-1990 South Yemen. The reason why has to do with the association between a man and a strategy. The heir (today’s Crown Prince) of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed—colloquially known as MBZ—was the primus inter pares of the confederation and he too had a view of how Islam (and politics, since there is little separation between both) should evolve. MBZ came to power by chance—the state of his brother’s blood vessels—but he has kept power in line with a deep form of strategic thinking. Islamism is an ideological construct on top of Islam and, like any ideology, has the capacity to mobilize large masses when they are structurally susceptible to its message. MBZ’s country is rich, built on an artificial basis, and operates in a high-risk environment; its fast movements tend to surprise both its foes and its allies.[521]

To try labelling the two approaches we could say: ideologically, Qatar has been politically open—its favorite ideologues support multi-partyism and free elections (provided all contenders operate in an Islamic context and Shari’ah is the law of the land)[522]—but religiously highly conservative. The UAE has had the opposite attitude: to be religiously tolerant but politically authoritarian. If we look at some contemporary conflicts in the Muslim world, Qatar and the UAE have systematically been on opposite sides. All Emirati choices are presented in the Western media as ‘moderate’ while the Qatari ones are pictured as ‘radical’. But this is a gross simplification. ‘The point is not that Qatar is innocent of supporting extremists. The point is that these coordinated attacks on Qatar … are simply a weapon used by the Emirates, Israel and the Saudi to advance their agendas … What is misleading is not the claim that Qatar funds extremists but that they do so more than US allies in the region.’[523] The division between Qatar and the UAE (now followed by its clumsy Saudi Arabian ally) is more one of geopolitical differences than of ‘religious’ divergences.

These splits had slowly developed over time since the 1970s but the 2011 explosion of the Muslim world, misleadingly known as ‘the Arab Spring’, flashed them into full view. And it also represented a change of geopolitical weight for the hitherto diplomatically discreet UAE. The divergent approaches diverged even more. And this is how it connected with the Somali scene. Quite suddenly,[524] on 9 May 2016, the giant Emirati trading and handling firm, Dubai Port World (DPW), signed a development and management contract with the Somaliland government, announcing a $445 million investment program. The amount announced was much larger than the budget of the Somaliland Republic. So the problem was set in paradoxical terms from the beginning: was it the Somaliland Republic signing a commercial agreement with a foreign shipping and handling company, or was it a state-shaped financial shark swallowing the minnow of a virtual country? With the signing, the UAE, and all the trappings of its newly developed globalized modern imperialism, had, at the stroke of a pen, become part and parcel of the complex Somali reality, and would soon lead it from behind.

The UAE’s capacity for intelligent tactical application of strategic thinking has been displayed time and again in the region: the recovery of lingering South Yemenite sub-nationalism in Aden, the instrumentalisation of the Ethiopian–Eritrean rivalry and, since 2016, the picking apart of the usable remnants of the Somali dream.[525] The question was: what would Dubai do with Berbera?[526] For the UAE, this is a secondary proposition, given the fact that the Emirates structure is built on five pillars: oil; mythical real estate;[527] hard soft Islam;[528] commerce; and resolute military presence. None of the first three elements are transferable to Berbera, at least for the time being. But the fourth and the fifth are where the imprint of MBZ is most visible—and probably why he has kept carefully away from negotiations.

Commerce in the context of UAE strategic thinking has to be understood in a very broad sense, where the tools range from armed militias at one end to international courts at the other. The 2016 Berbera contract was somewhere in the middle. In October 2008 the IMF had coddled the world’s states into accepting the so-called Santiago Principles, which asked governments not to use their sovereign wealth funds as tools to carry out the strategic policies their regimes were seeking to achieve. But compliance with these Santiago Principles was voluntary and the UAE paid lip service to them. This meant that their partners also tended to take liberties with the application of these principles. At first Abu Dhabi announced that the Berbera contract would be signed by the P&O Company,[529] but then it changed its mind at the last minute and played on the ambiguity of DP World. As a private company P&O could not recognize an unrecognized government, but DP World was closer to ‘being’ the UAE and could act diplomatically. Mogadishu did not miss what this implied and called the contract null and void. Another regional power reacted nervously to the Berbera contract: Ethiopia. Ethiopia had long considered Somaliland as both an ally and a client.

But on 5 June 2017 the whole geopolitical balance of the region was transformed when Saudi Arabia and the UAE coerced the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into a condemnation and blockade of the Sultanate of Qatar. The GCC presented an ultimatum to Qatar whereby it was supposed to carry out a series of extravagant political and social changes, from shutting down its emblematic TV station, Al Jazeera, to expelling 59 radical politicians and accepting a complete embargo. For a few days it looked as if Saudi Arabia and the UAE might even invade Qatar.[530]

This started a scramble for alliances and alignments according to criteria that were often quite far from the direct causes of the break. Thus Ethiopia had been close to Qatar since the death of Meles Zenawi simply because of tension around the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile. So when Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister in Addis Ababa, he had some quick adjustments to make. Given the catastrophic financial situation of Ethiopia, he travelled quickly to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi and revised his order of priorities. But he also had to deal with Ethiopia’s own geopolitical contradictions: the presence of the large UAE military base in Eritrea since 2015; and the fact that the Berbera contract was not limited to the improvement of a commercial port but also mentioned the building of a military base. Given Ethiopia’s long, problematic relation with Islam,[531] there was a need to reassert priorities. It was quickly done and Addis Ababa quietly joined the Saudi–UAE side of what Muslims were calling al-Fitna al-Qabira (the Great Quarrel).[532]

Locally, there were two main consequences. Firstly, the Emirates entered into a structural conflict with Djibouti. Here too this had very little to do with ‘the Great Quarrel’, even if it came in its wake: the main cause of the tension between Djibouti and the Emirates was the role played by a dual citizen of both countries, Abdourahman Boreh. Boreh had brought DP World into the management of the new Doraleh container terminal in the port of Djibouti. He was half Arab and half Somali. He carried both a UAE and a Djiboutian passport. He was a close associate of Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh and his very prosperous business partner. In a way he was too prosperous and too much of a partner. He accompanied the head of state on all occasions and began to be known as ‘Djibouti’s Vice-President’. He basked in the limelight but crossed the red line when he let it be known that he would like to be Ismail Omar Guelleh’s successor. He was soon accused of mismanagement and corruption by the Djiboutian government and all his properties in Djibouti were seized. When he decided to sue the Djiboutian government in the Commercial Court in London, the Djiboutian regime upped the accusation to one of terrorism. The only proof of terrorist activity Djibouti could bring to the trial was a video showing an old car being blown up on a disused parking lot. On 3 March 2016 the court, unimpressed, exonerated Abdourahman Boreh from the charges and called them ‘politically motivated’. But through the agency of al-Fitna al-Qabira, the fight had escalated from a personal and political rivalry to a Djibouti fight against DP World and against the United Arab Emirates. The commercial rivalry between the two harbors was now embedded into a global geopolitical conflict and—willy-nilly— Somaliland had been drawn into it. Ethiopia wanted to ensure its own security in the conflict and negotiated directly with Abu Dhabi, pushing itself into the bilateral arrangements by buying 19 per cent of the proposed port authority (1 March 2018), and moving the deal into a trilateral contract, whereby DP World kept the majority interest of 51 per cent while Somaliland was reduced to a mere 30 per cent.

The UAE tried to play both sides of the Great Quarrel by keeping various stakes in south Somalia—small outposts near Kismayo and Baidoa, a training program for the Somali Army, a bid for the extension of Mogadishu International Airport—and dealing directly with Russia and the US over the head of the Somaliland regime. Paradoxically, the foreign partners were seen as more promising than the southern ‘brothers’, even if the former were far from generous. Abu Dhabi agreed to pay an extra $80 million for the military base, which it forced Hargeisa to accept. Keenly aware that accepting a military base within the context of the Great Quarrel in the Muslim world was a momentous choice, the Somaliland authorities tried to uncouple the noncommercial part of the contract from the commercial one, but the Emirati had been adamant.

This was especially so when their relationship with the south took a turn for the worse in April 2018 after the regime of President Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’, still aligned with the Qatari, hijacked an Emirati plane carrying $8.5 million earmarked for the salaries of the Somali soldiers whom the UAE was in the process of training. The Emirati immediately broke their relations with Mogadishu and abandoned the barracks where they had run their program. The Somali soldiers in training fought among themselves for the opportunity of looting the installations they had used, and those who won dismantled everything and sold their equipment and weapons in the streets.[533]

For Abu Dhabi, what they had lost was a control point facing the Turks, who had started developing a military training program in the southern ‘Federal states’ of Somalia even before the Great Quarrel. The rift became wider by the day. Mogadishu President Farmajo went to Doha where he met the Emir of Qatar and denounced ‘the suspicious relationship between the United Arab Emirates and such secessionist entities as Somaliland and Puntland’. There was no immediate military consequence but the Emirati archipelago seethed with anger. In February the Djibouti government suddenly threw DP World out of the Doraleh container terminal, using unsupported accusations of corruption and mismanagement together with even more bizarre claims of ‘investing in rival facilities’[534] and violating Djiboutian sovereignty, a transparently false accusation of DP World activities in Berbera. Mogadishu’s Prime Minister went to Riyadh and asked the Saudi King to intervene with the UAE and stop the process. The King did not refuse directly but offered money to his visitor to keep the TFG from complaining. His son Mohamed bin Salman did not condescend to meet what he probably saw as the vassal of his fickle ally.

The Berbera contract was a lifeline for Somaliland while for the UAE it was just a link in the chain of a coastal empire in the making. And since that emerging empire was in turn only one element in the struggle for control of an Umma-wide international confrontation, one can say that Somaliland had been finally globalized.

To what kind of reality can a virtual Somaliland aspire?

The courage and perseverance of the Somalilanders is remarkable, but these qualities are rooted in their pain and feeling of betrayal at the hands of their ‘brothers’. Nobody in Somaliland can forget the horrors of 1988 in Hargeisa, and the memory of the ruthless killing of civilians has been transferred to their children. This is why, after the 1991 victory, those who had fought for this victory wanted to ‘be a state’.[535] In the age of imperialism, ‘being a state’ was the opposite of being a colony, and having a state meant being ‘civilized’, being part of the world’s top club, and later having the right to sit in the UN Assembly in New York, having the right to exist. ‘A state’ was the only way to be ‘officially alive’, especially since your life had been subsumed by another structure, another nation, which had seduced you into cultural fraternity before disposing of you when you did not like the way it treated you. This was also the only way to open your rights to a multiplicity of international programs and procedures that made you participate and allowed you to reap benefits.

Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, Somaliland’s first President, was a remarkable man who clearly understood the horns of the dilemma he was impaled upon when he discussed the reasons why the international community refused to investigate the mass graves found after the events of 1988.

The international community is ambivalent over the affairs of Somaliland … when the mass graves were discovered, international instances were reluctant to follow it up … the forensic experts visited them and testified that the atrocities had been committed there. From their report a major investigation should have taken place to establish what had happened … to establish facts and figures … but they would have to start with the admission of an error. The people of the south think we are telling a tall tale. They have no guilt about it. The pilots who were piloting the planes … didn’t think they were doing anything wrong … The closest they came to an admission of error was to say they were following orders. The whole population of the south regards Somaliland as a bonus that was given to them with their independence. They don’t regard it as an equal partner. That’s why the unification of the Somali people has failed, because of that superior attitude: ‘We are the Somali people, and you, you are just splinter groups that are coming back home after the imperialists took you away for a period of time.’ But the history of the Somali people is that there has never been a central authority. We were independent tribes and we lived together in equality. We fought over water or grazing now and then. But nobody ruled over anybody else.[536]

This is the initial ‘admission of sin’ most Somali refuse, for it is as if the ‘pastoral democracy’ described by I.M. Lewis had been shameful or that at least it excluded the Somali from the concert of nations. So the quarrel was now: who are the Somalis, and which ones have a right to claim this identity as the basis for a nation-state? Mohamed Ibrahim Egal was right. The southern clans had monopolized the claim to be the central stem while the others were just branches. A nation has a state, in a state there is a government, and its territory is its ‘homeland’. This was the post-Westphalian creed, confirmed through the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War and reconfirmed— extended to the colonies—when the United Nations was created after the Second World War. All the same, in the case of the Somali, as Mohamed Ibrahim Egal said, ‘nobody ruled over anybody else’, and the whole system of Russian dolls on which the Westphalian creed rested was inapplicable. If these principles were true, Switzerland could not exist, Hitler’s Anschluss should have been confirmed by the Allies in 1945, Bangladesh should be illegal, and the Russian Empire should still stand. In Africa, let’s not even mention South Sudan and Eritrea.

But today, what to do? Should the choice be to either deny Somaliland its evident national existence or give it a seat in the UN? Strangely enough, having now become a satellite of the United Arab Emirates might provide a way out of this quandary.[537] This is an old idea that I first heard Mohamed Ibrahim Egal mention towards the end of his life: ‘They don’t want us to have a country. So we have to design something more or less like the Palestinian authority. Except on what basis?’ The fact that there could be such a basis has perhaps now become possible after having floated on an ocean of blood and tears. The emotional power of the blood and tears has begun to recede in time; not to ‘disappear’ but to become lesser, to fade away. The triumphant age of the nation-state has begun receding, firstly through international treaties—now hegemonic world-wide—and then by division or separation. The combination of the two, underpinned by economic interdependence, has led to globalization, neither a curse nor a paradise but simply another template which is filled according to different rules. So far—for how long?—it is the equivalent of Mrs Thatcher’s TINA—There Is No Alternative. But, as unfortunately often happens in history, the present world is playing according to the rules of a previous one. The United Nations was created in 1945 to prevent nation-state cannibalism. But today, while there is hardly any appetite for such grisly territory-snatching, the lands of conquest are no longer coveted for economic reasons—there are stock exchanges for that—or strategic ones—treaties can be negotiated.

