This document – the Self-Portrait of Somaliland – is truly a collaborative product – the result of a participatory research process. The participants in this collaborative process and product were the people of Somaliland who are engaged in rebuilding their society and lives from ruin. This document is about their story – their hopes, worries, and actions. It is impossible to name and thank all the persons and organizations who contributed to the conception, development, and completion of this report.
A Self-Portrait Of Somaliland: Rebuilding From The Ruins
Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development, Hargeysa
XARUNTA NABADDA IYO HORUMARINTA SOOMAALILAND
War-torn Societies Project (WSP)
Xuseen Cabdillahi Bulhan
Maxamed O. Fadal (Coordinator)
Cabdirahman A. Jimcaale
Cabirahman Yuusuf Cartan
Cadbi Yuusuf Ducaale “Boobe”
Sucaad Ibrahim Cabdi
Maxamed Xasan Ibrahim
TABLE OF CONTENT
Despite the introduction of an official Somali script in 1972, considerable variation still exists in the transliteration of Somali words and place names into other languages. In the interests of standardization, the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development has opted for Somali spellings of all Somali terms and place names within this text.
The Somali alphabet is almost entirely phonetic, although tonal accents must be learned. However, there exist some variations in orthography: native Somali words never use p, v, or z, and Somali language involves certain sounds not used in English.
C a voiced pharyngeal fricative – a sound close to the Arabic ayn, involving a tightening of the throat, suggestive of slight retching (i.e. Cabdi, Burco)
X a voiceless pharyngeal fricative – like a hard, aspirated “h”, involving a forced depression of the back of the tongue together with tightening of the throat (i.e. Xasan, Sallaxley)
Q a voiceless uvular stop – like a soft “k”, involving a forced depression of the back of the tongue and a tightening of the throat (i.e. qaad, woqooyi)
Dh a post-alveolar retroflex stop – pronounced with the tongue tip curled up slightly behind the upper teeth ridge (i.e. Badhan, Dhahar)
Kh a voiceless velar or uvular fricative found only in Arabic loan-words (i.e. Sheekh)
For a comprehensive introduction to Somali sounds and spelling, see R. David Zorc and Abdullahi A. Issa, Somali Textbook. Wheaton: Dunwoody Press, 1990.
All Somali names used here (including people and places) are given in the Somali, except in direct quotations from texts or in textual references, where the original is given in the English (international) version.
|ADC||Agricultural Development Corporation|
|GOS||Government of Somaliland|
|ICRC||International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent|
|IGAD||Inter-governmental Authority on Development|
|IUCN||International Union for the Conservation of Nature|
|MSF||Medecins Sans Frontiéres|
|NFD||Northern Frontier District (Kenya)|
|NUF||National United Front|
|OAU||Organization of African Unity|
|PAR||Participatory Action Research|
|SCPD||Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development|
|SMAC||Somaliland Mine Action Centre|
|SNL||Somali National League|
|SNM||Somali National Movement|
|UNCTAD||United Nations Conference on Trade and Development|
|UNDP||United Nations Development Program|
|UNESCO||United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization|
|UNHCR||United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees|
|UNICEF||United Nations Children’s Fund|
|UNOPS||United Nations Office for Project Services|
|UNOSOM||United Nations Operation in Somalia|
|USAID||United States Agency for International Development|
|USP||United Somali Party|
|WSP||War-torn Societies Project|
This document – the Self-Portrait of Somaliland – is truly a collaborative product – the result of a participatory research process. The participants in this collaborative process and product were the people of Somaliland who are engaged in rebuilding their society and lives from ruin. This document is about their story – their hopes, worries, and actions. It is impossible to name and thank all the persons and organizations who contributed to the conception, development, and completion of this report. On behalf of the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development, I will mention below only a few whose contributions were indispensable to the undertaking and completion of this project.
Firstly, I want to express our gratitude to Mr. Maxamed Xaaji Ibrahim Cigal, the President of Somaliland, for inviting WSP to apply its work and methodology in Somaliland; to Mr. Daahir Riyaale Kahiin, the Vice President, for helping us at critical points in organizing the First National Project Group Meeting of 2-3 November 1999, and to Mr. Maxamed Saciid Maxamed “Gees,” the Minister of Finance, for his encouragement, counsel, and refreshing ideas since the inception of the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development.
I also wish to thank Mr. Matthias Stiefel, the Director of WSP, and his colleagues for accepting the president’s invitation and for extending to us generous support and understanding. Without their support and understanding, we would not have conducted the research project whose first product is the Self-Portrait of Somaliland or lay the foundation of an institutional “neutral space” for ideas and for intellectuals in Somaliland. Without their support and understanding, we also would not aspire to make the Centre an independent and sustainable “successor organization” – a member of the WSP international family.
The staff of the WSP Office in Nairobi extended efficient and effective assistance whenever we needed help to navigate through a maze of administrative hurdles. Fucad Ismaaciil Sheekh Xasan was very helpful in setting up our office. Axmed Yuusuf Faarax had also helped in preparing ourselves for the countrywide research and in organizing the First National Conference in November 2-3, 1999. I want to thank every one of them for their help. In particular, we owe special gratitude to Cabdirahman Cismaan Raage who continually extended himself beyond the call of duty, never hesitating to come forth in body and soul as a full partner in our endeavor to conduct participatory action research in Somaliland.
In every collaborative work such this, there is a core group who take upon themselves the burdens and challenges of the research process and product as a labor of love. They gather the information essential to the project, sift through disparate, sometimes contradictory ideas of research participants, and later work and rework document that will make sense to others who did not hear the participants’ voices but need to know their message. This task has fallen on Maxamed Fadal, the Research Coordinator and the other members of the research team– Cabdirahman A. Jimcaale, Cabirahman Yuusuf Cartan, Cadbi Yuusuf Ducaale “Boobe,” Maxamed Xasan Ibrahim, and Sucaad Ibrahim Cabdi. Also deserving mention are the indispensable work of Maxamed Cabdi Maxamuud “Awoowe”, the Centre Administrator and Sahra Maxamed Maxamuud, the SCPD Secretary, whose dedication and cheerfulness keeps the Centre a lively and warm hub of ideas. I never tire of repeating how fortunate I am to be associated with so decent, seasoned, and hard-working mix of colleagues who today make the core team at SCPD. I also want to thank Cabdi Maxamed Aadan “Rubaax”, the most reliable and cheerful driver I have ever met; the resource persons – Maxamed Xaaji Raabi, Maxamed Cali Jaamac, Cabdulqaadir Xaaji Ismaciil Jirde, Maxamed Baaruud, and Cali Diiriye Xaga – for their help in offering advice and guidance to the team; and to the supporting team – Hodan Axmed Maxamed and Jawaahir Cabdi Cabdalle – for their helping in implementing plans for the First National Project group Meeting. I also extend special gratitude to Cabdulqaadir Xaaji Ismaaciil Jirde and Maxamed Ibrahim Warsame (Hadraawi) for chairing the First National Project Group Meeting.
Last but most affirmatively, I want to thank Matt Bryden. He inducted me into the WSP family, he co-founded with me the Centre, he struggled with the team every step of the research process, and he worked tirelessly in helping plan, write, and edit this product – the Self-Portrait of Somaliland.
Xuseen Cabdillahi Bulhan
In the eyes of the world, 1991 was the year that the Somali Democratic Republic ceased to exist. The government fell and the state collapsed. Brutal civil war and famine seized the population. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country. A decade of bloodshed, chaos and human suffering ensued, threatening that Somalia would enter the 21st century as a “black hole” of despair.
1991 was also the year that Somaliland was reborn. Legitimate government was restored and statehood reclaimed, ushering in a period of healing, reconciliation, and growth. A decade of bloodshed, chaos and human suffering came to an end. Hundreds of thousands of refugees returned home. Somaliland looks forward to the 21st century with confidence and hope.
Nearly a decade has passed since Somaliland embarked upon the path to recovery. The road has not been easy. In 1991, the long civil war had left the country physically devastated and socially scarred. Tens of thousands of people had been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, their homes reduced to rubble, their property looted or destroyed, and their land sown with mines. The economy had virtually ground to a halt. The army, police and civil service had disintegrated; most government offices, banks, hospitals and schools stood derelict, their contents ransacked, and even their windows, doors and roofs pillaged and sold for scrap. In those early days, the task of reconstruction appeared so immense as to be insuperable. But today it is easy to forget how far the country has come, and how much has already been achieved.
The decision to launch a War-torn Societies Project (WSP) program in Somaliland followed the country’s second round of civil strife since 1991. The clashes that seized central Somaliland between 1994 and 1996 revealed not only the fragility of Somaliland’s peace, but also the resilience of its people and their extraordinary capacity for conciliation and forgiveness; the moment seemed ripe for WSP to get to work. In late 1997, responding to an invitation from Somaliland’s second president, Mr. Maxamed Xaaji Ibrahim Cigal, WSP agreed to initiate a participatory action research (PAR) program addressing the problems of post-war reconstruction. Throughout 1998, regular consultations with the government and other civic leaders helped WSP to formulate an approach specially adapted to Somaliland’s circumstances: the program would be carried out by a local research organization, the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development (SCPD), entirely staffed and managed by Somalilanders. WSP would play a supporting role.
The SCPD team is made up of a director, a research coordinator, an administrator and a five-member research team dealing with the following themes: political rebuilding, economic rebuilding, social rebuilding and the roles of women and culture in rebuilding. The team brings together a wealth of diverse professional experiences, as well as familiarity with different areas of Somaliland.
In the research project that began with gathering data for this document, the SCPD team follows the WSP methodology whose initial inspiration is the methodology of participatory action research. Prior to undertaking the research project, the team went through rigorous training on the WSP methodology. Along the way, as they studied the methodology, they added aspects (particularly with regard to the cultural dimension) that seem most pertinent to the practice of WSP methodology in the context of Somaliland.
While this research endeavor aims to produce policy recommendations, we believe that the process of engaging Somalilanders to voice their issue, concerns, and priorities is itself a vital part of rebuilding self-confidence, social justice, and democracy. Our choice of “self-portrait” in the title of this document is therefore intended to underscore our commitment to let the people speak – to voice their thoughts, worries, and dreams. We want to place them in the foreground and keep the researchers to the role of witness and conveyers of their message. Although we have compiled reports (with the verbatim statements of people we had interviewed), we found it necessary to condense and interpret to make the document readable.
This document, the “Self-Portrait of Somaliland,” is the result of the program’s first (Preliminary) research phase, which involved five-months of fieldwork, from March August 1999. In the course of their fieldwork, the team travelled the length and breadth of Somaliland, reaching out to people in all regions and sectors of the country. They interviewed women and men, rural and urban dwellers, businessmen and workers, traditional leaders and their constituencies, officials and citizens, government supporters and opponents – in short, as many people as time, resource, and circumstance had permitted. The team invited, listened, and recorded their thoughts and voices with as little preconceived notions and bias as possible. They treated all participants as the authority of their experience, giving each of them the “neutral space” and the respect that is necessary for frank discussions, without fear of judgement or repercussion.
Discussions developed around thematic questions such as:
- Major achievements that people are proud of and committed to preserving
- Worries and concerns that they seek solutions for; and
- Visions and expectations they have of the future
The draft Self Portrait set out not to present the “average” or “aggregate” response, but rather to reflect the diversity of experience and perception that exists within Somaliland society. It aims to provide Somalilanders, and their international partners, with the opportunity to reflect on their collective achievements, examine their strengths and weaknesses, and identify key issues that remain to be resolved if recovery and development are to move forward.
On November 2-3, 1999, the draft Self Portrait was submitted to a representative gathering of 80 eminent Somalilanders from across the country, known as the National Project Group. The Project Group’s task was to review and amend this draft, and to identify strategic areas (Entry Points) in rebuilding that deserve more in-depth research and collective action. Their choices were as follows:
- Regulation of the pastoral economy
- Consolidation of government institutions at the central and local levels, including decentralization
- The role of the media and oral culture in political rebuilding The legacy of war on the family, culture and values
In identifying these themes, the Project Group determined the agenda for the subsequent, main phase of the research program, in which collective, in-depth research will take place around each of the Entry Points.
Many Project Group members, and others who read a draft of the Self Portrait pointed out some topics that were not discussed fully or were omitted altogether. Unfortunately, time and resources did not permit the inclusion of all of their ideas: this document would have become too large and unwieldy, and required postponement of the research schedule. Clearly, no single document can do justice to all issues, but the interest and support of all those who offered their views has been much appreciated.
This document is thus not intended to be the definitive text on Somaliland, nor is it intended to prescribe solutions. It aims simply to provide a national “snapshot” of Somaliland, 9 years into the rebuilding process – an overview of the people’s issues and priorities – upon which more detailed, policy-oriented research can be conducted. And to contribute – in a modest way – to the efforts of Somalilanders to rebuild their country.
Somaliland comprises the territory, boundaries and people of the former British Somaliland Protectorate, defined by the following international instruments (GOS Background: 1994):
- The Anglo-French Treaty of 1888
- The Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1894
- The Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897
From the shores of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland extends southwards to the Somali National Regional State of Ethiopia, bounded by Djibouti to the west and Somalia (Puntland) to the east. Within these borders, Somaliland’s territory covers an area of 137,600 square kilometers, with a northern littoral of 850 kilometers (GOS – Somaliland in Figures, 1999). The territory’s geography is distinguished by three main topographical features locally known as the Guban, Oogo and Hawd (Lewis: 1961).
The Guban (meaning “burnt”) is the narrow coastal region, which is hot and humid with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees centigrade during the summer season (Xagaa) between June and August. The terrain is relatively barren, allowing only desert-type sparse vegetation. Eastwards from the main port of Berbera stony mountains hug the coastline, while to the west, the plain widens to provide rich grazing for pastoralists during the cooler months between October and March. With the exception of Berbera, the population of the Guban’s sparse settlements tends to migrate southwards to the highlands during the torrid summer months, returning home when the climate becomes more bearable.
Inland from the coast, elevation climbs rapidly as the Guban gives way to the Oogo: the cooler highland zone dominated by the Gollis mountain range, which crosses Somaliland from west to east. The Oogo zone possesses an abundant supply of underground water, which together with its agreeable climate has encouraged settlement and development. The Oogo is home to all of Somaliland’s major towns and supports a degree of cultivation, notably between Hargeysa and Borama in the west, and around Ceerigaabo in the east.
The third topographical zone is the Hawd, which stretches across the border from Somaliland into Ethiopia. Although rich in pasture, the Hawd has virtually no permanent water sources. Historically, nomadic pastoralists grazed their herds in the Hawd during the rains, but were forced to migrate to more hospitable areas during the harsh dry season (Jiilaal) when water sources dried up. In the past half century, however, since the introduction of berkado (cemented underground water reservoirs), the Hawd has come to support permanent settlements. This has led to a steady process of desertification, decimating the rich pastures that once made the zone ideal for rearing livestock.
The inhabitants of these zones are ethnic Somalis, united by race, language, religion (Sunni Islam) and culture, which they share with the Somali inhabitants of neighboring states. Population estimates vary between 2-3 million inhabitants. Somaliland’s inhabitants also identify themselves with various clans and sub-clans, described in a submission by the Somaliland government to the 1996 Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit as including the Isaaq, Gadabuursi, Ciise, Dhulbahante, and Warsangeli clans (Mohamoud: 1996). The west is inhabited mainly by the Ciise and Gadabuursi clans. The central regions are chiefly settled by the Isaaq, while the eastern areas are peopled principally by the Warsangeli and Dhulbahante clans. Numerous smaller kingroups share the Somaliland territory with these major groupings, and the major clans also contain innumerable sub-divisions.
The establishment of the Somaliland Protectorate in the second half of the 19th Century epitomized the “absent-mindedness” with which much of the British Empire is said to have been acquired. Perceiving in the Somali hinterland a potential source of fresh meat for the British garrison across the Red Sea at Aden – a key naval coaling station on the sea route to India – the British entered into a series of agreements with the traditional leadership of the clans of the area. The original treaties represented no serious territorial ambitions on the part of British, but inroads by other imperial powers (namely France, Italy, and Abyssinia) endowed the British claims to Somaliland with strategic importance in the context of the “Scramble for Africa”. Through an awkward sequence of agreements strung out between 1885 and 1955, the colonial powers ultimately arrived at Somaliland’s present shape – a territory determined not by geography or demographics, but rather by the arbitrary logic of international and regional politics. In the process, the British surrendered considerable expanses of territory to the aggressive eastward expansion of King Menelik of Ethiopia (Drysdale: 1994). Most of the western, eastern and southern boundaries simply represent compass bearings. Only in the southwest, where the boundary follows peaks of the mountain ranges, does the demarcation correspond to recognizable landmarks. The southern border thus divided many of Somaliland’s nomads from their most fertile pastures.
Although the British sought little more from Somaliland than rations for their troops, big game for their hunters, and a bit of adventure (for explorers like Richard Burton), they inevitably discovered more than they had bargained for. In 1899, they were confronted with a vigorous uprising led by the leader of the puritanical Salihiyya order, Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan (known to the British pejoratively as “the Mad Mullah”), which reminded them disconcertingly of the Mahdist revolt only years earlier in the Sudan. The Sayid’s Darawiish (Dervish) movement tied up the energies of the British in bloody and unpredictable campaigning for two decades. In 1910, at the height of the uprising, the British were obliged to retreat to their coastal outposts, leaving Somaliland’s interior in violent turmoil. The subsequent years were a period of such acute distress and scarcity that they came to be locally known as Xaarame Cune (literally: “eating the forbidden”). It is estimated that during this period as much as one third of Somaliland’s male population perished (Jardine: 1926).
Following the defeat of the Dervish Movement in 1920, the British gradually initiated administrative and social service programs in Somaliland. Some roads were cleared, a few students were sent to Sudan for higher education and a number of agricultural and water initiatives were undertaken. But in the 1940s, their efforts were again interrupted – this time by the Second World War. In 1940, British forces retreated from Somaliland to Aden, paving the way for a short-lived occupation by Italian fascist forces. In 1941, Somaliland was recaptured by the British, and remained in their hands until independence nearly two decades later.
In the world-wide wave of anti-colonial sentiment that followed the Second World War, the “wind of change” was blowing as strongly in Somaliland as elsewhere in Africa, and the British undertook to prepare their protectorate for existence as an independent state. In the few years that remained to complete the task, their neglect of the territory became dismally obvious. On Independence Day, June 26 1960, Somaliland possessed only a handful of university graduates and a single secondary school. Not a single sealed road linked the major towns. The principal natural resource of the territory was its livestock, and an industrial base was non-existent. Nevertheless, in its newfound freedom, Somaliland greeted these challenges with optimism – even euphoria.
One reason for Somaliland’s optimism was the relative prosperity it enjoyed in the decade prior independence. During the 1950s, the Arabian oil boom generated an unprecedented demand for Somali livestock. The central towns of Hargeysa, Berbera, and Burco became the hubs of that trade, forming a triangle that would eventually become the core of economic development in the region. During the same period, in the Hawd region, the colonial authorities (in the person of engineer Jack Laurence) built a chain of earth dams along the Ethiopian border to collect run-off water. These manmade depressions prolonged the period nomads could graze their livestock in the Hawd, and thus changed the face of the land forever. Permanent settlements began to appear, raising surplus livestock for export to Arabia through the markets of Somaliland’s central economic hub. In the years following independence, this zone became increasingly specialized in the commercial production of livestock and related export services. The relative economic dominance of this central triangle, and its relationship with the Arabian livestock markets, has changed very little up to the present day.
Eastern Somaliland (composed essentially of present day Sool and Sanaag regions) was affected relatively little by the livestock export boom. Nomadic pastoralism has historically been the predominant social and economic mode in eastern Somaliland, but the area has nevertheless evolved somewhat separately of the central economic zone between Hargeysa, Berbera and Burco. Sanaag region has long maintained independent, sometimes clandestine, trade ties with the Arabian countries, especially Yemen. Export of livestock and frankincense in exchange for consumer goods from the Arabian side evolved into a strong commercial and cultural relationship of central importance to Sanaag’s social and economic life. Further south, the inhabitants of Sool region long ago developed a niche as an economic and social gateway between Somaliland and Somalia – a role the region still plays.
Western Somaliland, comprising present day Awdal and western Woqooyi Galbeed regions, also embarked on a course of slightly separate development. Around the turn of the century, inhabitants of the area began to borrow ox-plough farming techniques from neighboring Oromo groups (in Ethiopia) and have since developed an agropastoral mode of production in which cattle raised in sedentary agricultural villages have replaced camels as the principal stock. The region has since become increasingly specialized in the production of cereal crops – chiefly sorghum and maize – which are traded throughout Somaliland. More recently, cereal production has been supplemented by fruits and vegetables grown on small scale irrigated farms for domestic consumption.
The sedentary agricultural mode of production in the west created a concentration of settlements unmatched elsewhere in Somaliland, including Gabiley, Tog Wajaale, Dila and Borama. Furthermore, this zone came to serve increasingly as a transshipment point in the trade linking Djibouti, Jigjiga and Dire Dawa to the major population centers of Somaliland. Despite the region’s “separate development”, western Somaliland’s relative prosperity, the metropolitan influences from neighboring towns, and the settled nature of the population have encouraged its gradual integration within Somaliland’s broader economic and political context.
The growing importance of central Somaliland over the past century has been matched by the gradual decline of the coastal areas. The importance of ancient settlements like Seylac, Bullaxaar, Xiis, Maydh, Laas Qoray and Ceelaayo was diminished when the British colonial authorities shifted their administrative centers from the uncomfortable coastal climate to the cooler Oogo zone, and was further eclipsed by the development of major ports at Berbera and Djibouti. Among the coastal towns, only Berbera, by virtue of its port facilities and its key role in the central “triangle” export trade, has gained in size and importance.
For most of the period of British rule in Somaliland, very little political activity was either permitted or encouraged. The colonial authorities exercised control through a system of indirect rule that relied upon traditional leadership structures. Only in the two decades prior to independence did the British foster any meaningful indigenous political development. The small, educated civil service elite, which adopted British administrative discipline and work ethics, also inherited – to an extent – a reluctance to involve itself directly in politics. Thus as Somaliland braced itself for independence in 1960, it was equipped with a relatively strong civil service, adequate both in quality and in quantity, but was almost entirely lacking in political cadre.
As the clock ticked towards independence, the few political leaders who had emerged were absorbed with a single issue: the question of unity with their neighbor to the south: the United Nations Trust Territory of Somalia. Those who advised caution, or engaged in a nuanced debate over issues were overwhelmed by the nationalist cause of unification in the quest for a pan-Somali state – Greater Somalia – to include Somaliland, Somalia, the Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia, the Côte Français des Somaliens (Djibouti) and Kenya’s Northern Frontier District (NFD). Immediate and unconditional merger with other Somali territories – beginning with Somalia – was considered by many in Somaliland to be a panacea; so powerful and persuasive was the impulse towards unity that even the sceptics were borne along by its urge.
The politics of independence led to a mushrooming of political parties in the closing years of the 1950s. The Somali National League (SNL), the National United Front (NUF) and the United Somali Party (USP) all emerged in response to the overarching need of that particular moment in history: to receive the independence of the Somaliland Protectorate from the British authorities. In 1960, their purpose served, they disappeared – just as the Somaliland state disappeared into the new “Somali Republic.” But before even a year elapsed, the Somaliland population’s initial euphoria was exchanged for a more sober appreciation of the true situation.
Politically, Somalilanders entered the union at a disadvantage. Despite Somaliland’s preference that a single Act of Union be agreed to by both governments prior to merger, this fundamental step was never taken. A presidential decree entitled the “Law of Union of the State of Somaliland and Somalia” submitted to the combined legislatures failed to win their approval, and the matter was ultimately referred to the people in a problematic referendum. Somaliland’s Prime Minister was assigned the relatively junior post of Minister of Education in a cabinet heavily dominated by southerners. Likewise, Somaliland was allocated only 33 seats in parliament versus 99 for the south. The designation of Muqdisho as the remote national capital left the majority of Somalilanders estranged from their new government and alienated from the country’s social and economic nucleus.
The north had sacrificed more than the south. The south, with the capital and National Assembly at Muqdisho, was still the hub of affairs; but from its former position as the capital of a small state Hargeysa had declined to a mere provincial headquarters remote from the center of things. Even though many northern officials now held key positions in the government, northern pride found it hard to stomach this reduction in prestige. (Lewis: 1965)
Northern discontent with these arrangements surfaced almost immediately. When a referendum was held in June 1961 to approve the new, joint Constitution, the Somali National League (SNL), decided to boycott it. Of the 100,000 recorded voters in Somaliland, over 60% opposed the constitution, 72% in Hargeysa, 69% in Berbera, 66% in Burco and 69% in Ceerigaabo. As a vote of confidence in unity with the south, Somaliland had given a resoundingly negative verdict (Drysdale: 1994). Nevertheless, the vote was carried by a southern majority.
The outcome of the referendum was echoed in popular plays and songs critical of unification, and in the unsuccessful efforts only six months later by a group of
Sandhurst-trained military officers to stage a coup d’etat in Hargeysa. The rebellion, which was poorly organized and quickly suppressed, proved to be less of an embarrassment to national unity than the subsequent trial of the officers involved:
When the leaders of the attempted coup were brought to trial in Muqdisho before a British judge on charges of treason… he acquitted the officers on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction over the State of Somaliland in the absence of an Act of Union. (GOS – Background: 1994)
The ruling in favor of the northern coup plotters had exposed a very basic flaw at the heart of the Somali Republic: legally, it did not exist. It would survive for only three decades before the contradictions at its core would lead to its dissolution.
