On 17 May 1991, the resistance movement and important groups in the former northern British colony dissolved the union and declared the formation of the Republic of Somaliland. This entity has since existed bearing characteristics generally attributed to a ‘state’ but devoid of international recognition. Somaliland’s leaders still ask why recognition of their statehood has been withheld.

By Hussein M Adam

Associate Professor in Political Science,

College of the Holy Cross,

Worcester, MA, USA

The Review of African Political Economy 

Volume 21, 1994 – Issue 59

Published online: 23 Feb 2007.



Historical and Constitutional Background


The Politics of Union

The Dialectic of Military and Socio-political Aspects

Implications for Democratization

Power Sharing Democracy

Radical Social Democracy


Bibliographic Note


‘Somaliland’ has reasserted the separate existence it had as the colony of British Somaliland before independence and union with the former Italian Somalia in 1960. It has avoided the devastation of warlordism that has afflicted the rest of Somalia through compromise politics between clan elders. However, its de facto statehood since 1991 has not received the international recognition accorded to Eritrea in 1993. The experiences of Somaliland and Eritrea in the circumstances of their post-colonial union with other entities, in their liberation movements, and in their current politics are contrasted. It is suggested that there can be mutual learning from Somaliland’s consociational, ethnic democracy and Eritrea’s radical social democracy, of an eventual, orchestrated multi-partism that eschews ethnic and religious divides.

[The Member States affirm] … respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each State and for its inalienable right to independent existence (Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Article III, Paragraph 3).

It will take much courage for the OAU and its members to champion this unorthodox but politically beneficent reality. But once it gains local acceptance, bilateral and multi-lateral donors must harken to the needs of the Eritrea and Somaliland republics in precisely the same manner as they have the Baltic republics and other new European states (Michael Chege).

On 24 May 1993, Eritrea conducted an internationally monitored referendum to determine its future status; the vote was overwhelmingly for independence. The United Nations, the US, Ethiopia, and Italy immediately recognized the new state. From May 1991, Eritrea had enjoyed autonomy but, two years later it was able to garner international recognition which ‘invests it with a personality in the law of nations’ (Visscher, 1968:175). Former Italian and British colonies in Somalia gained independence and formed the Somali Republic in 1960. On 17 May 1991, the resistance movement and important groups in the former northern British colony dissolved the union and declared the formation of the Republic of Somaliland. This entity has since existed bearing characteristics generally attributed to a ‘state’ but devoid of international recognition. Somaliland’s leaders still ask why recognition of their statehood has been withheld.

This article seeks to probe such comparisons and provide a considered overall assessment. It offers some historical, constitutional/legal context before comparing and contrasting the two liberation movements and their implications. These comparisons with Eritrea allow us a deeper grasp of the Somaliland situation by illustrating its uniqueness and salient peculiarities.

It also offers a perspective on a general issue post-cold war Africa is bound to confront: how far the principle of territorial integrity should be subordinate to what some consider a higher principle — the principle of self-determination. From the point of view of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), self-determination is to be exercised only once, at the time of decolonization from European domination, and it is not subject to continuous review. The emerging post-cold war environment is beginning to nourish a new thinking that is both flexible and pragmatic. Kenyan intellectual Michael Chege recently reignited old Africanist debates with the perspective: “There is nothing remiss about altering state frontiers in the nobler interests of domestic tranquility and sustained economic growth, which are now so scarce in these lands’ (Chege, 1992:153).

This article will sustain such debates: useful insights into the operation of the principle of self-determination and its problematic elements could be gained by an analysis of Somaliland’s and Eritrea’s comparative claims to political sovereignty. African states are more likely to confront movements demanding regional autonomy and implying federalism or neo-federalism than those demanding outright secession. However, the crucial difference involves historical timing: recent experience suggests militarist suppression of regional autonomy movements could transform them into separatist movements.

This comparison has also policy implications for the new states: Eritrea and Somaliland could learn from each other’s experiences. From Somaliland, Eritrea could gain greater sensitivities and flexibility in matters involving ethnic/clan issues; Somaliland could profit from Eritrean methods to evolve class and other cross-cutting identities and institutions. Both Eritrea and Somaliland can learn from Somalia’s multi-party parliamentary era (1960-1969). The article provides greater details on Somaliland and only a summary analysis of Eritrea because there is hardly any serious publications on Somaliland while publications on Eritrea excel in both quantity and quality.

Historical and Constitutional Background

The British created the Somaliland Protectorate in the 1880s as a source of food and water supplies for their colony of Aden across the Red Sea. Aden provided a major port and harbor facilities for British commercial and navy ships on the strategic route between England and the ‘jewel’ colony of India. British Somaliland consists of a cooler plateau, including the capital Hargeisa, and a hotter, humid coastal zone where its main port, Berbera, is located. However, nowhere is the diversity of climates and culture as great as in Eritrea. The people are homogeneous in language, religion (Islam) and customs: social pluralism manifests itself in clan rather than ethnic cleavages. A majority belongs to the Isaaq clan-family subdivided into several clans; on the eastern border are two clans of the Darod clan-family, the Dulbahantes and Warsangelis; on the west are two Dir clans, the Gadabursi and the Issas. Under British rule, a small urban elite formed, led by educated and trading factions which established civic associations and eventually political parties. Somaliland has a territory of 67,000 square miles, slightly larger than Eritrea’s 50,000 square miles; however, its approximately three million population is roughly the same as Eritrea’s. Somaliland has ample pastoral resources threatened by environmental degradation; there are also hopeful possibilities of uncovering oil. Limited areas of agriculture exist, while fishery resources are yet to be explored to their fullest extent.

Somaliland’s unification with southern Somalia to form the Somali Republic involved different steps from those taken to unify Eritrea into Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian Empire. In all Somali territories the struggle for independence assumed a multi-party form in spite of the relatively homogeneous nature of Somali society. In 1943, during the British Military Administration of most of the Horn of Africa (including ex-Italian Somaliland and Eritrea), a nationalist party was born — the Somali Youth League (SYL) which came to dominate southern Somali politics and to advocate Pan-Somalism and irredentism. The leading nationalist party in British Somaliland was established in 1945 as the Somali National Society which, in 1951 adopted a new name, the Somali National League (SNL). The two parties shared similar objectives as they also did with parties that rose to challenge them in their respective territories (Touval, 1963:85-14).

