In Defense of Somaliland’s Indelible Right to Sovereign Nationhood writes Mohamed A. Suleiman
Farmajo’s apology for the atrocities committed in Somaliland was too little too late. Anyone who followed what transpired in Addis Ababa on that fateful day in February, in which President Muse Bihi and Farmajo were shoved into a small room in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office to shake hands for the cameras, would conceivably understand that the whole episode was nothing but a charade. A youthful, charismatic leader who was riding high on the euphoria resulting from his noble peace price win orchestrated the whole episode to solidify his persona as a man of peace in the troubled Horn of Africa region.
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What Prime Minister Abiy appears to have forgotten was to teach Farmajo how to behave when he returns to Mogadishu and how to polish his communication skills? As we are all aware, there are multiple ways to communicate an apology, and this includes the nuances of body language and exhibition of a sense of contrition. Any fair-minded Somali who watched Farmajo’s press conference in which he supposedly apologized to the people of Somaliland would attest to the fact the whole exercise was hollow. His demeanor could only have been likened to that of a stand-up comedian who was cracking jokes for his captive audience. The smiling, the smirking, and the making of faces while delivering what appeared to have been a concession of a lifetime only demonstrated the hypocrisy of unimaginable proportions.
Gwendolyn L. Ifill, an American journalist, television newscaster, and author was quoted as saying: “Authentic apology is a tricky thing to pull off in politics, which is why it so seldom occurs. Plausible deniability must be preserved. True contrition has to be displayed. Traitors to the cause must be immediately be jettisoned. Most of all, the goal is to stop the bleeding.”
While Farmajo was mimicking to deliver an authentic apology, he did not only fail to stop the bleeding but he in fact added an insult to the injury. He did this by dropping an unfair and unexpected bombshell at the end. His suggestion that the people of Somaliland should also apologize for defending themselves against the genocidal campaign of Somalia’s military dictatorship was utterly preposterous.
We all know that protecting oneself and one’s honor, mind, wealth and religion is a well-established basic principle in Islam. Our scholars indicate to us that if a person or an entity of any kind attacks us with the intention to harm, we have the right to defend ourselves, our people, or our property.
Similarly, the human-made criminal justice system stipulates that self-defense is allowed in response to matching the level of the threat in question. In other words, the person or entity that is defending themselves can use deadly force to counteract the threat.
A befitting analogy of what drove the people of Somaliland to take up arms to protect their dignity and reclaim their sovereignty is that of the great Muslim leader and warrior, Tariq Ibn Ziyad, who while rallying up his troops during the conquest of Spain in 711 A.D., is quoted as saying: “Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy.”
In this regard, the people of Somaliland were left with no choice but to engage in the legitimate resistance that was spearheaded by the Somali National Movement (SNM).
And let me go back to Gwen Ifill’s prescription for an authentic apology and the need for the immediate jettisoning of the traitors to the cause. Farmajo has also shown an utter disregard for the heinous crimes against humanity that were committed in Somaliland. He continues to flank himself with the perpetrators who were the architects of the ill-conceived extermination campaign that was directed against a distinct social group.
A CASE IN POINT: The man nicknamed the Butcher of Hargeisa, Mohamed Saeed (Morgan), who was the architect of the ethnic cleansing manifesto dubbed “TOP SECRET” that was the guiding strategy of Siyad Barre’s destructive engagement in Somaliland, continues to be a close confidant of Farmajo and is known to have unfettered access to Villa Somalia. He is believed to be currently in charge of Farmajo’s concerted but clandestine effort to undermine Somaliland’s stability.
Similarly, Col. Mohamed Ali Tukeh who has been accused of committing appalling crimes in Somaliland and who allegedly tortured people, committed extrajudicial killings, and engaged in ethnic cleansing, and was found guilty as such by a court of law in the United States, was seen posing with Farmajo in images that were widely shared in social media circles.
To suggest that the resistance movement that liberated the people of Somaliland from the yoke Somalia’s military dictatorship was impulsive, or spontaneous, or ill-conceived, as some people would like to believe, is utterly ridiculous.
Anyone who has any qualms about what precipitated Somaliland’s reclamation of its sovereignty should read the report by the well-respected Human Rights Organization, Africa Watch, entitled “Somalia: A Government at War with Its Own People; Testimonies About the Killings and Conflict in the North, January 1990”.
At this point, it will be irresponsible to leave you with this thought without sharing the following chilling testimonial from one of the many people whose testimonies were documented by Africa Watch.
And hence, as Hargeisa has a replica of a plane mounted high up on a pedestal to immortalize the atrocities committed there, “Lest we forget” is a phrase commonly used in war remembrance services and commemorative occasions in English speaking countries.
Against this backdrop, the establishment of friendly relations between Somaliland and Somalia, let alone the reunification of the two countries, is becoming increasingly improbable. This is because the Somali government continues to breach one internationally recognized guiding principle of reconciliation after the other.
The basic tenets of these guiding principles stipulate that reconciliation is a process of healing relationships that requires public truth sharing, sincere apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms. This requires political will, joint leadership, trust-building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources. It also requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of the failed union between British Somaliland and Somalia that have had destructive impacts on the people of Somaliland.