This is exactly where the Emirati and the Saudi approaches have diverged. Under the leadership of Mohamed bin Salman, the Saudi aggiornamento was placed under the banner of caprice and flamboyance. The MBZ approach was radically different. Both (uncrowned) monarchs realized during the Arab Spring that the basic principles of governance in their region of the world were obsolete. The secular ‘socialist’ regimes were bankrupt and radical Islam was in heated competition with Western-style democracy to provide alternatives. Paradoxically, it was the monarchies (Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, Kuwait, the Emirates) which were, for now, surviving better the global storm. They neither wanted the Islamists to be the front-line competitors nor did they want a genuine (and culturally strange) Western democratic revolution. Over and above, there were two medium-sized Muslim powers, Turkey and Iran, which, although not Arab, could not but be counted for geographical and historical reasons. The only two Muslim countries that had a margin of maneuver left were Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Both were in a position to step in during the great confusion that followed the failure of the Arab aggiornamento, and their different approaches became evident in the way they engaged in the Yemen conflict. Their way of weighing in was radically different, hovering between alliance and rivalry.[538]

Saudi and the UAE started their attempt to roll back the post-2011 upheaval from different vantage points. Ibn Saud had been a despotic giant of a man, unifying several Arab sheikhdoms, not only by overcoming their fissiparous tendencies but also by avoiding the deadly embrace of both the Ottoman and British empires. With his 25 wives, countless concubines, and 95 children, including those who were to become the next six kings, the throne of Saudi Arabia was the epitome of centralized, family-centered absolute power. One can see that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, grandson of Ibn Saud, lives and behaves perfectly in step with the political attitude of his famous grandfather. The UAE is quite a different proposition. It is a surprising and even more recent construction. Sheikh Zayed Al Nayhan was the exact opposite of Ibn Saud. Quiet, peaceful, he was a builder, an economist and a diplomat. His achievement was to build a structure in which the disparate and somewhat contradictory elements could be combined in a coherent whole. His approach was radically different from the Saudi one: it was founded—and grew wider—on a ‘state’ he had built out of seven statelets, being conceived along the lines of several sets of non-centralized commercial empires that, before the onset of the nation-state, offered a different reality: the ancient Greek colonies;[539] the ancient Phoenicians colonies;[540] the Hanseatic League in 12th-century Baltic Europe;[541] the Venetian diaspora;[542] and what French historian François Gipouloux called ‘the Asian Mediterranean’.[543] The UAE is definitely in that line of non-state powers. And at present the question is whether they will keep trying to be what they are not—an empire—or whether they will try to offer an alternative to the permanent crisis into which ‘the Muslim states’ have entered. Can the UAE become the opposite—an alternative, not an adversary—of what the whole Islamist movement represents: viz a non-prophetic pragmatist which could deal with these extensions of the UAE (Socotra, South Yemen, Somaliland, Puntland) not as colonies or ‘protectorates’ but rather as associated subordinates?

This world-wide tradition of multiple belonging could be an appropriate solution, creating a halfway house for Somaliland. ‘Going back’ to where it has never been—a unified Somalia—is a pipe dream, which is only a forceful projection of the Westphalian abstraction. At the time the two Somali territories joined up, the world was at the height of the era of the nation-state. The Somali themselves had been clamoring for unification, and the international community was broadly supportive of a move that seemed like a popular choice—and, for the colonizers, an atonement for past sins, particularly in the case of the Italians. No criteria can ensure the coherence and loyalty of any social body outside the popular will. Socialism, force, religion, language, have all in one form or another been tried to create a coherent state structure and make it last. In the region we have three examples—Eritrea, South Sudan and South Yemen—which have turned into tragedies because of the violence of their ‘imperial overlord’, which forced them into nation-states they did not want.[544] The Westphalian-oriented international community has dealt arbitrarily with these exceptions to the world order. In the case of Somaliland, the rejection has been both drastic and immature. The Somalilanders did what could be done at the time of the triumphant nation-state: secede from what they had agreed to join. It was refused for totally arbitrary reasons. Marriage without divorce will obviously not last. Reinsertion within the mythical ‘Somalia’ ensemble is an impossibility, even if it were carried out through a war of aggression. This was amply demonstrated on 4 October 1993, during the Black Hawk Down incident, when US forces had to kill a massive number of civilians to recover the bodies of their dead soldiers.[545] When the Somali are convinced of the righteousness of what they are fighting for, death in combat is not a problem. And the international community knows this. Somaliland is denounced but not militarily attacked.

 For the time being, the UAE has ‘globalized’ the problem without solving it. The fact that this ‘embryonic solution’ came from an Arab country has been perceived strangely in Somaliland. ‘In fact, we expected it from the British—or the United Nations—or perhaps even from the European Union. But coming from the Arab world, it was like a kind of cultural shock.’[546] This uncertainty is perched on the edge of potential miserly generosity. Because, if we keep in mind the pattern of the ‘colonial string confederation’ we referred to earlier, it was never ‘an alliance of equals’. Such commercial empires or networks had a head and hired members. Venice, Lübeck or Srivijaya were ‘on top’ of their globalized networks. The opportunity Dubai (and, behind it obliquely, Abu Dhabi) provides is one of hierarchical cooperation. The advantage for Somaliland is that it opens a door. During the late Sillanyo years, Somaliland was rotting from the top down. Signing an agreement with DP World and Dubai was not a panacea, just a nudge in the right direction. But, even speaking relatively, this represents immense progress if compared to the bare looting that was the reward of the deluded Somalilanders after 1978, when they retired defeated from the Ogaden battlefield which they had shared with their southern cousins. The Siyad Barre ‘system’, as we saw it, had all the tender mercies Tamerlane visited on Baghdad. Calling for the Somalilanders to reconcile with the debris of that system, which shows daily that the only reason it does not behave more violently is that it is too weak to do so, is not really a winning proposal. Hargeisa is far from being a political ideal, but it is a working proposition. What its satellisation in the UAE network offers is a chance to have a go at it, commercially and, perhaps later, economically. That is, if Hargeisa manages to retain a measure of independence within the Emirati system.

In any case, it is better than begging from the World Bank. The international community betrayed Somaliland first during the Cold War, when the SNM was considered to be a stupid front for the Russians and not even capable of being ‘Marxist’. Then it betrayed it a second time when the Somalilanders successfully ticked all the boxes of the democratization form printed in New York but were not allowed to turn their good performance into any kind of reward. It betrayed it a third time by supporting a grotesque cardboard regime in Mogadishu, asking Hargeisa to bow to that idol. Of course, today the generation that fought the war of independence represents only a minority of Somaliland’s population. But the memories keeping the perception alive are still there, existing in a floating way in many different countries, from Poland to Vietnam. Any analysis of the Somaliland case is bound to end up, as here, assuming the tones of a pamphlet because the rhetoric of understatement is horribly incapable of finding a reasonable path to a clean exit. Abu Dhabi is not Mecca, but it is perhaps a staging post on the way to it. The Somalilanders live, but only de facto. They would love to live in a world where they could breathe legitimately. But in the meantime, woe be to those who must remain trapped in the algorithms of international virtuous fiction.

The Taiwan “full recognition”: Way out of the labyrinth or tactical side-stepping?[547]

On 1 July 2020, Somaliland formally recognized the Republic of China (RoC, Taiwan) as ‘a representative of China’, while the island state issued a decision ‘to build closer ties with Somaliland’. The difference was significant: Taiwan, while diplomatically contentious, is an economic powerhouse. And while it has full diplomatic relations with only 14 official UN member countries, for practical reasons this doubles up with 57 others with whom it has para-diplomatic, commercial and a whole array of legal ties. But given the loneliness of the long-distance diplomatic run for Somaliland since 1991, this breakthrough in a relationship with a ‘major’ country was almost immediately seen as being a ‘recognition’. So far the only African country with which Taiwan had full diplomatic relations was Eswatini.[548] Compared to the archaic and poverty-stricken former Swazi kingdom, Somaliland looked like a miracle of democratic and progressive society, qualifiers seldom applied to a Muslim republic. And there was also a kind of immediate kinship felt by those few Taiwanese who had become familiar with Somaliland during its stabilization period: ‘these fellows are like us, small fishes trying to survive in a fish tank full of sharks’.[549] Does that mean that Taipei was actually contemplating entering the Red Sea geopolitical free-for-all at eye level? Of course not. But in terms of the Two-China rivalry, this was a significant move. Taiwan was stepping on territory barely 200 km away from Beijing’s one and only military base abroad, Djibouti. This was a place which, since the French (partial) withdrawal after 2000, had become a crossroad of multinational armies.[550] In many ways an open space, especially since China was the top financial aid giver to Djibouti.[551] This was not missed in Beijing. On 7 August 2020, Ambassador Zhou Yuxiao, Special Representative of the Forum on Africa-China Cooperation (FOCAC) rushed to Hargeisa to meet Musa Bihi. Out of the window flew the ‘one Somalia’ which had ruled the relations of China with the Somalis and the Chinese representative asked in rather rough terms for the total cut-off of relations with Taipei. President Musa Bihi immediately refused the Chinese demand, an attitude which has long been typical of Somaliland in dealing with ‘big power’ dictates.[552] Washington sent a congratulatory note to Hargeisa and Taiwanese lobbyists started to work on what to do when Beijing would unavoidably block any attempt at recognition at the Security Council level.

So what now? Eventually becoming recognized as a ‘full state’ by Taiwan might, unfortunately for Somaliland, be a decoy akin to Biafra’s reconnaissance by Nyerere’s Tanzania and Kaunda’s Zambia in 1968. Musa Bihi’s refusal to bend to the Chinese dictate was typical of Somaliland’s defiant attitude which has been a part of its micro culture since the birth of the SNM. Defiance is more necessary, morally and psychologically, to the ‘non-state’ survival, of the ‘state that does not exist’ than clever diplomatic arrangements.

The Somalilanders live, but only de facto. They would love to live in a world where they could breathe legitimately. But in the meantime, woe to those who must remain trapped in the algorithms of internationally virtuous fiction.


[1] The Economist, 10 September 2016.

[2] Gerard Prunier, ‘Somaliland: The Country That Does Not Exist’, Le Monde Diplomatique, October 1997.

[3] I borrow the felicitous title of this chapter from David Laitin and Said Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987).

[4] I prefer that word to ‘independence’, as the latter expression presupposes a type of freedom at all levels, from the economic to the cultural, which is often much more theoretical than the political separation which has given birth to the new states.

[5] It is still popularly remembered as the Thirty Years War. The Treaty of Westphalia which ended it was a primitive version of the United Nations Charter, which later ended another bout of European conflict upgraded to the level of a world war. As for the Somali, who had fought on both sides of the Second World War, they jumped on the nation-state bandwagon with a vengeance when they realized that the concept of an independent nation-state might get them what had always been a great ideal of Somali life and culture: freedom.

[6] The basic foundational work is an out of print brochure called The Somali Lineage System and Total Genealogy: A General Introduction to Basic Principles of Somali Political Institutions (Hargeisa, 1957), 139 pp. (mimeographed). This was written by I.M. Lewis, then a colonial government anthropologist (this position was official) who had just arrived in British Somaliland and who was still under the shock of discovering how deep and all-encompassing the clan system was. This work was later enlarged, generalized, made less technical and published as A Pastoral Democracy (Oxford University Press, 1961), a most felicitous title, even if some critics read it as ‘a pastoral anarchy’. It was reprinted several times.

[7] Following the male line of ancestry.

[8] There are exceptions. Some Somali are irritated by this aspect of their culture and deny its native origin (I had once a heated argument with a Somali scholar who insisted the Europeans had invented the system), pretend that it is not as overwhelming as many see it or, as a last resort, refuse absolutely to tell you from what clan they are issued. But they only make up a small minority. Most Somali agree about the omnipresence of the clan system and its pregnant influence on everything from marriage to business and from politics to gossip. The only thing they insist on is that it is easily transcended by friendship.

[9] Clan relationships (both internal and external) were governed by a series of codes called Heer (Xeer in modern Somali spelling). Xeer enforcement depended on clan loyalty and expertise. Even after the advent of Islam, when Somali became Muslims, Xeer remained more strongly embedded and respected than Islamic Shari’ah. See Michael van Notten, The Law of the Somali (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 2005) for an overview.

[10] See Virginia Luling, Somali Sultanate: The Geledi City-State over 150 Years (London: Haan, 2002).

[11] The Somali language was not written down till 1973.

[12] To understand its creation following the French evacuation of 1801, see Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). And to grasp its progressive undoing, see David Landes, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt (London: Heinemann, 1958).

[13] Maps is set against the background of the Ogaden War (1977–8), when the then recently independent Somalia state tried to forcibly annex this Somali-populated region of ‘Ethiopia’

[14] Saadia Touval, Somali Nationalism: International Politics and the Drive for Unity in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963). The author (unintentionally perhaps) took a very ‘Somali-oriented’ view of the word ‘unity’ in the Horn context.

[15] This in turn posed the question of the identity of ‘Ethiopia’. The old Christian ‘Abyssinia’ had a strong consciousness of its existence. But post-Menelik ‘Ethiopia’ had tried to extend that habash (Abyssinian) consciousness to what had turned into a multinational empire. The Somali of the Ogaden remained Somali first and Ethiopian second.

[16] Ali Jimale Ahmed (ed.), The Invention of Somalia (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1995). That title caused a small furore in the limited world of Somalia experts. The Somali themselves barely noticed it.

[17] Lest these words (and the vocabulary used) be misunderstood, Jimale quotes representative examples. My own frequent contact with Somali over many years has provided me with numerous examples that confirm Jimale’s courageous maverick position.

[18] But he drew the line at adoon (nigger), which he did not dare mention.

[19] He was in fact a rabid ‘clanist’ (Darood) ideologue who hated rival clanic groups. His early biographers tended to gloss over this unsavory aspect of his ideology but later ones were more honest. See Abdi Sheikh Abdi, Divine Madnes: Mohamed Abdulle Hassan (1856–1920) (London: Zed Books, 1993).

[20] There was indeed; but its clanic content was expunged by both Somali and foreign scholars, particularly when it was derogatory, leading to what Jimale calls ‘a textual attitude of artificial unanimity’.

[21] Basil Davidson, The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (New York: Time Books, 1992).

[22] See Henri Brunschwig, ‘Une colonie inutile: Obock (1862–1888)’, Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines 8, 29 (1968), pp. 32–47. The Côte Française des Somalis slowly grew out of the Obock colony.

[23] See Jean-Pierre Diehl, Le regard colonial (Paris: Régine Desforges, 1986).