At least one southern opposition party, though it subscribed to independence as the main goal, differed radically from average Somali nationalist parties of the period. The Hizb al-Dastuur Mustaqil al-Somali (Somali Independent Constitutional Party, HDMS) represented the Digil-Mirifle clan-family, more dependent on agriculture than pastoralists elsewhere settled between the two main rivers, the Shabelle and Juba, with Baidoa as their main city. This is the area that recently suffered a man-made famine prompting US/UN humanitarian military intervention. This clan-family speaks a different dialect of Somali and practices a somewhat different way of life due to their agro-pastoral environment. The HDMS pursued regional autonomy and federalism. As late as 1958, HDMS President Jelani Sheikh bin Sheikh, reiterated in a speech to a party convention that ‘the party has become convinced that the only method of unifying the Somalis … is through a federal constitution which accords full regional autonomy’ (Touval, 1963:96-97).

According to one account, when the British Somaliland delegation came to Mogadishu for union negotiations, HDMS leaders approached them and impressed on them the need to opt for federal arrangements. Northern Premier Mohamed Ibrahim Egal went back to Hargeisa to advocate a gradualistic approach, but other politicians organized demonstrations against him as a ‘power hungry opportunist’. The two Somalilands rushed headlong into immediate union — unconditional, unitary, and poorly prepared. The UN voted to move up Somalia’s independence date from 2 December to 1 July 1960. The British Government went on to announce that the British (northern) Somaliland Protectorate would become independent on 26 June I960, five days before the independence of the UN Trusteeship territory of (southern) Somalia. This hasty decision put incredible, undeserved pressure on the politics and administration of the two territories. No committee had been appointed and charged with the official responsibility for drafting the legal instruments for the Union, and there was hardly any time for consultations (Contini, 1969:9).

It was anticipated that a representative of independent northern Somaliland and southern Somaliland states would formally create the Union through the signing of an international treaty. The North drafted an Act of Union, had it approved by its legislative body, and sent it to Mogadishu. Following approval by the legislative assembly in the south, it was to be signed by two respective representatives. The southern assembly never passed the proposed Act. However, it passed its own Atto di Unione, significantly different from the northern text. The following summary of the legal loose ends surrounding what Touval has termed the ‘precipitate Union is offered by Rajagopal and Carroll (1992:14) as follows:

(a) The Union of Somaliland and Somalia Law did not have any legal validity in the South; (b) the approval ‘in principle’ of the Atto de Unione, which was different from the above text, was legally inadequate; (c) the declaration of independence by the Provisional President was legally invalid since no Act of Union had been signed prior to his election, in accordance with the Constitution.

The de facto union experienced a lot of problems. Right at the outset, the Somali sense of proportional balance was ignored. The South provided the capital city, the anthem, the flag and the constitution. The parliament elected a Southern president who nominated a Southern prime minister. His cabinet included four northern ministers out of fourteen. Southerners occupied key ministries such as Foreign, Interior, and Finance. The ex-northern premier was appointed Minster of Education. The posts of Army Commander and Police Commander went to Southern officers; a Northern became head of the Prison Division of the police and the Assembly elected a Northern deputy as its first president. The North gave up the possibility of joining the British Commonwealth while the South openly flaunted its links with Italy. Italian legal experts drafted the Constitution in an undisguised attempt to graft Italian multi-party democracy onto independent Somalia. Before the British had agreed to grant independence to Somaliland, Italian officials had finalized the Constitution. Northern politicians and lawyers had virtually no chance to make even marginal changes in the draft.

Eritrea is located along 1,000 km on the west coast of the Red Sea on the Horn of Africa. Somaliland (the term utilized here to refer to former British Somaliland) is similarly located, separated from Eritrea by the tiny Republic of Djibouti — formerly French Somaliland. Eritrea’s modest land surface offers a great range of environmental and ethnic variety: highlands, deserts, the savannah, and the severe volcanic ecology of South Arabia and the Djibouti zone, some areas suitable for agriculture, others for pastoralism. Eritrea consists of several ethnic groups: the highland Tigrinyans, for example, are culturally linked to the Tigray of Ethiopia and they both profess Coptic Christianity though some of them profess Islam. The Bejas on the coast and bordering Sudan, and the Afar in the south, are Muslims by religion and pastoralists by occupation when compared to the farming highlanders. The Afars live in Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Eritrea is a pluralist society of farmers and pastoralists from diverse ethnic groups, languages, and religions.

Italy colonized Eritrea and the southern part of Somali territories, Italian Somaliland. With southern Somalia, therefore, Eritrea came to share similar colonial administrations including armed forces, educational systems, and official languages as well as selected aspects of urban life, architecture, and cuisine. Those who have visited both Asmara and Mogadishu have noticed such similarities. Under Italian rule, Eritreans developed a modest working class and a miniscule trading elite and with these elements, early forms of modern national consciousness. Civic associations including trade unions flourished until they were suppressed by Haile Selassie in the 1950s and 1960s (Trevaskis, 1960).-

After the defeat of Italy, the UN took up the fate of Eritrea and debated three options: (1) union with Ethiopia, (2) federation with Ethiopia, and (3) independence preceded by a ten year trusteeship under UN administration as was the case with ex-Italian Somalia. Haile Selassie obtained strong US lobbying support to link Eritrea to Ethiopia in exchange for a military base at Kagnew in Eritrea. The UN rejected option (1) and (3) and opted for (2) federation. It did not take long before Selassie made it crystal clear that for him options (1) and (2) are one and the same; he had no tolerance for ‘legislature’ or a division of powers and totally ignored all constitutional elements of the UN pact.

The Politics of Union

Technically, the Ethiopian-Eritrean federation lasted from 1950 to 1962 when the Emperor unilaterally annexed Eritrea as an Ethiopian province subject to his brutal, dictatorial rule and ended all hopes implied in the status of federal autonomy. The exodus of Eritrean elites opposed to the union accelerated. In 1961 they established the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) from which, in 1970, a more ideologically self-conscious Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) emerged. Both groups engaged in hit-and-run tactics during their early years. The fall of the Emperor in 1974 brought some hope in that the new Mengistu regime proclaimed itself socialist in orientation and consolidated strong military and diplomatic links with the USSR and Cuba. Before long it became clear that Mengistu did not even intend to revive the abolished federation. He sought huge amounts of Soviet arms in order to crush the Eritrean resistance movement. The long struggle served to integrate ever-widening circles of the population transforming it from a series of episodic military confrontations to a popular people’s war (Selassie, 1980).