As a starting point, the recognition of these guiding principles and applying them in earnest to help resolve the affiliation issue which set Somaliland and Somalia at loggerheads is paramount.
For instance, the London Gazette published a proclamation by Her Majesty the Queen terminating British protection over the Somaliland Protectorate and declaring that Somaliland would become an independent country on June 26. That day in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, the Union Flag was lowered for the last time and the United States Secretary of State sent a message of congratulation. Over 35 countries from across the globe recognized Somaliland’s independence right away and welcomed the new nation to the fold of the international community. Five days later, Somaliland voluntarily joined Italian Somalia to form a new state: the Somali Republic. If there is to be reconciliation, it is imperative that Somalia understand that this is a historical fact that could not be changed or misrepresented in any shape or form.
Secondly, to suggest that the process which led to the reclamation was impulsive or spontaneous, as some people would like to believe, is utterly ludicrous. As a matter of fact, a constitutional referendum was held in Somaliland on 31 May 2001 on a draft constitution that reaffirmed Somaliland’s independence from Somalia as a separate state. Two-thirds of eligible voters took part in the referendum and 97.1% of them voted in favor of the constitution. Therefore, Somalia needs to understand that Somaliland is unlike any of the so-called Somali Federal States which typically resemble the tribal homelands that existed in South Africa for the Black South Africans during the apartheid era. On the contrary, Somaliland is a multi-clan, multi-party democracy that proved to the international community and to itself that all is not lost in the Horn of Africa.
Thirdly, Somaliland has worked hard to develop the economic potential of its citizenry. In May 2016, the country signed a 30-year agreement with DP World to manage the strategic Port of Berbera. Significant investment in the port and the road corridor that links Berbera with Ethiopia would be unlocked, and Ethiopia planned to import 30% of its goods through Berbera. The government and the people of Somaliland understood the significance of the agreement and the economic prosperity that it would create for the people of Somaliland that would result from the integration in the regional economy.
Instead of welcoming this tremendous opportunity that dawned on the people of Somaliland and giving it a positive nod that may have softened the hearts and minds of the people of Somaliland, Farmajo kicked up a fuss that exposed the enduring hostility that Somalia harbors towards its neighbor to the north.
Mogadishu remains oblivious to the fact that, despite the political and geographic divide that is obviously affecting the relations between the two countries, it is a well-known fact that the two territories are economically integrated and that there is a free movement of goods and services across the borders. This being the case, it is a no-brainer that a significant investment like the one that DP World is undertaking at Berbera will have a trickle-down effect that would improve a lot of many in the region. If Farmajo’s administration could not fathom that prosperity could be their best public relations instrument, one wonders what else we could expect from Mogadishu.
Fourthly, Farmajo and his administration, which continually undermine Somaliland’s fledgling democracy, need to understand that the basic definition of democracy is the control of an entity or group by the majority of its voters while at the same time protecting the constitutional rights of all its citizenry. This phenomenon is not unique to Somaliland and it has been termed by prominent thinkers as ‘the terrible tyranny of the majority’.
When Somalia’s military dictatorship was toppled early in 1991 and Somaliland reclaimed its sovereignty, the people of Somaliland wisely chose reconciliation over revenge and retribution. This policy of protecting its constituent entities is vividly reflected in the widespread prosperity that the regions of Awdal and Sool experienced over the past three decades.
Fifthly, Farmajo and his administration continue to wage an unrelenting diplomatic war on Somaliland. This war is not confined to Somaliland’s relationship with multilateral organizations but also extends to bilateral association with individual countries.
As has been widely reported in the international media, “Somalia, on July 4th, 2019, said that it has severed all diplomatic ties with Guinea. … In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the federal government of Somalia has decided to cut diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guinea”.
The decision came after Guinea accorded the protocol of a head of state in Conakry, to the leader of Somaliland. This demonstrated Somalia’s callous disregard and misunderstanding of international diplomatic protocols as the reality was that there were no relations to severe since Somalia and Guinea did not have representatives in each other’s soil. The whole act was purely an expression of hatred towards the huge strides that Somaliland made in the political, social, and economic fronts.
Finally, it is no secret that Farmajo’s overall strategy is to put a stranglehold on Somaliland’s affairs and to also destabilize its security. His relentless pressure on the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo against his administration is ultimately designed to wage a bloody war against Somaliland. It has been suggested in a recent interview by a former Somali prime minister and a close advisor of Farmajo, Mohamed Yusuf Abdi, that military action is the only way to bring Somaliland to its knees. While the International Crisis Group (ICG), on multiple occasions, advised against lifting the arms embargo, this warmonger and other Somaliland detractors are propounding a military solution to the Somalia-Somaliland issue. Don’t they realize that they have already lost the war?
It is quite evident that the Mogadishu administration continues to push all the wrong buttons when it comes to their understanding of the Somaliland phenomenon. They seem to be oblivious to the history of the land and unaware of the circumstances that precipitated the re-creation of Somaliland as a sovereign state. The only plausible explanation for their callous disregard is the fact that inefficacious people tend to believe that scapegoating would detract from their own failures. The earlier they realize that running away from your problems is a race you will never win; the better things could be better for the people of Somalia and Somaliland.
The author Mohamed A. Suleiman writes about Somaliland affairs and could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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