The unification of Somaliland and Somalia had been predicated not on the promise of a bilateral treaty, but rather a multilateral one in which the three remaining Somali territories would also ultimately be incorporated. That dream would also be badly shaken in the years that followed independence. In 1963, the British awarded independence to Kenya, including the mainly Somali-inhabited Northern Frontier District (NFD), disregarding their pledge to respect the findings of an independent commission that an overwhelming majority of the people in the NFD sought unity with Somalia. The following year, in 1964, Ethiopia and Somalia fought their first major military action over the disputed Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia, in which the might of the Somali armed forces was shown to be unequal to the task of annexing the territory. The initial momentum towards a pan-Somali state had suffered another setback.
The fledgling Somali Republic was soon in difficulty at home. During a brief period of parliamentary civilian rule (1960-1969), the country’s experiment with western democracy proved poorly adapted to the clan-based nature of Somali politics, and was soon corrupted. Against a backdrop of growing popular discontent, President Cabdirashiid Cali Sharmaarke was assassinated by one of his bodyguards while touring the Laas Caanood area, and one week later on October 21, 1969 the army commander, General Maxamed Siyaad Barre, seized power in a bloodless coup.
Although few Somalis relished the prospect of military rule, Barre’s “Supreme Revolutionary Council” was widely received as a welcome alternative to the disappointments of civilian rule. A mix of young idealists and ideologues flocked to his banner of “Scientific Socialism”, which also won the backing of the Soviet Union. The “Revolution” quickly introduced the first official Somali script, launched massive literacy campaigns, and embarked on an ambitious program of self-help schemes and social development projects.
But the regime’s popularity proved short-lived. Barre’s vision demanded the dismantling of the traditional clan-based social order, economic networks and political institutions upon which the majority of Somalis still depended. The regime’s primitive attempts at social engineering revealed an ideological arsenal dominated by crude shock campaigns and a cult of personality that drew heavily upon China’s Cultural Revolution and the “Juche” philosophy of North Korea’s Kim Il Sung (Lewis: 1994). Each campaign employed armies of revolutionary opportunists to ensure coerced participation of the population. No aspect of Somali private or public identity was spared the government’s zeal for command and control: culture, family life, nomadism, traditional authority and social organization, religious beliefs were all denounced as anachronistic or subversive and targeted for reform. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a subtle and manipulative exercise in corruption and clan politics was beginning to take shape.
As the first flush of enthusiasm for his “Revolution” began to fade in the mid-1970s, Barre turned to the pan-Somali dream to reinvigorate his flagging support base. With the help of the Soviet Union, Barre built up the Somali army to become one of the largest and best equipped in sub-Saharan Africa. By 1975, clandestine units were operating across the border in Ethiopia’s Somali region, and in 1977 full-scale war broke out as Barre launched his forces in a dramatic offensive across the border. Somali forces made early, rapid gains, but when the Soviet Union withdrew its support from Barre and weighed in heavily on the Ethiopian side instead, the tide began to turn. The Somali army was routed, suffering heavy losses and Barre was forced to capitulate.
The 1977-8 Somali-Ethiopian War marked a watershed for the Barre regime, for the Somali people, and for the state they had fashioned for themselves less than 2 decades previously. Somalia’s defeat decisively buried the dream of a pan-Somali state – a fact underscored by Djibouti’s choice of independence rather than union with the Somali Republic in a referendum the previous year (1977). Two important threads in the fabric of Somali unity had just unraveled.
The defeat also sowed the seeds of mistrust between the north and the south. Northern officers who had been at the front felt not only that they had borne the brunt of the campaign, but also that they had been deliberately undermined by the machinations of a southern military hierarchy. Northern civilians, who had backed the war enthusiastically, also felt that they had been subtly manipulated by rival southern interests and suffered disproportionately from the conflict.
Far more profound and far-reaching on its impact in relations between North and South, however, was the massive human influx to Somalia generated by the war. More than 1,000 refugees a day poured into Somalia – most of them ethnic Somalis, although a substantial Oromo minority joined them in their exodus. By 1981 refugees constituted about 40% of the national population (Simons: 1995) – about 400,000 of them in the north.
Although the refugees were settled throughout Somalia, their arrival in the North created considerable tension. Most of the refugees were Ogaden Somalis, a group non-resident in the North, and whose political leadership were closely associated with the Barre regime. Local inhabitants felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the arrivals, who overflowed from the designated camps and began to settle in the major towns. Aid resources earmarked to settle and care for the refugees, without any obvious benefit to the local people, became a source of envy and resentment. Many refugees, by virtue of their clan, were favored by the regime for posts in local government and in the military garrisons of the area. Over time, the refugees also received preferential treatment in terms of business licenses, contracts, and other commercial benefits. As the rift between the refugees and their hosts widened, refugee militia were established and armed by the Barre government, escalating the situation dangerously. In a memorandum to the president dated March 30, 1982, a group of 21 Isaaq elders enumerated the grievances of their community concerning the refugees, warning ominously (and prophetically) of “the dangers facing us,” which included “a real threat to the unity of the Somali people,” and “the threat of disintegration” (Africa Watch: 1990).
Tensions between the local inhabitants and the refugees were just a symptom of the government’s cynical manipulation of kinship divisions within Somali society for the purposes of “divide and rule.” Shaken by its defeat in the Somali-Ethiopian War and by an attempted coup d’etat by military officers in Muqdisho in April 1978, the regime had concentrated the economic resources of the country in its hands, using their selective redistribution to ensure loyalty to regime. Massive amounts of foreign aid were diverted and misappropriated by the regime, whose cronies amassed enormous private wealth. Very little of the assistance ever reached the north, except for that destined for the refugees, whose allegiance was important to the ruling clique; perversely, northerners suffered instead from the draconian economic conditions often imposed by foreign donors.
In contrast with the treatment the government accorded the refugees, during the 1980s, it became evident that the Isaaq clan had been singled out as a target for political, economic, social and cultural oppression (Ghalib: 1995). At the national level they were discriminated against in terms of public employment, international appointments, and even business opportunities. Two major sources of revenue for the Isaaq community, the “Franco Valuta” exchange system, in which traders were permitted to retain a portion of their hard currency earnings to purchase import goods abroad, and the traffic in qaad, were both abruptly curtailed for reasons that seemed based as much on clan politics as any other rationale.
In the north itself, the government crackdown manifested itself in a variety of ways. Restrictions were placed selectively on the livestock export trade, making it increasingly difficult for Isaaq exporters to acquire licenses, open Letters of Credit, or transport livestock to Berbera for export, while their competitors from other clans were relatively unaffected. Similarly, multiple layers of bureaucrats and security systems preyed upon the Isaaq business community, initially by skimming profits and later by cutting to the bone their commercial earnings. Ultimately, business activity was reduced to a subsistence level, as traders resorted to bribery and smuggling in order to provide goods to the urban population, who endured curfew for months on end. As repression intensified, urban commerce such as transport, retail stores, and hotels was effectively placed off-limits to the Isaaq.
Some of the regime’s methods were more direct. In February 1982, imported goods estimated at a value of US $50 million were confiscated from Berbera port (Africa Watch: 1990) – an act interpreted by many in the Isaaq business community as a declaration of war by the government. A threshold had indeed been crossed, and outright appropriation of Isaaq’s private property by government officials and members of the security forces became commonplace.
The State of Somaliland was occupied wholly by a corrupt and inexperienced army of officers purporting to be administrative officers in charge of Districts and regions. The judicial system no longer functioned. It was superfluous since Habeas Corpus had been annulled in October 1969. The country was effectively administered…by the Hangash (military intelligence), the Dabarjebinta [sic] (military counter-intelligence), the Koofiyad ‘Asta [sic] (red berets – military police), the Barista Hisbiga [sic] (party investigators), and the Guulwadayaal (party militia). Imprisonment, torture, and execution without trial were de rigeur. (GOS – Background: 1994)
In 1981, the pent up frustration within the Isaaq community was explosively triggered by the government’s arrest of a group of Hargeysa intellectuals, whose only crime was to have organized self-help programs (Ghalib: 1995). Accused of distributing antigovernment propaganda and other subversive activities, they were handed down sentences ranging from death (later commuted to life imprisonment) to long-term prison sentences. Their detention and torture helped to mobilize national and international condemnation of the regime.
At roughly the same time, consultations within the Isaaq, both within Somalia and in the diaspora communities of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, led to the formation in London, of the rebel Somali National Movement (SNM). By 1982, the SNM had established bases in Ethiopia, from where it waged an armed struggle against the regime’s forces in the north, initially in the form of clandestine cross-border incursions. In January 1983, the SNM campaign gathered momentum with a daring raid on Mandheera Central Prison, which released over 1,000 political detainees and other inmates who had been condemned to death (GOS – Background: 1994).
In return, the government redoubled its campaign of brutal repression. In the urban centers, arbitrary arrests, detentions and executions accelerated. In the rural areas, the regime sought to undermine the SNM’s support among nomads by destroying their livelihoods. Water points were declared off limits, closed, destroyed, poisoned and mined. Commercial trucks were grounded, starving the rural community of food, medicines, and other consumer goods. Villages were razed to the ground and soldiers allowed to confiscate livestock without compensation.
In May 1988, following the signature of peace accord between Ethiopia and Somalia that threatened to terminate their campaign, the SNM launched an all-out offensive against government forces in Hargeysa and Burco. Caught off-guard, the government responded with a brutal ground and aerial bombardment. Over 50,000 people are estimated to have died, and more than 500,000 fled across the border to Ethiopia, harassed by government fighter-bombers piloted by foreign mercenaries. What remained of Northern towns and villages was systematically destroyed by government forces, looted and strewn with hundreds of thousands of landmines.
The fall of the regime was now only two years away. From its bases in Ethiopia, the SNM offered a springboard for newly established guerrilla groups in the south and continued its campaign in the north. Government retribution against suspected SNM sympathizers escalated to new levels leading to mass detentions and executions both in the North, and in Muqdisho. In January 1991, as USC militia entered the Somali capital, SNM forces launched a lightning offensive in the North, recapturing the major towns and putting the government troops to flight. The war was over.
Cessation of hostilities in the immediate aftermath of the SNM victory was advanced by the relatively low level of animosity between the Isaaq and other communities. Although military resistance to government rule in the north was concentrated mainly within the Isaaq, some members of other groups had also opposed the government, and many had worked hard to contain the violence. Government attempts to provoke inter-communal violence between the clans in the north had been strongly resisted and ultimately proved unsuccessful – largely because they relied upon interest groups within clans, and not upon broad-based support. In 1988, for example, a meeting of the Dhulbahante leadership in Laas Caanood opted not to mobilize as a clan against either the SNM or the Isaaq, despite pressures from senior Dhulbahante figures within the government.
During the war, prisoners held by clan militias (not by government forces) had been generally well-treated, and prisoner exchanges were common. Trade and commerce had continued between the various clans through mutually agreed channels. Regular contacts between leaders of the various communities inside and outside Somalia had helped to defuse potential animosity between them. Once the government was removed from the scene, there remained few obstacles to real peace.
In February 1991, the responsibility for peace-making fell upon the traditional leaders (Guurti) of the various clans. A meeting convened by the SNM at the port town of Berbera established a formal cease-fire and fixed a date for a conference of the Guurti to be held in Burco two months later, to be followed by an SNM Central Committee meeting. In the meantime, the Guurti would have time to consult with their constituents. Their peace-making skills were about to be tested on a grand scale.
Burco has often played the role of cradle of change in Somaliland’s history, but rarely as dramatically as during the 1991 Grand Conference. More than a dozen Garaaddo, Suldaanno and Ugaasyo (titled traditional leaders) representing the Isaaq, the Harti and the Dir clans, together with their delegations, converged upon Burco. They were joined at the conference by participants from other sectors of society, including artists, intellectuals, and business people (who provided most of the financing) as well as delegates from the diaspora. The conclusions of the conference were presented as recommendations to the subsequent SNM Central Committee meeting, which agreed upon the following:
- Reconciliation of the warring parties to the conflict
- Declaration of the Somaliland Republic on 18 May 1991
- A transitional two-year rule by the SNM, and the accommodation of the nonIsaaq communities in the government structure during this period.
- Initiation of a separate reconciliation process for Sanaag region
Although the agreement reached at Burco remains the cornerstone of the peace that prevails in Somaliland today, it by no means settled all grievances, nor resolved all differences: it simply terminated active hostilities and created a common political framework. It was then followed by diverse local reconciliation initiatives (Farah and Lewis: 1993) that have continued, almost without pause, ever since.
The Burco conference had effectively neutralized the potential for violent conflict between the Isaaq and their neighbors, but it did little to resolve the latent tensions within the SNM itself. During the war against the regime, the SNM’s internal struggles had been sublimated by the twin imperatives of survival and solidarity, but with the common enemy defeated, schisms rapidly emerged.
Less than a year after the Burco meeting, the government of Cabdirahman Axmad Cali “Tuur” found itself at war with a coalition of militias loosely based on clan, and linked by political affiliation with the Calan Cas (Red Flag) faction of the SNM. Clashes took place first in Burco, then Berbera, and Hargeysa was reduced to a state of near-anarchy.
In October 1992, the Guurti once again stepped in, with representatives from the Gadabuursi clan playing a lead role in peace-making. A cease-fire was agreed at the town of Sheekh, and a date fixed for a broader reconciliation conference to be held at Boorame, in western Somaliland. The Grand Boorame Conference held between January and May 1993 represents another watershed in Somaliland’s recovery and development. In the absence of meaningful support, the burden for hosting the meeting was shouldered by the Boorame community. During five-months of deliberations, the 150member Guurti, together with hundreds of delegates and observers from across Somaliland, agreed upon the following:
- The peaceful transfer of power from the SNM interim government to a beel (community) based system
- Election of a civilian president (Maxamed Xaaji Ibrahim Cigal) and a vice president (Cabdirahman aw Cali)
- Adoption of a National Charter and a Peace Charter, intended to serve as the basis for efforts towards peace-building and state-building, during a further transitional period of two years.
The Guurti also used the occasion to review and revamp the ongoing reconciliation processes in different parts of the country.
A combination of factors including deeply rooted mistrust between clans, continuing factional discord within the SNM, the clash of powerful egos, and international interests, all came into play when the Boorame process moved from conference hall to the proving grounds of Somaliland in mid-1993. By November 1994, these tensions had erupted into full-scale conflict that engulfed the central regions of Woqooyi Galbeed and Togdheer (Bryden: 1994) for almost two years. Fighting broke out in Hargeysa in November 1994, and by March 1995 Burco was also in flames. The war continued until early 1996, displacing a considerable portion of Hargeysa’s inhabitants and the entire population of Burco.
Despite numerous attempts to quell the conflict within Somaliland society, as well as from the diaspora, peace talks made little progress until 1996 (Bryden and Farah: 1996). Finally, in February 1997, after nearly five months of consultations, peace was concluded in Hargeysa (Bradbury: 1997) at a Conference that achieved the following:
- Cessation of hostilities (the “Ceel Xume” opposition group from Burco did not attend this conference but later joined the general peace settlement).
- A new constitutional document, to be valid during a further 3-year transition period.
- Re-elected President Cigal, with a new vice president, Dahir Rayale Kahin, for a term of 5 years.
- Addressed some of the grievances of opposition groups, by increasing their share in the two Houses of Parliament.
- Accommodated Somaliland’s minority communities in terms of political representation
The Hargeysa Conference was followed by the longest period of uninterrupted peace since Somaliland’s reclamation of independence – a sign that things are moving along the right track. But the challenges to reconstruction and development remain formidable: indeed, the complexity of the issues and the stakes involved appear to have grown. Somaliland has made tremendous progress, but there is no room for complacency if past gains are to be consolidated and progress to be sustained. The remainder of this paper is dedicated to illuminating the way forward.
Less than ten years since the disintegration of the Somali Democratic Republic and the reclamation of Somaliland’s independence, the country’s political system is still evolving – a dynamic hybrid of western form and traditional substance. The clan system (beelo) operates within a western scaffold: the politics of kinship pervade government institutions, from the presidential executive and the bicameral legislature to the Ministries, Armed Forces and even local authorities. Policy, procedure and even the law are obliged to be extraordinarily flexible, as they accommodate the social and political forces at work.
Concessions to Somaliland’s social and political culture have helped to underpin the peace that has largely prevailed in the territory since 1991, but they have also hampered the development of a functional administration. Kinship politics provide fertile soil for patronage, corruption, nepotism, and clientelism, while stifling the emergence of issue based politics, meritocracy and professionalism. Not surprisingly, many Somalilanders feel that their future hinges upon striking a more effective balance between their sociocultural heritage and their political aspirations.
Today, clan is the prevalent medium within which both public and private interests must operate. Political activities in Somaliland almost invariably possess a clan character and undertones. Many cabinet members owe their posts more to the need for perceived clan equilibrium in government than to their qualifications or political relevance; Ministers often spend more time negotiating government business through the clan system than they do performing their official duties. The House of Elders (Golaha Guurtida) is meant to manage traditional affairs, but the tremendous overlap between politics, society, law and tradition defies attempts to confine clan dynamics within a single institution. The members of the House of Representatives (Golaha Wakiillada) also see themselves, as representatives of their beelo.
Some Somalilanders are content with such a system, although others feel that the government has little choice but to function the way it does: it is simply a reflection of the society that has created it. Critics, however, accuse the government of manipulating kinship politics to its own advantage. Almost all, however, agree upon the need for improvement.
With such challenges clearly in mind, President Cigal tackled the issue directly in a public address on August 30, 1999, at Hargeysa’s Khayriya, linking the nature of Somaliland’s political system to its prospects for international recognition:
We could only be accepted as a member by the world community if we move to a new stage of nationhood… The international community does not recognize congregations of clans, each remaining separately independent.
Taking his cue from the provisional Constitution, which stipulates a specific schedule for the transition from the beel (clan) system to free and fair elections (GOS-Constitution: 1998), the president has charted a course for change, enumerating the steps towards a new political regime:
- Parliament will debate changes to the provisional constitution article by article, until it is accepted by the two legislative houses.
- The provisional constitution will be explained to the public over the radio, article by article. At the same time thousands of copies will be distributed for discussion. Up to 6 months will be required for this process.
- A referendum will take place to approve or reject the provisional constitution. A vote in favor of the provisional constitution will also mean an endorsement of the sovereignty of Somaliland.
- Political parties may then be established, in line with the new Constitution. The final step will be a national election, in which the people will choose which party to lead them and elect a new government.
Whether or not such an ambitious program of reform can succeed is an open question. Government administration is not yet fully established in all regions, and in some areas the painstaking process of reconciliation is not yet complete. Nor is it clear how the government can organize a referendum while it lacks a reliable census and adequate resources. But Somaliland’s people have beaten the odds many times before and may well do so again.
Unlike Somalia, where international interests have played a powerful role in determining the progress of events in the post-Barre era, Somaliland’s political development has been a strictly internal affair, nurtured by international isolation. This section therefore focuses on the domestic actors and interests that have dominated Somaliland’s political scene, rather than the international and regional context.
Somaliland’s hybrid political system has spawned a diverse array of offices and authorities, whose interactions are often informal and vaguely defined. The key political actors are the government and the clan in its many denominations. The interplay between the two – both positive and negative – is probably the most important force in contemporary Somaliland politics.
At the national level, the government acts through the executive branch, composed of the president, vice president and the cabinet, and the bi-cameral Legislature, which comprises the House of Representatives (Golaha Wakiillada) and the House of Elders (Golaha Guurtida). The judiciary, which makes up the third pillar of government, is constitutionally independent of the executive, although the Presidency and the Parliament differed over the practical application of this principle for much of 1999.
Below the national level, the government is politically represented by the offices of Regional Governor, Mayor/District Officer, and their key subordinates (although many administrative appointments are also of a manifestly political nature). The question of whether such figures should be nominated by the central government or locally elected is still unresolved.
Clan interests are traditionally expressed through the Suldaanno, Ugaasyo, Garaaddo, Cuqaal, clan elders (who live both in the city and rural areas), businessmen, and self-appointed clan activists who typically collect (and disseminate) current information on the state of the clan, organize meetings and lobby for clan interest. The degree to which such figures actually represent their putative clan constituents is a matter of some controversy. In recent decades, clan activists have become increasingly self-appointed, often with the collusion and endorsement of those in power – a trend that threatens to undermine the authority of the traditional leadership throughout Somaliland.
Elders have always played a central role in Somaliland society. But in the aftermath of the civil war, elders have ventured into the political sphere in an unprecedented way. An upper house of Parliament, the Golaha Guurtida, was established at the 1993 Boorame Conference, as a check on the power of the executive and to ensure the preservation of peace. Elsewhere in the country, an increasingly urbanized and educated class of elders has begun to challenge the stereotype of the Guurti as rural, traditionalist and apolitical. Many Somalilanders welcome these changes, but the broader political and social role of the traditional leadership is coming under criticism from some quarters.
The nature of traditional leadership has been in flux at least since the arrival of colonial powers in Somaliland, and probably even earlier. Until the arrival of the British, most traditional leaders answered to no higher authority, although they generally ruled by consensus, and they thus fulfilled many of the functions of sovereign authorities elsewhere. But from late 19th century, when the elders of the clans wedged between Menelik’s Abyssinia and the Red Sea entered into agreements with the British, all that began to change.
Elders soon became the intermediaries between the people of Somaliland and the colonial powers – a role they perfected under Somali governments in the post-colonial period. For over a century, from the Protectorate authorities to Siyaad Barre’s military regime, governments have been dependent upon traditional leaders to extend their control to the pastoral nomadic and rural constituencies (Lewis: 1994). Turbaned, redbearded elders became adept at representing their lineage interests in the corridors of power and officialdom, and many were handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Under Barre, the government created new elders as a matter of expediency or to undermine elders who opposed the regime. Traditional leaders were renamed “peace-seekers”(nabaddoon) and pressed into government service, resolving local feuds or rallying their constituents to the regime’s cause.
With the collapse of the Barre government in 1991, the traditional leadership in Somaliland returned to its classical niche (Farah and Lewis: 1993). In the immediate aftermath of conflict, Somaliland society found itself fragmented into rival clans and subclans. During the conflict, members of communities who had grown up together as families, but belonged to different clans, had found themselves on opposing sides, at war with one another. Xeer, the customary code that regulates relations between clans had been routinely and flagrantly violated. Ancient kinship relations and cultural obligations had been undermined during the war, especially those pertaining to marriage. The conventional respect accorded xidid (marital relations), soddog (father in-law), seeddi (brother in-law), and abti (mother’s brother) had been dishonoured, leaving a legacy of anger and mistrust. There existed a general lack of harmony and internal stability within the society, which required all the skill and energy of the traditional leadership to redress.
The National Charter signed at Boorame in 1993 assigned the Guurti a constitutional role in maintaining peace and managing conflicts. Like the House of Representatives, the Guurti originally comprised 75, representatives, distributed by clan, which was increased to 82 in 1997 in order to accommodate opposition and minority representatives. The Guurti may also include honorary members such as former presidents and vice presidents, and an additional five members nominated by the incumbent Chief Executive.
Between 1994-96, the Guurti proved unsuccessful in their efforts to arrest a confrontation between the government and a clan-based opposition movement – a failure that undermined their credibility in the eyes of some, and led to questioning of their political role. The Guurti believe that they exhausted all possibilities to prevent the outbreak of war, but charges were nonetheless levelled that they had been co-opted by the government and had failed to act decisively to restore peace. But acting decisively is not the way most members of the Guurti interpret their function, as someone knowledgeable in the internal workings of the Guurti explains:
They don’t resolve issues in a clear-cut way. They use compromise and concession. They have to handle issues very delicately and carefully because one word can make or break the whole exercise (hal eray baa wax daweyn kara ama hal eray baa wax fogayn kara).
Nor is it the Guurti’s role to challenge the government directly:
Their role is to resolve political conflicts between any groups. They are like the ruling party, so they don’t consider it wise to confront the government openly. But they can evaluate and correct the government.
One reason for confusion about the role of the Guurti is that the very nature of traditional leadership is changing. Many elders have been drawn into the cities, creating a vacuum of leadership among their rural constituents. A dwindling number of leaders from the rural areas seek the status of a titled elder (Suldaan, Garaad, Ugaas), while their urban relatives pursue such offices with vigour. Religious leaders have also moved to join the ranks of the titled elders, dissolving the ancient Somali division between “wadaad iyo waranle” (men of religion and men of war) that once symbolized the neutrality of the sheekhs in times of war. Consequently, some Somalilanders argue that traditional authority is no longer “traditional,” because so many urbanized ex-civil servants, military and police officers, and even ordinary businessmen, are assuming traditional titles of leadership, while traditional values are being corrupted. They dismiss with disdain the proliferation of traditional titles, which they have dubbed as “the inflation of the traditional leadership,” warning that the instrumentalization of the traditional leadership for political ends is once again making a comeback. The mayor of one municipality expresses the problem this way:
Traditional leaders today are cut off from the community they claim to represent. They spend most of their time in the city, transforming traditional peace-making into peddling schemes in the towns. If a murder case is reported from his clan area, the concerned elder is unlikely to hurry to visit the area to help resolve the homicide, unless he sees some personal interest in it. In the past, they [the elders] constantly looked after the common interest of their clan constituencies, but that is no longer so. For instance, during the recent drought that affected many parts of Somaliland, most of the caaqils (lineage chiefs) based in the towns kept silent.