The politics of the Somali Union are in two main phases: multi-party parliamentary politics giving room for negotiations and bargaining processes, and oppressive militarist policies under Siyad Barre. A few months after independence, northern irredentist nationalist feelings began to sour. The resultant resentments in the north were overwhelmingly manifested in the referendum on the Constitution on 20 June 1961. The SNL vigorously campaigned against the Constitution and advocated a boycott. Suffrage included all adult men and women, the latter voting for the first time. Estimates indicate that the north had a population of 650,000 in 1961; only 100,000 persons voted, indicating that at least half the electorate boycotted the referendum. In addition, out of the just over 100,000 recorded vote more than half opposed the Constitution (Lewis, 1965:172, 219 and note 5). The major cities of the north — Hargeisa (72%), Berbera (69%), Burao (66%) and Erigavo (69%) — all returned negative votes. In southern Somalia, the HDMS and at least two other opposition parties campaigned against the Constitution; however, the Government recorded more than one million eight hundred thousand votes in favor of ratification. An insignificant village called Wanla Weyn not far from Mogadishu is reported to have registered a yes vote higher than the total northern vote! This gave Northerners a new political term, Wanla Weyn used somewhat pejoratively for all Southerners. It is more than a geographic label, it is a Somali equivalent of Tammany Hall that implies ‘those who fear the central government, those who participate in or condone political corruption.’ This is one of a series of events that convinced Northerners that their political culture is different from that of the South.

The newly formed Government did not pay heed to the warnings and in December 1961, the recently united Somali Republic experienced the first attempted military coup in sub-Sahara Africa. Sandhurst-trained lieutenants of the former (British) Somaliland Scouts resented the Italian-trained commanding officers imported from Mogadishu. Led by the popular Hassan Keid, northern officers felt corporate interests, personal ambition, and regional grudges ignited following the ‘precipitate union’. This abortive military coup had unmistakable secessionist objectives; however, the people, not yet ready for a radical break with Mogadishu, opposed it and it failed. Paradoxically, the absence of a legally valid Act of Union assisted their defense at their trial. The judge listened to different arguments but decided to ‘acquit them on the basis that, in the absence of an Act of Union, the court had no jurisdiction over Somaliland’ (Rajagopal and Carroll, 1992:14).

During the first five years or so, the Union experienced serious difficulties in amalgamating different administrative, judicial, and economic systems. A written form for Somali was not decided until under military rule in 1972. The post-independence bureaucracy, therefore, resembled the Tower of Babel: English, Italian, and Arabic were all used as official languages in a haphazard manner. When UNESCO and other significant donors influenced the Government to adopt English in a unified educational system, southern civil servants were enraged and this exacerbated regional tensions. Northerners resented the involvement in politics of the civil service in the South; they believed it had learned about bureaucratic and political corruption from the Italians. In the north, songs and poems began to appear criticizing the Union. In one of them composed in 1964 by poet and songwriter Ali Sugule, entitled ‘Let me remind you’, he argues that the north would have gained better political and economic advantages had it refused to join Mogadishu until all the missing Somali territories joined Somaliland’s natural cultural and economic hinterland consists of Ethiopian Somaliland and Djibouti.

Northern politicians tried to manipulate the existing party and government system to reduce the inequalities experienced. Former Premier of the north, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, resigned from the cabinet and formed a new opposition party, the Somali National Congress (SNC) together with veteran southern opposition politician, Sheikh Ali Jiumale. The 1964 national elections were the country’s first post-independence elections. Out of a total of 123 parliamentary seats (33 for the north, 90 for the south), the SYL won 54, the SNC 22 seats, the HDMS won nine seats, and a left-leaning opposition party, the Somali Democratic Union (SDU), won 15 seats. The impatient and ambitious Egal decided that, given unequal financial and other resources, it was very difficult to defeat the ruling party, SYL. Soon after the 1964 elections, he joined the SYL and supported former Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Shermarke in his 1967 presidential elections against incumbent President Aden Abdullah Osman. The new President nominated Mohamed Ibrahim Egal as the first northern Prime Minister of the Republic. Egal raised the number of cabinet ministers as he sought to include every major clan-family, as well as some members of his former party, SNC. As the post-independent years passed, national political parties degenerated: a general atmosphere of cut-throat competition, corruption, incompetence, and irresponsibility afflicted the nation. Things got out of hand during and after the 1969 elections; the semi-democratic system began to teeter on the verge of collapse.

Conflicts with Ethiopia over the fate of Somalis living under the imperial flag led the civilian leaders to Moscow for what they deemed adequate military assistance. Eager to obtain a strategic foothold in black Africa, the USSR obliged and helped Somalia create one of the largest and best-equipped armies in sub-Saharan Africa. While visiting drought-stricken areas in northeast Somalia, President Sharmarke was assassinated by a policeman on 15 October 1969. The parliament gathered on the evening of the 20th to choose his successor. During the early hours of 21 October 1969, Commander of the Somali National Army, Mohamed Siyad Barre engineered a successful coup and Somalia came under military rule.

For Somaliland, semi-colonial oppression came with Siyad’s military regime. Though highly centralized and authoritarian, initially the regime promised a series of socio-economic reforms under the banner of ‘scientific socialism’. In 1972, the Supreme Revolutionary Council decreed the Latin script as the orthography for Somali and conducted urban and rural literacy campaigns. For a while, it seemed that Somali nationalism had reached its peak. Even in those calmer days, Siyad showed that he was more than willing to deprive the north of its fair share of development funds and projects. The area came to rely mostly on its local and foreign-based businesses and professional elite. Then, Selassie fell, and the Ethiopian civil war tempted Siyad to invade Ethiopia to ‘liberate’ the Somali- speaking region (so-called Ogaden) by military force. Cold War logic reigned supreme. The Soviets had trained a Somali army that Siyad increased to 37,000 at the onset of the Ethio-Somali War of 1977-78. The US had trained and equipped a larger Ethiopian army. New Ethiopian leader Mengistu brought Ethiopia under Soviet patronage as Somalia switched sides and came under the US umbrella.

Siyad dropped his socialist facade and adopted clanism (tribalism) as a manipulative tool to continue to hold on to power after a Soviet-led Cuban- Ethiopian offensive pushed his army from the Ogaden. By 1982, he had built the army into a force 120,000 strong for internal repression. In rural areas, he encouraged clan-based conflicts and in urban areas clan based massacres by his notorious specialized military units. He singled out the Isaaq clan-family in Somaliland for the neo-fascist type of punishment. Somali scholar Ian Lewis confirms this from his own eyewitness account:

From the early 1980s, the north was administered by increasingly harsh military rule with savage reprisals meted out to the assumedly pro-SNM local population who were subject to severe economic, as well as political harassment. The north, as I saw when I last visited it in 1985, began to look and feel like a colony under a foreign military tyranny (Lewis, 1990:58).

Semi-colonial subjugation helped rekindle collective self-assertion which the northern clan-based opposition movement, the Somali National Movement (SNM) channeled into the declaration of the Somaliland Republic soon after the Siyad dictatorship fell early in 1991.