[24] Due to a complex system of bonuses, French Army salaries in Djibouti were 20% to 40% higher that their same-rank metropolitan equivalent; in addition, the bonuses were tax-free.

[25] Ali Coubba, Mahmoud Harbi (1921–1960): Un nationaliste djiboutien? (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014).

[26] Since the pioneering but dated work of Oberlé and Hugo (Histoire de Djibouti, des origines à la république (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1985)) and Thompson and Adloff (Djibouti and the Horn of Africa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968)), there has been very little material published on Djibouti since decolonization apart from the work of Ali Coubba, which cleverly hovers between ‘serious’ history and pamphleteering. This small but fascinating territory—it is hard to call it a ‘country’—remains one of the most understudied parts of the African continent, in spite of its massive relevance in modern strategic terms.

[27] The best biography of that remarkable man is by Abdi Sheik Abdi, Divine Madness.

[28] Brock Millman, British Somaliland: An Administrative History (1920–1960) (New York: Routledge, 2014).

[29] Gerald Hanley: Warriors (London: Eland, 1993 [1971]).

[30] See Gianluigi Rossi, L’Africa italiana verso l’independenza (1941–1949) (Rome: Giuffre Editore, 1980).

[31] For a view of this peculiar existential struggle, see Giuseppe Maria Finaldi, Italian National Identity in the Scramble for Africa: Italy’s African Wars in the Era of Nation Building (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009).

[32] Robert Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), ch. 6.

[33] His Memoirs—Cesare Maria de Vecchi, Orizzonti d’impero: Cinque anni in Somalia (Milan: Mondadori, 1935)—are an explicit testimony of his brutality.

[34] This is a point I develop at greater length in ‘Benign Neglect versus La Grande Somalia: The Colonial Legacy and the Post-Colonial Somali State’ in Markus Hoehne and Virginia Luling (eds.), Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics. Essays in Honour of I.M. Lewis (London: Hurst, 2010).

[35] This had been a policy first announced by the Labor Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin in 1946 at the Paris Peace Conference. This made him overnight a hero for the Somali, who still remember his name to this day, as part of their oral history.

[36] Kenyan independence was formally proclaimed on 12 December 1963.

[37] Shifta means ‘bandit’ in Amharic. Calling the rebels shifta gave them a foreign and criminal flavor, in any case not Somali.

[38] Lord Lytton, The Stolen Desert (London: Macdonald, 1966). Lord Lytton was the grandson of the famous Victorian eccentric and anti-imperialist Wilfred Scawen Blunt, who had opposed the occupation of Egypt. Nonconformist political opinions, particularly on colonial matters, were a family tradition.

[39] Of which the Suez Canal was a part.

[40] As soon as Emperor Yohannes had been killed in battle against the Mahdists, King Menelik of Shoa proclaimed himself Emperor of Ethiopia (March 1889).

[41] Between 1897 and 1917 they built the first railway in the Horn of Africa between Djibouti and Addis Ababa.

[42] See Tibebe Eshete, ‘The British Administration in the Ogaden and Its Legacy’, in Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, pp. 323–38 (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, 1994).

[43] ‘Independent Somalia, a Five-Pointed Star’, Africa 1960 (Confidential) 8 (6 May 1960).

[44] The best global overview of the contradictions implicit in the decolonization of the many pieces of the Somali territories can be found in John Drysdale, The Somali Dispute (London: Pall Mall Press, 1964).

[45] The only possible exceptions are the borders of Rwanda and Burundi, long-existing African nation-states which have—roughly—kept their boundaries in the postcolonial map of the continent. This close fit did not ensure peace and stability.

[46] The reason was, of course, article 4b of the Charter which stipulated respect for the borders resulting from the colonial carving up of Africa. This was, of course, a reasonably pragmatic decision overall; but in the mind of the Emperor it was an antiSomalia Trojan horse, designed to protect Ethiopia’s Ogaden province against a possible Somali threat.

[47] He was also both anti-colonialist and anti-communist, which in the 1940s was a paradoxical ideological stance.

[48] This is the title of an impassioned book by Louis Fitzgibbon (London: Rex Collings, 1982). But although this will remain a moot point, there is no certainty, given the intrinsic structural problems of Somali society, that political unity would have fostered political balance, peace and economic stability in the Somali world.

[49] The Hawd region is a buffer zone between British Somaliland and the northern part of the Ogaden. Although theoretically part of Ethiopian territory, it is a vital zone for pasturing nomads who move in there from Somaliland for at least five months in the year during the dry season. In 1941, it was occupied by the British Army after the Italian collapse.

[50] Haile Selassie’s speech delivered in Kebre Dehar on 25 August 1956, quoted in Drysdale, The Somali Dispute, p. 83.

[51] In the late 1950s socialism in the region was largely identified with the Arab world (particularly with Nasser’s Egypt) and mixed with nationalism and pan-Arabism. Somali culture being highly autonomous, the political dimension of its Islam was quite distinct from the same religion as it was then lived in the Arab world. Thus pan-Somalism tended to become a poetic and völkisch ideology, bearing limited relation to the practical world of inter-state relations.

[52] Digil-Mirifle was the term used during the colonial days for a clan family considered to be racially and culturally ‘second-rate Somali’. Its derogatory connotations led to its being later discarded and replaced by the name Rahanweyn.

[53] Making the whole ‘unification’ constitutionally illegal.

[54] IRIN interview, October 2001.

[55] It is impossible to be more precise than this since no census had ever been carried out, neither in British Somaliland nor in Somalia Italiana.

[56] Interview with Ina Omane. Hargeisa, 2015.

[57] Ibid.

[58] There are no known reasons for this reticence. The only possible explanation is that he had no orders from his party superiors since he was an SYL member and on that day there was still no valid legal ‘government’ in the south. It is also possible that since the draft memorandum was written in English, he was wary of legalizing a document he did not fully understand.

[59] The mood of these officers at that time is broached by Hussein Ali Dualeh, who was one of them, in his book From Barre to Aideed: Somalia, the Agony of a Nation (Nairobi: Stellagraphics, 1994).

[60] This alluded to pan-African unity, then a main decolonization theme of African independence.

[61] Quoted in Drysdale, The Somali Dispute, p. 115.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Five of six districts had voted and the secession tally for those—which accounted for over three-quarters of voters—was between 80% and 86% in favor of separation from Kenya and unity with Mogadishu. The vote was never carried out in the sixth district, leaving the referendum legally inconclusive.

[64] Politically correct developments in Djibouti politics prior to independence can be found in Philippe Oberlé and Pierre Hugot, Histoire de Djibouti, des origines à la république (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1971) while a more realistic blow-by-blow account is given in Mohamed Aden, Sombloloho: Djibouti: La chute du Président Aref (1975–1976) (Paris: L’Harmattan. 1999).

[65] Hussein Ali Dualeh notes in his book (From Barre to Aideed, p. 19) that in 1975, when the colony was still in French hands, a major Issa leader had told him that looking at the way things were going in Somalia between north and south tended to discourage the Djibouti Somalis from joining up with Mogadishu: ‘we are few in numbers,’ the man had told him, ‘and we would be in an even worse position than the Somaliland Isaaq are vis-à-vis the Southerners’.

[66] In March 1967 the French had changed the name Côte Française des Somalis and renamed the colony Territoire Français des Afars et des Issas (TFAI) to make the word ‘Somali’ disappear from the territory’s official name. The Mogadishu government was immediately hostile to the change and countered it by opening several lines of bank credit to important Djibouti Somali politicians, including LPAI members.

[67] The sympathy for Somalia coming from the Arab world was linked to the lip service it gave to pan-Arabism, with pan-Somalism looking like a supportive younger brother.

[68] General Nimeiry had already gone in that direction in May 1969 in the Sudan and Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi had followed on the same path in September of that year.

[69] Interview with Barre Nux, Hargeisa, 2015. The death penalties were not carried out but many of the detainees languished in jail for many years.

[70] Interview with Dr Omar Dihood, Hargeisa, 2015.

[71] In the Somali world, folk expressions had always carried more weight that Islamic ones. So, with the lack of a calendar (only educated people went by the Islamic calendar), time was rhythmically marked by collective events (usually negative) such as pestilence, drought or war. Each episode had its own name. The Dabadheer drought was the ‘long-lasting one’, the one that dragged on endlessly and did not stop for a long time.

[72] The east of Somaliland is populated by non-Isaaq clans. As Darood, the members of those clans were hoping to get a better welcome from their Darood cousins in the south than the Isaaq would have got.

[73] Interview with Osman Indhoole, Hargeisa, 2015.

[74] It was they who became pirates in the late 1990s, after the collapse of the Somali state, when their new profession was destroyed by predatory Pakistani and Korean industrial fishing boats.

[75] Actually, one of the underlying causes of the hurried way in which the 1960 Union had been carried out was the fear that the British, having had no preparation for independence, would reiterate their Hawd policy and retrocede the whole of British Somaliland to Ethiopia.

[76] There is a very large bibliography on the Ethiopian revolution, usually of high quality. The best and most balanced overall study is arguably Christopher Clapham, Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

[77] The acronym was based on the word ‘abo’, which means ‘hello’ among the eastern Oromo and ‘father’ in Somali. Even though the Oromo are distant cousins of the Somali, the use of a single word was not enough to turn them into Somali. Ethiopia was already facing a secessionist insurrection in Eritrea, and seeing Mogadishu support another rebellion among the large Oromo people (the Oromo make up almost 40% of the Ethiopian population) was an existential challenge.

[78] See chapter 1 for some general developments on the question, and for further readings consult I.M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961) (for the scientific anthropological approach) and Gerald Hanley, Warriors (London: Eland, 1993) (for the everyday, living, human contact approach).

[79] Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party. Modelled on the Russian communist pattern, it was created on 1 July 1976 and warmly greeted by Soviet Communist Party Secretary-General Leonid Brezhnev.

[80] Somali became a written language only in 1973. The choice of the Latin alphabet was a major cause of cultural, political and religious dispute. See David Laitin, Politics, Language and Thought: The Somali Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).

[81] Africa Confidential, 24 October 1969.

[82] Later the assessment of the Siyad Barre regime veered radically around 1988 due to its massive brutality in the northern civil war. In media terms we went from the Father Figure to the Devil Incarnate. There is no dispassionate historical evaluation of this period available apart from Daniel Compagnon’s Le régime de Siyad Barre (1969–1991), University of Pau, 1995, which still remains in unpublished PhD form.

[83] Jane’s Strategic Survey (London: 1977), p. 19.

[84] The best picture of this strategic and diplomatic mess can be found in the candid memoirs of Ethiopia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dawit Wolde Giorgis, Red Tears (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1989).

[85] The best account of the conflict can be found in Gebru Tareke, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), ch. 6.

[86] These lands were taken by the British to give to the Habr Ja’alo sub-clan of their Isaaq allies.

[87] There the beneficiaries had been the Habr Awal of the Isaaq, for the same reason. London had rewarded its supporters. In 1978 Siyad Barre was hoping to go back on these land transfers by overturning the old decisions.

[88] One of the coup leaders, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, fled to Ethiopia from where he launched a rebel movement, the Somali Salvation Front (SOSAF). He started to harass the regime by a series of cross-border raids carried out from the Ogaden.

[89] Author’s interviews, Somaliland bush, February 1990 and Hargeisa, May 1996.

[90] When I interviewed SNM fighters during the war, I found that a fair number of them had volunteered earlier either in the national army or in some kind of a militia to fight the Ethiopians.

[91] Both Lixle and Mohamed Ali later became top commanders of the SNM rebellion and both were killed in combat, in 1984 and 1988 respectively.

[92] Interview with Abdullahi Jama Abokor, Hargeisa, 2015.

[93] Ibid. By then the WSLF was in such a state of contradiction and infighting that its secretary-general Abdullahi Hassan Mohamed did not dare set foot in the Ogaden because he was afraid of being killed by his own men.

[94] Interview with Dr Adan Abokor, Hargeisa, 2015. These car thefts in broad daylight by ‘important people’ happened repeatedly and drove the public to a state of constant outrage. One well-known Marehan wife of an officer even placed orders for stealing certain models of cars that she would then send to relatives living in the south. She also drove some of her booty cars in Hargeisa in full view of everybody.

[95] Its basic functioning and effects are outlined in Jamil Abdallah Mubarak, From Bad Policy to Chaos in Somalia: How an Economy Fell Apart (Westport: Praeger, 1996).

[96] Interview with Mohamed Hashi, Hargeisa, 2015.

[97] Interview with Mohamed Abdisalam Yassin, Hargeisa, 2015. Contrary to what developed later, the radical Islamic movement did not at the time represent a strong and influential political force.

[98] Given the violent relations between the local population and the refugees, this disparity contributed to the worsening of the situation.

[99] Deutsche Notärtze, a private German organization also known as ‘Cap Anamur’, founded in 1979, sent volunteers to Hargeisa. Interview with Yusuf Gaydh, Hargeisa, 2015.

[100] Yusuf Gaydh interview.

[101] Interview with Mohamed Barud, Hargeisa, 2015 and 2017. Colonel Abdullahi was an Isaaq commander who was considered to be too friendly to the civilian population. His execution, for unspecified acts of ‘national treason’, was illegal and deeply traumatic for the local population.

[102] The mabraz is the large room in which the men gather to chew qat, the amphetamine-laden vegetal which is the omnipresent ‘social drug’ of the Horn of Africa. Qat sessions are the equivalent of drinking at a British pub or a French bistro, the heart of social and political life.

[103] It would be exaggerating to call them ‘members’ since there was no membership.

[104] In the popular memory of the liberation struggle, most people tend to date the start of their moral engagement in the rebellion from that moment. Dhagax tur was the first time in Somalia when an unarmed crowd openly defied an armed authority.

[105] Interviews in Hargeisa with Said Ali Salaan, Dr Adan Abokor, Khalif Hargeisa, Mohamed Mo’alim Osman and Hassan Guure, Hargeisa, 2015.

[106] This is reflected in the work of the greatest living Somali writer, Nuruddin Farah, who wrote many books that are a direct illustration of this problem: Maps (1986), Links (2003), Knots (2007).

[107] Brock Millman, British Somaliland. An Administrative History (1920–1960) (New York: Routledge, 2014). The next few pages are borrowed from a review essay of Millman’s book I wrote for the Journal of the Middle East and Africa 6, 2 (April– June 2015).