An caaqil from Burco tells a very different story:
Yes, today there are Cuqaal [plural of caaqil] in the cities, but we conduct dual tasks…even if I am not in the country, I have men performing [tasks] under my instructions. As Caaqil, I have to deliver from my clan anything that the government demands from my clan for national interests, such as demobilization, removing enclosures and so on… As an caaqil, I was fighting for my politician, who lost his position due to unfairness… And when a gunman attacked a security guard, from my sub-clan, who was guarding a government store, the gunman was killed and the security guard was injured, as Caaqil, I had to pay diya [compensation] for the deceased, even though he was attacking a government store.
Another school of thought suggests that changes among the traditional leadership may introduce some fresh air to the upper echelons of the Guurti, which is perceived in some circles as a stuffy, exclusive club. Among the new breed of traditional leaders, argue proponents of this view, there may be some dynamic and educated recruits for the House of Elders who will eventually replace the generation of leaders now serving in the Guurti. Appreciation for the new urban class of traditional leadership is particularly strong among the many government officials who depend upon them as a conduit to the rural population, and who believe that they have helped to foster stronger links than ever between urban and rural areas. They look forward to the day that Somaliland’s traditional leaders embody not only history and tradition, but also more contemporary norms and values – including those of the city dwellers.
The diversity of opinion concerning the Guurti is an indication that Somalilanders have yet to agree on the role they expect their traditional elders to fulfil as the country shifts towards a more structured form of governance. But across the spectrum of opinion, one theme remains constant: that the relevance of the Guurti depends upon their ability to transcend the divisions between clans, classes, and generations, and to represent Somaliland as a whole.
The parliament comprises two houses: the House of Representatives (Golaha Wakiilada) and the House of Elders (Golaha Guurtida). Its members are nominated on the basis of clan, not directly elected. The original House of Representatives included 75 members, but this was later increased to 82 (all of them male) in order to satisfy additional demands for representation from the opposition and minority groups.
The House of Representatives includes a three-person Chair (the Speaker and two Deputies), a Secretariat, a Standing Committee of 17 members, and 5 sub-committees. Every member of the Parliament is obliged to participate in one of the sub-committees, listed below:
- Foreign Affairs and International Relations
- Internal Affairs and Security
- Social Affairs
- Economic Affairs
In its first few years, the House of Representatives was widely perceived as an ineffective body, whose function was simply to legitimize government policy. Over time, however, the House has begun to mature into its role as a legislative body. A Deputy Speaker believes that the House now exercises some influence over government policy:
Yes, we have leverage over the [Executive], because we have to approve the yearly budgets and without our approval, they can’t spend a single penny. But we are still at a delicate stage, so we avoid direct confrontation.
The most crucial test of the House powers seems likely to be the Constitutional process. In mid-1999, after several years’ delay, the president submitted to the Parliament amendments to the provisional Constitution. House opinion has been deeply divided over how best to proceed.
The prospects for a referendum on the provisional Constitution are uncertain. Lawmakers and politicians agree upon the need for a plebiscite, which will also determine the level of popular support for Somaliland’s independence. But one Representative explains that a number of practical issues remain unresolved: “Is it possible to hold referendum without a census? In all regions? These questions need to be answered. Then we can proceed to issues like political parties.”
Even if the referendum goes ahead, doubts remain as to whether the provisional constitution is really adapted to Somaliland’s political and social circumstances. A Deputy Speaker of the House is skeptical: “We need to come up with a system that accommodates one man, one vote, but allows every community (beel) to be represented. So far, no one has come up with such a formula.” Somaliland’s lawmakers have been entrusted by the people to find one.
One issue the constitution is expected to resolve is the legalization of political parties. At the moment, none exist, and public opinion is undecided about whether or not they should be introduced.
“At the present stage of development it is very difficult to introduce political parties,” argues one woman from a Hargeysa nongovernmental organization (NGO). “Divisions within our clan system are so deep and the organization of the people into other, higher forms is terribly difficult.” Her concerns are reinforced by the mayors of Hargeysa and Boorame, who both express reservations about the advent of political parties before the demobilization of armed militias is complete.
Among urban-based intellectuals, however, many feel that party politics is inevitable. The question for them is not whether parties should be introduced, but how. Intellectuals tend to agree with the opinion of one Hargeysa NGO official, who advocates a gradual introduction to the party system beginning at the local level: “We have to open up to political parties so that they can mature. Then we have to go for local elections, because they are less risky than [elections at] the national level.”
Outside Hargeysa, however, interest in party politics is generally low. In Berbera, community leaders are cautious about the idea, arguing that political consciousness needs more time to develop. The Governor of Saaxil outlines a set of conditions that should be fulfilled before a party system can function:
- Full security
- Full demobilization and reintegration of militia
- Establishment of government institutions throughout the Republic
- Improvement of living standards, through the reorganization/restructuring of the national economy
Further from the capital, the idea of party politics meets with even less enthusiasm. Some prefer kinship as the basis for a future political system. “If clan is indispensable, why should we not base our functional structures on it and use it for our reconstruction and development,” queries a spokesman for the Warsangeli Suldaan. Like many others in Sanaag, elders in Ceel Afweyne advocate a shift “from qabiilism to regionalism.” To the inhabitants of Somaliland’s periphery, the prospect of party-based politics seems less compelling than it does to the people at the country’s center.
While the government, the Guurti and the parliament dominate Somaliland’s political horizon, there nevertheless exists a growing assortment of characters whose influence extends to the political domain. The most overtly political of these is the revived SNM in its various forms. Although the SNM effectively ceased to exist as an organized force after the Boorame conference, various associations of former members have laid claim to the SNM mantle for widely divergent reasons. In 1994, a number of SNM officials and veterans, led by the former chairman and ex-president of Somaliland, Cabdirahman “Tuur,” declared themselves in favor of federalism and affiliated themselves with the “government” of General Caydiid in Muqdisho. Although they provided some assistance to the opposition during the 1994-96 civil war in Somaliland, they failed to develop a meaningful level of support for the federal agenda. In 1998, a “provisional committee” of SNM veterans established itself in Hargeysa under the leadership of the veteran SNM activist and former vice president of Somaliland, Xasan Ciise Jaamac. The Committee has announced plans to reconstitute the SNM as a political party under the forthcoming constitution, and is functioning as a pressure group in the interim. The majority of SNM veterans, however, are not formally associated with either of these groups. A third component of the SNM, Sooyaal (the Veteran’s Association) has adopted an apolitical posture, although it remains influential among SNM members.
The reappearance of SNM figures on the political scene has provoked different reactions from Somaliland society. The government has hesitated between hostility and indifference, while others welcome the return of figures known for their struggle against the former regime. A third perspective fears that the SNM’s overwhelmingly Isaaq identity will antagonize members of other clans and undermine Somaliland’s solidarity.
A second key influence in the political domain is the news media, led by Jamhuuriya newspaper (The Republican). Jamhuuriya’s adversarial editorial orientation initially provoked harsh government measures, such as the arrest of its staff and the closure of its offices. Although the government has continued to threaten the paper with legal action, the Ministry of Information has responded in kind by sponsoring a somewhat more sympathetic journal, Maandeeq. Most other papers, which flourished in the early 1990s and typically expressed a local or regional perspective, have virtually disappeared. Despite Jamhuuriya’s strident editorial style, its bold and lively reporting has earned it a wide circulation within Somaliland, Somalia and around the world. Ironically, its success has also become a symbol of the Somaliland government’s tolerance and maturity in dealing with domestic dissent. Few other countries south of the Sahara can boast of such an independent press and lenient political leadership.
A relatively new addition to Somaliland’s news media is the revitalized Radio Hargeysa. Based in premises rehabilitated with community contributions, the radio was restored in October 1999 through a contribution of equipment and technical support from the Yemeni government. Its medium wave broadcasts can be heard throughout the Horn of Africa and the Gulf.
A further category of political activity concerns the emergence of “civil society organizations”, NGOs and community groups (whose activities in the social sphere are treated below). Few of these organizations, except possibly the small cadre of human rights activists, consider themselves political actors. Indeed, just a few years ago, the majority of such groups existed principally to attract and manage foreign aid resources. “Too many boards were fixed on top of empty offices, indicating the names of local NGOs,” recalls an NGO leader in Ceerigaabo. But a growing number of NGOs and associations are becoming active in mobilizing support for local and national causes, articulating platforms for social action, and providing services that would normally be left to government.
Some, like the Sanaag Intellectual and Youth Organization and SOSVO in Awdal region, have been embraced by local government officials and traditional leadership as valued partners. In doing so, they contribute to democratic discourse and debate, challenging the government to develop its own policies and programs. Relations between these civic groups and the government have matured considerably in recent years, and although the administration seeks to limit the proliferation of opportunistic “NGOs” seeking to cash in on donor largesse, local authorities increasingly treat the more established organizations as its allies in reconstruction and development.
The aid-related focus of local NGOs worries some intellectuals, who feel that they have a duty to provide greater civic leadership. “Our organizations tend to become development oriented sub-contractors, instead of playing the roles of advocacy and public awareness,” states the director of one NGO from Hargeysa. His concern is echoed by others who fear that Somaliland’s professionals are avoiding government service and other appointments through which they could influence public policy by joining NGOs. Says another Hargeysa-based intellectual: “These days, it is very difficult to make ends meet, so intellectuals are busy looking for their daily livelihoods. Also, they are divided along clan lines, both inside and outside the country. We need to find alternatives.”
One alternative emerging in certain areas might be community committees. In Awdal region, the Social Services Committee has taken a lead role in development and social affairs. The Committee, which enjoys the full support of the local government is involved in a broad range of activities, including the following:
- Support and advocacy for the local administration
- Mobilization of community support for causes such as Camuud University
- Assistance for activities such as the tuberculosis program
- Orientation for new aid agencies in the Region
- Build linkages between international agencies and local NGOs
- Monitor ongoing projects of local NGOs
The Citizens Committee in Gabiley also plays a leadership role. The Committee meets once a week with the mayor to discuss outstanding administrative issues and matters that are of public concern within the community. When required, sub-committees are established to follow up on issues raised.
One highly elaborate form of civic association is the “Geelle,” a type of “union” of dockworkers at Berbera port. The Geelle were established in the 1940s, and exist primarily to promote and safeguard their collective welfare. As a member of the Geelle, an individual is entitled to draw an allowance when he is sick or retires, and when he dies, his place is automatically assigned to one of his sons. Although the membership is drawn from diverse clans, the only kinship affiliation that exists among the Geelle is the communal identity of the Geelle as a group, to which members are said to be deeply loyal. They defend their rights fiercely through political satire and social comment. Few other civic associations in Somaliland – if any – have achieved such a high degree of internal organization and solidarity.
Religious groups (collectively termed wadaaddo) exercise considerable influence in the political rebuilding process. Somaliland’s provisional Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, and obliges the administration to govern in accordance with Islamic Shari’a – a function assumed chiefly by the Guurti. In the post war period, diverse trends and denominations have emerged in parallel with the mainstream religious leadership, some of them imported from abroad. Whereas most of these groups are politically uninvolved, some are little more than political and economic interest groups with an Islamic platform. In Awdal region, religious associations are credited with having reversed the moral and social decay that set in during the civil war. One of the titled elders in Sool region places the political profile of religious groups on par with that of Somaliland and Puntland. The growing popularity and influence of religious groups seems likely to encourage the government’s conformity with Islamic faith and law, but it may also reveal very different opinions about how that conformity should be expressed.
Traditionally, women have enjoyed no formal role in the clan-based political process, despite their numerical superiority and their crucial role in raising families. Even today, women are not involved in the decision-making process of government and other public bodies dealing with issues that concern women directly. Women are not only absent from the main branches of government (House of Elders, Representatives, Judiciary and the Executive Branch), but are also unrepresented in high administrative positions.
In 1997, women demanded to be represented in the Hargeysa Reconciliation Conference, but were not permitted to send delegates. The matter was eventually taken up by the Constitutional Committee, which ruled that the beel system allows clans to nominate women to represent them. Although this is technically true, no clan has done so in the history of independent Somaliland. Few would contest the observation of a Boorame businessman who asserts that “In Somali political history, women were never allowed to participate in the ad hoc political institution of shir, where matters that are of concern to the lineages and clans are deliberated by men.”
Despite their exclusion from the shir, women have played an active role in mobilizing for both peace and war. Women took part in the liberation struggle against the Barre regime, raising funds to sustain the war effort, nursing the wounded, and a small minority even joined in the fighting.
The experience of war has reinforced the determination of many women to work equally hard for peace. “From my experience of war, I will never organize a war again,” affirms one woman who is both an SNM veteran and a war widow. “I believe a woman can begin peace at home, with her husband and sons.” But women have not found it easy to organize formal peace initiatives – something many of them attribute to the lack of resources and their considerable workloads. Instead, they have been active behind the scenes, exerting influence on male decision-makers and acting as ambassadors between antagonistic groups.
Frustrated by their exclusion from the formal political process, some women have suggested the formation of a clan exclusively for women (Bah Dumar) “Women’s needs, demands and interests are not being taken into consideration, because women are not regarded as a social group,” complains one woman. More pragmatic, perhaps, are the efforts of women to use umbrella organizations to press their demands at a political level.
Today, however, as Somaliland shifts from a clan-based system towards a more formal, electoral regime, the prospects for women’s political participation seem likely to improve: the provisional constitution affirms the rights of women to vote and to hold public office. Women’s NGOs and advocacy organizations, such as NOW and NEGAAD, have won a degree of recognition from the government and the media. But with Somaliland’s first elections expected to take place in 2001, no major political actor has taken up women’s political participation as a national issue.
Perhaps Somaliland’s most remarkable accomplishment, given its heterogeneity, its relative poverty, and the weaknesses of the central government, is the near-universal commitment of its people to peace and security. From Lowyacaddo and Boorame in the west, throughout the interior, as far as Badhan and Laas Caanood in the east, communities, clans and individuals describe the maintenance of peace as their most treasured achievement and their foremost priority.
That achievement is tested almost every day by the existence of grave, potentially dangerous, conflicts of political, regional, and communal interest. Somaliland’s prior experience of civil strife suggests that the most serious threat to peace derives from the deliberate mobilization of grievance based on perceived inequities between clans. Given the evident regional disparities that exist within Somaliland, the grounds for collective grievances are real, and constant vigilance is still required if conflict is to be avoided. The abundance of weapons, daunting numbers of unemployed young men, and the volatility of the entire Horn of Africa sub-region combine to confront Somaliland’s leadership with a formidable task.
Somaliland’s most fundamental contrasts are those between the center and the periphery, and between urban and rural. Hargeysa’s status as the seat of government has encouraged the concentration of private investment, human resources, international travel connections, and international assistance within the city limits.
Political leaders from throughout Somaliland (and even Somalia) make routine junkets to Hargeysa, often staying for months at a time. But the frenetic, self-centered preoccupations of the national capital generate a degree of unease and resentment elsewhere in the country. Many regional leaders fear that the Hargeysa-based elite has begun to equate Somaliland’s interests with those of its capital city, losing touch with the rest of the country. Some voice concerns that if present trends continue, Hargeysa may one day become as remote from the majority of Somaliland citizens as Muqdisho once was.
Dissatisfaction is lowest in the western regions (Awdal, Western Woqooyi Galbeed, and Saaxil). The population in these areas tends to identify with the current political system. But in certain areas, particularly those historically disadvantaged, like Sallaxley and other areas southeast of Hargeysa, people feel that they have lagged behind in the reconstruction and development. Although the generally high level of support for the government in these regions provides a strong political base, it inevitably encourages the perception of a government beholden to specific geographical and clan interests.
In eastern Somaliland (eastern Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sool and Sanaag), the perception that the government favours the west is prevalent among members of all groups. The feeling of isolation and abandonment is perceptible from Burco eastwards, where discontent with existing political arrangements is openly discussed. “The role of the government is missing here,” asserts a member of the Burco Guurti. “Somehow it hasn’t moved beyond Hargeysa.” Leaders from Burco are particularly critical of Hargeysa’s dominance: “Hargeysa used to be the city of the west and Burco the city of the east. They were on equal footing. Now Burco is relegated to the status of a village.”
The central government argues that such complaints are unfounded. “Frankly,” says one senior official in Hargeysa, “Burco is very difficult to govern.” The Minister of Finance explains that Burco has received an exceptional amount of central government support: “The only place the central government has participated in the reconstruction process is Burco. In the rehabilitation of the airport alone we have spent 100 million Somaliland, and there is a special account for the rehabilitation of Burco Every week one Minister has to visit Burco. We are trying our best and we know the relative importance of the place.”
Elders in Burco insist that they have seen none of the specially earmarked funds:
So far, the city has not received anything from the 2% of the national income allocated for reconstruction (taakuleynta aafada) … Instead of helping us to rehabilitate our homes, they are charging us for that. We pay 50,000 shillings for a site survey, 200,000 shillings for a building permit, and 200,000 for an ownership permit, without taking into account one’s income.
In addition to financial and administrative wrangles, some eastern grievances seem to be based on a sense of historical injustice. Members of the traditional leadership in Burco complain that the peace process following the 1994-96 conflict remains incomplete:
Before a final political settlement, there should be a turxaan bixin… a formula acceptable to all the clans. That does not exist with the present government… [During the 1996 peace process] they wanted to undermine the unity of the Eastern regions as a political force. So we had [our leadership] elected by a few people in a room by raising their hands. Is that justice?
Public identification with the government, and even with the Somaliland state, is perceptibly weaker in the east – a sentiment neatly captured by a Ceerigaabo market woman: “Ood kaa dheeri kuma dhaxan tirto.” In Burco, public confidence has suffered acutely from two rounds of civil strife. “These conflicts have shaken our inspiration for the Somaliland state,” observes one local leader. “They were a painful experience: they took away everything we have rebuilt.” Other elders from Burco agree that the violence has undermined public morale, but resist the notion that any dissension exists concerning Burco’s place in Somaliland:
The stability of Burco is indispensable to the stability of the Somaliland state…Burco is the key for any economic, social and political rebuilding in the East of Somaliland.
Alienation and disillusionment are strongest in Sool and eastern Sanaag regions, among the Dhulbahante and the Warsangeli clans, whose populations have long been divided in their attitudes towards Somaliland. Many are persuaded by the combination of economic, cultural, historical and political ties that bind them to Somaliland, but feel that the government needs to ensure a more equitable distribution of benefits. One of Sool’s female elders argues that Somaliland’s leadership seems to be indifferent to their needs: “We consider ourselves to be from the lost government. Since the people of the north have declared a government for themselves, they should have come here to sell it to us. They didn’t do that. I suppose they just don’t need us.”
Her disappointment is echoed by a male member of the Dhulbahante traditional leadership, who suggests that Somaliland’s lack of investment in the people of Sool has encouraged support for Puntland:
I was one of the supporters of Somaliland, and we were in the minority. Everyone expected us to bring back something convincing from the 1997 Hargeysa conference, but that didn’t happen, because in the conference no community was allowed to air its grievances. And we returned home empty handed. Naturally, people went to Garoowe to join the Puntland administration.
This view is rejected by another Garaad of the Dhulbahante, who argues: “Sool region is part and parcel of Somaliland. We endorsed Somaliland, and we ratified the peace accords and the national Charter. Sool needs what other Somaliland regions need, and that is rebuilding.”
Other supporters of Puntland among the Harti are attracted by its clan-based approach to federalism and the unity of the Harti Darood clans (Warsangeli, Dhulbahante and Majerteen). They identify the Somaliland polity with the Isaaq clan, and feel that their own interests can best be served through affiliation with more closely related kin-groups.
But there are signs that the isolation of the eastern regions may be coming to an end. Among the Dhulbahante clan, a majority of the Garaado declared in November 1999 their neutrality vis-à-vis Somaliland and Puntland – an announcement that some Somaliland officials read as a positive step towards the healing of divisions within the Dhulbahante leadership, paving the way to a more constructive relationship with the Somaliland government.
In December 1999, the Suldaan of the Warsengeli led a delegation of more than 60 clan Cuqaal and elders on an unprecedented visit to Hargeysa. The delegation presented a list of concerns and requests to the Somaliland government which were accepted in their entirety, suggesting that a new chapter in relations between the Warsengeli clan and the Somaliland state has opened.
Nevertheless, the problem of divided loyalties is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. In the words of one Garaad, “We have interests on both sides of the aisle, and we can’t trade one for the other.” Eastern elders often describe this dilemma as “the Hangool Syndrome”– a phrase derived from a Somali adage: Hangoolkii farraarkiina meel baan ku soo arkay, gadhkiina meel (“I saw the forked end of the hangool stick in one place, the crook in another”). One of them explained the saying in the following way:
A man wants to build a fence and is seeking a hangool (a naturally grown stick with a crook at one end and a fork at the other) with which to do the job. “My problem,” says the man, “is that I have found the two ends of the hangool (gadh iyo farraar), each in a separate tree.”
The elder’s story offers an incisive, but somewhat innocuous rendering of a political issue fraught with risk. Most inhabitants of the two regions are both proud and grateful that they have so far managed their differences peacefully. A member of Sanaag Intellectual and Youth Organization credits the elders and traditional leaders for keeping the peace: “People are together in the region thanks to traditional reconciliation processes and security guarantees offered by the clan system. Not by nationalism and the protection of modern state structures.”
That kind of pragmatism pervades Somaliland’s eastern regions, perhaps signifying the high premium that the people of the area place on peace – a theme to which the people of the east return time and again. “Nobody wants to go back to the civil war and insecurity of the 1990s,” says a spokesman for the Warsangeli Suldaan. “One should understand the causes for the civil wars and the consequent collapse of the Somali state… Today the contradiction lies between East and West, and it is over the sharing of the national cake. There is real dissatisfaction, but people are trying to diffuse it and proceed to a fairer sharing of resources.”
The powerful local undercurrents that interfuse Somaliland’s social and political fabric suggest that the sharing of the national cake is problematic in virtually every region and district of the country. On the other hand, in such a resource scarce environment, competition between regions and communities is often more imagined than real, since there will never be enough to satisfy everyone. The reaction of one senior government official to a discussion of regional disparity expressed both resignation and pragmatism: Caano jiilaal, camba can dareen [In the dry season when milk is scarce, each cheek feels it is getting less than the other].
Managing the relations between such diverse actors and interests in a way that minimizes the potential for a return to violent conflict, is widely understood to be Somaliland’s central challenge in governance. The territory’s history since 1991 illustrates just how fragile the peace really is. Nevertheless, the successive periods of conflict, negotiation and peace have helped Somalilanders to better define both the type of regime they will not tolerate and the system of governance they aspire to. Today’s government strikes a delicate balance between the two: it can afford neither to meet its people’s expectations, nor to incur their wrath.
In Somaliland, the perception of equity is far more than a political ideal: it is an indispensable condition for the preservation of political stability and social peace. History has demonstrated that Somalilanders are prepared to tolerate all manner of hardships and political ills – authoritarianism, corruption, conflict and poverty – but not injustice. The belief that one group is benefiting from the political system at the expense of others is among the most potent sources of instability and violence.
The settlements reached at Boorame (1993) and Hargeysa (1996) have persuaded Somalilanders to desist from violence and to place their trust in a rudimentary system of common government for an interim period. Somaliland’s future now depends upon the exchange of that transitional framework for a more refined and durable political structure, possessing two main guarantees of equity: participation and decentralization.
The widespread preoccupation with political participation can best be understood in terms of a reaction to the undemocratic, authoritarian, and elitist regimes of the past. But explaining its origins is not sufficient to indicate the way forward.
Somaliland’s brief post-Barre history offers some important clues as to the nature of participation best suited to the present context. The early transition from SNM rule to more broadly-based civilian administrations has already gone someway towards the realization of participatory government. The importance of broadly consultative fora at which decisions are reached through consensus is one notable feature; the growing confidence and seriousness with which Parliament approaches its responsibilities is another. But progress so far has relied upon the beel system, which is widely believed to be unequal to the tasks of modern governance. “People need to be consulted, educated and their awareness raised, about the government and its activities,” asserts one elder from Boorame, in explaining the shortcomings of clan representation. “Ministries and members of the Houses should come occasionally and talk to the people and tell them, at least, why government is needed, its use for them and its intentions.”
The rural population – particularly the nomads – has long been estranged from the political process. Improving the pastoral population’s participation in governance poses a formidable challenge, raising the question of what form of government is best suited to Somaliland’s rural majority. Many are concerned that the shift to a party system might alienate the pastoralists even further. According to one Hargeysa intellectual: “There is no government outside Hargeysa, and unless the rural man participates in and benefits from government, we cannot talk about [political] parties.”
The problem of participation is compounded by issues of representation. In many areas, pressure exists for the revision of administrative boundaries and the creation of new districts. A new region – Saaxil – was established in 1996, but its borders are indeterminate, and the elders of some communities to the east of Berbera are uncertain to which region they belong. Officials in Ceel-Afweyne and Sallaxley also complain that their jurisdiction is unclear, while the mayor of Maydh feels that his responsibilities are too restricted: “We cannot go beyond a five-mile radius – not even as far as Sheekh Isaxaaq’s tomb, which is supposed to be administered from Maydh.”
Boundaries often have less to do with administration than with representation: many clan groups want their own “district” as a means to enhanced prestige, or greater influence upon central government. The proliferation of districts, however, has little to do with demographic realities, nor with the capacity of a district to bear some of its own costs. But as long as politicians and elders seek to extend their political influence through kinship alone, the pressure to increase the number of districts is likely to continue.
Somalilanders are almost unanimous in their belief that one of the most effective ways to improve popular participation in government and to promote a stronger sense of equity between the regions and the center is decentralization. In recent years, the term “decentralization” has entered the jargon of good governance advocates and political pundits across Somaliland. But there appears to be no consensus on what decentralization might mean in practice, or how to realize it. An elder politician in Hargeysa is skeptical about the prospects for decentralization: “It [decentralization] is a subject that has been over-studied and over-researched as far as Somaliland is concerned. It has been on the agenda since the SNM days and it could not be moved forward because of clan divisions.”