The Dialectic of Military and Socio-political Aspects

The long drawn-out Eritrean struggle is too well known to need detailed recounting. It began as episodic ambushes in the 1960s, but by 1975-77 Eritrean armed struggles were able to open extensive liberated zones supported by external links in nearby Sudan and elsewhere: a gradual metamorphosis of the military struggle led to the crystallization of a counter-government with an active social program — operating clinics, schools, courts, and political education campaigns (Gebre-Medhin, 1989). From episodic hit-and-run military tactics, the EPLF was been able to transform its small-scale military operations into a full-scale people’s war. Some of the Somali armed opposition movements never graduated beyond episodic ambushes. The northern movement (SNM) trans- formed its armed struggles to a people’s war during 1988 and after. The major southern armed group, the United Somali Congress (USC) led by General Aideed, was only able to do so at what was literally the last minute, the 1990-91 period.

Struggles against the Siyad dictatorship came to be symbolized by clan-based decentralized armed opposition groups operating from sanctuaries in Ethiopian.’ After failing in an anti-Siyad coup in 1978, military officer Abdullahi Yusuf automatically fled to Ethiopia where he established the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). This movement, which later atrophied, made a pioneering contribution: it showed others coming later, that Siyad’s military rule could be challenged by armed groups based in Ethiopia. Following the SSDF’s decline after a brief period of hit-and-run tactics, Siyad was able to entice many of its ex-fighters in Ethiopia to return and constitute the spearhead of his brutal wars against the Isaaq in the north, and later against the Hawiye in Mogadishu. By 1990-91, the SSDF was reduced to a phantom organization, though it is now active once again in northeast Somalia. It is the proto-political organization that serves an official role in those regions.

The Isaaq-based Somali National Movement (SNM) formed in 1981, first tried to organize a movement from London but soon decided to move to Ethiopian Somali towns and villages close to the border with the Somali Democratic Republic. The SNM, it is alleged, was repulsed by Qaddafi and was forced to rely mostly on funds raised monthly by the Somali (Isaaq) communities in the Gulf, in other Arab states, in East Africa, and in various Western countries. This self-reliant method gave the movement relative independence and obliged it to be accountable to its numerous supporters. Accordingly, it evolved a more democratic approach: it has held popular congresses periodically during which it has elected its leaders and evolved its policies. So far, only one leader has been elected to serve two terms (four years) — the energetic Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud ‘Sillanyo’. Leadership rotation has been an article of faith. It held six or seven elections from 1981 until 1990. Contradictions among its leaders and supporting clans are handled politically not militarily. The SNM claims it bargained with Mengistu purely as a matter of political expediency. The SNM played an indirect role in the formation of the USC, an armed movement based on the Hawiye clan-family which inhabits the central regions of the country including the capital city of Mogadishu. It also encouraged a group of Ogaden soldiers who defected from Siyad’s army to go to the Kismayu area and join their clan members in forming the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM).

By the mid-1980s Somali armed opposition movements were more like the youthful ELF rather than the disciplined EPLF. Led by externally based leaders, they were engaged in hit-and-run tactics. To a greater extent than the EPLF, the ELF had leadership that led the struggle from foreign capitals where they were involved in fund-raising and information activities. Later on, most of them were removed from their positions and replaced by leaders who were field fighters. By 1987-88 many of the SNM leaders abroad began to establish themselves in the field. By then they had become aware that they might lose their influence to field fighters. Dictators Mengistu and Siyad met in Djibouti in January 1986 on the occasion of the first summit launching the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD). The two states opened negotiations aimed at normalizing their relations. The SNM was alarmed and began to discuss alternative options. In 1988 the Ethiopian-Somali agreements were signed and Siyad disbanded his puppet anti-Ethiopian organization, the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSFL). His main object was to induce Mengistu to destroy the SNM. The Ethiopian dictator turned out to be more Machiavellian than Siyad on this issue: he did not disarm the SNM as Siyad had hoped. He told them to wind up military activities from Ethiopian soil but that they could go on living as political exiles. Siyad achieved the opposite of what he wanted. The SNM decided to take all the forces in their command and launch surprise attacks on government garrisons in the main northern Somali cities of Hargeisa and Burao.

Siyad used aerial bombing and heavy artillery to chase about one million of the population in Isaaq territories into refugee camps across the border into Ethiopian Somaliland. These momentous events finally brought the SNM into close, organic links with the population whom it claimed to represent. In addition to the SNM Central Committee, they were obliged to constitute a Council of Elders (Guurti) which proved most effective in resolving disputes, supervising the fair and just distribution of food and other assistance, recruiting fighters for the various fronts, and, after the fall of the Siyad dictatorship, took the lead in disarming the mischievous young volunteer fighters, the so-called children’s army. Nevertheless, there are still pockets of unrepentant youths roaming about with their armed vehicles, the ‘technicals’. Siyad’s brutal counter-offensive only reestablished his huge army’s control of the main cities, most of the countryside came under SNM control. By 1988 then, the SNM had liberated zones which were analyzed by Basil Davidson as ‘proof of a nationalist fighting movement’s efficacy, a demonstration of what is to come after victory, but also a vital means of achieving that victory’ (Davidson, 1969:117-18).

The SNM military campaign of 1988 constituted an offensive so surprising and tactically destructive that the enemy was rendered incapable of careful, planned, and effective resistance. Prior to this, the SNM utilized terrorist hit-and-run tactics, including selected assassinations of government officials and the freeing of political prisoners from maximum security jails. The guerillas made effective use of superior local knowledge for hiding, sniping, sudden ambushes, and quick escapes, timed to produce the greatest possible psychological effects. After 1988 the SNM, for all practical purposes, came to constitute a counter-government with all the responsibilities that go with that transformation.

The SNM tried its best to coordinate its use of violence with organization, propaganda, and information, although here, its record fell far short of that of the disciplined EPLF. However, it did subordinate violence as a means to clearly stated political ends. The Siyad’s oppressive military machine, on the other hand, used violence for war and for internal repression without any attempt to subordinate it to the overall objectives and operation of which it was a part. This element became even more pronounced following SNM’s strategic occupation of the north: sheer joy in sadistic excess, not even chastened by expediency, meant that the military regime deserved the label ‘fascist or neo-fascist’. The shocking destruction of Hargeisa and Burao (Somalia’s second and third largest cities), for example, does not seem to correspond to any rational political or military objectives. Had Siyad’s aim been to win and turn Hargeisa into an Ogadeni settler-city, as some alleged, he would definitely have needed houses to shelter them instead of the horrendous rubble confronting us today. Had he felt unable to win the war militarily, then surely he should have pursued a compromise with Isaaq leaders and elders. According to some, this was what a minority of his advisers were advocating but a number of those advocating compromises were jailed in the critical 1982-84 period. In 1991, Somaliland refugees returning from Ethiopia could not believe the scale of the destruction they encountered; the shock strengthened their resolve to support the independence proclamation.