[108] Millman, British Somaliland, p. 33.

[109] Gerald Hanley, Warriors (London: Eland, 1993). The author had published his Second World War East African campaign memoirs under the title Warriors and Strangers in 1971 and later separated the Strangers part, which is about Kenya, from the Warriors part, which is about the Somali.

[110] The modern Somali spelling would be Xeer.

[111] Here we would like to mention again Michael van Notten, The Law of the Somalis (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 2005).

[112] The number of expatriate staff reached 376 in 1940, with 144 Indians and 232 British.

[113] There was no mining of any sort, hardly any agriculture, and the only resource was animal flocks whose excess production was exported to Aden.

[114] Including in such otherwise excellent works as Mark Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland (Oxford: James Currey, 2008) or Marleen Renders, Consider Somaliland (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

[115] Abdi Sheikh Abdi, Divine Madness: Mohamed Abdulle Hassan (1856–1920) (London: Zed Books, 1993).

[116] See chapter 2 for his complex role in leading the first armed groups issuing from WSLF.

[117] The Adari are the native population of the Ethiopian city of Harar, quite distinct from their Oromo neighbors.

[118] Interview with Mohamed Dacar, Hargeisa, 2015. Mohamed Dacar, a pure Isaaq Somali from Somaliland, was a member of the group and was neither Iraqi, nor Syrian nor even less Eritrean.

[119] The so-called ‘Mad Mullah’.

[120] The Isaaq often see Mohamed Abdulle Hassan as a historical enemy while the Darood tend to see him as a ‘nationalist hero’.

[121] Since his adventures in Yemen, and to hide his undercover ‘secret Isaaq’ work, he kept presenting himself as an Eritrean and a socialist revolutionary. Given his previous chequered career with the PLO and Lebanese fighting groups, this strange cover was accepted by many at face value when he joined the WSLF. He was seen as an internationalist, a kind of ‘revolutionary without borders’.

[122] Interview with Osman Qurux, Hargeisa, 2015.

[123] There was no mention of secession or of creating a new state. It was simply a standard declaration of fighting for democracy.

[124] The daily BBC broadcasts in the Somali language were listened to with intense attention. Nobody took the broadcasts of the national Somali radio seriously, even among the government supporters

[125] Interview with Abdirahman Aqaadir, Hargeisa, 2015.

[126] Interview with Abdisalam Yassin, Hargeisa, 2015.

[127] The new name of the former SOSAF.

[128] One has to be extremely careful about the type of generalization I just made. There was never a solid Darood bloc fighting a solid Isaaq bloc. There were some Isaaq leaders who, through an ideological view of pan-Somalism or because of personal interest, stayed on the side of the Siyad Barre regime. The opposite did not happen and clan ethnic identity worked as a filter in defining rebel alignment even if some members of the Darood clan family stayed out of the melee. But statistically the generalization held a lot of truth. In the north geographical origins at times did trump the clanic ones and the result was that there were Gaddabursi on both the government and the rebel sides.

[129] When I mentioned this fact in an article, ‘A Candid View of the Somali National Movement’, Horn of Africa XIV, 1–2 (January–June 1992) after spending some time with the guerrilla force, I was severely criticized by some SNM sympathizers for ‘presenting a negative image of the Movement’.

[130] The last democratically elected President, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, assassinated on 15 October 1969, had been a Majerteen.

[131] Daniel Compagnon, Le régime de Siyyad Barre (1969–1991), University of Pau, 1995, pp. 201–5.

[132] They were the distant heirs of the Soviet ‘left opposition’ and of the Trotskyists.

[133] Colonel Gaddafi was then at the peak of his pro-Moscow engagement and he generously redistributed the vast quantities of weapons the Russians gave him to anti-US regimes or organizations, such as the Sudanese SPLA or the Somali SOSAF, and later its SSDF successor.

[134] Addis Ababa in the 1980s was a politically strange place. Many members of the Russian and other Warsaw Pact missions who hung around the place had dark forebodings about the future of Communism. Therefore they tended to idealize their African comrades in whom they saw new blood for the future of the world socialist movement. I remember talking with a Bulgarian Communist Party cadre who waxed rhapsodical about Abdullahi Yusuf because the clever Somali colonel had told him he would erect a statue of Lenin in Mogadishu after taking power. But the Somali revolutionary had also told an Ethiopian friend of mine that he had bought a white horse to head the victory parade in Mogadishu, ‘so that I can look like Mussolini’. The Ethiopian did not know what to make of that ambiguous remark.

[135] Interview with Abdirahman Dheere, Hargeisa, 2015.

[136] It was the last time any such popular enthusiasm was to manifest itself till the anti-American uprising of October 1993.

[137] I personally witnessed SSDF members engaging in gunplay in the city of Dire Dawa and ending up being shot by the Ethiopian police.

[138] See pp. 00–00.

[139] He was to remain in jail till April 1991 when the takeover of Addis Ababa by the TPLF guerrillas allowed him to regain his freedom. He then rebranded himself vis-à-vis the victors as ‘a victim of communism’ and became Meles Zenawi’s right-hand man for Somali affairs. But in the end he finally managed to alienate the Tigrayan leader just as he had alienated Mengistu.

[140] Interview with Mohamed Dacar, Hargeisa, 2015.

[141] The reason for attacking the Habr Yunis was simply that they represented the largest clanic group among SNM fighters at the time.

[142] Siyad Barre’s mother was Ogadeni. But she was Rer Makahil.

[143] During the Derg period people were not allowed to move freely around the country unless they had high-level government clearance. That the SNM delegates were kept at the rank of ordinary visitors showed their poor level of Ethiopian support in 1981.

[144] Interview with Abdirahman Dheere, Hargeisa, 2015.

[145] It had started with the organization calling itself Ragga U Dhashay Magaalada (the people of this city), eventually giving birth to the Uffo movement.

[146] For more details on Uffo, see chapter 2.

[147] Starting in October 1982, SNM had begun to set up some base camps in Ethiopia, close to the Somalia border. These were primitive arrangements, which we will come back to later.

[148] Quite a few of the detainees were not Somali. There were also Eritreans, Arabs and even Ethiopians. After the 1978 defeat and its resulting desertions, the Somali regime had taken to arresting young men of any origin in the streets and incorporating them into the army. During the war I personally talked with people of six or seven different nationalities captured and press-ganged in Mogadishu, later to be taken prisoner by the SNM.

[149] Lixle was a good Muslim but not particularly religious. He was probably using the word as a generic term for ‘fight’.

[150] Interview with Barre Nuux, Hargeisa, 2015, who personally witnessed Lixle’s speech to the prisoners.

[151] The small operational cell which had planned the Mandera operation was purely military and purely Ethiopia-based. The civilian external leadership in London was not even aware that the raid had been planned. Later this negligence became an argument for the promotion of military leadership in November 1983.

[152] Qat (Catha edulis) is a small plant whose leaves contain a high concentration of amphetamines. It is used all over East Africa and in Yemen as an energizing drug, its use being social and domestic and not linked to criminality. Most of the large quantities of qat consumed in Somalia are imported from Ethiopia or Kenya.

[153] These were provided by the Ethiopian Army.

[154] See chapter 3.

[155] By 21st-century standards such a figure looks puny. But in 1982 it was worth easily ten times its value in 2017.

[156] We use this party name as an easy marker. In fact the SRSP was the regime, i.e. the army. Even if the Darood clan family was dominant in that group, it was far from being completely clanic and it even comprised several influent Isaaq.

[157] Shir is the name given to a clanic deliberative council. We use this term here as a Somali equivalent (i.e. one where clan considerations would have to be included) of what could be called in another political environment ‘a national conference’.

[158] This was an interesting development which shows the practical limits of clanism. The Darood being such a large clan family, their most distant members do not feel much of a mutual empathy, which would be quite normal in the case of smaller clan units.

[159] Mag is the Somali equivalent of the Arabic Diya, i.e. blood price. It is the money that has to be paid to compensate a clan for the loss of some of its members who have been killed in a conflict. Mutilations also have their tariffs, with one lost arm being so much, a severed leg so much, an eye so much, and so on, down to the price of one cut finger.

[160] In a way they themselves were sandwiched between the two universes because the Habr Gidir sub-clan of the Hawiye was fighting the Marehan, Siyad Barre’s clan, who used the ‘national’ army against them.

[161] Following the 1978 defeat and the army retreat, numerous roadblocks, arbitrarily called ‘customs’, had been installed in former Somaliland.

[162] Such as Gal Hussein Kulmiye Afrah or Mohamed Sheikh Osman, the assistant secretary-general of SRSP.

[163] The Cross’ is the name for a well-known road junction near a small village.

[164] Afweyne’ (big mouth) was Siyad Barre’s nickname.

[165]Faqhash’ (filth) was the nickname of the government troops.

[166] And at that time it meant, by default, practically only the SNM.

[167] Angelo Del Boca, Nostalgia delle colonie, vol. IV of Gli Italiani in Africa Orientale (Rome: Laterza, 1984).

[168] The allegations of cattle sickness in Somalia given by the Saudi were bogus. The reality was that several Saudi princes had purchased land in Australia and wanted to flood their home market. But the Saudi population preferred the berberawi Somali sheep. So the only way to monopolize sheep imports was to ban those from Somalia.

[169] The SSDF Ethiopian minders had declined to take part in the military attempt but had not stopped the Somali rebels from going ahead. Their complete failure, in a thinly populated area where they had no possible civilian support, simply illustrated their state of disarray.

[170] ‘Pik’ would repeat the same operation in 1988 with Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Congo-Brazzaville President who was also in need of a post-Marxist transition. The wily South African even got Angola and Cuba to collaborate with him in a sleight of hand that, in the long run, was much more successful.

[171] At the time the Comoros were under the presidency of Ahmed Abdallah, who was only a figurehead fronting for the French mercenary Bob Denard. South Africa was among the supporters of that odd regime.

[172] Africa Economic Digest, 15 February 1985.

[173] La Reppublica, 19 January 1985.

[174] The key to the global change of Libyan diplomacy in the Horn was the 1985 fall of Sudanese President Jaafar al-Nimeiry, whom Gaddafi considered a personal enemy. It was Gaddafi’s desire to oppose Nimeiry that had driven him into a close alliance with communist Ethiopia and from there into a parallel support for SSDF, which was an Ethiopian protégé. Gaddafi stopped supporting the SPLA rebels in the Sudan, abandoned the Somali SSDF, distanced himself from the Ethiopian Derg and got closer to both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

[175] This lack of Ethiopian enthusiasm had two causes: the SNM was perceived by the Derg as a religious (i.e. Islamist) guerrilla force, even if this was not true; and it had no support from Moscow, Ethiopia’s political patron. This lack of Russian sponsorship was a real hindrance because it alienated the SNM from the West without providing it with any communist help.

[176] Refugees were cynically manipulated and in April 1985 some were left in camps near Hargeisa that were totally bereft of medical services as a cholera epidemic developed. This ‘waiting game’, which was supposed to ‘soften’ the Red Cross and UNHCR, propelled the death rate from around 1,500 to over 3,000 in a few weeks.

[177] Indian Ocean Newsletter, 31 August 1985.

[178] See chapter 4 n. 22.

[179] This was somewhat similar to the ‘Françafrique’ system in Paris. But the French parties had no lottizzazione system. The ruling party—the Gaullists between 1958 and 1981, later the Socialists between 1981–1995—were the ones cracking the whip: power meant access to the cash. The Italian system made corruption more democratic, more consensual.

[180] Peace Camp’ was an old Cold War formula referring to the Communist bloc and its ‘neutralist’ friends; the opposite side was the ‘Imperialist Camp’.

[181] Paolo Pilliteri, Somalia ’81: Intervista con Siyad Barre (Rome: Edizioni Sugar, 1981). The name of the publisher is not a joke, it is genuine.

[182] Another name for the same organization is Cooperazione Italiana allo Sviluppo (Italian Cooperation for Development). Forte was never FAI director but he was the one actually making the key strategic decisions.

[183] They were the best-paid university teachers anywhere in the world. But the Catholic monthly Nigrizia called the university ‘a place where you would not allow the graduates of the Medical School to take care of your dog’ (‘Facolta di non imparare’ [the university of no learning], Nigrizia, February 1989).

[184] For a vast and critical overview of the FAI scandal, see Gruppo della Sinistra Indipendente, FAI: Ovvero quando l’aiuto allo sviluppo diventa spreco ed anche peggio [FAI: When aid for development turns into complete waste and even worse] (Rome: Camera dei Deputati, November 1986).

[185] Almirante did not go.

[186] Following a comical emergency debate on where the wounded head of state should be sent, Rome or Riyadh. With death looming in the background, the family preferred proximity to the holy sites of Islam over possibly higher-quality medical care.

[187] Ginny Hill, Yemen Endures (London: Hurst and Co., 2017), p. 2.

[188] It is symptomatic that in this moment of great danger for the regime, the people who made up the top emergency resource team were not government officials but clan elders (Siyad Barre was a Marehan).

[189] His official position was head of the Army Public Works Service.

[190] Officially his position was that of Minister of the Interior. This put him in charge of the police and of political repression and he was one of the most powerful men in the regime. On the contrary, Samantar, who was a Sab (i.e. a member of the clanless minorities traditionally despised in popular culture), was institutionally strong but individually weak. This is why Siyad Barre had picked him as head of the armed forces and also why Dafle (the blade) supported him.

[191] They were released in Addis Ababa in February.

[192] We should never forget that ‘the Somali question’ was (and remains today) an international one. Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, all with large Somali populations, were all preoccupied, to various degrees, by events in Somalia.

[193] Siyad had lost control of the main WSLF, which had divorced from Mogadishu over the issue of peace. In January 1986 the WSLF hardliners, who rejected any form of negotiation with Ethiopia, had seceded and created the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which still exists today (2018) and theoretically still struggles for secession of the Ogaden from Ethiopia. The birth of ONLF destroyed what was left of the WSLF, leaving the remnants as pure and simple instruments of Siyad Barre.

[194] Interview with Abdullahi Jama Abokor, Hargeisa, 2015.

[195] Interview with Prof. Abdisalan Yassin, Hargeisa, 2015.

[196] Interview with Abdirahman Dheere, Hargeisa, 2015.

