The crisis in Las Anod was both unnecessary and inevitable. The politick status of the Sool region has been a moot point for over three decades since Somaliland’s 1991 declaration of independence – Sahan Research
As the risk of escalating violence in Las Anod grows, commentary has become increasingly shrill on all sides. Some of it is constructive, but much of it is inflammatory and even hateful. Diplomatic rhetoric from international partners comes too little too late. The dispute between Somaliland and Puntland over Sool and eastern Sanaag has been allowed to fester without any meaningful attempt at a comprehensive political settlement for more than two decades. Sooner or later, it was inevitable that simmering tensions would eventually erupt into serious conflict.
The crisis in Las Anod was both unnecessary and inevitable. The politick status of the Sool region has been a moot point for over three decades since Somaliland’s 1991 declaration of independence. Traditional elders from the Dhulbahante clan participated in the consultations on separation and signed the original declaration without duress. But popular support for independence among the Dhulbahante has remained fluid, and the participation of clan leaders in the 1998 formation of Puntland revealed divisions within the clan.
In 2007, Somaliland seized control of Las Anod through deft political maneuvering within the Dhulbahante, and Puntland forces withdrew to the east of the town. An uneasy equilibrium has held ever since, although marred by occasional skirmishes. Peace is maintained chiefly by the restraint of the administrations in Hargeisa and Garowe. Since 2009, however, an increasingly strident faction calling for an autonomous Dhulbahante clan entity (Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn. (SSC/ Khaatumo) has struggled unsuccessfully to challenge the status quo. This faction has come to dominate the narrative of the recent uprising, framing it in terms of ‘self-determination’ for the Dhulbahante.
Somaliland intelligence is one of the best in the Horn. A few years ago Somaliland-generated intel led to a global operation that foiled major attacks. Those who know, know.
When Somaliland says we have an AS problem. Take them serious. They do have an AS problem.
— Rashid Abdi (@RAbdiAnalyst) February 10, 2023
#AlShabaab is said to have sent 150 of its Dhulbahante fighters to join the #SSC units massed in #Buhoodle. A total of 500 joint SSC-AS fighters were sent to the front of #LasAnod in #Somaliland, as @RAbdiAnalyst reports. pic.twitter.com/hxgc2pPA2S
— Saxafi Media (@Saxafi) February 10, 2023
The overt involvement of Al-Shabaab adds fuel to the fire. A group of several hundred Al-Shabaab fighters has been based near Buuhoodle since at least 2021, several dozen of whom have reportedly joined the protests in Las Anod. The jihadist propaganda arm, Al-Katalb, has come out actively in support of the uprising and offered military assistance. Several leaders of the Dhulbahante resistance committees are known to have prior links to Al-Shabaab.
Today there is a clear and urgent imperative to de-escalate the conflict, disengage combatants, and allow humanitarian aid to war-affected civilians. But a return to the status quo ante is no longer tenable. Dhulbahante leaders have announced the establishment of an interim council to administer their territories and called upon the Federal Government of Somalia for support antagonizing both Somaliland and Puntland. The stage is set for a protracted and dangerously polarizing struggle.
The crisis in Las Anod cannot be understood independently of Somaliland’s claim to independence and the question of Somali unity. On the contrary, the hazards inherent in the current situation all for an urgent revival of dialogue between Mogadishu and Hargeisa towards a longer-term comprehensive political settlement.
Talks between the two sides were initiated a decade ago by the British at the London Conference on Somalia, underpinned by a commitment from the UK that negotiations would be conducted “without prejudice to (Somaliland’s) aspirations for independence.’ But the UK, together with other international partners soon recognized the federal government in Mogadishu, thereby violating its pledge to Hargeisa and undermining incentives for constructive dialogue. After 9 more rounds of talks, the process unceremoniously collapsed in 2020.
Ironically, Dhulbahante’s calls for ‘self-determination’ may hold the key to a permanent resolution of the question of Somali unity. Somaliland has long argued that its people have the right to self-determination— which they did exercise in an internationally observed but formally unrecognized referendum in 2001. Whether Somaliland opts for independent statehood or a continuing association with Somalia, this should represent the will of Somaliland’s people.
Dhulbahante unionists have long rejected self-determination as a legitimate option for Somaliland. But today an unelected caucus of clan elders in Las Anod, without a functioning administration or territorial control, is demanding that it should be awarded the same right, without apparent irony.
In a sense, both sides make valid arguments; the right to self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations Charter, as it is in Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The challenge to both of these legal instruments is to define who enjoys the exercise of this right, under what circumstances, through which procedures, and to what ends. Somaliland’s political, legal, and moral case for self-determination is arguably stronger than that of Eritrea, South Sudan or East Timor— all of which have been granted statehood.
Las Anod’s claim to self-determination is more consistent with the demands of aggrieved minorities in countries across the African continent, and newly independent European states such as Bosnia, Nogomo-Karabakh, and Kosovo. This is the expression of a legitimate fear of persecution or marginalization.
Notwithstanding its growing investment in economic and social development. Somaliland has largely neglected its eastern territories; the eastern clans have likewise been politically and economically marginalized. This is especially true since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 2002. Significant proportions of those communities have historically chosen not to vote. Puntland defends its claim to the same territories based on blood relations but has shown no more interest than Somaliland in meaningfully honoring its commitments there. Little surprise then that many Dhulbahante leaders are now looking to Mogadishu for succor.
Somaliland’s argument is that Somali unity could only be restored — if at all — as a matter of popular choice — not coercion likewise, the crisis in Las Anod is anchored in fundamental human rights to dignity, respect, and —after recent fatalities — life.
The exercise of ‘self-determination would necessarily take very different forms for Somaliland as a state and for the Dhulbahante as a community. But it is long overdue that the voices of both parties should be heard within agreed-upon political and legal frameworks. If Somaliland wants to retain control over the Sool region and the Dhulbahante, then Hargeisa must do a much better job of promoting their rights and accommodating their concerns — not simply imposing its authority based on colonial borders. Similarly, if Mogadishu seeks a stable union with Somaliland, then it will have to work much harder to make unity attractive, and, ultimately, allow Somalilanders the right to choose.
By The Somali Wire Team
Issue No. 505, The Somali Wire,
February 10, 2023
- The UNIQUE Case For The International Recognition Of Somaliland
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- KOIGI: Acknowledge Somaliland To Cure Festering Wound On Africa
- Somaliland Declaration On The Origin Of African Borders