A contrast between the EPLF and SNM military organizations offers insights into their socio-political orientations. They both have in common the policy in which politics must command arms and not vice versa. The SNM recalls a brief period when its armed wing led by ex-Somali National Army officers took over the organization, but that was never allowed to last very long. The temporary putsch was led by a talented former military officer of the Somali National Army, Colonel Abdulkadr Kosar, who used to participate in OAU Liberation Committee military training programs. Apart from this, albeit a crucial factor, the two movements differ in several ways. First of all there is the time factor which facilitates a ripening or maturing process: the ELF was active as of September 1961; its splinter organization, the EPLF, emerged in 1970 and subsequently came to exercise hegemony and rule Eritrea since mid-1991.

In a much more decisive way than the SNM, the EPLF attracted strong, consistent support from professional and working-class Eritreans abroad. These exiled groups created organizations for fund-raising, policy research, and public education abroad. Women are said to constitute over a third of the EPLF army, while in the SNM small groups of women served mostly as nurses or in related auxiliary services. In areas under its control, the EPLF initiated remarkable experiments in social transformation and land reforms. The SNM has had no ‘class struggle’ approach partly because Somaliland has no significant agrarian-based class formation. The EPLF stressed mass political education while the SNM approach on this was ‘superficial’. It is important to stress that this is not due to ignorance, neglect or sheer laziness; on the contrary, it is due to the EPLF, with its radical marxist origins, wishing to go beyond ‘flag independence’ by transforming civil society itself. The SNM tends to accept its own civil society and to rely on its elders and its politics of compromise. The EPLF provided vanguard-oriented village and social organizations for democratic participation. The SNM relied on surviving traditional and neo-traditional structures involving clan elders and religious notables. Thus, embryonic forms of radical social democracy in Eritrea and clan-based power-sharing or consociational democracy in Somaliland began to emerge during the very different number of years of armed struggle.

Upon capturing ample supplies of Soviet-made heavy armaments in 1984, the EPLF transformed its guerilla army into a formidable, disciplined, well-organized national army crucial in the 1992 onslaught against Mengistu’s forces and the capture of Addis Ababa. The SNM never graduated beyond a guerilla army into a conventional army though it has an ample supply of officers trained in conventional warfare. Its longer, disciplined and organized experience has given the EPLF charismatic leaders and a core of dedicated cadres. The SNM has striven for ‘consensual leaders’ partly because Somali pastoral society tends to shun ‘charismatic’ leaders — in spite of Siyad’s brutal attempt to impose his own savage and distorted brand. EPLF congresses are run and directed by militants. Somali pastoral democratic tradition which often militates against military discipline and efficient administration, dictates that SNM congresses be open, at times chaotic, always full of surprises, because they are full of compromises. The potential danger facing Somaliland: pastoral ‘anarchy’; that facing Eritrea: ‘vanguard authoritarianism’. French researcher Gerard Prunier who traveled within SNM liberated territories and attended the February-March 1990 SNM Congress held in Bale Gubadle, offers similar insights:

The first remark that comes to the mind when one travels through the SNM-held areas is what a perfectly well-adapted guerilla force it is and what a poor regular army. The SNM is a close expression of the people… it is as much at home in its environment as the ubiquitous camel (1990-91:112).

Prunier noted that the SNM suffered from poor logistics, poor discipline and strategic incoherence (this third defect is probably a corollary of ‘pastoral democracy’)- Lacking the heavy armaments of the EPLF, the SNM most mechanized equipment is ironically called a ‘technical’ — recoilless rifles and Zug automatic cannons mounted on Toyotas or other four-wheel drive (pickup type) vehicles, made world-famous by media coverage of Mogadishu violence. The question of poor logistics is crucial: from a political economy point of view, this is what prevents the SNM from transcending its decentralized, voluntary, clan-recruited guerilla militia phase into a centralized, disciplined army. Prunier concluded:

My estimate of the SNM (the real figures are ‘a military secret’ but my feeling is that nobody really knows them) is that it has about 4,000 regulars. But that figure means little since it can bring together, in about a week’s time, ten times that number of fighters. In a pinch, every man (and even some women I have seen them) can become a fighter. The problem is how to feed these people. Dispersed they survive more or less well in their respective areas; brought together, they quickly starve. Nowhere is there a sufficient store of food to enable a ten or fifteen-thousand-men army to stay together more than four or five days. And even if such a store of food existed, there would still be the problem of bringing it where it would have to be used (1990-91:112-13).

The Somali environment and resources favors organizational as well as survival strategies based on decentralization, often extreme decentralization. The political-cultural context includes the segmentary clan system and anarchistic individualism. It is true that material conditions hinder the development of a centralized army just as they have obstructed the development of a centralized Somali state throughout history. It is also true that contemporary Somali public opinion is against the formation of a strong central army. Most of the Somaliland contacts interviewed during 1991 advocate the formation of decentralized locally-controlled police forces whose recruitment takes into account issues of merit, proportionality, and clan balance. Many rejected the idea of a new ‘army’ — as a reaction to Siyad’s brutal army and in awareness of the socio-economic issues raised above. They favor popular militias to be raised as and when needed, drawing upon the SNM experience. Another consequence of SNM clan sensitivities is the belief that a clan cannot be ‘liberated’ or ‘developed’ by another clan. Thus, during the war, non-Isaaq deserters who sympathized with the SNM were encouraged to operate alongside the SNM, but form their own units and, eventually, their own organizations. Each clan must learn to liberate itself. Even among the clans constituting the Isaaq clan-family, the SNM encouraged wide political and military space under its loose umbrella to avoid petty conflicts. Asked why the SNM did not fight with its allies in southern Somalia, an SNM volunteer responded in a realistic, self-critical mood: ‘Who knows, we might behave as badly down there as THEY have up here’ (Prunier, 1990-91:119). The key concern is ‘never again’ to let them ‘behave badly’ in the north.

Implications for Democratization

Power Sharing Democracy

The democratization form compatible with SNM experience may be termed consociational or power-sharing democracy (Steiner, 1991). Power-sharing facilitates reciprocal recognitions in societies fragmented by ethnic, clan, religious and/or linguistic cleavages. Consociational democracy (industrial versions of which are practiced in Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria for example) recognizes and acknowledges ethnic, clan or religious cleavages in constituting cabinets and parliaments, while civil service and army recruitment are conducted on the basis of both merit and proportionality — utilizing mechanisms similar to those of affirmative action procedures in the US. Attempts at forming governments on the basis of grand coalitions are encouraged to reduce competition and potential conflicts. Each significant subgroup is allowed the right to veto legislation that is directly against an issue which it considers vital to its survival and well-being. Leaders must be endorsed by their own particular group in order to reflect the legitimacy needed to broker binding inter-group decisions and undertakings. In this connection, recent Oromo Liberation Front allegations that the new Ethiopian regime is creating ‘artificial leaders’ for the Oromos and other ethnic groups could, in the long run, jeopardize Ethiopia’s embryonic experiment with ‘ethnic democracy’. Since Ethiopia is so much larger in size and population than Eritrea and Somaliland, its initial attempts to establish consociationalism have appeared clumsy and confusing. Size also obliges Ethiopia to favor federalism and local autonomy to give consociationalism an implementation chance. On the other hand, the TPLF with its vanguard party experience, may be tempted to imitate Eritrea with its class-oriented radical social democracy. Consociationalism is often strengthened by federal structures, decentralization and local autonomy.