[197] Meaning ‘make propaganda’.

[198] Interview with Dahir Yare, Hargeisa, 2015.

[199] Interview with Rashid Sheikh Abdullahi, Hargeisa, 2015.

[200] The Hawiye were resentful and some of their young men had joined SNM. But it was a marginal contribution and they were not involved in frontline operations. They just played a support role. Later they would create their own guerrilla group and attack the government.

[201] I talked about this with Professor Lewis in his last few years and he modestly denied any influence. But then Karl Marx is also reputed to have said he was not a Marxist.

[202] Sillanyo had been Minister of Trade.

[203] Interview with Ali Abaanash, Hargeisa, 2015.

[204] Separate interview with Ali Abaanash, Hargeisa, 2015.

[205] Interview with Raqiya Omar, Hargeisa, 2015. Raqiya became the director of Africa Watch in London and published a key document after the 1988 city fighting called Somalia: A Government at War with Its Own People (1989).

[206] Interview with Fadumo Abdullahi Ibrahim, Hargeisa, 2015.

[207] Interview with Sarah Halgan, Hargeisa, 2015. Sarah joined the SNM and became a famous singer of struggle songs.

[208] Gerard Prunier, ‘A Candid View of the Somali National Movement’, Horn of Africa XIV, 1–2 (January–June 1992).

[209] In fact, what this witness describes here is what is called shir in Somali culture, i.e. the clan assembly which is the basic forum for the ‘pastoral democracy’.

[210] It still exists in today’s Somaliland as a kind of clanic Senate which is chosen by clan elders rather than elected, as the parliament is. Its role has unfortunately been abused in the last few years, the present assembly having succeeded in avoiding its renewal and having extended its mandate way beyond what custom should have allowed.

[211] This was quite distinct from the piracy that developed in south Puntland after the fall of Siyad Barre. In the SNM operations there was no hostage-taking and no threat to life.

[212] Interview with Ibrahim Said Ismail, Hargeisa, 2015.

[213] Interview with Farah Yusuf Osman Saxar, Hargeisa, 2015. Many military Calan Cas members accused Sillanyo of having ordered the murder of Ali Adan Shine. A more probable story is that Ali Adan had been killed by government agents to avenge the assassination of Ahmed Adan, the Hargeisa NSS boss. Sillanyo had no particular quarrel with Adan Shine, but this historical point has never been fully clarified.

[214] In a later interview with Daniel Compagnon, Sillanyo did not deny ordering the executions but he complained that the figures had been exaggerated.

[215] There are strong probabilities that this hit squad had been put together and later trained by the notorious but efficient apartheid secret service BOSS (personal interview, Nairobi, 1993). It could be the same unit that shot Adan Shine that same month and Abdiqadir Kosar in Mustahil later in July.

[216] World Bank, Somalia: Recent Economic Developments and Medium Term Prospects (Washington, DC, 10 February 1987).

[217] His deputy was from Siyad Barre’s clan, the Marehan.

[218] These were Jeeps with 106 mm recoilless guns, very useful for the rapid-movement fighting which the SNA carried out with the SNM guerrillas.

[219] He had been to Bucharest, Ankara and Sana’a, shopping around the authoritarian governments’ market, but to no avail.

[220] The anti-tuttaley militants had named themselves Desturi, i.e. constitutionalists. They had no ready constitution in their pocket but they stood in opposition to the SRSP–Siyad Barre dictatorship and wanted some kind of a constitution.

[221] Ever the nationalist, Mengistu was furious at the fact that Ogadeni refugees in Somalia had been forcibly drafted into the Somali Army. These men were certainly his enemies but they were Ethiopians as far as he was concerned (even if they did not agree) and he took their brutal treatment as a national outrage. But the core disagreement had to do with the Somali claims to Ethiopian Ogaden territory.

[222] Siyad had no hostility towards Samantar, whose loyalty he never questioned. But since Samantar could never be President, given his clan-less Sab status, what Siyad feared was the scenario in which the Vice-President could be ‘recuperated’ by an anti-Meslah group and handled just in the way Ahmed Suleiman Abdille ‘Dafle’ had done while Siyad was in hospital in Saudi Arabia. Any strongman could use an intelligent and ‘constitutional’ puppet. Siyad wanted to pre-empt such a scenario.

[223] The communist support was of course that provided by the USSR and its satellites prior to the Ethiopian Revolution.

[224] This alliance was due to two things: their ethnic proximity (Tigrayan speakers represent half the population of Eritrea) and their common Marxist-Leninist ideology. But many social, personal and cultural differences existed, as their eventual military conflict after their common victory eventually showed.

[225] In his excellent military history of the war, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), the Ethiopian historian Gebru Tareke calls it ‘the Ethiopian Dien Bien Phu’ (ch. 8). The comparison is apt. Few battles put an end to a war in one fell swoop, as this one did.

[226] The Ethiopian signatory was Foreign Minister Berhanu Bayeh while the Somali representative was the almost unknown Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs, Ahmed Mahmood Farah. For Somalia this agreement, in complete contradiction to the pan-Somali ideal, was political poison and its premises had already scuttled the WSLF.

[227] Radio Halgan (‘struggle’) was the rebel radio.

[228] Sillanyo actually used the delay in the offensive to fly to London.

[229] Interview with Ali Abaanash, Hargeisa, 2015.

[230] Interview with Osman Qurux, Hargeisa, 2015.

[231] They were definitely not anti-Marxist freedom fighters but rather dissident Marxists themselves. In the euphoric mood of the early 1990s and of the US-sponsored climate of the ‘democratic end of history’, the dissident Marxists were hailed as born-again capitalists, i.e. democrats. Time passed and by the early 2000s a more sober assessment began to develop.

[232] On 13 October 1977 four Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) commandos hijacked a Lufthansa commercial flight between Palma de Mallorca and Frankfurt with 86 passengers on board and flew it to Mogadishu. They demanded freedom for some members of their organization and for four imprisoned Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) militants detained in Stammheim. On 18 October Siyad Barre gave the green light to German Special Service forces to come and storm the plane, killing three of the four PFLP hijackers and capturing the fourth. Back in Germany the RAF militants conveniently committed suicide. To thank the Somali President for his help, the Bonn Republic provided Mogadishu with limited but regular amounts of light weapons (G-3 rifles) and the necessary ammunition.

[233] The plot against Sillanyo was a mixture of ideological disagreement (‘the chairman is weak, the war should be prosecuted more forcefully and with a socialist outlook’), clanic jealousy (‘what is this Habr Ja’alo doing up there?’) and simple personal dislike (‘we need real military commanders, not a lazy bureaucrat in an office’).

[234] IGADD meant Intergovernmental Authority against Drought and for Development, and was created in Djibouti in March 1988, just in time for the Ethiopia–Somalia ‘peace’. It was the brainchild of Djibouti President Hassan Gouled, who sought to play a big diplomatic role in spite of ruling a small country. So he chose the role of local go-between to mediate in much larger quarrels, a role the present-day IGAD (the second ‘d’ for ‘development’ has been realistically abandoned) still tries rather unsuccessfully to play.

[235] The announcements of these measures (Northern military forces assigned to the North instead of a quasi-southern military occupation of ‘Somaliland’ by Southern troops, Northern civil servants playing a role in the governance of the South) were supposed to point out to a ‘national integration policy’ which seemed to go without saying since Somaliland and Somalia Italiana had supposedly merged in 1960 but which in fact had never actually taken place.

[236] Interview with Ali Abaanash, Hargeisa, 2015. The announced transfers of northern civil servants to the north or of Isaaq promotions in the south were mostly rumours till (Isaaq) General Aden Abdu Dualeh was made head of the police in September 1988. But as a precaution he was flanked with a Marehan deputy, General Osman Ahmed Osman, to keep him under control the whole idea of clanic re-equilibration never got off the ground.

[237] We can see here that the SNM high command remained quite amateurish in developing even tactical aims. Targets were switched, and troop reallocation and improvised counter-attacks were spontaneously undertaken without prior consultation, all this at a time when radio communications were still extremely limited.

[238] Interview Omar Gaabuush, Hargeisa, 2015.

[239] For the story of these new M-16s, see below.

[240] This was typical of SNM operating procedure. The top officer just gave his opinion and he could be outvoted by his subordinates. It was a military disaster but it was also one of the cultural processes which solidified the group and gave the SNM a massive capacity for resilience if we compare it, for example, to the traditional SSDF top-down military style. But in the short run, it played havoc with discipline.

[241] In fact, South African,

[242] Interview with Hasan Dayax, Hargeisa, 2015.

[243] This was the main force of the SNA defending the north and it was placed under the direct orders of General Aden Abdullahi Nur ‘Gabiyow’, who had to battle with Siyad’s son Meslah to (illegally) get that command.

[244] Another serious mistake. Adadley had already been taken and SNM was in no need of more fighters there. But abandoning the airport was even worse because within days it was back in SNA hands and able to accommodate both transport planes and the Hawker Hunter fighter bombers which were to cause so much damage later.

[245] Later elected President of Somaliland in 2017.

[246] Somali Patriotic Movement. As the SNA took more hits from SNM and despite holding its ground against the rebellious forces, it started to disintegrate, though not incoherently. The various groups that would either retreat or resist SNM would recompose themselves and create clanic sub-units that would fight SNM while retreating and also at times start fighting each other. Omar Jess and his SPM coalesced into an Ogadeni force that soon attacked the SNA troops which had remained ‘governmental’. The pattern of the next period of Somali history—the time of the warlords—was beginning to take shape.

[247] United Somali Congress. Led by General Mohamed Farah Aydid, it was a Hawiye front which began to emerge from the ruins of SNA and attack the government (see the next chapter).

[248] These men headed for Awdal province where they rebelled and created the SNF (Somali National Front), which was an ambiguous organization, as we will see in chapter 7. SNF had Issa and Gaddabursi fighters who were at times fighting the government but also more often fighting SNM under the semi-hidden leadership of Ismail Omar Guelleh, then director of the Djibouti Secret Service, who was hoping to extend Djibouti’s territory eastwards, towards Loyada and Sheikh, as Somalia disintegrated.

[249] Interview with Major Mohamed Kosar, Hargeisa, January 2015.

[250] Interview with Abdullahi Farah Abdi, Hargeisa, January 2015. This opens the question whether the systematic killings of Isaaq could be called a genocide.

[251] Interview with Ali Abaanash, Hargeisa, January 2015.

[252] Interview of Mohamed Ali Abdullahi (August 1989), quoted in Africa Watch, Somalia: A Government at War with Its Own People (London, 1990).

[253] ‘Victory Pioneers’, a government youth movement increasingly used as an auxiliary armed force as the war developed.

[254] Interview with Sarah Ahmed Arteh, June 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, p. 133.

[255] Military Security.

[256] Interview with Abdirahman Mohamed Jama, Cardiff, July 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, p. 148.

[257] Interview with Hassan Muhamad Abdullahi, Djibouti, August 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, p. 148.

[258] Borama is not an area of mainly Isaaq people. The majority population in and around Borama are Gaddabursi, who were at the time broadly on the government side. The prisoners had therefore been selected on a clan basis.

[259] ‘The Virgin’s Breasts’, the popular name of two round mountains that overlook Hargeisa. The SNA had a supply base at the foot of those mountains. Later it was on the Virgin’s Breasts that the SNA installed its heavy artillery and randomly lobbed shells down into the city.

[260] It was from that very airport that the Hawker Hunter fighter-bombers operated by the South African mercenaries were taking off on the bombing and strafing missions to nearby Hargeisa. The fully loaded flying time to Hargeisa was ten minutes, which allowed the planes a rapid turnaround time. Even in a relaxed mood, they could complete a minimum of five missions a day.

[261] Interview with Kayser Ismail Adan, August 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, p. 155.

[262] Many weapons also came by way of Berbera. The non-occupation of both Hargeisa airport and of Berbera were major strategic mistakes of the SNM in the spring of 1988, resulting in a staggering human cost.

[263] This opens the question whether the systematic killings of Isaaq could be called a genocide. See The Nation, 22 October 2018, in-the-valley-of-death-somalilands-forgotten-genocide/, which takes a new look at the topic

[264] CAA statement on Somalia, 12 January 1989.

[265] Published in translation in the July 1987 issue of The New African.

[266] ‘The rotten ones’, derogatory name given to the SNM rebels by the government.

[267] They flew too high to risk being hit by SNM fire and, as a result, their own bombing and machine-gunning was hopelessly ineffectual. Moreover, some of the pilots were not enthusiastic about the job and made the attacks even less dangerous by deliberately dropping their loads away from the targets. On 12 July a Mig-17 pilot completely refused to attack a column of refugees, flew to Djibouti and bailed out of his plane over the Gulf of Tadjourah.

[268] These were planes that had been in service in the UAE Air Force for nearly ten years and that Abu Dhabi wanted to get rid of.

[269] The following year, when parts began to run out and Siyad Barre could not get resupplied from either the UK or the UAE, he sent a mission to Chile where President Pinochet had a few leftover Hawker Hunters he was ready to take apart and sell. But the officers in charge (names withheld) stole the $5 million budget, split it among themselves and went into exile.

[270] Interview by the author of some anonymous refugees near Hargeisa, February 1990. In spite of a fair amount of research, this author has never managed to identify ‘Mr John’. The ground targets (SNM fighters, refugees) had managed to rig a radio on the wavelength used by the Hunter pilots and they listened to the conversations between the pilots and the Berbera air base. A member of the South African team was a certain ‘K. Jones’ but he was officially a mechanical engineer, not a pilot.

[271] US General Accounting Office, Somalia: Observations Regarding the Northern Conflict, Report B-225870, May 1989.

[272] Meslah and General Aden Abdullahi Nur were still at each other’s throats over the control of the 26th Division and Gabiyow was using the services of Omar Jess to handle the President’s son, just at the moment when Jess was betraying his government and busy creating the SPM rebel movement to overthrow the regime.

[273] Robert Gersony, Why Somalis Flee (Washington, DC: Department of State, Bureau for Refugee Programs, August 1989).

[274] Africa Watch, Somalia. Although researched separately, the Gersony report and the Africa Watch one came out at the same time. The impact on the US Congress was significant.

[275] GAO Report, p. 6.

[276] Testimony of Karshe Mohamed, Cardiff, July 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, pp. 172–92.