Others are more positive about decentralization, but feel that the time has not yet come. They argue that since Somalis have known only tightly centralized, authoritarian systems of government for the greater part of this century, expecting them now to master political issues, elect local governments, and collect and manage taxes at the local level is tantamount to a revolution (UNDP: 1998). Many Somalilanders are unclear about what the devolution of administrative authority to the local level would entail. In an unpublished paper on the topic, one analyst noted that many Somalilanders tend to view the issue only in terms of “political autonomy – regional self-government – ignoring the corroborative need for fiscal autonomy”. In other words, few people realize that if they want local self-government, they will have to be prepared to bear its costs.
It follows that for decentralization to succeed, the government should invest greater efforts and resources in preparing its people for local self-government: procedures, rights and responsibilities should be clarified through a process of public debate and education. But, this alone may not be sufficient. One senior official with experience in Hargeysa’s local government warns that decentralization also involves difficult political choices: “For the president, it has been a top priority for a long time and he continuously comes back to it. But for now, the formation of local councils is most difficult and we are far from achieving it. For instance, even if you give all the seats of Hargeysa to one sub-clan they won’t be able to share them.” Another experienced official notes with concern that a review of regions and districts is required before an effective administrative system can be put in place, in order to minimize tensions and rivalry:
The old structure of dividing the country into regions and districts is still intact. Moreover, new districts are being instituted, fueling clan rivalry…Already in Somaliland we are aware of the ever-present conflict and the rivalry between regional Governors and the mayors of towns – a fact which causes a lot of headaches for the central government.
In sum, decentralization is a complex and delicate proposition. Some Somalilanders might even describe it as an idea whose time has not yet come, but others would argue that in the interests of national unity they cannot afford to postpone it.
The theoretical debate over decentralization is gradually being pre-empted by the facts on the ground, as central government and local administrations expand and elaborate their structures in haphazard and sometimes contradictory ways.
Public attitudes towards administration are inconsistent and mutable. Few Somalilanders are anxious to see a government as omnipresent and powerful as the previous military regime: to the contrary, they are likely to resist any power structure that implies the threat of domination: less than one year before Somaliland reclaimed its independence, one observer described the SNM leadership’s political orientation in the following terms:
They obviously want a weak state…They believe a strong trans-clan state has been tried, and that it was a resounding failure… They prefer a state which will not have enough power to oppress anybody, regardless of who controls it (Prunier: 1992).
But central government is also under constant attack for having neglected the regions, and for having been too slow to establish administration in the regions and districts. Such obvious contradictions epitomize the legacies of past governance practices: a deep distrust of central government on the one hand, and elevated demands of it on the other.
One universal expectation of the central government is that it should provide security throughout Somaliland – albeit in a benign, unthreatening way. Somalilanders everywhere recognize the importance of peace and security as a precondition to economic and social development. The central government appears to agree: in 1999, the government reportedly spent over 70% of the national budget on security forces – an indication of the high priority it awards the preservation of security. Small but sufficient security forces have been deployed in all regions: most are uniformed, draw token salaries and have received basic police training.
The central police training school in Mandheera is a key institution in the reconstruction of Somaliland’s police force, but it suffers from an acute shortage of resources. The fact that many police recruits are drawn from the ranks of the militia renders the instructors’ task even more difficult. Many of the recruits are illiterate, and initially have little respect for discipline and authority. “All they knew was just to kill and destroy. They have no traditional or Islamic values,” reports one of the disciplinary officers. As many as 80%85% of trainees are said to still have bullets in their bodies.
The concept of policing is so alien to some of their pupils that cadre at the police school have coined their own term – dib-u-dadayn, or “re-humanization”– to describe their work. Training begins at 4:30 am and continues until noon, and includes periods of Islamic study, drill and physical training in addition to technical aspects of police work. In the 1998 batch of 125 trainees, 25 failed to meet the standard. The instructors are confident that those who pass the course “leave here as policemen full of discipline and character.” The recruits are also proud of their achievements, especially their newly acquired literary skills, and many have given up the use of qaad. One graduate, an ex-seaman from Sanaag reflects upon the attitudinal change he has undergone: “When we look back, we are shocked by how misguided we were in the past. We are reclaimed from barbarism.”
Despite their recognition of police achievements, members of the public and government officials across the country are critical of policing standards. In most regional capitals, mayors complain of the ineffectiveness of local police units; one mayor blasts their lack of professionalism and shoddy personal conduct, accusing some of them of instigating problems within his municipality. Many complain that the loyalties of policemen remain divided between their employer and their clan – a problem illustrated by the experience of Ceerigaabo: “We have 570 policemen here,” says the town mayor. “We’ve had 12 killings – none of which has been solved by the police. The police is based on clan (beelo) so it is very weak.” Government efforts to post officers away from their home regions are intended to reinforce professionalism and to minimize clan pressures on policemen, but such measures have been only partially successful. A senior official in Hargeysa is concerned that in their present state, the security forces are not up to the task of maintaining public order.
The current police and military can’t be trusted with the overall security of the country. What we have is not a regular security force. We have an underpaid and under-trained security force.
The mayor of one town agrees that lack of training is a major part of the problem. “Don’t forget, we brought them from militia, gave them uniforms and call them police, without reforming and investing in them. Nobody told them enough.”
The problems are not limited to the effectiveness of police training. In most areas of Somaliland the force lacks adequate resources for even basic operational needs. Many stations lack transport and communications and receive only a bare minimum of the office materials required to maintain records.
Even when the police are able to carry out their duties at a satisfactory level, the judicial and custodial systems are often deficient. Somaliland’s judiciary is understaffed, and many of its members under-qualified. A confusing blend of parallel legal codes – civil, criminal, customary and Islamic – coexist, and are unevenly applied. Many courtrooms lack even the stationery upon which to record their proceedings. Similarly, the custodial corps suffers from chronic budgetary constraints. Conditions in the jails, although better than in some parts of the continent, are unsanitary and the diet is poor. In some towns, private individuals contribute money and rations to alleviate the conditions of the prisoners.
Administrative development in Somaliland has been uneven. In the western regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed and Saaxil, government administration is well established, whereas in the east, government authority has been slower to take root. Where local government has gained ground, progress appears to be more a function of community leadership and initiative than of central government support.
Leaders in both Gabiley and Boorame are proud of their achievements, having established their own local administrations and revived their taxation systems. But both express an element of discomfort in their relationship with the central government. One town Mayor reflects upon how proximity to Hargeysa can be a drawback: “We are constantly troubled by a stream of government officials coming here on visits. They sent auditors to us four times during the first four months after I took office. The Auditors want their expenses to be taken care by us. Ministers also come here and impose themselves, without any consideration for our [financial] situation.”
The Burco municipality is among the most advanced in Somaliland – a remarkable achievement for a town almost entirely destroyed by war as recently as 1996, and whose current administration was established in July 1997. According to the Mayor, all local departments are functioning, except the office of census and statistics, which was closed on the orders of the central government. Over the past year, the municipality has embarked on an impressive range of rehabilitation activities, rebuilding the regional hospital, repairing and furnishing several schools, and developing a new, 1200-stall market, intended to become the largest in Somaliland – largely with locally-raised funds and community contributions.
Self-help initiatives have also spurred the development of smaller communities like Balli Gubadle, southwest of Hargeysa near the Ethiopian border, and Bonn in Awdal region. The tradition of self-help in Bonn is said to date from 1958, and continues to the present day: the town’s leadership have rehabilitated parts of the water supply system and regularly mobilize work gangs for road repair. In Balli Gubadle, members of the local community and the diaspora have joined forces to rebuild and expand public infrastructure.
Not all administrative developments are so positive. Some trends reflect the legacies of the Barre era, when appointments were calculated to appease special interests and the bureaucracy was gravely overstaffed. Former civil servants feel entitled to reclaim their former posts, whether or not the new administration needs them or can afford to pay them. As one Mayor asserts:
Virtually everybody from our region who held a position in the local governments of the collapsed regime has now become a paid employee of our local government, even though the level of required public employees is only a small percentage of what it was in the past. We cannot refuse anyone.
The bloating of the civil service is not limited to former civil servants. Many offices are peopled by individuals without clearly defined functions, whose main qualification appears to be a family link to a well-placed political figure. The large number of ministerial portfolios and other senior positions in the central government hierarchy helps to satisfy clan demands for representation, but it also multiplies the opportunities to influence civil service appointments in the capital and in the regions, adding to the overstaffing problem.
The involvement of extended families and clans in lobbying for civil service complicates government efforts to rationalize the system. Attempts to fire an unnecessary or unqualified employee often provoke a collective response, as do disciplinary actions. Ironically, many of the same people who demand accountability and transparency from the government are the first to challenge the application of such measures to their kinsmen.
Nevertheless, government plans exist to reduce the size of the civil service from approximately 6,000 personnel to just over 3,200 through competitive examinations under the auspices of the Civil Service Commission. Although the reduction is likely to prove unpopular, the government has little choice: it simply cannot afford to sustain the civil service at its current size. The Ministry of Finance set the pace for change in December 1999 by holding compulsory examinations for employees. Approximately half of the Ministry’s staff were released following the exams, while the remainder were graded according to their scores, and their salaries increased and indexed to their grades. The enhanced salary levels are intended to provide an incentive for other Ministries to conduct similar examinations and to introduce a more merit-based personnel system within government.
A reduction in staffing levels could release funds for other needs, or it could be used to increase pay levels within the civil service, in order to fight ills like corruption. Reliable statistics on the level of corruption in Somaliland do not exist, but with civil service salaries set as low as US$ 7 per month, few government employees can survive on their official income. Indeed, many Somalilanders marvel that practice of corruption is not even more flagrant, given the impossibly low salary levels of government workers.
Payment of government workers is just one of the many revenue problems in the country, but it is perhaps the most generalized complaint among public officials. Most civil servants are underpaid, whether they work in the central government or in local administrations, and some are lucky to be paid at all. Across the country, functionaries can sympathize with the plight of a female clerical worker in Ceerigaabo: “I work for the local government, but I do not receive any salary – it’s not a fixed amount. We are here only in the expectation that things will improve in future.”
Some municipalities have given up waiting for things to improve, and have taken matters into their own hands. In Boorame, the local authorities have started offering incentives on the basis of job performance, while in Burco, the mayor has completely over-hauled municipal finances – to the advantage of his employees. As he tells it:
At the outset I told the president that paying the mayor 22,000 Shillings per month is an invitation to corruption. Similarly, not giving the other employees enough to buy their lunch is also an invitation to corruption. So I asked Mr. President to allow us to have our lunch, and he did. Since we pay [our employees] well – more than their lunch – they have to be clean and honest. Otherwise they have to go.
Under the mayor’s system, local government workers in Burco today receive between 200,000 and 500,000 Somaliland Shillings per month (US$60-160). In return, they are expected to perform their duties diligently and honestly; the mayor, his revenue collectors, and the staff in his office must swear on the Holy Qur’an not to practice corruption.
So far, Burco’s tactics seem to be working. Retained revenues have increased by more than 200% since 1997, when the municipality took in 80 million shillings per month. In 1999, that figure surpassed 200 million shillings, and was expected to reach 270 million. The increase covers more than the increase in staff salaries. According to the mayor, 60% of the town’s income is invested in rehabilitation and development schemes, while the remainder is used for salaries and services. Enough is left over that the municipality also subsidizes central government functions like the police force, prisons and courts.
Unlike Burco, most municipalities are still struggling to come to terms with revenue issues. The local authorities in Ceel Afweyne, northeast of Burco, have built two rooms for the police station with their proceeds. But they also complain that the tough tax regime in Burco has cut into their earnings. Argues the mayor: “The administration in Burco has created a lot of problems for us, because they also charge taxes on the livestock that transit through here. People refuse to pay us, since they prefer to pay the Burco tax. If they don’t pay at Beer [the tax control for Burco], they won’t be allowed to pass.”
In eastern Somaliland, revenue collection is taking place at Ceerigaabo, Maydh, and Garcadag, but not in Badhan, Lasqoray, or Dhahar. To the west, Boorame has progressed relatively far in its revenue collection methods, and like Burco subsidizes certain central government functions. In addition to paying for services like sanitation and road repair, the mayor of Boorame affirms that the municipality contributes to policing costs, and even covers a shortfall of 40 million shillings in the Regional Governor’s budget, which used to be paid from Hargeysa
Disparities in revenue collection can become a source of rivalry between local authorities. An official in one regional capital complains: “We don’t receive any contributions from other municipalities [in our region]. On the contrary, they compete with us in the collection of taxes, by establishing new checkpoints.” Even the central government finds itself in competition with regional and municipal administrations. According to the Minister of Finance, local government revenues exceed those of the central government, but the municipalities are unwilling to share: “We’ve called upon all local governments for a meeting to deal with these problems, but Hargeysa, Gabiley and Berbera refused to show up.”
Despite such competition, the central government’s finances have improved steadily over the past few years – notwithstanding a Saudi ban on the import of Somali livestock in 1998-99 that rattled the Somaliland economy. Annual revenues have increased from a low of about 690 million shillings (US$700,000) in 1995 to an estimated 41.5 billion shillings (almost US$ 14 million) in 1999. Over the same period, the annual budget deficit has been brought under control, dropping from a peak of approximately 6 billion shillings (roughly US$ 2 million) to zero in the current fiscal year. The government’s debt to domestic creditors (excluding the central bank) is reported by the Ministry of Finance to have diminished from the equivalent of US$ 5 million in 1997 to US$ 2.5 million today. Total domestic debt currently stands at 18 billion shillings (about US$ 6 million), most of it with the Central Bank.
What the figures do not show, however, is how far the government’s budget is overstretched. After debt servicing, which absorbs over 40% of total revenues, almost 83% of the national budget is dedicated to the security forces and general administration. Only 10% remains for social spending, while 7% is allocated for “economic” purposes.
With 18,000 men on the payroll, it is not surprising that security forces consume the lion’s share of government revenues. Each member receives 84,000 shillings plus a food rations equivalent to US$15 every month. No one begrudges the government the price it pays to maintain the peace, but some question the extent to which the costs are political or real. As one senior government official explains: “We have competing interest groups, and we are hostages to these interest groups. For example, we just pay the army without verifying their numbers.”
Verifying the numbers is a problem that extends to revenue collection as well. Government officials know that not all the money collected is entered into official accounts, but they are unable to determine the scale of the loss. “How much do we lose?” asks the Minister of Finance. “We don’t know. We usually check the amount collected on a normal day, then set the limit on that day. [The revenue collectors] aren’t allowed to go below that limit.”
In Hargeysa, the mayor estimates that as much as 45% of potential revenue is lost because of “lack of capacity,” with a smaller percentage diverted through corruption. But there is no doubt that corruption is endemic in the system. One government official observes: “We have customs collectors who are paid 20,000 Somaliland Shillings, but collect 30 million [shillings] per day.” That, as the mayor of Burco has pointed out in his own efforts to improve revenue management, is an invitation to corruption.
Plugging the leaks by paying higher wages is one way for the government to augment its retained revenues. Another possibility is the expansion of its tax base, but this is also likely to prove complicated. “Payment of taxes is a political issue,” according to an intellectual from Ceerigaabo. “People here have died resisting the payment of only 60,000 Somali Shillings (less than US$10).” Few people, however, find it necessary to lay down their lives in order to avoid taxation. Most of the time, the authorities are simply powerless to coerce delinquents into paying. “If someone refuses to pay the tax,” says the mayor of Ceerigaabo, “we can’t arrest him or her, because that might divide the police along clan lines.” In a society where memories of upheaval and civil strife are still so recent, those are the kinds of risks that no one is eager to take.
The overthrow of the Barre regime ended almost a decade of economic warfare against the north. The repressive restrictions and controls of the military government were removed, and the return of peace to the area allowed normal patterns of trade and other economic activity to resume. Led by private investors, Somaliland’s economy has since grown considerably in the aftermath of the war. The construction sector has been swelled by the massive need for rebuilding and repair of dwellings. Companies offering telecommunications, airlines, and financial services have mushroomed. And small enterprises like bakeries, laundries, office supplies and convenience stores are also making a comeback.
The vitality of Somaliland’s private sector has led many observers to describe it as the engine of national recovery. But there is also widespread concern that economic trends are not all for the public good. Commercialized livestock trading is creating unprecedented environmental pressures. The absence of an effective regulatory framework has encouraged irresponsible and sometimes noxious practices like charcoal trading, overfishing and uncontrolled pharmaceutical traffic. Unproductive competition in the telecommunications and energy sectors has led to the irrational and inefficient proliferation of small service providers. In many sectors, the profit motive is unrestrained by considerations of quality control, consumer protection, or environmental conservation.
Most disconcerting is the overwhelming dependence of Somaliland’s economy on the livestock trade. Livestock represents the bulk of Somaliland’s export earnings, and a significant percentage of government revenues. But its reliance upon a single export market (Saudi Arabia) renders the Somaliland economy extremely vulnerable to external forces, as the 1998-99 Saudi ban on Somali livestock clearly illustrated. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that the limits of Somaliland’s ecosystem to support the pastoral economy may soon be reached – if they have not already been surpassed.
Animal husbandry pervades every aspect of Somaliland society. Beyond its economic dimensions, the nomadic pastoral system contributes to a sense of collective identity, shared culture and values. Even in the more settled areas where pure pastoralism has been diluted with agricultural practices, people often describe themselves in terms of nomadic pastoralism. The camel is a national symbol, and the language and imagery of pastoralism enjoy the stature of high art.
Above all, pastoralism is the lifeline of the Somaliland economy. In the words of an elder from Ijaara, an ancient agropastoral settlement southwest of Hargeysa: “Our livelihoods depend on livestock. We all live off the neef (head of livestock), in one way or another.” For pastoralists and agropastoralists alike, their animals are a source of daily subsistence, providing them with milk, meat and ghee (clarified butter). Sales of livestock and its products provide the income to buy other goods for consumption. On a much larger scale, the export of livestock also fuels the national economy, generating the hard currency required for imports, including the staple cereals of which Somaliland has a domestic deficit.
Nomadic pastoralism is a complex and sophisticated system, well-adapted to the arid environment of the eastern Horn of Africa. It is perhaps the most efficient use of the region’s scarce natural resources. But today, in Somaliland, the pastoral economy is under threat, imperiled by environmental pressures, inadequate infrastructure, and substandard services, like veterinary care, and the impact of commercialization on the livestock economy. The pastoral environment has deteriorated to the point where many parts of the country are devoid of vegetation or have been taken over by plants of less value to livestock: thorny, inedible species like tiin, garanwaa, keligii noole, sarmaan, and qudhac (tincad) now proliferate where more lush, nutritious pasture once grew, indicating a process of gradual but persistent desertification.
Availability of water is a ubiquitous and eternal problem for the pastoralists, whose migration is determined by the location of water sources and whose existence revolves around the cycles of rain and drought. Authorities in all regions of Somaliland describe the availability of water as their greatest problem and their first priority. Much infrastructure (e.g. wells, reservoirs) is non-functioning or in a state of disrepair. Just over half of the pre-war mechanized wells are reported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to be functioning, but the situation is far from sufficient (GOS – Plan of Action, 1999). Changing patterns in human settlement, migration patterns, land use and population have aggravated the hardships of Jiilaal (the long, dry season) and of cyclical minor droughts. This in turn increases the pressure upon existing water sources. The situation in Caynabo, a major watering point in eastern Somaliland – as described by a local camel herder – is typical: “Thousands of camels, sheep and goats and 45 water-tank trucks used this well every day during the last Jiilaal. But nobody cares for the well.”
Private initiatives have partially alleviated the problem of water availability. Berkado, first introduced in the dry Hawd zone to harvest rainwater, are now widespread. Portable water tanks, dubbed “mobile berkeds” have recently been introduced, especially in the east. When rains are insufficient, berked owners may purchase water from tanker trucks. Consequently, the areas around berkado are typically overgrazed, since animals water there all year round and no time is permitted for the regeneration of local pasture.
A phenomenon closely related to the proliferation of berkado is the growing use of enclosures – a problem that is most acute in the Woqooyi Galbeed, Awdal and Sanaag regions. Where enclosures have taken root, general impoverishment of the population can be observed. In Allay Baday, one pastoralist finds the problem so alarming that he predicts: “If enclosures continue at this pace, we will lose all our animals and there won’t be any life in the rural areas.” Enclosures not only limit access to pasture, but they also curtail the mobility of the pastoralists during their seasonal migrations. Traditional land use patterns and coping strategies have been undermined. For instance, in the Qadow area south of Gabiley, enclosures deny pastoralist movements between the Hawd/Oogo zone and the rich grazing grounds on the coast. In eastern Woqooyi Galbeed, export livestock driven from the interior to Berbera port encounter enclosure barriers on their way to the coast. In several areas where enclosures are practiced intensively, the authorities and elders describe them as a continuous source of conflict and insecurity.
Veterinary services for pastoralists are of a poor standard. In the pre-war period, the government provided veterinary services, which were heavily dependent on bilateral aid. Today, despite the availability of drugs and many qualified and skilled veterinarians, services are still rudimentary and haphazard. In the words of herdsman from Sallaxley, south of Hargeysa: “Xoolihii waa dayacan yihiin” (“The livestock is in a state of neglect”).
In the absence of veterinary services, livestock owners buy livestock medicines from itinerant drug traders or ordinary village stores and administer them to their animals themselves. The majority of stockowners are unable to read and write, and have difficulty understanding the instructions. Even those who do read (or who have someone read the instructions for them) may nevertheless administer the medicines incorrectly. The result is a disastrous abuse of drugs. One young chemist in Ceerigaabo, returned from the United States to find his family herd decimated by disease and the local environment contaminated:
Sixty percent of the camel herd died of ecto-parasitic diseases. The parasites have developed resistance to drugs used indiscriminately. It is common that large herds die of maladministration of drugs and contamination of the environment by open dipping. Thirty-three she-camels out of fifty-five that conceived during the last Gu season, have suffered from miscarriages.
Pastoralists have few places to turn for help. The government lacks the means to develop its own veterinary care program, and has so far been unable to regulate the activities of the private sector. Only a few international organizations have been active in the sector, and their activities – like those of Vet Aid and the International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) – have generally been low-key and of limited duration.
Pastoralists consume only a tiny proportion of their own stock. Most of their herd is destined for the livestock market: the seylad. The seylad is the heart-beat of most towns and villages in Somaliland. It is the meeting place of the rural producer with the urban consumers and commercial exporters, and is the barometer of Somaliland’s economic health. There are several major livestock markets in Somaliland: Burco–Yiroowe, Hargeysa, Ceel-Afweyn and Tog Wajaale. All of them handle livestock from all corners of the Somali territories. The seylado in Burco-Yiroowe and Hargeysa are among the largest livestock markets in the Horn: during in one day at Burco-Yiroowe, as many as 10,000 heads of sheep and goats may be sold for export. This number excludes sales for local consumption known as daabaaxaad (for slaughter). The yearly sales in such seylad run into the millions of heads, and the income accruing from it is proportionately huge. If livestock is the oil of the Somalis, then these mega-seylado are the international spot markets.
The revenues generated by livestock sales do not accrue to the producers alone. Between the seylad and the point of export, literally dozens of intermediaries can become involved in the process, each taking a cut of the proceeds. One observer estimates that as many as thirty people may become involved in a single livestock transaction. Even within the seylad itself, producers and consumers are visibly outnumbered by brokers, whose preferred working tool is the stick. In every livestock market, armies of brokers carrying sticks form human circles around small clusters of goats/sheep. Often there are more people in the circle than heads of livestock. Each and every one of these brokers takes a piece of the sale – often before the producer gets his proceeds. The importance of the seylad in terms of employment and the redistribution of wealth should not be underestimated.
A relatively recent development in the seylado is the advent of women traders. Although women have long been involved in the slaughter market that produces meat for local consumption, a limited number are beginning to establish themselves as traders. A male broker in Yiroowe notes that their market share is still limited: “Some women operate in this market, but their capacity is low. The maximum a woman can buy a day is only 120 heads of sheep, compared to the average man’s capacity of 3000 heads a day.”
At such a low level, women traders are unable to compete in the larger, more profitable markets like Saudi Arabia, and concentrate instead on less lucrative markets like Djibouti. Women in the livestock business cite several reasons for their commercial disadvantage:
- overspending of their returns: businesswomen tend to spend more in their homes than businessmen do
- lack managerial and book-keeping skills
- lack of sources of financing
- few business women are educated
- lack of collaboration: it is harder for women to find long-term business partners
Female traders are not the only new development in the livestock trade. There are indications that the seylad may eventually give way to more commercialized systems of livestock trading. A cattle dealer from Gabiley describes how cattle marketing has already been restructured by the relentless competition between the dealers:
The bulk of cattle exported through Berbera come from Ethiopia and Somalia. The markets for cattle transactions, before the civil conflict, were inside Somaliland. Producers used to bring their cattle to these markets, selling them at market prices. Now, since there is no border control, the traders are competing with one another by purchasing cattle from the source [inside Ethiopia] instead of waiting for producers to bring their herds to the market.
In doing so, they circumvent the complex system of intermediate brokers who frequent the seylad. Although the new system has obvious advantages for both exporters and producers, it implies tremendous changes for the pastoral economy and those who depend upon it.