Ethnic or clan-based power-sharing democracy is facilitated if the groups involved share a common vision and common history (in this case the history of British Somaliland as a separate entity, memories of inequities with the south and Siyad’s military oppression), the various groups occupy more or less defined areas and share similar perspectives on external threats. None of the groups exercises hegemony, they are more or less equal. It is also important that the Ethiopian and Somaliland experiments in ‘ethnic democracy’ not be over-whelmed by staggering socio-economic burdens. Ethiopia receives considerable external assistance but Somaliland has not even received its share as allocated by the UN. Problems are bound to arise if such a state of affairs is allowed to continue for long.

During its early years, the SNM represented an elitist, external, armed guerilla band claiming to represent the people in the north — the Isaaq community in particular. Following their 1988 occupation of the north, Siyad’s savage air and artillery attacks caused most of the urban population to flee to rural areas as displaced persons; a sizeable group of about 800,000 crossed the Ethiopian border to merge as refugees in several camps: Harchin, Dulhaad, Bele Abokor, Balyeleh, Harta Sheikh, Daror and Rabaso. In and around these camps, as well as among the displaced, the SNM began to emerge from the Isaaq population. It is within this context that the elders — secular, clan leaders and the religious — came to play critical roles in organizing the distribution of food aid and other forms of relief, in adjudicating disputes and in recruiting fighters for the SNM. They came to form a Council of Elders, or Gunrti in Somali which, as time passed, grew in importance. It is to constitute one of the two legislative houses proposed in the constitution to be drafted for Somaliland. The Guurti reached its pinnacle’ early this year when it called a Grand National Reconciliation Conference in Borama (a non-Isaaq town) and helped elect independence-era leader Mohamed Ibrahim Egal as the second President of the de facto Republic of Somaliland. In order to make a whole series of binding compromises, the Borama Conference lasted from February until May of 1993. In composition and functioning, the Guurti derives its inspiration from the traditional Somali power-sharing style. In this way, consociationalism could facilitate an evolution to multipartism.

The February-May Borama Conference conducted several tasks. It spent considerable time adjudicating clan conflicts and disputes between neighbors since it views peace and reconciliation as its primary task. It discussed the major provisions of an anticipated Constitution and recommended, for example, that the structure of government be based on a President/Vice-President model rather than a President/Prime Minister model. They recommended the strict separation of the judiciary from executive and legislative powers and bodies. They formally endorsed a National Assembly or Parliament consisting of two chambers, a Council of Elders and a lower popular Chamber of Representatives. On an interim basis, both of these latter exist together with a President (Isaaq), Vice-President (non-Isaaq from the Borama area) and a Cabinet selected according to the initiatives of the President but sensitive to issues of merit and clan representativeness.

The Guurti is chosen according to traditional rules of protocol, historical precedent and proportionality. At present, Somaliland is trying to avoid the pitfalls of direct, competitive multi-party elections that negatively politicized clanism and produced chaos and the military coup during the 1960-69 period. Elections to the lower chamber consist of a series of mini-elections involving the groups and subgroups that are party to the Somaliland experiment. These have resulted in a chamber dominated by modern elites: former politicians, businessmen, teachers and other civil servants, leaders of women’s and other civil society organizations. At a recent regional meeting of a council of elders in Erigavo (eastern zone) participants recommended that, in the future, the Guurti be given more powers man the popular lower Chamber. The Borama Conference elected an electoral body of 150 (elders, politicians, SNM cadres, civil servant,s and civil society leaders) who went on to conduct competitive elections resulting in the election of veteran politician Ibrahim Mohamed Egal as the second Somaliland President (Abdurahman Tuur was President from 1991-93) and veteran SNM leader Abdurahman Aw Ali as his Vice-President. As a variant of liberal democracy, consociationalism stresses process over product: disappointed SNM leaders were encouraged to accept the results and bide their time until the next elections in two years’ time. A majority of the population — the elders in particular — have confidence in Egal as an experienced leader and wish to give him a second chance. It is indeed an irony of history that the person delegated to the consummate union with ex-Italian Somalia is today charged with the task of guiding Somaliland out of the union!

Radical Social Democracy

Radical social democracy frowns upon ethnic, clan, religious and related cleavages, even prohibiting using such labels or forming organizations on their basis. It tends to stress a social class perspective to transcend primordial cleavages. The EPLF version has a participatory democratic vision which may not prove easy to sustain in the long run. While Somaliland encourages unbridled market mechanisms, Eritrea appears bent on experimenting with its own form of planned or at least guided economy, though markets will be allowed to play economic roles.

The EPLF has declared that multipartism in the long run. At their recent Third Congress (February 1994), however, they have indicated that such a transition might take a further four years. Radical social democracy tends to lean towards one-partyism. It favors popular participation in various levels of decision-making and administration and policies favoring distributive equity among the people. Radical social democracy encourages ongoing democratic participation in cooperative farms, social organizations for women, youth and professionals, trade unions, schools, and universities, as well as within the armed forces and the ruling party. EPLF’s revolutionary experience not only facilitated such participation, it was indispensable for its success. Will the people sustain such high levels of popular involvement several years from now?

Radical social democracy tends to put a premium on exceptional leaders and dedicated cadres. However, as time passes, the tendency towards ordinary if not corrupt leaders tends to emerge — the ‘banalization’ of politics (Bayart, 1993:228- 259). In relying on the spontaneous virtues of revolutionary leaders, radical social democracy tends to overlook the need to establish detailed systematic checks and balances of power. While radical social democracy neglects electoral competition and related mechanisms, it stresses the substantive issues — emancipation of women, combating poverty, broadly based participation, and social transformations. Consociational democracy concentrates on procedures and mechanisms, as well as elaborate traditional protocol in its Somaliland version, at the expense of democratic content.