[277] Testimony of Jama Osman Samantar, London, June 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, pp. 172–92.

[278] Testimony of Hassan Ismail Omar, Cardiff, July 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, pp. 172–92.

[279] Testimony of Samia Sheef, London, June 1989, in Africa Watch, Somalia, pp. 172– 92.

[280] An Isaaq sub-clan.

[281] Interview with Ibrahim Mohamed Abdullahi, Hargeisa, 2015.

[282] These were part of the ‘old caseload’ batch, i.e. soldiers who had been captured during the Ethiopian-Somali war of 1977–8.

[283] Paradoxically, victory had had the same effect on the SNM. Given the huge rush of untrained volunteers, the previous partly trans-clanic regiments had exploded and regrouped people of similar sub-clans (practically all new recruits were Isaaq, so the divisions followed sub-clanic lines).

[284] On 29 September 1988 the shilling fell from 100 to 247 to the US dollar.

[285] Cf. G. Prunier, ‘Benign Neglect versus La Grande Somalia: The Colonial Legacy and the Post-Colonial State’, in Markus Hoehne and Virginia Luling (eds.), Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics (London: Hurst and Co., 2010), especially pp. 43–5.

[286] The Dhulbahante are the northernmost Darood, which put them in the first line of combat against the Isaaq. By late 1988, their geographical position began to worry them: Darood, indeed, but very far from the others and perilously close to the Isaaq.

[287] General Service Unit, a paramilitary Kenyan force.

[288] The New African, November 1988.

[289] Indian Ocean Newsletter, 25 February 1989.

[290] World Bank (1987).

[291] Interview with Rashid Sheikh Abdullahi, Hargeisa, 2015.

[292] Assembly of the clans, a form of clanic Senate which came out of the war and remained a constitutional part of post-war independent Somaliland.

[293] Interview with Abdikadir Hussein, Hargeisa, 2015.

[294] Given the track record of 1960–9 in Somalia, multi-partyism was most likely to become another name for multi-clanism.

[295] Al-Jazeera is a beach just outside Mogadishu. The prisoners were shot and summarily buried in the sand.

[296] The SNM claimed there had been 1,500 casualties. While this claim is probably somewhat exaggerated, it should be kept in mind that summary executions kept happening during the whole third and fourth weeks of July (see Africa Watch, Somalia: Tien an-Men Revisited, 21 July 1989 and Somalia: An Update on Human Rights Developments, 22 September 1989). The London-based New African compiled a detailed list of 1,048 victims, with a majority of Hawiye (696) and ‘only’ 150 Isaaq (November 1989 issue).

[297] Another mission had previously been sent to Pinochet’s Chile to acquire spare parts for the Hawker Hunters of the Somali Air Force’s last flying squadron but the officers in charge had stolen the budget.

[298] They included Mervyn Dymally, Howard Volpe and Albert Gore.

[299] In June the US announced the assignment of $15.1 million ‘budgetary aid’ whose avowed purpose was of a purely economic nature. But the actual reason was to help Mogadishu reimburse the $76 million arrears it had piled up at the IMF and to reopen the international credit taps for money to flow into Somalia and help it fight the war. With the Russians next door in Ethiopia, Mogadishu was still perceived as a questionable but potentially real US ally, under Siyad Barre or anybody else.

[300] Gaashaanbuur (‘the pile of shields’) is the pragmatic military alliance structure that can be developed tactically by different clans which lack the necessary numbers for simple, direct ‘clanic survival’.

[301] Interview with Haibe Omar Magan, former mechanical officer of 54th Division (Galkayo), November 1992.

[302] By February 1990, when the counting was done, the figure was put at 446,000, far from the extravagant numbers previously insisted upon by the government. But given the situation in Ethiopia, 70% of them asked to stay in Somalia in spite of the much lower incentive package offered by UNHCR.

[303] And girls! I witnessed young women fighters dressed not in hijab but in skimpy shorts and sleeveless jackets, sporting the bushy gofare hairdo of the Ethiopian fighters.

[304] Interview in Djibouti with a former Prime Minister, January 1990. On 15 December 1989 the Djibouti Minister of the Interior, Moumin Farah Badon, said in an interview to the Saudi daily al-Muslimin that the fall of Siyad Barre was only a question of time.

[305] These included the well-known lawyer Ismail Jumaale Ossoble, who had been jailed since July 1989, and Omar Arteh Ghalib, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had put Somalia on the map of the world before being arrested and condemned to death in June 1982. He was released from jail a few years later.

[306] Most of the deserters were either Ogadeni or Hawiye, two origins largely represented in the SNA. Many of the Ogadeni soldiers were legally ‘Ethiopians’.

[307] Patrick Gilkes, Two Wasted Years: The Republic of Somaliland (1991–1993) (London: Save the Children Fund, 1993).

[308] Mohamed Haji Ingiriis, ‘The Making of the 1990 Manifesto: Somalia’s Last Chance for State Survival’, Journal of Northeast African Studies 12, 2 (2012), pp. 63–94.

[309] Congressman Howard Volpe, who had ordered the GAO report on the war and later written the letter to James Baker in order to stop the IMF sponsorship for Somalia (see above), moved in to block the lease renewal.

[310] Interview of Minister Giovanni Di Michelis. Corriere della Sera, 16 July 1990.

[311] As part of the agitation around the First Gulf War.

[312] It was actually never used.

[313] The Manifesto group was hoping to separate the ‘moderates’ from the ‘radicals’ and arrange peace talks with the regime in Cairo.

[314] Hissène Habré, President of Chad between 1982 and 1990. After eight years of brutal and barbarous rule, he fought to keep his power and lost. At the time Egal was drafting this letter, he had just fled into exile. He was later arrested and condemned to a life sentence in 2007.

[315] Hussein Mohamed Arshad was President of Bangladesh from 1983 till 1990. When faced by a popular insurrection, he stepped down and preserved national unity. He remained a politician and an MP.

[316] As the disintegration of the SNA was proceeding forthwith, all clan families were trying to acquire added political respectability by creating their own political organization, as a prelude to future negotiations. The ‘state’ perspective was still dominant and all clans wanted to have their part in the future post-Siyad ‘state’. But the very nature of that state, its constitutional lineaments, its functioning, its territorial definition, were all left vague.

[317] The Galgalo had a long-standing feud with the dominant sub-sub-clan of the Habr Gidir. This was clan politics at its grossest level.

[318] For precise details of what went on in Mogadishu at that time and for a history of the days closely following Siyad Barre’s fall, refer to Lidwien Kapteijns, Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 (Philadelphia: University of  Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

[319] Western secret services at the time estimated that the SNA was down to about 10,000 men or fewer. Those SNA soldiers who were Issa by clan started to sport USF armbands.

[320] He was a Habr Awal Sa’ad Musa. Before his arrest, he had been short-listed as a potential UN Secretary-General, before Javier Pérez de Cuéllar had been elected.

[321] Interview with his son, Hargeisa, June 2010.

[322] On 1 March 1991, there were estimated by UNHCR to be 35,000 left in Somalia.

[323] Benadir is the small coastal region immediately adjacent to the capital.

[324] The SPM was recruited among the various Ogaden clans of the Darood clan family while the USC was recruited mostly among the Hawiye clan family.

[325] Aydid was an SNM member and after the Baligubadle shir he asked Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ for 600 men to help him take Mogadishu before his USC rivals could. Tuur refused, for security concerns.

[326] Galal was a Hawiye Habr Gidir Saleeban. His Habr Gidir identity made him eventually line up with his former adversary Aydid when the Manifesto group withered away (Ali Mahdi was a Sa’ad, clanically more distant). As for being ‘moderate’, this is to be seen in the 1991 context, where Galal accepted the idea of negotiation with the collapsing dictatorship while Aydid insisted on military victory. But Galal had been a solid Siyad Barre henchman and in 1978, after the Ogaden defeat, he shot 85 Isaaq officers by firing squad in Hargeisa because Siyad Barre feared that, disappointed by the defeat in the Ethiopian war, they could join the recent Majerteen uprising against his regime.

[327] See Kapteijns, Clan Cleansing in Somalia, particularly ch. 3. The Isaaq were anti-Siyad Barre in their majority. But several of their leading families had money and owned real estate. For the Hawiye, who considered that Mogadishu ‘belonged to them’ (in pre-colonial times, this was indeed part of their land base), their presence could not be tolerated. The clan cleansing was such that within two weeks of Siyad Barre’s flight, over 8,000 non-Hawiye civilians had been killed, Isaaq being one of the main group of victims.

[328] Kapteijns, Clan Cleansing in Somalia, p. 160.

[329] Afgooye is a satellite town of Mogadishu, about 70 km away. Green and wellwatered, it has a big market and serves as a food supply center for the capital.

[330] It had been formed on 3 February 1991.

[331] The USF was remotely controlled by Djibouti security boss Ismail Omar Guelleh and was, in fact, a trial structure that aimed at grabbing land for the Issa in the case where Somalia would completely dissolve.

[332] The future President of Somaliland, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, who was Isaaq but not a member of SNM, joined the call for attending the conference. Like most of the Somali political class, he was still a ‘unitarist’. But in 1991 his siding with the Ali Mahdi–Omar Arteh line was not popular in the north, even among those Isaaq who balked at secession but were aiming for the creation of a confederacy, not a centralized unitary state.

[333] The victims were mostly Rahanweyn, the marginal clan family which had traditionally been despised in the south. Racially mixed with Bantu and Oromo minorities, they had been tactical allies of the Italians during the colonial period. In the colonial literature, they were called Digil-Mirifle.

[334] This was after the SPM had used the post office in Liboi (Kenya border) to contact people in Britain and spoke as if it were a government service.

[335] Egyptian Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

[336] Always keen on finding clanic justification for any political positioning, the supporters of that solution invented a common parent called ‘Irir’, a supposed common ancestor of both the Isaaq and the Hawiye. Around 1990–1 both Aydid and Sillanyo tried to float the notion of an ‘Irir’ state.

[337] Interview with Hassan Musa Jibril, Hargeisa, 2015.

[338] This is not a personal opinion but rather the result of a long experience of postcivil war situations in a variety of African environments. The problem of post-conflict retribution I saw varied from very little (Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda in the south) to massive vengeance (Rwanda). Within Somalia, the attitude ranged from the excesses of ethnic cleansing in the south to limited, controlled executions in Somaliland.

[339] Interview with Abdirahman Dhadhan, Hargeisa, 2015.

[340] The main problem of clanic compatibility came not from the Ogadeni sub-clans of the north (Yabarre, Jarso, Rer Ali) but with those Ogadeni from south-central Ogaden, who had no history of common relations with the Isaaq.

[341] Jijiga is an Ethiopian town. But the war largely went beyond the borders. Being myself in Baligubadle at the time of the February 1990 shir, I wandered unknowingly into ‘Ethiopia’ without realizing my mistake. I was escorted back into ‘Somalia’ by some boys who were herding their flocks.

[342] Interview with Daud Khayre, Hargeisa, 2015.

[343] Interview with Ahmed Adan Gurey, Hargeisa, 2015.

[344] Interview with Omer Hassan Awale, Hargeisa, 2015.

[345] The Koodbur Force was an old SNM project that did not materialize for a long time. The idea was to have a trans-clanic regiment rather than—as was the case then—a juxtaposition of clanically homogeneous units. The Koodbur Force finally took shape only after the Baligubadle congress, when members of the old Uffo pre-war association (see chapter 2) became active in SNM organizing. Koodbur was neutral in intra-Isaaq tensions.

[346] The Gaddabursi militia, former ally of the Mogadishu regime.

[347] These had come from Ethiopia to escape Mengistu’s villagisation policies and gave their allegiance to OLF.

[348] Interview with Hassan Halas, Hargeisa, 2015.

[349] Interview with Ahmed Adan Gurrey, Hargeisa, 2015.

[350] Interview with Fadumo Abdullahi Ibrahim, Hargeisa, 2015.

[351] Interview with Ahmed Adan Gurrey, Hargeisa, 2015.

[352] The interviewee is Habr Yunis.

[353] The Warsangeli are members of the Darood clan family while the Habr Yunis are Isaaq. The Warsangeli had therefore sided with Siyad Barre while the Habr Yunis were SNM. But no atrocities had been committed on that particular front.

[354] Interview with Ahmed Adan Gurrey, Hargeisa, 2015.

[355] The last one was the 1997 conference held in Hargeisa after the end of the third Somaliland civil war between the Habr Garhadjis and the government.

[356] The interviewee is not talking about the war against the Mogadishu dictatorship but about the three bouts of civil war internal to Somaliland in 1992, 1993 and 1995–7 (see next chapter).

[357] Interview with Dr Suleiman Abdi Gouled, Hargeisa, 2015.

[358] Interview with Shukri Haji Bandare, Hargeisa, 2015.

[359] Interview with Ismail Dahir Ahmed, Hargeisa, 2015.

[360] This was at the heart of the debate on the Koodbur Force (see chapter 8).

[361] Interview with Omer Essa Awale, Hargeisa, 2015.

[362] It was a partial USC government since it was supported by the Ali Mahdi faction but not by the Aydid group. Roughly the first faction represented the Abgaal Hawiye sub-clan while the second stood for the Habr Gidir sub-clan of the same clan family.

[363] Interview with Omer Essa Awale, Hargeisa, 2015.

[364] Interview with Omer Essa Awale, Hargeisa, 2015.

[365] It was the misinformed rumors concerning those crimes that caused the blind US-led international intervention of 1992–5 known as Operation Restore Hope.

[366] Interview with Osman Qurux, Hargeisa, 2015.

[367] At Baligubadle in February 1990, when Sillanyo was sidelined and Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ became chairman. But since both were against independence, it was not disagreement on that point that fostered civil war.

[368] Interview with Abdi Giire, Hargeisa, 2015.

[369] This is a tremendous difference with the south, where no election, clanic or otherwise, could yield a real operational result. This is where the British political culture influenced participants in one way while the absence of applied Italian political culture abroad left the southerners at the mercy of clanic Xeer, a form of legal obligation which was designed for statelessness.

[370] Interview with Abdi Giire, Hargeisa, 2015.