Trade in sheep, goats and camels is gradually undergoing similar restructuring, but to a lesser degree. “Leading livestock exporters take rations (rice and sugar) across the border to places like Dhagax Buur, Godey [both in Ethiopia], and even further south, to barter for livestock,” laments a livestock broker who feels he is losing business. Other brokers denounce such practices as unpatriotic, since they work to the advantage of producers in Ethiopia and Somalia while enfeebling the Somaliland seylado. The entire economy of Somaliland will suffer, the argument goes, while foreign interests will benefit.
Export traders – as opposed to brokers – are less concerned with patriotism than with profits, which are defined by the complex relationship between “Gadbadda iyo neefka”(the sack of food and the head of livestock). In this barter-type relationship, the livestock producer receives most of his payment in kind (i.e. in the form of rice, sugar etc), since the main livestock exporters are also importers of commodities. The profits of both the livestock herder and the import/export trader are therefore calculated in terms of the relationship between the unit price of livestock and the unit price of his commodities. That same calculation, writ large, is one of the dominant forces in the Somaliland economy, influencing everything from the cost of casual labor to the exchange rate. In a very real sense, gadbadda iyo neefka are the systole and diastole at the heart of Somaliland’s body politic.
Livestock destined for export is taken from the seylado to Berbera port – or any one of several smaller ports along the coast – for shipping to the Suuq, the large consumer market in Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Berbera has historically been a major hub in international livestock trade, and became a world leader during the 1970s. With export levels exceeding three million heads in 1997 (UNDP: 1998), Berbera has surpassed its pre-war levels and is emerging as a world leader once again. Those statistics are vital to Somaliland’s economic health: the country earned US$ 176.6 million from livestock exports in 1997 (Ministry of Planning: 1998-1999), and the Ministry of Finance expects government revenues from exports to reach US$ 7 million in 1999.
The domination of Somaliland’s economy by the livestock trade is a liability. In 1998-99, when Saudi Arabia placed a ban on the import of Somali livestock, the impact was dramatic. Somaliland’s national income suffered a sudden drop of as much as 40% (UNDP: 1998). The ban affected all sectors of Somaliland society including urban dwellers, many of whom previously believed that only nomads depended on livestock. Even beyond the central “triangle” of Somaliland’s livestock trade, economic activity slowed to a crawl. In Boorame, just prior to the lifting of the ban, a garage manager’s clients were unable to pay their bills: “I spend hours fixing cars and trucks and I end up most of the time with nothing, because the owners have no money. Cars and trucks have no work to do, due to the current economic hardships.” Similar experiences were the topic of discussion in every household, business enterprise, government office and – above all – in the mafrish (regular afternoon qaad chewing sessions) for the duration of the Saudi ban.
The lifting of the ban in mid-1999 met with tremendous relief, and an almost immediate upturn in the Somaliland economy. But Somalilanders are cognizant that the experience could be repeated, and that there is a need to diversify production if they are not to remain hostage to the Arabian livestock markets. “We cannot afford to be complacent again or to take [our livelihoods] for granted,” warns a Berbera businessman.
Somaliland’s dependence on the Saudi and Gulf markets, however, is less a matter of choice than a matter of circumstance, and altering the pattern of livestock exports will not be easy. Jizan, the nearest Saudi port, offers good prices and is in close proximity to Berbera, making it an ideal destination for livestock on the hoof. In the opinion of an official from the Somaliland Chamber of Commerce:
No other foreign market is as ideal for Somalia’s livestock as Saudi Arabia is. For instance, the only viable alternative market for camels is Egypt, which usually takes camels between the ages of 8 to 10 years, and most of the current stocks are not in that age group. As for Somali goats and sheep, the only market is Saudi Arabia. Their high production cost and smaller weight (an average of 15 kg) make them less competitive in any other market… Moreover, [Somali livestock] are very well-liked and there is a marketing system which specializes in selling them to Saudi Arabian consumers. The small size fits well within a family’s meat purchasing power and storage capacity.
Such advantages encourage Somaliland exporters to try their luck in the Saudi market, despite the long-term risks.
Where Somaliland’s exporters do sense an opportunity, they are quick to exploit it – so quick, in fact, that they often undermine their own interests by dumping on the market. In Yemen, where many exporters redirected their produce during the Saudi ban, prices are far below the Saudi standard. A popular anecdote describes Yemeni surprise at a Somali exporter’s complaints about the low price he is offering for Somali livestock: “But you Somalis simply collect the animals free where they thrive like wild game,” comes the reply. A somewhat more serious account suggests that Yemeni importers are also dismayed by livestock dumping, which cuts into their own profits. In a conversation with one Somali trader, a Yemeni importer is reported to have complained: “What you Somalis are doing to the market is senselessly destroying it; why are you ruining the market for us all – importers and exporters alike?”
Appreciation of the folly of livestock dumping is beginning to grow within Somaliland, and there have been several attempts to address this complex issue by both the exporters and the authorities. A cattle dealer from Gabiley recalls an early attempt to regulate cattle exports: “When we collaborated as cattle exporters, sending 6,000 heads each month to Yemen, we were able to make $100 profit per head. But the collaboration was short-lived, as the adopted system of rotating exports among traders was disrupted by newcomers not bound by the arrangement.” According to the governor of Saaxil, the government has tabled a proposal intended “to reduce livestock shipments to 4,000 heads per night: that is about 20,000 heads per week. Now they ship about 20,000 to 30,000 heads per night, which naturally overwhelms the market.”
Opponents of regulation fear that they will be unfairly penalized by a quota system. Even if Somaliland exporters accept ceilings upon their trade with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, they argue, what is to prevent exporters from Somalia and elsewhere from spoiling the market? Some are also concerned that export regulations would be vulnerable to manipulation within Somaliland, favoring some exporters and not others.
Many exporters charge that their own government does not do enough to help, and in some respects even undermines the livestock trade. They resent the heavy taxation and multiple layers of duties and surcharges they encounter at all levels of government. They argue that this raises export prices, weakening the competitiveness of Somaliland livestock in the Arabian market, and encouraging traders to seek their profits from imports instead, which face a lighter burden of duties.
Exporters are also critical that so little of the revenue generated for the government by export sales is reinvested in the livestock sector. From the local markets to the ports of shipment, services and infrastructure for livestock are deeply inadequate. Berbera, which handles millions of animals for export every year, offers very little in the way of water, shade, health or other services. The holding grounds are poorly maintained with inadequate forage and water supply (GOS – Plan of Action 1999). Smaller ports, such as Maydh, are even less accommodating: “Since the road linking Maydh to the interior markets is very rough, and steep, we prefer to trek the livestock to Maydh on foot,” says a livestock dealer in Sanaag. “Naturally that causes them physical exhaustion and loss of weight. Worse still, at the destination port on the coast there is no resting facility and no veterinary service. Water and forage are very scarce so we have to load them quickly, which is another ordeal. Loading the livestock on dhows, which are anchored a couple of kilometers from the shore, is a risky undertaking. We use small boats. That too, is very stressful.” The result is that Somaliland livestock reach their destinations weakened and in poor condition, lowering their value.
The pastoral economy encompasses not only the production and trade of livestock on the hoof, but also an ancillary commerce in animal products: hides, skins, milk, and ghee. Although some observers believe that these products can become an important supplement to the export of live animals, others are skeptical about their development beyond a crude, artisanal level.
In a society where roughly 50% of the population are pastoralists, the economic importance of milk production is acknowledged but imperfectly understood. Pre-war statistics pertaining to Gross National Product have even been described as invalid because they failed to take into account the pastoral production and consumption of milk.
In more recent years, this staple of nomadic pastoralists has begun to find a growing market in town centers, and even abroad. Camel and cattle milk sales have been accelerating over the past few years in Somaliland, developing into an important source of cash for pastoralists and agropastoralists, with which they purchase essential items like sugar and cereals. This business is dominated by women: “We sell this little bit of milk, just to get some sugar, rice, and tea, and if it is possible, we buy tobacco for our husbands,” explains one of the many rural women who brings her milk to Boorame.
Trade in hides and skins has long constituted part of the ancient trade between the hinterland of the Horn with the coastal towns. In the past, hides and skins were extensively used in the local market, as well as for export. Today, most local usage has disappeared and only sheep and goats skins find a market abroad. According to one dealer, exporters are facing formidable constraints: “After the war, there was a growing demand for hides, which peaked at a record level of US$5 per piece in 1995. But since then the price has been going down and it has dropped as low as US$0.5 per piece.”
Like livestock on the hoof, Somaliland’s exporters of hides and skins have contributed to their own difficulties by flooding the only major market available to them: the United Arab Emirates. Elsewhere in the world, markets for raw hides have been declining, and Somaliland lacks processing facilities that would permit it to compete on international markets. The customary practices of Somali pastoralists also serve to devalue hides and skins, which are not cared for during the raising of stocks. Branding the animals, which helps to identify live animals, damages their skins and lowers both their quality and the price they fetch on overseas markets.
Agropastoralist communities are found mainly in areas where conditions are favorable for crop production and for raising cattle as primary stock. Broadly speaking these communities have moved one step away from transhumant animal husbandry towards cultivation and permanent settlement. Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate to label Somaliland’s agropastoralists – as some analysts do – simply as farmers, or as farmers-in-the-making. Particularly in drier areas, many prefer to describe themselves as livestock producers who supplement their income with crop production. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the importance assigned by many agropastoralists to animal husbandry has not decreased relative to cultivation; in recent years, it has instead strengthened, especially during the periods of war and civil strife. In the view of an agropastoralist from Ijaara, in Gabiley district: “We no longer view crop production as a worthwhile economic activity: livestock is our main livelihood. When we sell the neef (head of livestock), only then are we able to plough our farms with the livestock proceeds. During the civil war, we were able to take our herds with us, but we weren’t able to take our farms.”
In addition to the disruption of sedentary cultivation during the prolonged civil conflict, other trends in the post-war period have helped to reinforce the emphasis of agropastoralists on livestock herding. Rain-fed farming activities have been in decline for several decades, and some of the most productive pre-war farming areas are today nearly barren. Even before the civil war, the popularity of rain-fed farming was held in check by the “Scientific Socialist” agricultural policy of the Barre’s regime, which eliminated individual incentives for farmers and thus sapped their motivation. Farm produce was appropriated by the notorious Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), or pooled in co-operative schemes. One popular jibe among farmers mocked the predatory nature of the scheme, noting that “birds and the ADC only show up at harvest time.”
Following the 1977 Somali-Ethiopian war and the subsequent escalation of the civil war in 1988, relief food supplies to the refugee camps limited the marketability of any local produce – notably sorghum and maize. These patterns continued for some time even after the war’s end, since refugee rations continued to enter Somaliland from the refugee camps in Ethiopia. Over roughly the same period, many Somalilanders acquired new tastes, becoming accustomed to products encountered during their refugee experience, or while in southern Somalia. Demand for sorghum and maize declined, while wheat and beans became more popular.
Since the end of the war, agropastoralists in drier areas have generally favored animal husbandry over the revival of cultivation. The commercialization of the livestock sector and the earning power of the seylad made farming a less attractive occupation. “Many people in the agricultural sector became involved in livestock market transactions, earning more with less time and effort, compared with laborious agricultural work,” explains an elder-businessman from Gabiley.
In areas of greater rainfall, the importance of animal husbandry to agropastoralists has declined in relation to their agricultural activities. For farmers in such areas, crops have superseded animal husbandry as the primary mode of production. Their livestock is often limited to a few oxen or camels who are used for ploughing (sometimes in tandem with a donkey), as well as cattle and goats who provide milk and a marketable surplus. The agricultural practices of such farmers remain relatively simple, using single pointed shafts for ploughing, and neglecting the potential advantages of fertilizer and extension work.
Paradoxically, one development commonly cited as a negative influence upon rain-fed farming has been the exchange of the traditional ox-plough for mechanized farming. Farmers complain that use of hired tractors increases their input costs, reduces flexibility in planting time and, in certain areas, diminishes the spirit of Guus, a traditionally voluntary, collective effort among farmers in ploughing, sowing, weeding and harvesting. Farmers who still depend upon manual labor complain that they face a labor shortage, since local youth see no future in farming and gravitate instead to the urban centers, looking for employment. Together, these factors seem to have led agropastoralists to look more towards their herds than to their crops as they recover from the upheaval of the war years.
Unlike rain-fed farming, irrigated farming in Somaliland has increased substantially over the last two decades. In Woqooyi Galbeed and Awdal regions, “Tog farming” along the banks of dry riverbeds and perennial springs is the most common type of irrigation agriculture, producing fruits and vegetables. Some tog farmers use reservoirs for harvesting rainwater and run-off water for irrigation. Others dig shallow wells along the tog banks or sink wells, raised and reinforced with concrete, in the middle of the tog. In both cases water pumps bring the water to the crops. In Sanaag, and to a lesser extent in Saaxil, gravity irrigation from natural springs is more widely used.
One of the most remarkable irrigated farming communities is Allay Baday, south west of Hargeysa. Once a major seylad, Allay Baday’s declining fortunes were reversed when a young entrepreneur started a vegetable farm around his father’s reservoir, using a one piston machine to water his experimental onion, tomato, papaya, cabbage and other vegetable plantings. His success encouraged others to tap into Allay Baday’s vast water resources, which are today collected in over sixty reservoirs, transforming the settlement into a major supplier to the fruit and vegetable markets of Somaliland. Allay Baday’s produce has earned a share of the large Hargeysa market, and is now being exported to Jigjiga (across the border in Ethiopia). Entrepreneurs from Allay Baday are also exploring possibilities of expanding to the Gulf markets.
Allay Baday’s high quality produce, aggressive marketing strategy, and co-operative methods have created something of a success story, but the example has not been replicated elsewhere. A number of factors appear to prevent other communities – including border villages in the same area – from following the same path. One disincentive is the stiff competition from Ethiopian and Yemeni products – mainly tomatoes, papaya and greens – which are dumped into local markets, regardless of demand.
Another problem, mainly in eastern Somaliland, is the availability of skilled and affordable labor. Farmers in the west have access to skilled and relatively cheap labor from Ethiopia. Elsewhere, farmers are obliged to seek labor from among Somaliland’s army of unemployed youth, who typically demand higher pay in order to earn enough money to purchase a daily mijin (bundle of qaad) in addition to their subsistence needs.
Irrigation farmers complain that excessive government controls reduce the sector’s profitability. Their produce is subject to local government taxes and they are required to submit their goods to municipalities for inspection before transporting them to markets in the urban centers. These taxes, they claim, are arbitrarily levied and frequently inflated by local government officials.
Opportunities to improve the viability of irrigated farming do exist. Many farmers recognize the need to develop their technological base as well as their knowledge of preservation techniques. Simple processing and canning procedures could give added value to produce and open access to the markets of the Gulf countries and neighboring Djibouti, but for the moment they are not in use.
Somaliland possesses rich fishing grounds along its northern coast, which could potentially support a valuable fishery industry and contribute to the nation’s food security and socio-economic wealth (Van der Elst: 1997). The inhabitants of coastal communities, however, generally show little interest in developing marine resources, and seek instead to improve their access to the livestock export trade and to opportunities for employment and collection of government revenue. The governor of Sanaag region is perplexed by his people’s lack of interest in the sea: “Though the potential is there, fishing activity in our region is virtually non-existent.”
A number of small-scale development projects, intended to enhance the fisheries sector were initiated under the Barre regime, with foreign assistance. These were severely disrupted by the war, but activities have since resumed in certain areas. Both Berbera and Laas Qoray are sites of small scale fishing activity. Despite its relatively advanced facilities and the support of an international NGO, COOPI, Berbera’s embryonic fisheries sector is unable to satisfy the demands of Hargeysa’s market. The Governor of Saaxil believes that better cold storage facilities are essential to the development of the sector: “The lack of sufficient ice and cooling systems is impeding the development of fisheries in our region.” In contrast with Berbera’s domestic focus, Laas Qoray specializes in shark fins for export abroad, often through the nearby Boosaaso market.
Despite their apparent lack of interest in their seacoast, Somalilanders are deeply concerned by the illegal activities of foreign fishing vessels in their waters. The authorities and inhabitants in coastal communities are unanimous in their condemnation of foreign incursions into Somaliland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which they attribute to the government’s inability to patrol its own coastline. A fisheries officer in Seylac denounces the practice of illegal fishing, but adds that the authorities have nevertheless managed to make virtue out of necessity:
Illegal fishing is a fact of life in our waters, and we have no means to prevent it; in the night the whole sea lights up from the lamps of boats involved in a frenzy of illegal fishing. Our Yemeni neighbors are the greatest violators of our waters. Since we have no capability to stop them, we issue licenses for those that request them, and charge them a small fee.
The revenues received through this system might be of some comfort were they not offset by lasting damage to Somaliland’s marine environment and resources – resources that Somalilanders may one day decide to develop for themselves.
Frankincense has traditionally been one of Somaliland’s major export activities, but today the sector is in a state of neglect. Most of the frankincense production takes place in Sanaag region, in the highland forests of the Gollis range. Trade was disrupted during the civil war, though export has gradually resumed and now takes place on a scale comparable to pre-war levels. Since production and exports are no longer regulated, some are concerned that trees are being tapped excessively.
Some frankincense traders, however, claim that production has still not recovered. “Frankincense was the second most important economic activity in our region,” says one frankincense dealer.
There were 2013 farms, but only about 200 of them are operating now, because, people don’t have the resources. We used to get support from the state, and we used to sell our products through a letter of credit. Today there is no market, and since there is no control, everyone has to take his product to the Arab countries through Boosaaso or Berbera, taking his chances.
Under the Barre government, state support to frankincense producers facilitated certain aspects of production and the export trade. But state control of frankincense marketing destroyed private trading networks, leaving behind a vacuum when the government collapsed. Producers in Somaliland found themselves cut off from export markets, and are obliged to sell their produce to the remaining buyers and brokers in nearby Boosaaso. Thus while production appears to have recovered from the impact of the war, the export earnings for Somaliland from frankincense have been dramatically reduced from pre-war levels.
At a first glance, Somaliland’s potential as a center of commercial salt production is impressive: an extensive coastline, abundant heat, and exposure to direct sunlight. A vast potential market resides across the border in Ethiopia. Yet at present, Somaliland imports its own salt from Yemen, and local production is minimal.
One of the few sources of locally produced salt is located at Toqoshi, on the coast near the border with Djibouti. Toqoshi’s population has a long tradition of producing salt from round pits several meters deep, where fresh and salt water meet and form a quality crystal. “We have the best salt in the world,” claims one of the local leaders.
On many occasions, during Siyaad’s regime, we participated in different international shows, and every time our salt became number one. All we need is a market, because we have the potential to meet any demand. Before the civil war, our salt used to reach as far as Sanaag, Togdheer, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. During the civil conflict there was a break [in supply], so other sources were introduced, such as Yemen. We have no resources to compete with them. Now there is ample opportunity in Ethiopia due to the war with Eritrea, but unfortunately we don’t have the means and resources to bring our product to the Ethiopian market.
Such optimism may be slightly misplaced. Salt production is highly competitive, and there are other production centers in the region. But it is clearly a sector that deserves closer examination before it is either embraced or discarded.
Since pre-colonial times, Somaliland’s economy has been dominated by the transit trade between Ethiopia and foreign ports of call – mainly on the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient coastal towns of Seylac, Bullaxaar, Berbera and Maydh were the nodes of this trade. Following the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, the latter became a landlocked country for the first time in centuries, acquiring a new-found dependence on foreign ports – namely Assab, Massawa, Djibouti and Berbera. With the outbreak of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998, access to Assab was denied to Ethiopia, which shifted the bulk of its import trade to Djibouti. But congestion of Djibouti’s facilities has stimulated Ethiopian interest in the port of Berbera, offering Somaliland an unprecedented opportunity to access the 60 million consumers in the Ethiopian market.
By 1997, 65% of the trade through Berbera port was reportedly destined for Ethiopia (Bradbury: 1997), and roughly 60% of exports originate there. Transit traffic along this corridor appears to be on the increase (GOS Plan of Action: 1999), with expected spinoff effects for the entire Somaliland economy.
Somaliland’s utility as a transshipment corridor to Ethiopia has also been noted by Ethiopia’s partners in the international community. In early 1999, the European Commission (EC) routed a trial shipment of 15,000 metric tons of wheat destined for refugee camps in eastern Ethiopia through Berbera. The operation, which required 900 truck journeys to move the total shipment between Berbera and Jigjiga/Shinniile involved trucks from all over Somaliland, and proved to be surprisingly successful. The European Commission repeated the operation later in the year, with two vessels delivering approximately 16,600 metric tons each through Berbera for Ethiopia. Many observers in Somaliland are hopeful that future operations of this kind could eventually develop into a mutually beneficial trade relationship with Ethiopia.
For the time being, however, Berbera remains uncompetitive in comparison with Djibouti. Port charges are nearly 20% higher and warehousing costs are nearly double. For domestic imports, these higher costs can be passed on by traders to Somaliland’s consumers, but they render Berbera prohibitively expensive for transit goods. Berbera will have to find ways to reduce these costs if it is to compete for access to Ethiopian markets in the long term.
Foreign donors have also shown an interest in assisting Somaliland to develop its transit corridor in other ways. Both Denmark and the EC are sponsoring the rehabilitation of the Berbera-Hargeysa road as well as the construction of an all-weather road along the main transit route between Kalabaydh (near Gabiley) and Tog Wajaale, on the Ethiopian border. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have together been studying the transit trade through the corridor, and its potential contribution to greater economic integration of the sub-region – one of the Inter-governmental Association for Development (IGAD)’s declared priorities.
One concern with the prospects for a more dynamic trade relationship with Ethiopia is that it may enlarge the gap between east and west Somaliland. Berbera port is the anchor for the main cross-border trade networks, which lead via Hargeysa to Harta Sheekh, Jigjiga, and Dire Dawa (all in Ethiopia) as well as Djibouti. Trade via Burco with Laas Caanood, Somalia and adjacent areas in Ethiopia’s Somali region is important, but of a much lower magnitude. Sanaag region is commercially linked with both Burco and Boosaaso. The consequences of increased cross-border trade are likely to be concentrated along the road networks in the west, with a much smaller advantages accruing to the east. Some Somalilanders therefore advocate the need to develop the roads in eastern Somaliland, in order to link the area more closely to the west and so share in the benefits of economic growth. Another possibility mooted by some members of the business community is the establishment of a second trade corridor linking Berbera, via Burco, with the eastern part of Ethiopia’s Somali region. Exponents of this view believe that the development of natural gas resources in the Shilaabo area, together with the agricultural potential of the Shabeelle River near Godey and Qallaafo will eventually provide the basis for a strong trade relationship.
A more immediate obstacle to the expansion of cross-border trade is the level of taxation at Berbera port and elsewhere along the main transit route. A growing number of Somaliland traders have been turning to Boosaaso as an alternative, claiming that Berbera is simply too expensive and full of red tape. They assert that it is quicker and cheaper to clear goods from Boosaaso despite the greater distance goods must be transported to reach the market. Some assert that Boosaaso even offers Somaliland traders special treatment in order to attract their business.
Port authorities in Berbera claim to be working hard to dispel the perception of Berbera as “unfriendly” to traders, and have taken a number of measures to improve its image. The Port Director claims that business is growing, citing improvements in port management: “We have reduced the porters’ charges and the tariffs on cargo, and we are going to reduce them further. We are going to reduce the number of offices one has to go through [for clearance procedures] from seven to only two.” Furthermore, stevedoring and porters (Geelle) operations have been reduced from 3-dhac to 2-dhac, and there are plans to achieve 1-dhac. Clients deny that any reduction has taken place, complaining that they are still paying for 3-dhac inside the port plus 2-dhac between the port and warehousing facilities.
The planned improvements in the port sound impressive, but the test of their effectiveness will lie in whether or not they succeed in attracting business back to Berbera. If not, then Berbera may have to examine more far-reaching ways in which to exploit its strategic economic location.
Even more so than international trade, Somaliland’s service sector has experienced rapid growth in the post-war period. Telecommunications, airline business and financial transfer companies have hastened to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Barre government.
At least six major communication companies now provide services to the population in the main urban centers, namely: Hargeysa, Burco, Berbera, Laas Caanood, Boorame and Ceerigaabo. Most of these towns are enjoying international communications services for the first time ever. These companies have introduced new technology into the local telecommunications sector, “leapfrogging” several generations over the older, obsolete telecommunication systems still operational elsewhere in the sub-region. The expansion of this industry has created a new labor market requiring skilled professionals – many of them returnees from the diaspora – as well as semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
The new telecommunications companies have so far focused mainly on meeting the demand of Somaliland residents for links with the diaspora, and have therefore concentrated on providing international rather than domestic services. Only since 1999 have intercity calls become possible between a few select locations within Somaliland.
Internally, communications networks are less developed. Rival companies provide incompatible services within the same community, leading to the proliferation of parallel service networks. Domestic links are few, and are concentrated exclusively in urban areas. The rationalization of domestic telecommunications services is a matter of national interest, particularly in the context of economic and political integration, but it so far appears to have been awarded a low priority, both by service providers and by government.
Closely related to the telecommunications industry has been the growth of another vital sector: xawaalad, or financial services. Like the telecommunications companies, the xawaalad services have been largely externally oriented, facilitating the delivery of remittances (money transfers) from members of the diaspora to their relatives and business partners in Somaliland. Most xawalaad now have offices all over the world, although in some countries they function illegally. They provide one of the most efficient and reliable money transfer systems anywhere to their Somali customers and international clients, usually charging between 3-5% on transactions that take at most 24 hours.