One hopes Somaliland’s evolving consociational democracy will be blessed with at least a reasonable number of responsible and socially aware political parties and leaders with a vision of development that includes broad social benefits. Otherwise, development efforts would degenerate into a crude sum of individual entrepreneurial actions with large net costs to society. Once a stable power-sharing democratic system is in place, consistent efforts have to be made in order to both conserve and transcend ascriptive clan identities — otherwise, a pastoral democracy would eventually degenerate into pastoral anarchy. Unless Eritrea develops greater sensitivities to consociational issues which could prove critical given its natural diversity and socio-cultural, ethnic and religious pluralism, then the EPLF could find itself sitting on the slippery slope leading towards authoritarianism or conflict.

And now we must confront what could turn out to be a critical question: what would happen if minority groups, in their turn, tried to secede from these new entities? Does the right to self-determination cease to exist at ‘independence’? Both movements challenged this before, but how about now that the dagger is pointed at them? This is already partly the case with Eritrea and the Afars. To try and give a detailed answer to this intricate issue would require analysis of at least the following factors: vision, ideology, and basic beliefs; resources, including organizational capacity; military capabilities and legal/diplomatic status. Both countries are very poor, however, Eritrea’s infrastructures have not been as devastated as those of Somaliland. Eritrea hopes to rapidly develop its resources to provide for all national minorities. Somaliland would offer a free market, an opportunity to use virtually open borders to trade from and to East Africa, through Somalia, Djibouti, and Ethiopia, and from and to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf.

We have already seen how even the SNM militia army is based on clans controlling their own particular territories. On the issue of military capabilities, the differences between Eritrea and Somaliland are vast. However, it cannot be automatically assumed that the availability of military capacity in Eritrea would automatically lead to militarist policies and practices. The leader is in many ways a relatively free agent of history: it is he who will, ultimately, have to make the ethical choice between conceding or denying others the right to self-determination for which he and the nation had sacrificed so much during violent years of struggle. He also has several options short of repression and secession.

Eritrea has a clear advantage over Somaliland with regards to international recognition. In May 1993, Eritrea translated de facto into de jure statehood. With such a status change come numerous economic and political advantages, including having one’s borders proclaimed sacrosanct. Therefore, what should happen if the Afars, for example, struggle to unite with their kin groups across borders into Ethiopia and Djibouti and Eritrea refuses: the international community would support and aid Eritrea, should it opt for coercive policies. Should such a scenario unfold, we can say that the wheel has come around full circle. Perhaps the best antidote against secession is democracy: federalism helps but can only be strengthened and made more effective through democratization. Northerners were angered and bitterly disappointed by the 1960 Somali Union, but they did not opt for secessionist politics because they felt open parliamentary politics gave them a chance to right some of their felt wrongs during the 1960-69 period. Siyad’s military regime offered no such hope pushing them to armed self-determination and secession.

Political decentralization along federalist lines is of course no panacea. To be effective it must be underpinned by democratic principles and institutions. These must include, above all, scrupulous observation of individual rights and the rule of law, safeguards for minorities and the separation of political power to check the rise of autocrats’ (Chege, 1992:152) (emphasis added).


The 1960 temporary secession of Katanga from the then Congo (Zaire) was engineered by white settlers and international mining and financial interests. Biafra represented an elite preemptive strike which eventually fizzled out once it became clear that the Nigerian army was not bent on Ibo genocide; on the contrary, Biafra was welcomed back into the Nigerian federation. Eritrea’s and to a lesser extent Somaliland’s claims to self-determination are grounded on a historic consciousness of oppression, surviving military annihilation perpetuated by indigenous systems of oppression. Unlike Biafra and Katanga, Eritrea and Somaliland also have stronger juridical claims: each had existed for eighty years or more as a distinct colonial territory. In this sense, they are within the spirit, and the Eritreans would also claims, the letter of the OAU code. Even though Somaliland as a historical project commenced with the defensive military actions of the overtly oppressed Isaaq clan, simplistic clan claims have been radically altered through articulation in territorial terms — facilitating power-sharing negotiations with non-Isaaq clans within the territory as was achieved in Borama and other reconciliation conferences. A territorial approach also allows the SNM to avoid any suggestion about incorporating the sizeable Isaaq population within the Haud and Reserved Areas of Ethiopia’s Region 5 (Markakis, 1990).

At the international level, both law and state interests confer a powerful advantage to the existing states. The recent collapse of communism has allowed Western states to break this state sovereignty taboo in an enthusiastic rush to recognized the dismemberment of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Other parts of the world, especially Africa where the OAU code continues to exert its influence, have not been treated by the same standards. Prior to recent events, Bangladesh provided a rare case of secession that won international recognition. This was due to geography — East Pakistan (Bangladesh) separated by Indian territory from West Pakistan — as well as the decisive intervention of the Indian army and India’s diplomatic offensive. Compared to Somaliland, Eritrea had presented an impressive and energetic justification for separation aimed at external audiences — mostly sympathetic organizations and circles within Western societies. However remarkable, they were not enough to win international recognition. This came about through the most compelling argument of all — outstanding military success. Somaliland also won military success allowing it to proclaim a de facto Republic. During its long struggle, Eritrea was able to assist an ally in the neighboring Ethiopian province of Tigray, the TPLF. As the Mengistu regime decomposed, TPLF forces in coalition with other Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) forces and backed by organized EPLF troops, armored units, and tanks, moved on to capture the capital Addis Ababa itself and install an EPRDF government. Outstanding military success, principle, and kinship (the Tigrinya element) paved the way for Eritrean recognition by the new Ethiopian regime. Once Ethiopia itself stood ready to sanction the separation, the OAU ruling became irrelevant.

The clan structure and operations of Somali society could not permit the SNM to play a similar role with groups like the USC in the south. A ‘clan does not liberate another clan’ has been an SNM principle. Somaliland, like Eritrea, would like to separate with the blessings of Mogadishu which has yet to constitute a recognized central authority. There are important elements in the South who are sympathetic to the issue of autonomy (not independence) for Somaliland. It is possible that north-south conflicts could flair up again, creating a Yugoslav-type scenario which could be highly influenced by the military and diplomatic posture of Ethiopia. An Eritrean-type scenario constitutes a second option. Should international opinion lean towards this solution, Somaliland would have to conduct a just and fair popular referendum to earn the international legitimacy now enjoyed by Eritrea.

For want of a better expression, a third option could be termed the confederal solution: a two-equal states arrangement representing greater autonomy than say the federated state of Quebec. Internally, Somaliland may constitutionally have a President (who may automatically assume the title of First Vice-President or even Co-President of the Confederation). Somaliland would have and control its own police forces (army, in case armies, are established); it would have its own separate parliament, cabinet and civil service. Somaliland could be admitted to United Nations membership (following the precedent of Ukraine and Byelorussia, for example). Somaliland would gain virtually all the substance of an independent state retaining slim, practical links: currency, passports, jointly shared foreign embassies. It is beyond the focus of this article to pursue such speculations. It is up to the people of Somaliland to exercise their hard-won de facto self-determination in the best way possible. Meanwhile, however, it is important to narrow the gap in political cultures. Since 1991, while Somaliland has rotated leaders through elections and solved conflicts through extended negotiations, the south has been dominated by warring warlords. There are pockets of local power-sharing authorities in southern Somalia but the overall situation is held hostage (the capital city in particular) by intense faction fighting — a form of decentralized Siyadism. And so the final outcome in Somaliland remains indeterminate. Somalilanders hope that, in the long run, the de facto situation may become irreversible.