[371] See ACLED Report, Somalia September 2017 Update, link does not work, I think it might be:, accessed 23 September 2017. Due to a variety of circumstances, this book took a long time to get into print and I did no additional research during the editing period (which might have given a clearer view of the type of violence still in play today). But a geographically diversified form of violence is still an incontrovertible reality in the former Somalia Italiana, apart from Puntland territory.

[372] See chapter 10 for post-1997 north–south relations in Somaliland/Somalia.

[373] This section is broadly based on a long paper I wrote in July 1995 for the Writenet Network (a subsidiary of Practical Management UK), under the title ‘Civil War, Intervention and Withdrawal: The Somali Crucible (1990–1995)’.

[374] Agence France Presse, 3 December 1992.

[375] François Mitterrand.

[376] Telephone conversation, 3 December 1992.

[377] New York Times, 1 December 1992.

[378] New York Times, 28 November 1992.

[379] This was the US name for what was known internationally as UNITAF (United Nations Intervention Task Force).

[380] This view of the armed Somali population, such as presented above, was fantasmatic. And the parallel lack of perspective on the intractable political conundrum completed a picture of complete ignorance

[381] I was one of them. After publishing a piece called ‘La politique bafouée’ (political blindness) in the Paris intellectual monthly Le Monde des Débats, I was vilified for ‘blatant cynicism’ and accused of ‘not caring about the death of babies’. With the end of the Cold War, Somalia became one of the key turning points in trying to deal differently with geopolitical problems. The switch tended to trade old rigidity for a new naivety.

[382] On the delicate question of human losses and lives saved, the best study is Steven Hansch et al., Lives Lost, Lives Saved: Excess Mortality and the Impact of Health Interventions in the Somalia Emergency (Washington, DC: Refugee Policy Group, 1994). Note the carefully neutral vocabulary of the title: here we are not at war, we are evaluating ‘an emergency’.

[383] From this point of view, the memoirs of Robert Oakley, who was Special Envoy to Somalia for both President Bush and President Clinton, are very revealing. In the chapter devoted to ‘Political Consultations on the US Intervention’ he mentions some UN personnel, a variety of African envoys at the UN and ‘European Heads of State’, none of whom had any particular knowledge about Somalia. There was no consultation with either Somali or real US experts (see John Hirsch and Robert Oakley, Somalia and Operation Restore Hope: Reflections on Peacemaking and Peacekeeping (Washington, DC: Institute of Peace, 1995)). The dominant idea seems to have been—and probably remains—that Africa was in itself a ‘unit’ and that any ‘African’ or foreign ‘Africanist’ could provide a valid opinion.

[384] Author’s interviews with many Somali of all walks of life in 1993–4. Later, in a rather astonishing display of honesty, the former Siyad Barre minister turned warlord, General Aden Abdullahi Nur ‘Gabiyow’ publicly declared that he and his fellow militia leaders ‘should be arrested if there is to be any hope for the country’ (Somalia News Update, 11 July 1994).

[385] I.M. Lewis, ‘Pacifying the Warlords’, The Times, 12 December 1992.

[386] Interview with General Aden Abdullahi Nur ‘Gabiyow’, SNF leader, Addis Ababa, April 1993.

[387] Indian Ocean Newsletter, 5 June 1993.

[388] BBC quoting Radio Mogadishu (which was pro-Ali Mahdi), 5 June 1993.

[389] Report of the Commission of Inquiry Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 885 (1993) to Investigate Armed Attacks on UNOSOM II Personnel (New York: United Nations, 24 February 1994).

[390] About a maximum of 4,700 men during the second period (Somalia News Update, 5 October 1993.

[391] ‘UN Chief Warning US against Pullout of Force in Somalia’, New York Times, 30 September 1993.

[392] Indian Ocean Newsletter, 18 September and 2 October 1993.

[393] The event was dramatized by a bestselling book published a few years later: Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (New York: Grove Press, 1999). The movie made from the book in 2001 by Ridley Scott is for many people the epitome of the Somalia question when in fact it is a most atypical representation of the conflict or the country. The movie was shot in Morocco, there were no Somali actors and no Somali consultants for veracity. It was just another ‘action movie’.

[394] Bernard Helander and Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, Building Peace from Below? A Critical Review of the District Councils of Bay and Bakool Regions of Southern Somalia (Uppsala: Life and Peace Institute, April 1995).

[395] The main contingents were from India and Pakistan. The other large ones were from Malaysia, Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

[396] The Economist, 24 September 1994.

[397] The post-Burao government was supported by what was in fact a Habr Garhadjis alliance, i.e. the Eidagalley, Habr Yunis and Arap sub-clans.

[398] To be completely honest, I once saw one. She carried an AK-47 and had grenades slung around her waist but was dressed in a feminine ankle-long dress. She had picked up a gun after she saw her husband killed under her eyes by the Siyad Barre army. The men around her treated her with respect but thought she was ‘special’.

[399] The choice was deliberate. During the war, most of the Gaddabursi had sided with Mogadishu and their commitment to Somaliland independence was at first halfhearted. But their facilitating role in the various post-war shirs earned them respect.

[400] 90 Isaaq, 34 Darood and 26 Dir.

[401] Egal was a Habr Awal of the Issa Musa sub-clan. As a former Prime Minister of the original Republic (1960–9), prisoner of Siyad Barre (1969–82) and self-exiled ‘leader of conscience’ of the ailing post-Ethiopian war Somalia, he was a living symbol of the achievements, sufferings and errors of the country. He never publicly recanted anything, not even his adherence to the 1960 unity (which he recognized in private to have been a mistake).

[402] The population called the conference ‘Alaa mahad leh’ (Grace be given to God).

[403] The SNM had de facto dissolved itself after the end of the war. Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ himself had previously admitted that its Central Committee had not met for months, even before the Borama Conference.

[404] See Somalia News Update, 14 December 1994.

[405] This is not to excuse all of Mohamed Farah Aydid’s political actions. But by mid1993 the UN in Somalia had taken sides, culminating in issuing Wild West-type posters reading ‘MOHAMED FARAH AYDID: WANTED. $25,000’, which seemed to mark a very low level of diplomacy.

[406] S/26319 (17 August 1993).

[407] The SNA was a new entity set up by Aydid to regroup his supporters under a common banner. By then all the former anti-Siyad Barre guerrilla groups which had ousted the dictatorship had split into pro-Aydid and pro-Ali Mahdi groups. By attending an SNA-sponsored meeting, Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ announced his new colors.

[408] This was a word borrowed from a period of the Chinese Revolution when in the 1920s the provincial governors became tuchun, i.e. ‘warlords’, practically independent from the impotent government existing in Beijing at the time. The Somali warlords did not even have a ghost ‘government’ till 2000.

[409] Ken Menkhaus and John Prendergast, Political Economy of Post-intervention Somalia (Washington, DC: The Center of Concern, April 1995), p. 3.

[410] Menkhaus and Prendergast, Political Economy of Post-intervention Somalia.

[411] Mogadishu being too tempting a target, any attempt at reopening it to international traffic would immediately cause a free-for-all among all the prospective ‘armed managers’. Attempts at collective management all failed one after the other when the prospective participants fought each other over the sharing of the resource.

[412] In Djibouti the post-colonial habits are so ingrained that the boundary limits between (unofficial) French and (quasi-official) Djiboutian positions are so porous that the difference is often ambiguous.

[413] This is an old term used in 19th-century anthropology to designate the members of the Dir clan family, i.e. basically the Issa and the Gaddabursi. The very choice of that name had a dated connotation, as if coming from an old sepia-colored 1910 daguerreotype.

[414] ‘Against the SNM’ is closer to reality than saying ‘for the Mogadishu regime’. Of course the SNM was seen by these clans as the embodiment of Isaaq domination of the north. But fighting against this threat of clan domination did not mean agreeing with the official pan-Somali ideology, which was locally seen for what it was, i.e. southern domination.

[415] For an excellent study on the sub-regional geopolitics see Markus V. Hoehne, Between Somaliland and Puntland: Marginalization, Militarization and Conflicting Political Visions (Nairobi: Rift Valley Institute, 2015). It gives a balanced view of the sub-regional clanic relationships and of their global effects.

[416] There are a few Warsangeli-related Darood sub-clans in the north-western corner of the country, although they do not make up more than about 5 per cent of the population.

[417] Yusuf had parlayed his 1986–91 imprisonment at the hands of Mengistu into a badge of pro-freedom-in-Ethiopia status. Never mind that his imprisonment at the hands of the dictatorship was not due to any embryonic yearning for democracy but for murdering his own subordinates. After being freed, he had become the champion of Addis Ababa in the Somalia melee.

[418] This was the largest of the four or five Islamist groupings which were competing to reorganize Somali politics along radical Muslim lines. See Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, ‘De l’Islam traditionnel à l’Islam intégriste en Somalie’ (Unpublished paper, Besançon, February 1995) and Roland Marchal, ‘Mapping Political Islam in Somalia’ (European Union paper, October 2013). After their defeat, the al-Ittihad fighters fled first to Laas Qoray in Somaliland where they were not welcomed; they later went all the way down south to Gedo.

[419] In fact it was chosen on a clanic basis.

[420] He had been shot in a skirmish in August 1996.

[421] He was an interpreter and never in a combat role. Further in the text, ‘Aydid’ will refer to his son Hussein, who attempted to fill his father’s position after his demise.

[422] In fact the Somalilanders never use the word ‘secession (kala go) but rather ‘reestablishment’ (dib ula soo noqosho), meaning back to the four days during which Somaliland was independent from Great Britain before joining Somalia Italiana.

[423] Radio Hargeisa broadcast, 10 April 1995.

[424] Africa Confidential 36, 19 (22 September 1996).

[425] Radio Hargeisa, 15 January 1996.

[426] The gap was financed by printing inflationary shillings, by diaspora remittances and by customs: nothing with much of a future. See ‘Somaliland: Shrinking Horizons’, Africa Confidential, 16 February 1996.

[427] Radio Hargeisa, 6 July 1996.

[428] The number ultimately rose to over thirty.

[429] Abdel Nasir Jama Barre, The New African, January 1998.

[430] A dispute about border delimitation in Badme, an area without either economic or strategic interest. Issayas Afeworqi was persuaded that the new Ethiopian regime, which he had helped set up in 1991, was so unpopular that it would collapse under the slightest impact. But he failed to factor in his own unpopularity with Ethiopian public opinion, only managing to raise support for Meles Zenawi, who became a symbol of Ethiopian nationalism and resistance.

[431] Ethiopia had multiplied armed interventions in Somalia to support useless ‘peace agreements’ and hosted still another international conference in Addis Ababa on 21 October 1998.

[432] An AK-47, which cost $225 in Karan market in Mogadishu in January, had dropped to $137 in March 1999.

[433] Wako Gutu (1924–2006) was the grandfather of all Oromo rebellions in Bale, who had fought the central Ethiopian domination since the days of Haile Selassie.

[434] AFP dispatch, 9 April 1999.

[435] IRIN interview, 18 May 1999.

[436] AFP dispatch, 6 June 1999.

[437] AFP dispatch, 28 June 1999.

[438] At first the phenomenon was limited to Mogadishu itself.

[439] AFP dispatches, 28 June and 10 July 1999.

[440] Indian Ocean Newsletter, 9 October 1999.

[441] EU confidential memo, Brussels, 15 December 1999.

[442] Reuters dispatch, 19 February 2000.

[443] Reuters dispatch, 12 March 2000.

[444] Arta is a high-altitude small town above Djibouti. The atmosphere there is a bit cooler. The delegates were 500 at first and 2,500 after a few weeks. The food budget went from a planned $1.8m to an actual $7m and nobody even dared to publish the telephone bill.

[445] David Stephen, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative, IRIN, 8 May 2000.

[446] Financial Times, 15 August 2000.

[447] 60% of the TNA members were former MPs in the so-called parliament of the Siyad Barre regime.

[448] Ken Menkhaus, Somalia: Situation Analysis (Geneva: UNHCR, October 2000).

[449] Jamhuuriya, 21 June 2000.

[450] IRIN interview, 11 July 2000.

[451] Somalia had been an Arab League member since 1978.

[452] Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, Letter to Randolph Kent, 4 November 2000.

[453] IRIN interview of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, 28 May 2001.

[454] IRIN, 20 June 2001. The only part of Somaliland where there was a lower pro-independence vote was in Sool province (54.73%) where the Dhulbahante vote was more divided.

[455] This was fierce and domestic since in both cases the organizations had a majority Hawiye support. So the fighting often involved Hawiye sub-clans, with whatever majority they could mobilize locally.

[456] The Hawala are money transfer networks in the Muslim world that operate very efficiently. The US authorities decided, after a quick perusal, that these must have been the financing channels of al-Qaida. Eventually the Commission of Inquiry on the 9/11 attacks concluded that al-Qaida had mostly used US banks to finance the attack and not Hawala. But this clarification took five years.

[457] The decision had been taken before the 9/11 attack.

[458] He was by birth an Ethiopian.

[459] CRS communiqué, 17 January 2002.

[460] IRIN interview, 18 January 2002. The gentleman forgot to say that he himself was very much part of the problem.

[461] Private interview, Paris, 6 May 2002. The Ethiopian Army was unofficially supporting the TNG.

[462] The Economist, 1 April 2004. There were several illiterate MPs.

[463] The New Vision, 26 May 2004.

[464] Its name had been changed to Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

[465] BBC, 3 October 2005.

[466] Declaration of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, UIC chairman to IRIN, 7 February 2005.

[467] He had picked a monstrous cabinet of 127 ministers in the hope of satisfying as many clans as possible.

[468] To be fair one must remember that when Usama bin Laden was forced to leave Khartoum, he had considered going to Somalia. But his close counsellors advised him against the move, telling him: ‘the way things are there, they will simply sell you to the highest bidder’ (Private interview, Khartoum, 1997).

[469] ICG, Counter-Terrorism in Somalia: Losing Hearts and Minds (Brussels: ICG, July 2005).

[470] John Prendergast, ‘How the War on Terror Is Empowering Islamist Militias’, The East African, 12 June 2006.

[471] Private interview with a State Department official, April 2006.

[472] Sudan Tribune, 12 April 2006.

[473] ‘My government does not believe that Somaliland (or Kenya) are under any immediate threat’: Fuad Aden Ade, Somaliland Minister of Foreign Affairs, 31 July 2006.