Remittances constitute an important sector of the Somaliland economy, but there is little accurate information about the actual volume of the cash flow. Estimates range from the astronomical, and possibly far-fetched, figure of US$500 million per year, to a low of US$150 million. Most calculations cluster around the US$200 million mark, although this may be as arbitrary as any higher or lower figure. It does appear, however, that earnings from remittances are comparable with those from officially recorded livestock exports, and may even exceed them.
In addition to their international transfer business, some xawalaad are now diversifying their local financial services. Al-Barakaat and Dahab-shiil both allow customers to open savings and checking accounts, which operate in accordance with Islamic banking practices. Further expansion into a broader range of banking services is anticipated.
Air transport is a third significant area of growth in post-war Somaliland. All main towns possess airports and receive flights connecting them to destinations in Somaliland, parts of Somalia, Djibouti and the Gulf. A weekly air link exists between Hargeysa and Addis Ababa, and connections to Nairobi can be arranged via Sharja and Addis Ababa. Kalabaydh airport, to the west of Hargeysa, has emerged as an important cargo hub, receiving goods from Dubai for distribution in the Ethiopian market. Many of the airline companies rely upon the qaad trade for much of their business. They transport it daily throughout Somaliland, as well as to destinations in Somalia – a service whose contribution to national rebuilding is moot.
Disturbingly, this important service sector is almost entirely unregulated and uninsured, and there is no enforcement of international safety standards.
Somaliland’s most vital economic asset, notwithstanding its strategic location between East Africa and the Gulf, is probably its economic infrastructure, which allows trade and commerce to thrive. But the little infrastructure Somaliland possesses is in a state of disrepair, and is deteriorating year after year. The road network in Somaliland has never been good and has suffered from neglect since the civil war. The only sealed (tarmac) route is the Tuka Raq – Dila road, which crosses Somaliland from east to west. All other roads are dirt tracks, and even these are lacking in the northern mountain range, the coastal slopes and the much of the rangeland in the south. Many areas face problems of access, leading to a growing sense of isolation and resentment, since economic development has clung to the road network.
Sanaag region is particularly badly served by roads – a complaint that is ritually recited to visitors from elsewhere in Somaliland. In the words of one Ceerigaabo businessman: “The closest tarmac road to Ceerigaabo to the west is about 280 km, and to the east is about 220 km, making the region inaccessible.”
Seylac, on the Djibouti border, is equally isolated. “A major problem is access to Toqoshi and the salt production area,” explains the town mayor. “Buyers have a hard time reaching Toqoshi, and it becomes more difficult during the wet seasons when dirt tracks become impassable. Seylac and environs become marshland in the wet season and are totally cut off after heavy rains.” Towns and villages throughout Somaliland recount a litany of identical complaints.
Road links to Ethiopia and Djibouti are no better than the internal network. At no point does the tarmac road traverse the border to a neighboring country, except the link with Somalia between Laas Caanood and Garoowe. The road network across the border in Ethiopia is inadequate, limiting the possibilities for cross-border commerce.
Somaliland’s port infrastructure is dilapidated and underdeveloped. Many natural harbors, like Maydh, Seylac, and Laas Qoray lack basic facilities and either function below capacity or stand idle. The main port of Berbera manages a high volume of cargo with very limited means: “The volume of export/import via Berbera have grown considerably large, exceeding pre-conflict levels” says an engineer in the port technical department. “And we are handling this volume with worn out equipment and machinery, because nothing has been added to the port technically, since 1990.” The Director of the port adds: “The length of the port is about 660 meters, about 400 meters is unusable; [thus] we have space for four vessels at a time only.” Since 1994, UNCTAD has provided some technical assistance and new equipment to the port in an attempt to improve its offtake, but it is clear that much remains to be done.
The growing air traffic between Somaliland and neighboring countries has tested the limits of its few, rudimentary airports. Two major asphalt runway airports can accommodate large aircraft at Berbera and Hargeysa, and there are many dirt airstrips elsewhere in Somaliland. Most operate with very limited equipment, if any. “There were 15 flights at Berbera airport on one day, and they were using only two ladders” observes one government official. Nevertheless, the services at Berbera and Hargeysa airports have been improving steadily. Both retain a full complement of staff from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Customs, and Immigration Police. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been providing training in civil aviation management and air traffic control, assisting the airports to achieve compliance with international safety standards. An extension of Hargeysa airport terminal building, intended to make it safer and more efficient, is now underway.
The growth of the private sector has been constrained by the absence of commercial banks and credit institutions. Entrepreneurs find it difficult to obtain capital, or to establish lines of credit for business expansion or survival in difficult times. The concerns of a Gabiley merchant are shared by many in the business community: “The absence of a banking system weakens our capacity as local business people. We lack access to loans and the possibility to open letter of credit.” Such services are available only to larger business concerns who possess links outside the country in Djibouti and elsewhere.
Unlike the private sector, the government avails itself of the services of the Central Bank of Somaliland, which acts as a treasury for the administration. Although initially suspect as an institution, the bank’s reputation has begun to improve as members of the business community credit the bank with having ensured the stability of the Somaliland Shilling. The bank has introduced important monetary control measures, curtailing the issue of new bank notes, servicing government loans, and regulating government trading in hard currency on the open market. Central Bank policies are enforced and implemented by its branches through the country. The manager of the Gabiley branch confirms that: “We have stopped printing new notes and we discourage the circulation of the 500 Shilling notes.” The director of the Burco branch adds: “The dollars that the government earns from ports and the airports are exchanged on the market, in order to keep the Somaliland Shilling stable.”
Insurance services are also unavailable within Somaliland, a lacuna that most affects the import-export trade. Mishaps are common during shipping along the air and sea routes linking Somaliland to other countries in the region. Ships carrying livestock to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, or bringing goods from the United Arab Emirates are regularly lost or disabled in high seas. Without insurance, there is no way for traders to mitigate these considerable material and human losses. Although Somaliland’s enterprises have no choice but to function in this way, the lack of insurance services discourages foreign investment, severely restricting the possibilities for economic growth.
Domestic and foreign investment in Somaliland suffers from an ill-defined and somewhat chaotic regulatory environment. Government policies, regulatory instruments, laws and services are widely perceived by the business community to be insufficient, and where they do exist they are typically weak and selectively applied. For potential investors, such a business climate can be discouraging: “Trade and investment policy has not yet been formalized,” says an official of the Chamber of Commerce, “so we have nothing to show for those who are interested [in investing here].”
Complaints from the business community are wide-ranging. Some seek greater protection from foreign competition. “We did try to make products such as biscuits, and we succeeded to market them in Hargeysa. But very soon we faced stiff competition from imported biscuits coming from Yemen and we could not compete with them. We made agricultural equipment, shoes and other products as good as the ones imported from abroad. But we had to quit, because there are no policies and laws that protect small local industries,” complains a Boorame businessman.
Other entrepreneurs are less worried about foreign competition than domestic monopolies and cartels. The telecommunications sector, for example, has long been dominated by a handful of privately owned companies, who maintained artificially high prices prior to 1999. In the import/export trade, domination of local retail networks by major importers has also caused alarm among small businesses. The government’s role in managing competition remains unclear.
Quality control is another area in which the government controls have been inadequate. Importers have been known to bring into the country low quality or expired goods, such as food and pharmaceuticals, which may pose a public health risk.
One near universal complaint among Somaliland’s business community concerns the multiple, overlapping tax regimes at different levels of government. These are widely perceived as a disincentive to private enterprise and an invitation to corruption. A businesswoman at Abaarso is highly critical of the system: “There are at least three different tax institutions at every check point, one for the central government (Finance Ministry), one for the local government, and one for the Commerce Ministry.” Such problems encourage the perception among Somaliland’s business community that the government is an impediment to commerce, not an ally.
Government officials are concerned, but they lack the capacity to react. Goods taxation is one area in which the government has sought to respond to the concerns of the private sector, but with only limited success. One problem, according the Ministry of Finance, is the relative independence of local authorities, who impose the greatest burden of taxation upon consumer goods. Several local governments have been unresponsive to central government initiatives to rationalize the tax system. The mayor of Hargeysa admits that there is a problem: “As local government we are collecting taxes which were not traditionally for local governments, and we are not collecting those we were supposed to collect. Local government never used to levy taxes on goods and commodities. Now it is our main source of revenue. It is circumstantial taxation, and it won’t be permanent. We are going to move away from this system gradually, and will go back to our original sectors of taxation. We began doing that, in 1998, and we made progress in reducing dependence on goods taxation.”
The legacies of conflict lie much deeper than the physical devastation, loss of life, and displacement. War leaves behind individual and collective trauma, and undermines people’s trust in one another and their confidence in themselves. All the more so in Somaliland’s case, where the war was preceded by a military regime, whose slow but steady brutality left scars every inch as deep as those caused by the war itself. The experience has blurred the distinction between “Xalaal iyo Xaraan”(the socio-religious edicts defining the sacred and the profane). The tradition of support to kinsmen in distress was gravely weakened, often supplanted by naked greed. The cautionary maxim Waad baahan tahay looma bahala cuno (“Better to die than to shame yourself for the sake of need”) was all but forgotten.
Somaliland is faced with a dual task: that of meeting the basic needs of its people – security, sustenance, water, education and health care – and that of building a new society whose values are neither those of the police state, nor those of the guerrilla. It must construct an identity that embraces both the winners and the losers in the conflict: the strong and the weak. If it does not, Somaliland will remain a society divided between clans, ruled by greed rather than the common good. Even as the Somaliland government struggles to discard the political heritage of the Barre regime, so is Somaliland society obliged to purge itself of those norms and values that thrived amidst repression and violence.
Some legacies of war, however, have been commendable. Solidarity, sacrifice and compassion are among those values that sustained Somaliland’s people during the struggle, and helped them to forge a lasting peace. Many Somalilanders are particularly appreciative of the role of women in the survival of family and community. In touching words of praise, one elder likened women to the one camel in the nomadic family’s herd that proves tough enough to preserve the family in times of drought: “Sannadba awr baa dhaamiya [In every difficult time, there is a savior]. Women are our saviors in this difficult time.”
Somaliland in 1991 was a scene of awesome devastation. Those who chose to straggle back from the refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia found their homes demolished, their belongings looted, their land sown with mines and unexploded munitions. In Hargeysa, a town of nearly 300,000 people, barely 10% of the structures remained intact, leaving only a vast field of blasted rubble strewn with explosives. Less than 1% of its prewar population still lived there. Burco, to the east, had suffered roughly 70% destruction, and countless villages in the interior had been razed to the ground. Hospitals, schools, clinics and wells had all been destroyed, government offices ransacked, bridges blown, and roads mined and made impassable.
The manner of destruction bore witness not simply to a savage military campaign, but to a storm of anger: dwellings had been systematically shattered, one by one, by artillery, tanks and explosives. Hargeysa Theatre, once a symbol of artistic achievement and cultural pride, had been massively dynamited, leaving only its deformed ruins as testimony to the spite of the military regime. Mines lay so thick across the country (the exact number is not known, but is estimated at nearly 1 million) that many towns and rural areas had become uninhabitable.
The regime’s barbarism had been calculated to sow the seeds of hatred and mistrust between the communities of the north, who had aligned themselves with opposite sides during the conflict, but the stratagem failed. The first steps in the long, arduous work of reconciliation began without delay as elders from the various clans came together to declare a cease-fire, and to plot the course for a lasting peace. Since that moment, there has not since been another outbreak of violence between former antagonists.
Somaliland’s post-war society was shaped as much by a common historical experience as by the politics of division and enmity. Revulsion with the Barre dictatorship and its machinery of government was felt by those on both sides of the conflict. Across Somaliland, assets and infrastructure associated with the government were destroyed and dismantled, or simply fell into neglect and chronic disrepair. An elder from Borama recalls the first stirrings of public anger with the former regime:
I think there is something fundamentally wrong with us Somalis. I was in a vehicle leaving Muqdisho and we encountered a mob that was destroying one of the traffic signals in the town. The driver stopped the vehicle, alighted and joined the mob until they had totally destroyed the traffic signal. Then he came back very happy, saying “Good riddance with Siyad Barre” and he got the approval of all the passengers. I could not ask them why, because they might have lynched me on the spot. What is wrong with us?
The backlash against public property was not confined to traffic signals. State structures of all descriptions were wrecked, abandoned or overrun by displaced families and militia groups. Public anger was directed not only towards the Barre regime, but towards the entire notion of government – a sentiment captured by the saying: “Kab iyo xaarkeedba waa la isku tuuraa” (“Better to throw away a shoe soiled by human faeces than to bother cleaning it”). In the immediate aftermath of civil war, such sentiments, and the prevailing attitude of maxaa iga galay? (why should I care?) were not hard to understand, but they also undermined a sense of collective responsibility for public welfare.
The neglect and decay of public property began long before the civil war. By the early 1980s, education and health care had deteriorated to the point that those who could sought these services abroad. Self-help initiatives were discouraged (and in many cases outlawed), and even garbage collection ceased in most major towns.
Following the collapse of the government, public property became privatized. Professionals in the various service sectors preferred to offer their skills in the marketplace rather than organize the revival of public facilities. Members of the public who could afford their services enjoyed access to health care, education and other necessities. Those unable to pay had nowhere else to turn.
Public buildings were immediately overrun. Banks, hospitals, schools and clinics became hosts to displaced families and militia groups, who fiercely resisted attempts to resettle them. Assets like Berbera port and airports were each run by a clan militia, who pocketed the “fees” and “taxes” they demanded of users for their own private use. Stretches of road were appropriated by militiamen, who asserted their proprietary rights by setting up road blocks and extorting payment from passing vehicles.
Aid resources were as vulnerable as public property. Vehicles, fuel, food aid, and medical supplies belonging to aid agencies were among the prime targets. The authorities were as powerless to protect international aid resources as they were their own public assets.
The leadership seemed to have been as unprepared for self-government as the public. Ministries were disorganized and invested much of their time in soliciting scarce aid resources from international NGOs and UN agencies. Attempts to introduce cost recovery measures were unpopular and initially unsuccessful, since they contradicted popular expectations that government should provide, free of charge. It would take several years before attitudes within the public and the leadership began to change.
Ownership of private property has been generally more respected in the post-war period than public property, but has nevertheless become an acute problem: above all, title to land. In both the urban and rural areas, disputes over land ownership are cited as one of the major causes of security problems. Land disputes can easily escalate to clan disputes particularly in rural areas, since land tenure in Somaliland is clan-based, and may even have political connotations.
In the absence of strong government authority, land-grabbing has become a national problem. In rural areas, appropriation of common grazing lands is a growing practice. Land claims are routinely manifested by the construction of enclosures, which not only have serious environmental repercussions, but often lead to conflict as well.
In urban areas, where land values are relatively high, the problem is even more acute than in the countryside. Access to plots of land for construction and speculation is now hotly contested, and fraudulent claims and counterclaims are commonplace. Most title documents and records, public and private, were lost during the civil war, complicating efforts to clarify ownership. Current procedures for the issue of deeds may add to the confusion: in many cases, deeds are granted only when a building has been erected on a given plot, and are not linked to ownership of the plot itself. The distinction between freeholds and leaseholds is also often unclear. The confusion has been exploited by unscrupulous Public Notaries, who are often responsible for multiple claims upon single plots, and by organized gangs who systematically claim rights to any plot on which somebody starts to build. They live by the motto “Ku qabso ku qadi mayside” (meaning “Make a claim and you won’t go away empty handed”), and can usually be persuaded to drop their claim by a cash pay-off from the owner.
Such problems hamper reconstruction in the urban areas by discouraging potential developers. Members of the diaspora who may be keen to rebuild their family homes are dissuaded by the experience of others, who have found their family plots contested. Even local governments have encountered difficulty in developing government lands.
The mayor of one town recalls: “We tried to build one room in the livestock market for tax collectors. A group of people from a nearby army barracks took their guns and threw us out of the market place. They claimed to be protecting one of their kinsmen’s interests. We could not even bring them to justice.” Another mayor affirms that the former system of land tenure has not been changed, but is vague about possible solutions: “Who is responsible for the land? It is managed from many offices. That creates confusion and confrontation even between government institutions.”
But many Somalilanders perceive in land disputes a problem that goes deeper than the confusion of government bureaucracy: they see instead a shift towards opportunism and greed that they find unfamiliar and disturbing.
The most extreme form of social decay engendered by the war is personified by the “dayday”– the outlaws and thugs of Somaliland. This phenomenon, which encompasses the gangs of armed youth who roam the towns and roads, goes by different names elsewhere: in Puntland they are known as Jirri, while in southern Somalia they are labelled Mooryaan. Their behavior is typified by aggression, violence, harassment, abuse of qaad and other drugs, defilement of young girls. In sum, they have become synonymous with depravity and corruption, as expressed by the renowned Somali poet, Hadraawi: Inta dayday kaga dhacay, dad intuu u xilan jiray, noloshoodu duug ma leh (“Those afflicted with the dayday sickness, who have abandoned human values, their lives are without hope”).
The persistence of the day-day phenomenon is due in part to the fact that they are not entirely outcasts. Some retain ties to clan elders and to self-styled politicians who employ their services in dubious causes. In the early 1990s, day-day were often utilized to assert clan claims to assets like airports and checkpoints, sharing their proceeds with their patrons. Today, these practices have almost disappeared, but the mentality still lingers uncomfortably.
The practice of chewing qaad expanded dramatically during the war years, and is now a daily ritual for at least 90% of adult males in Somaliland (UNDP: 1998). Qaad (Cathula edulis) is a stimulant grown in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen, and its green leaves are consumed widely in the Somali-inhabited areas of the Horn of Africa including Somaliland. Historically, qaad is said to have been consumed by religious sheekhs and their followers in order to stay awake for their lessons and recitals. Today, the use of qaad primarily fulfils a social function, as men gather to talk while they chew, although some also chew to remain alert for monotonous tasks like driving and writing.
The extensive use and abuse of this drug creates social, economic and political problems, (UNDP: 1998), starting with the individual user. Habitual qaad chewing can lead to health problems, such as loss of appetite, chronic constipation, male impotence, sleeplessness and hallucinations. Many a regular chewer can identify with this qaad user’s complaint: “I rarely sleep in the night. My normal sleep time starts at the Aadaan (the Morning Prayer call, before sunrise). All night I groan in distress.”
The impact of qaad on the family can be even more injurious. Fathers may stay out, chewing in mafrishes all afternoon, and late into the evening. “I rarely see my children,” states one man, whose story is repeated across Somaliland. “In the night when I come from mafrish, they are sleeping and in the morning they are gone to school.” Likewise, the qaad chewer’s routine can become a strain on his relationship with his wife. In addition to his regular absences from the home, it is not unknown a man to roam the town after a qaad session, seeking other vices.
The most damaging aspect of habitual qaad use on the family, however, is usually economic. According to one district qaaddi (local court judge), “Most local court divorce cases are based on economic issues arising from the abuse of qaad.” Qaad represents a terrible financial drain to most households, especially those without a steady source of income. Scarce resources that might have been better spent on food, schooling or other household needs are instead wasted on qaad, and its related paraphernalia: cigarettes and soft drinks. The combination of habitual qaad use and marital arguments over such matters is one of the factors believed to contribute to domestic violence.
Obtaining the daily mijin (bundle) has become for the majority of Somaliland men less a matter of choice than a necessity and a daily mission. In its most extreme form, the vigorous and eternal search for the mijin can lead to crime and violence. Disputes over qaad between armed men can quickly escalate into shooting, and even a cycle of retribution between kin-groups. Many of the informal checkpoints that proliferated in the days before effective government authority (and still proliferate where the administration is weak) served mainly to secure a daily dose of qaad. But for most men, the qaad habit is simply a pleasurable way to while away the hours in the company of friends, or to escape from the anxiety of unemployment. Some Somalilanders even argue that qaad serves a therapeutic purpose, sublimating the stress and frustration that in other environments might express themselves in violent crime.
Whatever social ills it may bring, qaad is also a means of survival for many families in the urban areas. The qaad industry is big business in Somaliland, and may well be the single largest employer of urban women. Although many Somalilanders find the qaad trade demeaning to women, who spend long hours squatting in the market and on roadsides, away from their households and their children, some women view it as a source of economic empowerment and financial independence from men.
Since it is almost entirely imported, qaad represents a tremendous hard currency drain on the economy, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But it is also a major source of revenue for the Somaliland government. The agent of one large dealer in Hargeysa claims that his company paid the startling – but unverified – figure of US$ 2.89 million in taxes in 1998, implying that he would have contributed roughly 20% of the government’s official income that year. Whether or not the figures are accurate, the importance of qaad, for Somaliland’s economy and its government is undeniable.
Perhaps the most profound legacy of the war is also its least obvious: its impact on the family. The violence and turmoil of conflict tore families apart, leaving behind a multitude of widows, orphans, and broken homes. Female-headed households – an infrequent phenomenon before the war – are now commonplace, through death of the father, divorce or abandonment. The conflict ruined livelihoods and reduced family holdings to nothing. Many households include a member who has become physically disabled or mentally disturbed by wartime experiences.
These are the direct consequences of violence. But other, more subtle pressures on the family have persisted even in peacetime. Many rural women have taken over the role of primary producers in both the pastoral and agropastoral communities. During and after the conflict, the women found the role of feeding the family thrown into their laps: “Today most working women are engaged in business,” explains one businesswoman. “They are concentrated in the informal sector of the economy. It is something they were not prepared for, but circumstances have compelled them.”
In the many families where women have become the principle wage earners, they typically earn barely enough to feed their children – and perhaps provide a mijin (bundle of qaad) for the father. The men in such families are generally resentful and frustrated. As often as not, the result is a dysfunctional family. In the words of one woman from Burco: “We do not earn enough income for the family and the unemployed husband. The husband is often unsatisfied and this starts a conflict which destroys the family.”
Life for single mothers can be equally difficult. Many seek to make a living in the market place, becoming petty traders or selling qaad. Their working hours usually extend until late into the evening, and the market environment can be rough. Upon returning home, they may not rest, but must assume their roles as mothers to their children.
Not all families managed these pressures successfully. Unattended, delinquent children from deprived home lives have joined the orphans in the streets of the major towns in growing numbers. Under normal circumstances, relatives would help to fill the gap left by deceased or absent parents, but in the circumstances of post-war Somaliland, it appears that such traditional coping mechanisms are no longer sufficient.
Together with child delinquency, teenage marriages and unwed pregnancies are said to be on the increase. Married youths, many of them unemployed, have no recourse but to look to their parents for support. Where the family is unable to provide relief, divorce and desertion are common.
One group of Somalilanders who feel the legacy of the war more than most, are those who constitute the traditional occupational castes known as Gabooye, Tumaal, and Yibir. Even more so than other members of Somaliland society, these groups have found reintegration in the aftermath of war difficult, and are still struggling to define their place.
Historically, the members of the Beelaha Gabooye have formed an endogamous community, whose members perform tasks considered menial by other, “noble” (Aji) Somalis: leatherworking, metalworking, hairdressing, shoemaking, and pottery. Some, notably the Yibir, are also reputed to be practitioners of sorcery. Unlike other Somalis, who are typically associated with one or more well-defined localities, the Beelaha Gabooye are found throughout the Somali territories, living as clients of the dominant Aji groups. They may not intermarry with other Somalis, and conventional paths to social mobility are not open to them. One of the Gabooye elders in Booraame describes their social position with evident bitterness:
There is systematic discrimination against us starting from the colonial times, where we have been denied access to education in order to reserve us for menial jobs that the Aji are not prepared to do, such as sweepers, and town cleaning.
During the civil war, members of the Beelaha Gabooye enlisted in government military service, believing that this would open the door to new opportunities, and were assigned to a special unit. Their role in the conflict earned them the hostility of the SNM rebels, and of the Isaaq as a group. But whereas other former adversaries have reconciled, the Beelaha Gabooye have been party to no peace agreements. “We have been kept away from the general reconciliation between the Aji clans,” explains a Gabooye man. “So we are still held responsible for war-time happenings.”
Reconciliation notwithstanding, the Beelaha Gabooye have found recovery from the war especially difficult. “We were the poorest before the state collapse,” argues a woman from the Gabooye in Laas Caanood. “What do you expect of us when even the wealthier Somalis have become so impoverished during the war?” Those who did manage to save some of their wealth are often unwilling to return: “Our diaspora are not in a position to return to the country and engage in any kind of business activity. Simply, they think that it is not secure for them to conduct any business, since their possessions could be confiscated by other clans.”
Politically, the Beelaha Gabooye resent the fact that they are often referred to as a “minority” –a status that has earned them one seat in the Somaliland parliament. An elder from Boorame explains:
We are not a minority. We inhabit every settlement, but we don’t have anywhere where we are the majority. Therefore we are given an equal share in Parliament with the Arabs and other minorities who are considerably smaller than we are.
The Gabooye are not alone in their belief that they have been unfairly treated. “One Guurti is not enough for them,” agrees a Burco elder. A Hargeysa intellectual expresses a similar opinion: “The Gabooye people are not a minority, they are many. I would call them ‘oppressed.’ We have denied them their rights.”
One of the most promising signs that the status of the Gabooye may improve is another legacy of the civil war: impoverished members of other clans have begun to seek employment in those sectors once reserved for the Gabooye, breaking down the wall of prejudice. As one of their representatives in Laas Caanood observes: “We were segregated and despised because of our occupation, but thank God, now more and more other Somalis are adopting our traditional trades.”