The United Nations has an inbuilt hostility toward the dismemberment of states which are full members. Thus, the UN has been reluctant to provide Somaliland with the assistance its problems deserves. The UN has also avoided taking the military position it took versus Katanga. Following its debacle against General Aidid, the UN has shown more flexibility towards Somaliland: referring to its government as ‘the Egal Administration’ instead of the previous ‘community leaders of the northwest’. In one of his Reports to the Security Council, the Secretary-General Boutros Ghali observed:

I am aware of the very delicate question of the secession proclamation in the north … The deployment of UNOSOM to the north would not prejudice in any way the decision of the Somali people on their national future (Ghali, 1993:21).

Few states in Africa are economically ‘viable’ in the strict sense of the term. Political rather than economic viability criteria were used to recognized most of the states that seceded since 1989. However, a discussion on democratic possibilities for Eritrea and Somaliland cannot ignore linkages with socio-economic developments. Perhaps one day both countries may discover oil and other mineral resources, but until they do, the specter of serious underdevelopment will continue to haunt them. Long-range economic viability depends on the creation of a Horn of Africa Commonwealth or Common Market — an example of the potential fission and fusion of national borders based on free choice, reciprocal recognitions, and mutual advantages. The Commonwealth would consist of the following core countries: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia/ Somaliland. Currently, good relations exist between all these countries. Ethiopia forms a natural and potentially wealthy hinterland for Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia/Somaliland. A coordinating organization has already been formed in 1986 consisting of the core plus Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan — the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD).

In evolving a radical social democratic state, the EPLF relied on its long military and socio-political experience as well as its marxist background. It is also a response to guiding a country as diverse as Eritrea which contains about nine major ethnic groups and three religious traditions. Some of the ethnic groups (the Afars, for example), have traditional structures similar to the Somalis; the Tigrinya on the other hand, have had centralized politics like the Amhara. Radical social democratic institutions attempt to penetrate and influence all equally. Hopefully, Eritrea will resist moves to quell pluralism; tolerating ethnic identities could turn apparent problems into assets. Should significant propostions demand it, Eritrean leaders would be wise to allow for multi-partyism well before the four-year deadline. Bringing self-determination to Eritrea would be incomplete unless, like Somaliland, the citizens are able to exercise the basic right to rotate their leaders regularly and freely.

Somaliland, a relatively homogeneous society like Botswana, is able to evolve its modern polity through an adaptation of a relatively uniform tradition of religion, institutions, laws, language, and attitudes. The country is experiencing an Islamic revivalism but not radical fundamentalism due to the lack of mature, charismatic fundamentalist leaders and, even more important, due to the potency of the clan factor in Somali politics. SNM fighters called themselves mujahidins — those waging Islamic Jihad. This was good for morale. Pockets of fundamentalists exist but not yet sufficient to create a critical mass. How will they be involved in party politics should they choose to participate? Marxism, on the other had, hardly penetrated SNM ruling circles and political thought. Once the break with USSR came in 1978, the most well-known Somali marxists went to Aden, then South Yemen, where they formed a party; others went to Addis Ababa to work with the SSDF; only a handful joined the SNM. They played no significant role though some of them may yet establish a social democratic party during the anticipated multi-party phase. Somaliland must be brought to learn that democracy involves more than power-sharing procedures: there is the need to evolve policies and institutions that can combat poverty that facilitate women’s emancipation, children’s welfare, and minority rights, regulating the unbridled private markets as well as tackle and resolve other substantive issues. The issue of recognition and non-recognition aside, Eritrea and Somaliland have their special experiences to offer each other and to offer others in Africa who are willing to learn.

Hussein M. Adam is Associate Professor in Political Science at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA USA.

Bibliographic Note

  1. Problems of State crisis threatening secession and/or state collapse in Jean-Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (London: Longman, 1993);
  2. Descriptive information on the Somali crisis is found in Maria Bongartz, The Civil War in Somalia (Current African Issues II, Nordiska Afrikainstitute, 1991);
  3. For an excellent article advocating flexibility on issues of ethnicity and self-determination, see Michael Chege, ‘Remembering Africa’, Foreign Affairs (Vol. 71, 1992);
  4. Paolo Contini, The Somali Republic: An Experiment in Legal Integration (1969);
  5. Basil Davidson, The Liberation of Guinea (Baltimore: Penguin Press, 1969);
  6. John Drysdale, The Somali Dispute (New York: Praeger, 1964) and Somaliland: The Anatomy of a Secession (1991);
  7. Tom Farer, War Clouds on the Horn of Africa (New York: Carnegie, 1976);
  8. Jordan Gebre-Medhin, Peasants and ‘Nationalism in Eritrea (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1989);
  9. Boutros Boutros Ghali: ‘Further Report of the Secretary-General Submitted in Pursuance of Paragraphs 18 and 19 of Resolution 794’ (1992), a mimeographed document (New York: A United Nations Publication, 3 March 1993), Paragraph 98, p. 21.
  10. M. Lewis, The Modern History of Somaliland (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965) and “The Ogaden and the Fragility of Somali Segmented Nationalism’, Horn of Africa (Vol. xiii, Numbers 1 and 2, January-March, and April-June, 1990);
  11. John Markakis, National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa (London: Zed Books, 1990);
  12. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja (ed), Conflict in the Horn of Africa (Atlanta: African Studies Association Press, 1991);
  13. Gerard Prunier, ‘A Candid View of the Somali National Movement’, Horn of Africa (Volume xiii, Numbers 3 and 4, July-September, October- December 1990;
  14. Volume xiv, Numbers 1 and 2 January-March, April-June 1991);
  15. Rajagopal & Anthony Carroll, “The Case for the Independent Statehood of Somaliland‘, mimeographed report (Washington, DC, 1992);
  16. Bereket Habte Selassie, Conflict and Intervention in the Horn of Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980);
  17. Jurg Steiner, European Democracies (New York: Longman, 1991);
  18. Saadia Touval, Somali Nationalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963);
  19. N. Trevaskis, Eritrea: A Colony in Transition: 1941-52 (New York: Oxford, University Press, 1960);
  20. Charles de Visscher, Theory and Reality in Public International Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968).

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