[474] Interview, Mogadishu, April 2014.

[475] On 8 December 2006, Meles had been visited by US CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid, whom Meles asked about war in Somalia. Abizaid had answered, ‘You’ll be on your own if you attack’ (private interview with an EU civil servant who had attended, Addis Ababa, November 2012).

[476] In February 2007, IGASOM was ‘Africanised’ by getting its name changed into AMISOM (African Mission).

[477] In March 2007 crowds in the Barawa neighborhood of Mogadishu took the bodies of five TFG soldiers, shouting ‘Ethiopian stooges’, ‘Down with Somali troops’ and ‘We will burn you alive’. To help the TFG troops, Ethiopians used tanks in the streets, killing a number of civilians (The New Vision, 21 March 2007).

[478] Human Rights Watch letter to the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, New York, 22 March 2007. HRW writes of over 150 individuals from 18 nationalities detained and held incommunicado in Kenya for interrogation by US secret services. Several later disappeared in Ethiopian jails.

[479] Steve Schippert, ‘Do or Die in Somalia’, Front Page, 3 April 2007.

[480] Jim Michaels, ‘U.S. Tries New Strategy in Somalia’, USA Today, 4 April 2007.

[481] The Economist, 7 April 2007.

[482] The first AMISOM troops (about 1,200 Ugandans) had landed on 1 March in Baidoa.

[483] The Somaliland Times, 2 June 2007.

[484] Private interview with US diplomat, Nairobi, June 2007.

[485] The Nation (Nairobi), 9 July 2007.

[486] Michael Ranneberger was then US Ambassador to Kenya and covered Somalia from Nairobi.

[487] Private interview with US diplomat, Nairobi, June 2007.

[488] In April a US Navy frigate had bombarded the Cal Madow mountains (in Puntland) to dislodge an alleged Islamist group, killing nearly one hundred civilians (estimated). The fear was that Dhulbahante sub-clans hostile to the Isaaq would help the ‘Islamists’ and let them spread into Nugaal.

[489] Amnesty International communiqué, 4 September 2007.

[490] UDUB was the presidential party and Kulmiye the main opposition. According to the new set of laws recently enacted by Hargeisa, there could only be three political parties allowed to compete in elections. This was designed to prevent the multiplication of micro-clanic parties but it was accompanied by an atmosphere of media control.

[491] Somaliland Times website, 1 September 2007.

[492] Reuters dispatch, 17 November 2007.

[493] May 2020. Al-Shabaab had been the name popularly given by the public to the military arm of the UIC.

[494] This is my own estimate after talking and asking several researchers who were ‘Shabaab observers’ (this is not my case). These figures are impressionistic and they are impossible to prove. But they offer a reasonable order of magnitude.

[495] IRIN interview, 2 May 2007.

[496] Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former UIC chairman, had declared that the only question preventing a reconciliation conference from being convened was the presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali territory (AFP dispatch, 24 May 2007).

[497] IRIN interview, 16 July 2015.

[498] ‘Transfer Window’, The Economist, 17 October 2015.

[499] Terrorism Monitor 6, 23 (8 December 2008).

[500] UN Monitoring Group for Somalia, Report (July 2012)

[501] Which posed the question: who deals with an unrecognized state? In that case it was the Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Tekeda Alemu and the British Deputy Head of Mission in Addis Ababa John Marshall.

[502] The 17% balance of the vote had gone to Faysal Ali Warabe, the UCID candidate.

[503] ‘Drought-displaced families seek shelter in Somaliland’ (IRIN communiqué, 29 July 2011); ‘Somalia: Security risks overshadow aid delivery’ (IRIN communiqué, 1 August 2011).

[504] For more details on this essential development, see below.

[505] Abdullahi Ali Barre was the president of the money changers’ trade union. He had been jailed because he refused to use the official change rate of 6,800 shillings to the US dollar while the actual free market rate had reached 9,000 shillings.

[506] Michael Keating, letter to Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’, 3 September 2017.

[507] Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, ‘The Poisoned Chalice and the Sabotage of Somaliland’, Berbera News, 21 November 2008.

[508] It was the same preoccupation with international authority that later drove him to try reaffirming his position by organizing the dubious ‘Brexit’ referendum of 2016.

[509] Confidential interviews with US State Department and CIA specialists, Washington, October 2012.

[510] There was still a small residual ‘Somaliland lobby’ at the Foreign Office. But this ‘decoupling’ from Somaliland partly explains the use of ed-Dam al-Jadid.

[511] Alex de Waal, ‘Getting Somalia Right This Time’, New York Times, 21 February 2012.

[512] Rasna Warah, ‘Two Thirds of Donor Aid to Somalia Stolen’, The East African, 24 July 2012.

[513] A second one had taken place a year later (7–8 May 2013).

[514] For the names and positions see the Indian Ocean Newsletter, 17 May 2013.

[515] This word should be taken etymologically, not in contemporary historical perspective. Al-Shabaab always remained faithful to the al-Qaida line and fought resolutely against any attempt by Daesh to replace it.

[516] One constant in the eschatological approach of Islam is to put the essentials of metaphysics in the past. Happiness is supposed to be a return to the time of ‘the well-advised caliphs’.

[517] James M. Dorsey, ‘The Gulf Crisis: Small States Battle It Out’, SSRN blog, 25 July 2017. This fifteen-page presentation is a remarkably detailed introduction to alFitna al-Qabira, ‘the Great Quarrel’, which underpins a very large part of the Muslim world’s international relations today.

[518] Out of a ten million residential population, only 11% are citizens while 89% are foreigners whose main loyalty is to their pay cheque.

[519] Particularly its air force whose combat aircraft (140 French and US fighter-bombers) are in top condition. The navy is not really capable of carrying out large missions while at about 70,000 (including 30% of foreigners) the ground forces are the most efficient for their size in the Middle East apart from those of the Jordanian Army.

[520] This eventually led to the so-called ‘Abraham Agreement’ of 13 August 2020 which paved the way to the recognition of the Israeli State by the U.A.E.

[521] The relationship of the UAE with its Saudi ‘ally’ in the Yemen war is typical of the difference both in strategic thinking (or lack thereof) and practical efficiency.

[522] Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ‘The Legitimacy of Peaceful Demonstration’, Facebook, 27 November 2013, link does not work. I think it might be:

[523] Glen Greenwald, ‘How Former Treasury Officials and the UAE Are Manipulating American Journalists’,

[524] There had been a series of prudent preliminary discussions that were kept secret.

[525] The UAE landed in Bosaso (Puntland) roughly at the same time as it began to form its Somaliland beachhead.

[526] Since May 2016, the UAE have been careful to present only their commercial Dubai face to Hargeisa and never their political Abu Dhabi side. International recognition has been dangled in front of the Somaliland regime but never seriously supported in New York or elsewhere by MBZ.

[527] Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, artificial sea-borne prestige housing, these elements of a tourism public scene resemble the Hilton girls, famous because they are well known. But 80 million visitors a year come anyway, giving reality to this life-size human entertainment park.

[528] By this we mean the authoritarian management of a moderate apolitical Islam.

[529] In 2006 DP World had bought this grand old British colonial institution for $6.8bn. It was meant to be used for handling the clientele of smaller harbors. In Somalia it was P&O which signed a contract for the handling and development of Bosaso in Puntland (6 April 2017). Contrary to the Berbera deal, it caused no conflict with the Mogadishu government because of Puntland’s non-secessionist precautions.

[530] Turkey, which had a military base in Qatar, sent reinforcements.

[531] To this one might add the nervousness of the EPRDF regime towards the wave of democratization threatening authoritarian governments during the Arab Spring.

[532] The word fitna in Arabic has a multiplicity of connotations linked with both politics and religion. The 5 June 2017 Saudi initiative has opened a major split in the Muslim world—not only in the Arab world—since Turkey and Iran have joined the Qatari camp.

[533] Reuters dispatch, 25 April 2018.

[534] The East African, 23 May 2018.

[535] Those who had fought (and the civilians) but not the majority of the SNM leadership including Abdirahman ‘Tuur’, who proclaimed independence against his will.

[536] Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, IRIN interview, 28 May 2001.

[537] Becoming recently recognized as a full state by Taiwan (June 2020) unfortunately might be for Somaliland a decoy akin to Biafra’s reconnaissance by Nyerere’s Tanzania and Kaunda’s Zambia in 1968.

[538] For a remarkably clear summary of the confused situation, see Kristian C. Ulrichsen, link does not work. I think it might be:

[539] John Boardman, The Greek Overseas: Early Colonies and Trade (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999).

[540] Josephine Quinn, In Search of the Phoenicians (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).

[541] Phillip Dollinger, The German Hansa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970).

[542] D.S. Chambers, The Imperial Age of Venice (1380–1580) (London: Thames and Hudson, 1970).

[543] François Gipouloux, The Asian Mediterranean (Cheltenham: Elgar, 2011).

[544] For a reflection on this topic, see John Agnew, ‘The Territorial Trap: The Geographical Assumptions of International Relations Theory’, Review of International Political Economy 1, 1 (Spring 1994).

[545] The exact number will never be known. But I remember interviewing a man who had fought the Americans on that day and telling him: ‘You had to lose a massive number of people to get eighteen “Gal” (Christians).’ He grinned and replied: ‘About 1,500. But there was a huge difference in firepower.’

[546] Interview, Hargeisa, November 2017.

[547] Since the issuing of the ‘1992 Consensus’ rather than demanding full recognition as the representative of China, the RoC has settled for a ‘dual recognition’ system. But Beijing has not reciprocated and keeps insisting on a single and exclusive recognition of the PRC as China’s sole representative.

[548] The only recent study on Djibouti and its multinational military role can be found in Sonia Le Gouriellec, Djibouti: la diplomatie de géant d’un petit état (Lille, Septentrion, 2020).

[549] The new name of Swaziland.

[550] Conversation with a Taiwanese (Hargeisa, December 2017).

[551] Djibouti’s debt to China represented 303% of the country’s GDP in February 2019.

[552] After the 15 July 2016 Gülenist coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan demanded from the various Somali political entities that they expelled Turkish citizens linked with the putschists. While Mogadishu complied immediately with the demand, Hargeisa answered that since the persons targeted had no criminal record in Somaliland, there was no legal reason for an expulsion.


Abdurahman M. Abdullahi (Baadiyow), The Islamic Movement in Somalia (1950– 2000). London: Adonis and Abbey, [2010] [A study centred on al-Islah but providing a global description].

Africa Watch, A Government at War with Its Own People: Testimonies about the Killings and the Conflict in the North. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1990 [The basic document that chronicled the tearing apart of Somaliland from the rest of Somalia].

Ali Jimal Ahmed (ed.), The Invention of Somalia. Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1995 [Relativises the view of Somalia as a fully homogeneous society].

Bradbury, M., Becoming Somaliland. Oxford: James Currey, 2008 [An overall study of how Somaliland came into being].

Einashe, I. and M. Kennard, ‘In the Valley of Death: Somaliland’s Forgotten Genocide’, The Nation, 22 October 2018 [Deals with the northern massacres of the war years from the angle of forensic medicine and attempted genocide].

Fontrier, M., Annales de Somalie, vol. 1. L’Etat démantelé (1991–1995) Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012 [A step-by-step account of the Somali civil war after the collapse of the state].

———, Annales de Somalie, vol. 2. L’illusion du chaos (1995–2000) Paris:

L’Harmattan, 2015 [A continuation of the above, with the same precision].

Hansen, S.J., Al-Shabaab in Somalia. London: Hurst, 2013 [An analytical work by a scholar who worked in close contact with his dangerous subject].

Harun, Maruf and J. Dan, Inside al-Shabaab. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2018 [The best informed and factually straight journalism].

Hersi, Mohamed Farah, ‘Somaliland’s New Cold War Diplomacy’, Ethiopia Insight, 6 September 2020 [a comprehensive effort at assessing Somaliland’s “recognition” by the Republic of China]

Hoehne, M.V., Between Somaliland and Puntland: Marginalization, Militarization and Conflicting Political Visions. Nairobi: The Rift Valley Institute, 2015 [A focused study of political ethnology].

Hoehne, M.V. and V. Luling (eds.), Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics. London: Hurst, 2010 [Essays in homage to the great historian and analyst of Somali culture, I.M. Lewis].

Ingiriis, M.H., ‘The Making of the 1990 Manifesto: Somalia’s Last Chance for State Survival’, Journal of Northeast African Studies 12, 2 (2012), [How contingent factors can turn into historical consequences].

International Crisis Group, Averting War in Northern Somalia. Brussels: ICG, June 2018.

———, Somaliland: Democratisation and Its Discontents. Brussels: ICG, July 2003.

———, Somaliland: The Strains of Success. Brussels: ICG, October 2015.

Kapteijns, L., Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013 [An analysis of the crucial moment when Somalia turned into a completely unmanageable polity].

Keating, M. and M. Waldman (eds.), War and Peace in Somalia: National Grievances, Local Conflict and al-Shabaab. London: Hurst, 2018 [A massive compendium of the contemporary Somali world; useful as a reference book].

Laitin, D.L., Politics, Language and Thought: The Somali Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1977 [On the interrelationship between culture and politics in Somali society].

Lewis, I.M., A Pastoral Democracy. London: Oxford University Press, 1982 [1961] [A model of the traditional Somali world by a colonial anthropologist; time-frozen but absolutely fundamental].

———, Blood and Bone: The Call of Kinship in Somali Society. Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1994 [Concrete structural examples illustrating the essential role of kinship in Somali society].

———, Understanding Somalia and Somaliland. London: Hurst, 2008 [A slim pocket-sized encyclopedia of the essentials of the Somali world].

Michailof, S., Africanistan: Development or Jihad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018 [Centred on the Western Sahel, this book’s analysis is highly relevant to Somaliland].

Millman, B., British Somaliland: An Administrative History (1920–1960). London: Routledge, 2014 [The only published account of the colonial history of Somaliland].

Notten, M. van, The Law of the Somalis. Trenton: Red Sea Press, 2005 [On how clanic Xeer is more powerful than Shari’ah in the Somali world].

Reenders, M., Consider Somaliland: State Building with Traditional Leaders and Institutions. Leiden: Brill, 2012 [A description of contemporary Somaliland which puts a special emphasis on how the society used its traditional traits to stabilise its functioning].A