Public awareness is growing about the plight of the Beelaha Gabooye, and there are perceptible changes in the attitudes of other Somalis. Gabooye returning from refugee camps in Ethiopia have been able to reclaim some of the land and property taken from them during the war. In Hargeysa, over 80% of Gabooye properties in Damey village have been returned to them upon their return (GOS – Plan of Action: 1999). A BBC program in early 1999 about the Gabooye helped to break the taboo that had long stifled discussion of the subject. Following the BBC broadcast, two successive conferences on the status of the Gabooye were held in Hargeysa’s Guuleed Hotel, and received excellent local media coverage. Maxamed Ibrahim Warsame “Hadraawi”, a famous Somali poet who participated in the meetings, captured the mood:
Intaad indinku gun tihiin, aniguna gun baan ahay.
As long as I hold you to be inferior, I render myself inferior.
Somaliland, for all practical purposes, is a land of returnees. Virtually every Somalilander has been displaced at one time or another in the past decade, or is helping to support someone who has been. According to the Minister of Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconstruction (MRRR), 628,000 people were involved in the massive exodus to Ethiopia that followed the escalation of the war in 1988, and a similar, although undetermined number, are believed to have become internally displaced during the same period. A much smaller number sought refuge in Djibouti. In 1991, following the collapse of the government, roughly one third of the refugees returned homewards across the border, joined by tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting in southern Somalia. In early 1992, a large part of the population of Burco and almost the entire population of Berbera were displaced by civil strife, returning home after a cease-fire in October that year. A second round of fighting in 1994-96 produced over 150,000 displaced from Hargeysa and Burco, approximately 90,000 of whom crossed the border to Ethiopia.
In 1999, nearly 200,000 people were still registered in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Djibouti, awaiting repatriation. For the majority, life as a refugee is no longer a question of security, but one of economic necessity or choice. Many of them live within walking distance of their homes, and travel freely to and from the camps. Others routinely make a 3-hour ride by bus or truck to visit relatives across the border.
For the most part, reintegration of those who have already returned has been accomplished without significant external assistance. Tens of thousands of damaged dwellings have been restored across the country. Arrivals have been received and assisted by relatives to establish themselves. “Houses are roofed without any assistance,” says the mayor of Hargeysa. “Everybody rebuilt his own house.” Members of the diaspora have supported the efforts of their families to re-establish their homes and businesses by contributing part of their earnings – a practice that is estimated to be worth over US$150 million to Somaliland every year.
Few believe, however, that Somaliland can accept many more returnees who are unassisted. Unemployment is high, and many family incomes are already painfully stretched. Social services are insufficient for the present population and resources to extend them further are scarce. Major towns, particularly Hargeysa, have begun to attract satellite communities of squatters who seek livelihoods through proximity to the city, but lack access to water, sanitation and other basic amenities.
Nevertheless, the closure of the refugee camps in Ethiopia is scheduled to take place by 2001. Somalilanders welcome that moment as testimony to their hard-won peace and security, and to their achievements in the reconstruction of their country, but they are also aware that the termination of refugee assistance will come as an economic shock with which they are currently ill-prepared to cope.
Returnees are not the only group requiring integration into Somaliland society. Veteran guerrilla fighters, ex-militia and former government soldiers are another group to whom the government assigns top priority.
Disarmament and demobilization in Somaliland has passed through several phases and is still incomplete. The first step, after reconciliation, was to distinguish between regular (and therefore authorized) and irregular security forces. This was achieved through the formation of a national army, which absorbed many members of wartime militia units. The establishment of a civilian police force achieved a similar purpose, and like the army is drawn mainly from ex-combatants.
The formation of regular, uniformed security forces involved the transfer of heavy arms and crew-served weapons to government control – a process that was not always easy, as one elder from Gabiley recalls:
One morning we elders approached the main checkpoint of our clan, each of us going straight to our sons and other close relatives in the cluster of day-day, and we started beating them with sticks. They dared not shoot us, although they were armed to the teeth. They just retreated from our barrage of beating. By mid-day they gave in, and the check-points were handed over to the government.
By separating the militia and their armament from the direct control of their clans, the government minimized the likelihood, and the consequences, of further inter-communal violence. Some heavy weapons, however, remain cantoned in their clan areas. In exchange, each clan receives a “share” of recruits in the national army, which provides them with a profession and a steady income.
One consequence of this process is that the government now maintains approximately 18,000 members of the security forces on its payroll, nearly three times as many as it requires, at a cost of over 70% of the national budget. Many are in camps, where they receive their rations and training. The government’s reasoning is simple: better to keep the militia busy in camps, away from the cities and roads, than to return to the days of banditry and insecurity before the national army. Somalilanders generally approve of the arrangement, which has succeeded in creating a peaceful and stable environment, but they are also aware of the drain on the national treasury. Demobilization is seen as a national priority, partly because it would free scarce government funds for expenditure in other sectors.
Although no formal program exists, demobilization is gradually taking place spontaneously. Training camp populations are reported by military officers to have been shrinking gradually, as some of the recruits quit voluntarily, unable to tolerate the discipline required of them. Since they are guilty of forfeiting their clan’s share in the army, they can make no further claims on the government, and generally integrate quietly into civilian life.
Some opportunities do exist for demobilized soldiers to acquire skills they can put to use in civilian life. Sooyaal, the veterans association, established a Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in Hargeysa in 1994, which has offered a variety of courses to ex-combatants, war-widows, and even returnees from the refugee camps. The capacity of the VTC to accept new trainees is limited, and analogous training programs will probably be required on a larger scale when the pace of demobilization picks up.
The fact that the government payroll has not decreased in line with the shrinking population of the training camps has been a subject of some controversy. It is widely believed that various interest groups within government, military, clan and commercial circles seek to benefit from the lucrative contracts involved in maintaining the army, and therefore work to undermine the transparency of the system.
Disarmament and demobilization has worked best in areas where confidence in peace and security is high. In the less settled eastern regions, much remains to be done. As long as the risk of conflict lingers, however remote, then communities are unlikely to surrender their militia and their arms.
The number of landmines in Somaliland’s soil is unknown, as is their location. What is known is that Somaliland is among the most mine-polluted territories on the planet. Estimates approach 1,000,000 mines of varying descriptions, most of them planted during the SNM’s struggle against the Barre regime.
The nature of the civil war and of the forces involved meant that mines were used in an indiscriminate and uncontrolled fashion. Some minefields – a small minority – were protective minefields laid in accordance with military regulations: the mines were placed in regular patterns and their locations recorded (although records have since been lost). For the most part, however, mines were used in a casual, offensive manner: roads, tracks, wells, houses, military facilities, and even good grazing areas were mined by the government forces to deny their use to the rebels and their supporters and to terrorize civilians. SNM engineers concentrated mainly on mining the tracks used by government convoys.
The first post-war mine-clearance operation was launched in Hargeysa in 1991, at the request of Medecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF). With the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the EC, a British security firm, Rimfire, was contracted to train and equip a civilian Somaliland demining unit. Over a period of nearly four years, Rimfire succeeded in removing approximately 60,000 mines and pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO), but the program became dangerously politicized and militarized and had to be terminated. Questions still remain concerning Rimfire’s competence for the task, the techniques employed, and whether or not all mines removed were subsequently destroyed. But the operation did at least help to render Hargeysa safe for human habitation.
Mines were also laid, on a much smaller scale, during Somaliland’s two rounds of civil strife. During the 1994-96 war, the town of Burco was particularly affected by mines, leading to calls for a renewed demining effort. In response, a number of internationally-sponsored mine action programs have been organized, not only in Burco, but also in the areas of Cadaadley (east of Hargeysa and the Djibouti border). The central government has established a National Demining Authority under the auspices of the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Reintegration, as well as a Somaliland Mine Action Centre (SMAC) which is responsible for coordinating the various mine action programs.
Landmines constitute the bulk of Somaliland’s military debris, but UXO also poses a problem. Large stockpiles of unusable, corroded ammunition and bombs are situated around former military bases. Ruined SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles are to be found in the dozens on the heights around Hargeysa, and at a former assembly plant near Berbera, leaking corrosive fluids and gradually becoming dangerously unstable. The most potent threat to life and limb, however, is probably none of the above, but rather the abundance of smaller explosives, hand grenades and detonators that still litter the country. These have proven irresistible to Somaliland’s youth, a steady trickle of whom are injured while playing with them; for some young men, mine awareness programs seem only to amplify the attraction of these dangerous toys.
Clearance of Somaliland’s landmines is likely to take decades – not least because the number of actual landmines is irrelevant: even the suspected presence of a single mine can render an area unfit for use or habitation. In late 1999, at least four separate international mine action programs were underway. Such programs can help to reduce the immediate threat in selected areas, but the real test of their success will be the degree to which they prepare Somaliland’s authorities – and its people – for the long, painstaking task ahead.
Somaliland’s social services have evolved haphazardly since 1991, reflecting the diverse influences of central and local government, private enterprise and international aid agencies. Lack of qualified professionals, public funds, and infrastructure have dogged efforts to meet public needs – problems compounded by competing paradigms for public service provision within each sector. Exponents of a system in which government plays a central role have locked horns with those who favor greater private sector involvement. Over time, both camps have adapted their positions to the emergent realities, and a pragmatic consensus is beginning to emerge.
Future directions in social service provision have been suggested by various organs of the central government, including the Ministries of Planning, Education, Health, Public Works and Water, which have each prepared a National Plan and Strategy for their sectors. Much work still needs to be done in defining the roles of diverse stakeholders including central government, regional and local governments, private sector service providers, and users. Questions concerning the management of facilities and funds; cost-sharing formulae; user fees and equity in the access to services have all been raised but only partially addressed.
Another key issue in the social service sector is the disparity between the urban and rural populations. Functional educational and health services are concentrated in the urban areas, while in rural areas, most facilities such as schools, mother and child health centers (MCHs), and health posts are either closed or used for other purposes. Some examples:
- The MCH in Ijaara is used as a meeting hall
- The school in Cabdulqaadir is used as a police station
- In Yufle the village school and the MCH are used as private residences
- In Duruqsi and Doqoshay the schools are locked and empty
Communities in which public facilities have been neglected or employed for other means usually explain that they are waiting for the government to provide whatever is required, be it textbooks, medical supplies, furniture, teachers, etc. It would appear that either the sense of community initiative is generally less developed in smaller settlements than it is in the larger municipalities, or simply that smaller towns and villages cannot hope to raise the resources required to make these facilities functional.
An even more fundamental question is whether or not public services are indeed adapted to the needs of the rural population. The educational needs and aspirations of pastoral and agricultural communities may differ from those of the townspeople. Likewise, fixed health care structures may be poorly adapted to relatively mobile nomadic groups. Experimental measures like the use of mobile immunization teams have been pioneered by the central government and its international partners, but the broader, strategic problem of rural/urban services has yet to be addressed.
While planning of public service provision continues at the central level, the evolution of the situation on the ground provides some insights into options for the future. Authorities and communities across Somaliland are grappling daily with these issues, and beginning to define the shape of social services in the years to come.
Formal education was restored to Somaliland in early 1991, albeit on a modest scale, with the revival of a handful of elementary schools and establishment of a Ministry of Education. From those humble beginnings, much progress has since been realized. The educational pyramid has taken shape, from an elementary base to an embryonic university education at the peak. 165 primary schools and three secondary schools are now functional (GOS-Somaliland in Figures: 1999). The two-year old University at Camuud currently offers courses in two faculties: Education and Business
Administration. Plans for a university in Hargeysa are well advanced. In addition to these formal institutions of learning, a plethora of private schools and colleges across the country offer courses in language (mainly English, Arabic and French), computer skills, business administration and secretarial skills.
Whether private or public, however, the quality of education is generally of a low standard. For younger children, many parents view schools not as places of learning, but as places to keep their children off the street and out of trouble. According to an elder in Ijaara, south west of Hargeysa: “We are not satisfied with the teaching in the schools. The quality is no better than that of the last regime, but at least the children are kept out of trouble until lunch time” (“Waa meel carruurta qadada lagu sugsiiyo”). That logic does not hold true for long since attrition rates are high, even in the lower grades, but parents are relieved with each year that they can keep their children out of “gun-school” – the day-day culture of the streets.
The desire for education has become so strong that in some areas communities have moved to establish their own schools without waiting for the involvement of the Ministry of Education. The curricula in such schools vary widely, as do the languages of instruction, and they conform to no common standards. That can lead to a dead end for students seeking to graduate to a higher level. One worried parent in Allay Baday notes that graduates of local intermediate schools meet with poor acceptance rates elsewhere, because their qualifications are not recognized: “The students need to advance to secondary education but they have nowhere to go. A few of them found opportunities in Djibouti, but the rest are stuck here.” Although community initiatives in education are to be commended, not discouraged, there is clearly a need for central guidance and common standards if their education is to have formal value.
In other areas, local initiatives are complementary to the formal educational system. In Berbera, local government has begun to levy an educational tax of 2% on all goods and services, creating a Regional Educational Fund (REF) with a separate accounting system. The fund pays incentives of 300,000 shillings to qualified teachers, 150,000 shillings to primary school teachers, and 200,000 shillings to women’s educators, but teachers still draw their token salaries from the central government and receive additional payments from parents.
In Burco, the municipal government and community have collaborated on the rehabilitation of six schools, and the municipality expects to be able to underwrite the costs of education in the region through various revenues. The municipality of Gabiley also uses part of its local revenues to pay secondary school teachers’ salaries.
Camuud University provides an inspiring example of community investment in education. In 1995, the leaders and intellectuals of Boorame met and decided to transform the former secondary school at Camuud into a university. Start-up funds from the Boorame community were followed by contributions from the Somaliland government, the diaspora and from other communities in Somaliland. Links have been developed with Somali academics abroad and a number of foreign universities have come forward as partners. The Somaliland Ministry of Education recognizes Camuud as a national institution of higher learning. The university library contains 4,000 titles, and 15,000 more were expected before the end of 1999. Total enrolment in 1999 stood at 120 students in undergraduate and pre-university courses; with a faculty of 25 members, plus support staff; the university is the fourth largest employer in Boorame town.
Not all localities are so well organized. Doqoshay School, southeast of Burco, offers an example of the difficulties experienced in mobilizing community support for education. The school was established during the war with the leadership and assistance of members of the diaspora. For several years, the diaspora paid the salaries of the teachers. When the Somaliland Ministry of Education became functional, the school’s patrons turned it over to the Ministry, and suggested the introduction of a cost-sharing program, in which the community would contribute to teachers’ salaries. The teachers rejected the salary reduction implied by the cost-sharing scheme and the community was unwilling to top up their salaries. The school has since been closed. It is unclear whether Doqoshay residents simply do not value education enough to pay for it, or whether the problem is more complex.
Sustainability is also a problem where foreign aid has been instrumental in restoring educational services. UNICEF provides support in terms of training and school supplies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also provided support in the curriculum development, textbooks, and teacher training. The achievements have been impressive, with more than 33,004 students now in Somaliland’s schools (GOS – Somaliland in Figures: 1998), but the problem of sustainability remains unresolved.
With so many systems functioning in parallel, there appears to be real value in assessing the merits and demerits of different experiences across the country. The Ministry of Education has already developed a standard curriculum for lower primary schools, and textbooks have also been completed for the lower grades. Combining elements of various municipal and community education initiatives in support of the centralized, standardized education system might bring Somaliland one step closer to sustainable and broadly accessible education.
Like other social services, health care was obliged to start from scratch after the war. Aid agencies provided the initial support for rehabilitation of medical facilities such as hospitals, MCHs and health posts. They provided essential drugs, basic equipment and incentives for the health personnel. But much of that early assistance was phased out as its unsustainable nature became apparent. The burden of ensuring sustainability has since fallen mainly upon the shoulders of the government and local communities. Doctors in one hospital explain that this is proving problematic: “We are having serious difficulties in maintaining hospital services. We had better dismantle the hospital beds to show local people that there are no facilities for hospitalization.”
Local governments and communities are working to overcome such problems by experimenting with various financial and managerial approaches to health care. Burco has made remarkable progress through community involvement in rebuilding. With contributions from the diaspora, local people, the local government, the central government and some aid agencies, the Burco municipality has rehabilitated and equipped the general hospital, which had been rebuilt and destroyed twice since 1991. Special health taxes and levies and cost recovery charges for users are envisioned by the local government in order to finance staff salaries and running costs. The hospital will probably remain dependent on the central government or external assistance for medical supplies and equipment, but it represents a bold experiment in public health care for other communities in Somaliland to consider.
Another promising model is that of the Edna Aden private maternity hospital in Hargeysa. The hospital’s development has tapped a spirit of community participation, as members of the public have added their contributions to that of the hospital’s founder. Funds have been received from individuals within Somaliland as well as from the diaspora. The hospital envisions the lease of commercial space (pharmacy, cafeteria etc.), residential quarters for senior staff, and a combination of cost-sharing measures such as user fees, to reduce the costs to hospital patients. Ultimately, the hospital is intended to function as a teaching hospital for Somaliland and the region, producing high caliber staff for mother and child health care facilities in the Somali territories.
While public health services have generally been slow to develop and of low quality, private practices have flourished to meet demand. The two sometimes overlap, as when doctors refer their “public” hospital patients for consultations at their own private clinics, or prescribe medication from their own private pharmacies. In public hospitals, patients often have to purchase their own drugs, and may not be treated unless they first pay the doctor’s fee. Yet the standards and quality of private services are also poor. “Doctors have been charging patients hefty fees for so many years, yet they never improve their facilities, equipment and services,” states an observer from Boorame. “Doctors are not co-operating to improve the quality and capabilities of the medical services.”
Doctors, however, argue that the problem lies in public perceptions of medical practices. Many patients come to a doctor only after they have exhausted other alternatives, like traditional healers and pharmacies, and their medical problems are far advanced. Others insist on prescribing their own treatments, presenting the doctor with a set of demands instead of seeking his or her advice. When things go wrong, doctors have no protection, and can be held responsible for an unsuccessful treatment or a failed operation. In the absence of insurance services, that can mean a heavy compensation payment, or even a threat to the doctor’s life.
One problem is the inability of the government to set standards or verify qualifications, and the absence of a professional medical association that could play such a role. Some doctors – and nurses as well – are suspected of having invented or inflated their qualifications. Others are accused of altering their areas of declared specialization (i.e. paediatrics, gynaecology, etc.) according to demand and profitability. Sadly, the irresponsible antics of a minority are dragging down the reputation of the entire profession: in Hargeysa the medical profession has fallen so low in the public esteem that doctors have even been lampooned in the local press.
In most rural areas, modern medicine is represented by pharmacists and drug vendors who may or may not possess any pertinent qualification. Incorrect prescriptions are the rule rather than the exception, since pharmacies are typically driven by profits rather than protocols. The dangers of this type of business are self-evident. One doctor from Togdheer is appalled by some of the practices he has observed:
A woman patient wanted a prescription for a nasal problem. The pharmacy owner gave her a medicine that increases the quantity of urine…When an injured person was brought to [another health professional] he alleged that two of the patient’s nerves in the head were short-circuiting. The diagnosis became the cause of fighting between two groups.
Alternatively, rural Somalilanders may turn to traditional healers, the efficacy of whose treatments is unproven, but still enjoys widespread public confidence. Women who believe themselves possessed by Jinn spirits pay 5,000 Shillings for each visit to a healer.
Mother and child health care is an issue of particular urgency: The health of Somali women, and that of their children, has never received the attention that it deserves. Even before the long years of civil war, when hospitals, universities and other social services still functioned, the mortality rate of Somali women was estimated at 181/10,000 or one woman for every 55 live births – the third highest in the world. It is estimated that one in five Somali children dies before the age of five. The causes of such elevated mortality rates are generally preventable, detectable and treatable. But in the aftermath of the civil war, the destruction of health facilities, the loss of basic medical equipment and the lack of training for health workers, it is probably no exaggeration to state that Somaliland is one of the most hostile environments for mothers and children in the world. Inextricably tied to the issue of public health is the availability of clean water. Across Somaliland, local authorities place water high on their lists of needs, but solutions have been elusive, and different areas are pursuing different approaches to water supply. Hargeysa’s water system was rehabilitated with foreign assistance, and has since been managed by the local water authority. Ceerigaabo combines a co-operative structure with private management, while in Boorame the local government and community manage the water system together. In rural areas the majority of water sources are privately managed, even when they are collectively or publicly owned.
The evolution of a civil society in Somaliland has proceeded slowly but steadily since the collapse of the Barre regime. Under the military dictatorship, non-governmental organizations or associations of any kind were discouraged, and only a handful were permitted to function. “Self-help” initiatives were the prerogative of the regime rather than a form of independent organization. In the absence of more formal alternatives, the kinship system has partially filled the gap as a point of reference for the individual in times of need. Clan ties are routinely mobilized in support of locally driven projects, including fund-raising and political lobbying. Indeed, many Somalilanders are sceptical of initiatives that fail to activate kinship dynamics.
Returning professionals and intellectuals have since founded numerous NGOs, but it has taken time for them to find their niche. Some of the earliest non-governmental organizations to establish themselves in Somaliland had been affiliated with the SNM during the civil war, and initially acted in a semi-official role as the relief branch of the new authority.
In later years, as international organizations became more active in Somaliland, many intellectuals and professionals established local NGOs as partners for foreign organizations, and as means of self-employment. For international organizations, partnership with local NGOs seemed to be an ideal way of coming to terms with Somaliland’s fragile politics and complex social environment – while allowing them to avoid the delicate problem of working with the unrecognized government.
Theory proved to be somewhat removed from reality. Local NGOs mushroomed as individuals and private enterprises sought to make themselves eligible for sub-contracts with foreign aid organizations. Many had little or no experience in the fields in which they proposed to work, and their relationships with project “beneficiaries” were often ambiguous. The recognizable clan affiliation of most of these NGOs led to heightened competition and sensitivity over the distribution of aid resources. Although roughly 500 local NGOs are currently registered in Somaliland, only a small minority are functional and possess a permanent organizational structure. The government views this expansion of the NGO sector as a matter of some concern:
While much of the literature on NGOs focuses upon these institutions as extensions of civil society and democracy, it must be said that the existence of so many NGOs in operation in a country as small, and with as limited a development budget as Somaliland, points instead to a situation of chaos (Gees and Hammond: 1998).
The more serious NGOs have not found their work easy. Many Somalilanders are dismissive of them and some are actively hostile, believing that NGOs exist simply to siphon off international aid resources. Since many NGOs do actively seek donor funds, they have difficulty denying the charge, but between international contracts they are frequently obliged to work for months at a time with no funds at all, finding ways to pay their office rent and cover running costs. When they succeed in winning a donor contract it may not correspond with their own aims and philosophy: One local NGO official in Hargeysa complains: “The international organizations have led local NGOs to fulfil their agendas which were constantly changing, so they discouraged the specialization and sustainability of local organizations.”
A core of active, capable NGOs have nevertheless contributed significantly to the rebuilding process. Most have assisted in the rehabilitation of social services in collaboration with international actors, providing local knowledge and expertise, as the mayor of Boorame enthusiastically acknowledges: “Awdal region never enjoyed development assistance before the war. But now, our local NGOs have attracted substantial rehabilitation and development assistance and have contributed to rebuilding of the region.” Some have participated in and supported peace and reconciliation efforts, while a small but growing number have advocated for human rights. For the youth and women, NGOs have provided a source of skills development and organizational experience. The formation of new umbrella organizations since 1996 is widely perceived as a positive development which may bring further coherence and relevance to nongovernmental organizations as a form of civic leadership.
Although employment with NGOs has helped numerous intellectuals and professionals to sustain themselves, there are some concerns about this tendency. The prospects for higher pay with international organizations, as well as through local NGO contracts, discourages many professionals from entering government service, where human resources are at a premium. Some feel that the energies of Somaliland’s educated and professional elite are being focused too narrowly into “development” issues, and not sufficiently into other areas of public concern.
The diaspora has not always played a positive role in Somaliland’s development. During the civil conflicts of 1992 and 1994-96, Somalilanders throughout the world raised funds for “their” militias, generated propaganda, and replicated the divisions of their homeland in their communities abroad. Those who worked to restore peace to Somaliland often described the diaspora as being even more bitterly divided than the people trapped at the heart of the conflict.
But as the roots of peace and stability in Somaliland have grown deeper, the contributions of the diaspora to the reconstruction process have taken on new dimensions. Somalilanders abroad have provided funding, leadership and publicity for activities in their homeland, often returning to take part in the work on the ground. The financial and material contributions from the diaspora have helped to sustain important local efforts, like Camuud University in Boorame, Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeysa, Burco Hospital, Karin road, and the University of Hargeysa. This spirit of solidarity has served as a powerful antidote to the helplessness and disillusionment that prevailed in the wake of civil war, helping to restore a sense of confidence and self-esteem to a people still struggling to build hope for the future.
The links that tie the Somaliland diaspora to the homeland are so many and so strong that the two are virtually inseparable. Affordable air travel, telecommunications and the Internet all work to tie Somaliland’s expatriates more closely to their country of origin. Somaliland’s most popular web pages are based in London and Ottawa and its main airline in Dubai; Somaliland does not export its most recent cultural and musical creations – it imports them from Europe and North America; at least half a dozen members of the presidential cabinet and hundreds of leading entrepreneurs and professionals have returned from the diaspora. Just as they contribute to rebuilding their homeland, Somaliland’s expatriates also help to situate their country more firmly within the international community.
Somaliland has long prided itself on its rich cultural and artistic tradition, but during the Barre period and the civil war, this heritage was crudely suppressed and subverted. In the near-decade that has passed since the overthrow of the military regime, the arts and culture have been making a slow but steady comeback.
True to Richard Burton’s characterization of Somalis as “a nation of poets” – an observation based upon his travels in modern-day Awdal and Saaxil regions – generations of Somalilanders have been raised on a bountiful diet of poetry and oratory. This accumulated wealth of songs, plays, poems, parables and folktales, is today the cornerstone of the modern Somali cultural heritage. Many of the most celebrated Somali cultural achievements are of Somaliland origin. Somali modern theatre and literature are divided into two schools: the northern, Hargeysa-based school which is predominantly of pastoral origin, and the Banaadiri school which originated in the southern coastal areas around Muqdisho and Marka.
The first Somalia urban cultural movement, symbolizing the advent of Somali modern performance arts, songs and music began in mid 1930s in the British Somaliland Protectorate. Its earliest form, the Xer-Dhaanto provided an important bridge from pastoral rural dance and song to the embryonic urban cultural movements. The Xaaji Baal Baal Dance Troupe, which shuttled between Ceerigaabo and Jigjiga in early 1930 set the pace for cultural and artistic movements that followed.
The rustic tones of Xer-Dhaanto were quickly followed by the more flamboyant Balwo movement, pioneered by Cabdi Deeqsi “Sinimoo” and Qadiija Ciye Dharaar, better known as Qadiija “Balwo.” The Balwo movement, a blend of new-style poetry and Arabian belly-dancing performed by women dancers, started in Boorame and spread like a shock wave to Hargeysa, Berbera, Burco and other main towns of the Protectorate. Musical instruments such as the daf and the darbuugad were introduced for the first time.
The early 1940s saw the dawn of the Qaraami movement (Qaraami, in Arabic, means love songs) in Hargeysa, Burco and Berbera. The godfather of the movement is widely acknowledged to be the late Cabdillahi Qarshe. From the Qaraami school evolved the classical Somali songs of today, which still command a broad following among all Somalis.
Somaliland’s performing arts reached their zenith in the 1950s and ‘60s, in large part inspired by a group of educationalists, foremost among whom was Yuusuf Xaaji Aadan. The Hargeysa-based school of theatre was founded by Xuseen Aw Faarax, who authored the first two plays for the Hargeysa stage, Cantar iyo Cabla and Isa-seeg. The plays were produced by Cabdillahi Qarshe, who contributed his musical compositions, and who was also co-founder and chairman of the first modern Somali professional theatre group, the Walaalo Hargeysa Theatre Group. Later, under the leadership of Maxamed Ismaciil BaaSarce (Barqad-Cas), the Walaalo group took a leadership role in the campaign for political independence and the unification of partitioned Somali territories. During the same period, the Hargeysa literary school immortalised the cultural nationalism of the Somali people, culminating in the nationalist icon, Maandeeq.
Hargeysa was also the site of the first Somali radio station, named (appropriately) Radio Somali, which played an important role in the development and dissemination of Somali literary works. “Other radio stations in the region such as Radio Muqdisho, Radio Addis Ababa, and Radio Jabuuti replayed what was broadcast by Radio Somali in Hargeysa,” recalls Cali Sugulle, a famous playwright and one of the main pillars of Walaalo Hargeysa.
Under the military regime cultural and artistic expression were persistently undermined. Despite official government promotion of the performing arts, the regime sought to instrumentalize artists for its own ends, soiling them with the essence of propaganda. Instead, some of the most successful songs and poems of the period were those that voiced opposition, capturing the mood of popular anger with the dictatorship and the civil war.
The euphoria of liberation and the reclamation of independence was not matched by a blossoming of artistic and cultural endeavor. Instead, a cultural vacuum emerged. Emigration of eminent artists, poets, playwrights and musicians as refugees drained the remaining talent pool of much of its vitality. The destruction of all urban-based cultural institutions such as theatres, museums, libraries, and the radio station also helped to stifle artistic expression, while a new brand of austere and puritanical religious groups began to agitate against cultural festivities, ceremonies and traditional dances. Into the widening artistic gap flooded western, commercial pop culture in the form of low quality video films, rock music, and satellite television. The mayor of Burco speaks for an older generation of Somalilanders when he says:
Nowadays teenagers imitate what they see in the videos. Whatever they see they practice right away. Some are acquiring habits that are a threat to our culture.
Today in Somaliland, artistic groups are spread thin, frustrated by the lack of support they receive from their communities and from the authorities. Some have participated actively in various peace processes across the country. Others have offered their services in support of campaigns by the government and international aid agencies to promote public awareness of issues like vaccination and cholera – uses of artistic talent that no doubt help to spread a message, but which might also be uncomfortably reminiscent of the military regime’s use of propaganda.
Somaliland’s artists remain optimistic and persistent, despite the hurdles. Together with their counterparts in the diaspora they have kept the cultural tradition alive, but are still far from the verge of a cultural revival.
International aid organizations have been active in Somaliland since early 1991, and have added their efforts to those of the inhabitants in rebuilding the country. In the immediate aftermath of the government’s collapse, the contributions of foreign donors through the United Nations and international NGOs – albeit at a very low level – initially helped to accelerate the restoration of essential services in some areas, to clear the mines from Hargeysa and its environs, and to care for those groups in the most precarious circumstances: war orphans, widows and the disabled. In those days, the need for immediate assistance outweighed long-term considerations:
The Administration usually accepted what little help it could get from these international partners without complaint, following the adage, “beggars can’t be choosers.” While the international assistance in these early days was much appreciated and was in many cases important in helping the administration to establish viable structures of governance both within and outside the capital, there were several problems with it. Some of these problems have persisted into present-day circumstances. (Gees and Hammond: 1998)
As relief needs receded and Somaliland shifted gears towards rehabilitation and development, relations with international organizations became more complex. The government’s attempts to know more about what its international partners were doing, and to assert a degree of control were resisted by NGOs and UN agencies who sought to defend their functional autonomy and their institutional independence. Arguments over the question of political recognition aroused sentiments on all sides and sometimes overshadowed more tangible, common objectives.
Over time, international cooperation has become less politicized, and current priorities include the harmonization of aid inputs with the government’s priorities, and the coordination of activities within various sectors. Despite these improvements, a number of shortcomings remain. From the government’s perspective, the externally-driven nature of aid programs is galling. The government’s Two Year Development Plan and Annex have been almost entirely ignored by aid agencies and donors, who prefer to design and plan their programs unilaterally, or to negotiate bilaterally with different ministries, undermining the prospects for a common framework.
To date, most international assistance has been ad hoc. Government priorities have not been set, and external actors have not always been successful in marrying projects with local realities or needs. Coordination, where it has existed, has been voluntary rather than obligatory. (Gees and Hammond: 1998)
The coordination of development programs has also suffered from rivalry between major aid actors. Despite elaborate coordination structures based in Nairobi, cooperation between external actors is substandard, as agencies compete with one another for funding, credibility and the favor of government officials.
Donor aid budgets oblige most agencies to plan in short, 6-month to 1-year cycles (sometimes less), preventing longer-term, more sustainable projects. Some NGOs shift their area of focus (health, education, governance etc.) as a function of donor funding priorities, raising questions of competence. The preference of most international actors for dealing with NGOs has often relegated the government to the status of a reluctant observer, whose stake is only recognized when a problem arises that it is called upon to solve.
Given the relatively minor impact of external assistance on Somaliland’s long-term recovery, aid agencies absorb an inordinate amount of energy. After receiving visiting missions, resolving problems, negotiating project documents and coordinating inputs, some government departments have little time left for policy formulation, human resources development or acquisition of first-hand information (i.e. assessment and evaluation of foreign aid programs). Indeed, some government agencies are in danger of becoming little more than counterparts for aid agencies, rather than the reverse.
Although Somalilanders are appreciative of the support and goodwill of their international partners, many are also skeptical of the relevance of foreign aid, whose noble intentions seem to manifest themselves as little more than a source of employment and self-enrichment. “The international NGOs are a discouraging factor in our process of rehabilitation and reconstruction,” believes one Hargeysa intellectual. Other Somalilanders who would be less trenchant in their judgement are nevertheless relieved that foreign aid levels to Somaliland have remained low, fostering the spirit of self-reliance and initiative that has spurred recovery and development over the past decade. Foreign aid, they argue, is welcome if it nurtures that spirit, but not if it diminishes it or otherwise tarnishes Somaliland’s dignity.
In spite of Somaliland’s progress over the past decade, much remains to be done. Peace is fragile, and government institutions are feeble and immature. The economy is precarious and underdeveloped. And the human development indices of Somaliland would be considered emergency conditions in many other parts of the world. The challenges ahead are many and formidable. The question, inevitably, is: Where to begin?
Since declaring independence in May 1991, Somaliland has yet to be recognized by a single member of the international community, nor have any governments shown sympathy for its cause. To the contrary, most regional organizations and their members continue to uphold the unity of the Somali Republic. At the very least, they oppose Somaliland’s “unlilateral” disassociation from Somalia, and insist upon a mutually agreed separation. After nearly a decade of waiting, however, many Somalilanders question for how much longer their sovereignty will remain the property of a state that no longer exists.
Somaliland’s failure to secure de jure recognition as a state has not prevented its de facto acceptance as a polity. The administration has established low-key bilateral relations with Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen, and has maintained informal links with IGAD, the OAU and the United Nations. Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Italy, France and the United States have all welcomed official delegations from the government. The United Nations, European Commission, and other international organizations working in Somaliland territory deal with the leadership as responsible authorities.
International reluctance to accept Somaliland’s claims to sovereignty has denied the government access to bilateral and multilateral financial instruments, and has discouraged certain types of foreign direct investment. Lack of international acceptance has also denied recognition to Somaliland travel documents (while Somali travel documents are no longer considered valid in most countries of the world) and to the Somaliland shilling (which has protected Somaliland from the dumping of freely printed Somali Shillings in Muqdisho and elsewhere). It has also prevented Somaliland’s leadership from playing a constructive role in the affairs of other Somalis, ascribing them the role of political faction in any peace process, rather than that of a third party. But international indifference has had one inadvertently beneficial side effect: it has permitted Somaliland to resolve its internal problems and to develop its own institutions without developing a dependence on foreign assistance or incurring foreign debt.
The continued development of its institutions, administration, and policies remains both an internal priority, and an important manifestation of its statehood. Even before Somaliland is recognized by other state actors, it will be expected to demonstrate its capacity to act as a fully-fledged member of the international community, representing its citizens abroad, protecting and respecting the rights of foreigners on its soil, and improving the lives of its people.
One source of international skepticism concerning Somaliland’s claims to statehood has been the recurrence of conflict within its border and a sense that reconciliation is still incomplete. Throughout the country, Somalilanders express a similar sentiment: that peace remains fragile, and can be preserved only through vigilance and exertion.
The universal commitment to maintaining that peace is an affirmation that, for the most part, any unfinished business is more likely to involve the tying up of loose ends (turxaan bixin) than a settling of accounts. But it provides no guarantee that, if ignored, outstanding grievances will not be deliberately mobilized for individual or political aims.
Perceived regional disparities are the most widespread form of grievance, and potentially one of the most troublesome – although regional labels are often shorthand for clan affiliations, disguising a deeper and more potent form of discontent. Among the eastern Harti clans, a sense of alienation has existed since Somaliland’s declaration of independence, but has been steadily fueled by the longstanding perception that the east has been ignored – the same perception that clearly infuses the inhabitants of places like Ceerigaabo, Ceel Afweyne and Burco. The need to restore confidence in the principle of equity appears to be paramount.
Decentralization has been proposed as one solution to the problem of equity, providing each region with a greater degree of control over its own affairs, but interpretations of what decentralization means and how it is to be achieved vary widely. Finding a formula that combines the expectations of different regions and groups with the need for functional, cost-effective administrative structures is a complex and delicate proposition.
Some forms of equity are linked neither to clan nor to region, but rather to the rights and privileges of all its citizens. The completion of the Constitution is expected to clarify the legalities of citizenship, but this is no guarantee that individual and group rights will be respected. Women in particular have been denied the opportunity to participate in the political sphere, notwithstanding their constitutional rights. Occupational castes (Gabooye, Tumaal and Yibir) have historically faced – and continue to face – persistent discrimination, which their parliamentary representatives seem unable to address. If Somaliland’s claims to be a just society are to be taken seriously, then informal discrimination of this kind needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Many Somalilanders look to the Constitutional process for the resolution of such complex issues. After all, the Constitution should define the terms of the social compact under which Somalilanders consent to common government. The legal basis for political and social equity, the relationship between the center and the periphery, and between the state and the citizen, should all be defined therein.
In addition these already considerable challenges, the Constitution will have to resolve another of Somaliland’s most thorny political issues: the problem of representation. No previous model of Somali government has satisfactorily balanced demands for fair representation with the need for efficient administration; they have instead hung suspended between the national interest and that of the clan as a constituency. The beel system, within which Somaliland currently functions, lacks distinct electoral procedures and criteria – a shortcoming that the establishment of the Guurti as an institution has only partly addressed.
Opinion in Somaliland is divided over what form of representation is best, and how it should be introduced. Many, particularly in urban centers, favor the introduction of political parties, but are uncertain that Somaliland is ready. In more remote rural areas, many are skeptical that the party system would be truly representative, and are grappling with alternatives. Many Somalilanders are unconvinced that a purely western-style political model is appropriate and want to retain some features of the current hybrid of modern and traditional structures.
Even if the final Constitutional document achieves such a balance, the Constitutional process itself will have to cope with the representation issue. Plans for a referendum or plebiscite imply some form of census and a registry of eligible voters. A locally-inspired alternative may be acceptable to most Somalilanders, but it is unlikely to convince all of them, or international observers, of the veracity of the outcome. For the moment the government possesses neither a census, nor the means to hold one. Devising a process that satisfies Somalilanders’ sense of fairness, as well as the exigencies of the international community, will be essential if the transition to a more formal state structure is to be achieved.
With the Saudi Arabian livestock ban of 1998-99 so fresh in their minds, most Somalilanders need no reminding of their economy’s Achilles Heel: its overwhelming dependence on livestock trade. The uneasy awareness that they are hostages to a single export and a single market has prompted calls for diversification and reform – a necessity underlined by the inexorable degradation of the natural environment.
The need to rationalize pastoral production and to reduce the pressure on scarce pastoral resources is rarely disputed; the problem is how. Range management, the provision of services to enhance the export value of livestock, and more effective marketing techniques are all possibilities, but meeting the costs of such activities and winning the trust and acceptance of the pastoralist community will not be easy.
One way to relieve some of the pressure on Somaliland’s pastures is to pursue the diversification of the economy through the exploitation of other natural resources, like fisheries, frankincense, salt and minerals. But these are unlikely to yield much revenue unless they are linked to greater domestic processing capacity, and aggressive international marketing strategies. Within the livestock sector, a shift towards chilled meat exports, processed hides, and even milk products might open doors and allow economic growth without irretrievably destroying Somaliland’s rangelands.
Alternatives undoubtedly exist. Coal mining, oil exploration, cement production, tourism, an economic free zone, financial services, and internet commerce are all possibilities under consideration by various Somaliland entrepreneurs, at home and in the diaspora. Such ideas many never get off the ground, however, unless a conducive business environment can be established in which local enterprises have access to venture capital or credit – either from financial institutions, or foreign direct investment.
The development of a positive regulatory environment for business is one way in which Somaliland can boost investor confidence and attract foreign capital. At present, government policies and regulations are underdeveloped and their application uncertain. Until potential investors, including financial institutions, see a more reassuring business environment, they are unlikely to take a greater interest.
Domestic regulation in a variety of sectors is also badly needed. Rationalization of the telecommunications and energy sectors are two of the most obvious priorities, but more stringent controls on pharmaceutical imports, medical practice, livestock exports, and wholesale/retail networks are also common concerns. Regulation in some of these areas might best be addressed not by government alone, but with the support of professional associations and chambers of commerce.
The list of requirements is nearly endless. The challenge will be not to achieve everything at once, but to determine those areas of immediate, strategic importance, then to develop realistic, rudimentary legislation – and the means to enforce it.
One area in which the regulatory environment is of particular importance is the transit trade. The economic potential of Somaliland’s strategic position is in little doubt, but if it is to be realized, then a number of obstacles must be overcome.
One is the absence of an understanding between Somaliland and Ethiopia concerning cross-border trade, in both directions. Another is the high cost to users of Berbera port. A third is Somaliland’s irregular treatment of transit goods, which may be taxed by local authorities before they reach the border. A fourth involves the poor condition of the economic infrastructure linking the two countries. Other issues, like the convertibility of the Somaliland Shilling, are less urgent, but ultimately will need to be tackled.
Despite tremendous progress since 1991, Somaliland’s social services are characterized by poor quality, low coverage and – on the government side – heavy reliance on foreign assistance. Somaliland’s human development statistics, which rank among the lowest in the world, confirm the bad news.
Clearly, the Somaliland government is unable to afford major expansion of government services in the short term. But the experience of different authorities and facilities across Somaliland suggest that improvements are possible. Municipal and regional levies, community initiatives, contributions from the diaspora and the business community, and various cost-sharing schemes have all proven successful in augmenting social services to varying degrees across the country. Learning from these experiences and replicating the best practices in other parts of the country may be one place to begin.
The absence of national standards in education and health care is another limitation that can be overcome without major new investments. Progress has already begun within government-controlled institutions, and between different levels of government, but there is also a need to join forces with the private sector, upon whom many Somalilanders depend, and who continue to operate autonomously.
The importance of private social services in Somaliland inevitably raises another issue: access for those who lack the resources to pay. Even public facilities, whose use may ostensibly be free, may demand hidden costs of their users: hospitals require patients to provide their own meals and to buy their own medication; schools require students to purchase books and stationery supplies, or to pay an incentive in addition to teacher salaries. Finding a balance between the need to share the costs of social services and the principle of universal access is one of the main challenges to Somaliland’s public sector.
The disparity between urban and rural Somaliland is one of the most stark contrasts in today’s society. For the past century, economic and social development has been based in the major towns, a trend that continues to the present day. Social services in particular demonstrate an urban or “sedentary” bias: schooling is adapted neither to the movement of pastoralist children, nor to the seasonal rhythm work in the nomadic environment; health care services are unable to reconcile the migratory nature of some families with certain long term treatment regimes, like tuberculosis.
Just as rural access to certain services is limited, so is the appeal of those services sometimes weak. Education is particularly geared towards integration and employment in the urban economy. Rural families who send their children to school are making profound decisions that may affect not only the future of the child, but also that of the family and the community. Adapting social services so that they better respond to the needs of the rural population is a long term challenge.
In discussions with Somalilanders from all corners of the country, one is struck more by what divides them than what unites them. Region, clan, political orientation, generation and profession are all grounds for comparison and division. But nearly ten years after the declaration of independence, Somalilanders appear to be united in at least one thing: the sense that the experience of dictatorship and war has left their society somehow diminished. Many Somalilanders today perceive their country to be a meaner, more corrupt, less humane and virtuous place than they would like it to be
Among members of the older generations, there exists undoubtedly an element of nostalgia. But even young people are concerned. It is as though, beyond their shared commitment to peace and security, no consensus yet exists among Somalilanders about what kind of society they wish to become.
The eclipse of arts and culture during the past decade has denied Somalilanders a vital medium for the exchange of ideas, norms and values, creating a vacuum that has been filled in part by the globalizing influences of satellite television and other vehicles of western pop culture. The diaspora experience has played an important role in shaping the views of an entire generation of Somalilanders, leaving many of them estranged – to a lesser or greater degree – from those who have never left their homeland.
Somalilanders will of course never agree upon a single vision for their society. But reviving those cultural, artistic and normative forms of expression and communication that help to shape a national self-image and pride can help to bring Somalilanders closer to understanding one another and strengthening the ties that bind them together.
The impact of qaad on Somaliland society and economy is unmeasured, but few would disagree that it has become a social scourge. Nevertheless, qaad chewing is tolerated and even encouraged within the circles of Somaliland’s political, traditional and civic elite. No stigma is attached to its use.
The relationship between qaad and Somaliland’s other social ills is disputed. Some Somalilanders argue that qaad is a primary cause of unproductivity and professional negligence. Others describe it only as a symptom of (and a palliative for) the rampant unemployment and underemployment in the Somaliland economy. Less controversy surrounds its deleterious impact on family life and income, or on personal health.
Given the scale of qaad use, proposals for a ban appear neither to be realistic, nor to enjoy widespread support. Reducing its usage from the level of social affliction to relatively innocuous habit might be achievable through forms of regulation and public education. More needs to be understood about the relationship between qaad and other social ills in Somaliland, and a practical course of action to be proposed.
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 Subsequent agreements between Britain and Ethiopia in 1942, 1944, 1948 and 1954 concerned the implementation of the 1897 treaty, but did not alter the substance of the original accord.
 The official figure from the Ministry of National Planning and Co-ordination is 3 million.
 The original treaties gave the British no rights to cede territory on behalf of the Somaliland clans – a prerogative that the British nevertheless exercised illegally and unilaterally in their negotiations with other imperial powers.
 Laurence was the husband of renowned Canadian author Margaret Laurence, whose early works include two volumes based on her experiences in Somaliland: A Tree for Poverty and The Prophet’s Camel Bell.
 Many Somalilanders resent the use of the term “Somalia” to describe Somaliland’s union with the south. They argue that Somaliland and Somalia united to form the “Somali Republic,” and that substitution of “Somali Republic” with Somalia in casual use has helped to obscure Somaliland’s independent origins and the voluntary nature of the union.
 For a detailed account of events during this period, see: Somalia: A Government at War with its Own People (London: Africa Watch, 1990).
 An entire section of Mogadishu distinguished by extravagant Villas came to be known as Booli Qaran, meaning the “National Loot”.
 Between 1987-89, an estimated 6.4% of total overseas investment was allocated to the north (GOS – Background: 1994).
 The group was variously known as the Hargeysa Group, Ufo (a type of whirlwind signalling a change in the weather), and Ragga u Dhashay Magaalada (Men Born of the City – a pseudonym employed by antigovernment pamphleteers).
 The United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) declined to recognize the legitimacy of the Boorame process and sponsored alternative leadership instead, contributing directly to a destructive round of civil strife in 1994-96.
 Not all elders accepted the role assigned to them by the military regime. Many managed to retain their independence, while others became actively engaged in the struggle to overthrow the Barre government.
 For a detailed reaction to this description of the Guurti, see: Cabdillahi I. Habane and Musa J. Mohamed, Response to the Description of the Traditional Elders in the “Self Portrait of Somaliland.” Hargeysa: unpublished mimeo, 1999. The mimeo may be obtained upon request from the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development.
 Hargeysa also possesses a private television station, which has remained disengaged from the local political scene.
 A majority of Somalilanders are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi’i school.
 A fence that is far from you cannot protect you from the cold.
 Drysdale, John. Unpublished Mimeo. Hargeysa, 1995.
 Mohamed Sa’id Mohamed “Gees”, A Road Not Taken. Unpublished mimeo. Hargeysa, 1997.
 Monthly wages for government employees are typically fixed at about 20,000 Somaliland Shillings, or US$ 6.
 These include the Tog Wajaale and other plains to the west of Hargeysa, and the Xaaxi, Gatiitaley, Beerato and Beer areas of Togdheer region, among others.
 SCPD is indebted to Mr. John Drysdale for his valuable insights into agropastoralism, which have been incorporated in this paragraph.
 Some of the more prominent irrigation communities across the country include: Qabri Baxar and Ruqi (Awdal); Ceel Bardaale, Ceel Giniiseed, Cadaadley and Arabsiyo (Woqooyi Galbeed); Dhaymoole and Bixin (Saaxil); Dayaxa and Hareed (Sanaag).
 Most observers of the frankincense trade would contest this figure, arguing that tapping of trees has increased, not decreased.
 At the time of writing, port charges in Berbera are US$ 8/ton vs. US$ 6.7/ton in Djibouti. Warehousing in Berbera costs US$ 7/ton vs. US$ 4/ton in Djibouti.
 In port jargon, the dhac is the number of payments a customer has to make to the stevedores for goods to be unloaded, and corresponds roughly to the number of times that cargo is physically lifted. Geelle is the porters’ association.
 Kalabaydh airport has existed only since the 1994-96 conflict, when it was established as an alternative to Hargeysa airport, which had become insecure.
 The settlement of Yiroowe, east of Burco, is symbolic of the road’s importance. Burco residents displaced by the 1994-96 civil conflict resettled themselves along the main road in a community seven kilometers long and roughly one kilometer wide.
 The inhabitants of the remote community of Karin, east of Berbera on the coastal plain, deserve special mention. After years of isolation, members of the community pooled their own efforts and constructed a rough road linking Karin to the Oogo trade centers that form part of the Burco-Yiroowe trade network.
 During the first few months of 1991 in Hargeysa, a Medecins Sans Frontiéres surgical team received 2-3 mine casualties every day from within city limits, and suspected that many others went unreported.
 In casual speech, these groups are often referred to as Beelaha Gabooye, although members of the various sub-groups do not necessarily accept this appellation. For the purposes of brevity, the term Beelaha Gabooye is used in this paper to refer to the Gabooye, Tumaal, and Yibir together.
 However, a smaller exodus took place almost simultaneously from parts of Awdal and Woqooyi Galbeed regions.
 For a more detailed description of mother and child health issues and needs, see Edna Aden Ismail, The Health of Somali Women and that of their Children (submission to “Rebuilding from the Rubble: A Self-Portrait of Somaliland”). Hargeysa: Unpublished Mimeo, 1999. The mimeo may be obtained from the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development.
 Burton’s precise words were “poets, poetasters, poetitos, poetaccios.”
 The she-camel, Maandeeq, symbolized Somali nationalist aspirations and the anticipated dividends of independence and statehood. The promise of the nationalist slogan Aan maalno hasheenna Maandeeq (“Let us milk our beloved milch-camel Maandeeq”) quickly turned sour as enthusiasm for the union waned.
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