HARGEISA, 16 March 2010 (Somalilandpress) – I write this letter as a Somaliland citizen that values the ancient, cultural, religious, kinship, commercial and geographic ties that bind the peoples of Somaliland and Arabia. However, I must, in all honesty, clarify that I speak for no one except myself, although I believe that many Somalilanders do share the perspective outlined in this missive.
Recently there have been reports, in both the Somaliland and international press, that Israel is prepared to recognise Somaliland as a sovereign nation. These reports have occasioned the predicable response from the TFG of Sheikh Sharif that Somaliland is part of Somalia and cannot be recognised by any country. It is ironic, to say the least, that an illegitimate and unelected government that is imprisoned in a few blocks of its own capital and which can only survive in this prison under the protection of some 4,000 foreign soldiers (which are not drawn from any Arab League member) has the temerity to tell real governments that are in full control of their territories, what they can and cannot do. However, this is the surreal fantasy that passes for a government in Somalia today.
What is sad is that the pathetic mendacity of the TFG was parroted by the Arab League in their accompanying statement which accused Israel of plotting to divide an Arab country. This is palpable nonsense since the people of Somaliland began the recovery of their sovereignty in April 1981 when they established the Somali National Movement (SNM) as the vehicle for their liberation from the oppression of the Siyad Barre dictatorship. The recovery of Somaliland’s sovereignty was finally realised in 1991 when the forces of the dictatorship were defeated and evicted from Somaliland, after a bitter, decade-long war of liberation in which Somaliland’s people were subjected to mass extermination, ethnic cleansing and a calculated and brutal savagery that has been documented by many human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Thus, the Arab League’s cavalier dismissal of Somaliland’s long struggle for liberation, not to mention its unique achievement of reconciliation, peace, representative government and reconstruction with virtually no outside help, is but another manifestation of Arab hostility and enmity towards us.
We Somalilanders remember that many of the weapons and munitions used by the Siyad Barre dictatorship to massacre innocent men, women and children was gifted to him by members of the Arab League, not to mention much of the funding that was used to prop up the regime and enrich its rulers. We also remember that while many other countries with which the people of Somaliland have no historic ties of kinship or culture or faith, e.g. such as Ethiopia, Canada, USA, Holland, Sweden, Norway and the UK, provided sanctuary and safe haven to the women, children and men that had managed to escape the scourge of the dictatorship with their lives and little else. Yet, the governments of the Arab League members were only too happy to cooperate with the enemy dictatorship to harass, imprison and repatriate to them many innocent Somalilanders who’s sole crime was to send financial support to their families and kinsmen which had been made refugees in Ethiopia and elsewhere by the said dictatorship.
Upon achievement of our liberation and recovery of our sovereignty in 1991, the Arab League embarked upon a sustained campaign to obstruct and thwart at every turn not only the success, but indeed the very existence, of Somaliland as an independent nation. This is despite the fact that when Somaliland first achieved its independence from Britain on 26 June 1960, several Arab countries, including Egypt, were among the 35 nations that recognised the Republic of Somaliland. Indeed, it is an irony worth mentioning here that Somaliland’s independence leader and first Prime Minister, the late Mohammed Ibrahim Egal was a personal friend and political ally of Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, yet the current Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, saw fit to characterise Egal’s death as “…the collapse of the wall that divides Somalia…”. This callous ignorance signifies the depths to which Arab understanding of Somaliland’s history and politics has sunk.
Somaliland was the first Somali colonial territory to achieve independence in 1960, and it was the principal proponent and champion of the dream of a pan-Somali state that would unite all Somali peoples in HOA, i.e. the irredentist dream of Greater Somalia. Infected with the same virus of anti-colonial nationalism that propelled Syria and Egypt to their hasty union, Somaliland rushed into union with ex-Italian Somalia as the first step towards realisation of the Greater Somalia dream. It is another irony of history that those who now base their opposition to Somaliland’s recognition on the grounds that this ‘dismembers Somalia’, are ignorant of the fact that it was Somaliland which gave birth to the concept of Greater Somalia and indeed sacrificed its statehood for this dream. Our political maturation and acceptance of the immutable law of politics, that true unity and freedom flow from the application of reason and adult reflection, and not from youthful and oblivious fervour, has been hard won and tempered in blood and steel, and we will never surrender it. Just as Syria recovered its sovereignty after its over-hasty union, so have we.
Concomitant with this overt Arab hostility to Somaliland’s legitimate rights has been the growing appreciation and support of our case throughout Africa and the Western world. Our country’s singular achievements in reconciliation, peace, stability and a functioning representative democracy in stark contrast to the mayhem in Somalia, the autocratic political structures of many of our neighbours and the political instability plaguing established democracies such as Kenya, has earned the respect and goodwill of many nations and their citizens. When we review the Arab World’s hostility to Somaliland and its cause over the last two decades, we have to ask what lies behind this undisguised antipathy. What crime have the people of Somaliland committed against the Arabs to earn such sustained enmity and disdain? In fact, the answer is simple and the crime can be neither mitigated nor undone, but simply accepted as irredeemable and irreversible. Somaliland’s crime is simply to exist, and we make no apologies for it, nor do we wish to ‘correct’ it.
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While the decisions of the Arab League are formally arrived at by consensus at formal meetings of Ministers and Heads of State, in reality the leadership of the Arab World is vested in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, usually acting in concert. In the case of Somaliland, Egypt has taken the lead in determining the position of the Arabs, and thus the policy of the League. This is because Egypt has a particular interest in the Horn of Africa region (HOA) because of its negotiations with Ethiopia regarding the sharing of the waters of the Nile. Egypt has determined that its interests are best served by a united Somalia hostile to Ethiopia and friendly to Egypt which it can use as an effective bargaining chip with which to ‘induce’ the required measure of cooperation from Ethiopia. An independent, sovereign Somaliland that is friendly with Ethiopia (as indeed Somaliland now is) is considered by Egypt as antithetical to its interests in HOA. Thus, in pursuit of its own national interest, Egypt has sold to its fellow League members a false bill of goods regarding Somaliland and the merits, justice and historical precedent of its quest for recognition. History is the one true enemy of falsehood, and Egypt’s selfish and short sighted misrepresentation of Somaliland and the wishes of its people is no exception, as there are now emerging signs that the Arab World is waking up to the truth.
A key indicator of this awakening is Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to rescind the decade old ban on livestock imports from Somaliland. This is a transformational move with respect to relations between the two countries, since over 90% of Somaliland’s foreign currency earnings come from the livestock export trade. This is evidenced by the fact that some 800,000 heads of livestock were exported from Somaliland to Saudi Arabia during the last Haj, resulting in a dramatic improvement in Somaliland’s economy. In addition, other GCC countries (including the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar) are establishing informal trade, cultural and assistance relations with Somaliland and these ties are growing and expanding by the day. Yemen has recently indicated its desire to establish diplomatic relations with Somaliland while developing close security and anti-terror collaboration. The fact is that the world is waking up to the reality of Somaliland and it is beginning to accept that we are here to stay. The world is also beginning to wake up to the truth that Somaliland has been impressing upon it for well over a decade, namely that the only route to finding a solution for the crisis that continues to bedevil Somalia goes through Hargeisa.
We are ready to assist our brothers in Somalia find a just and workable solution to the crisis of the collapse of the state in their country. But our assistance can only be given if we are not party to the anarchy and mayhem, but are separate and distant from it. Only a stable, peaceful and independent Somaliland can help Somalia find its way back from the abyss of anarchy and state collapse into which it has descended. However, this will require a complete review of the genesis of Somali nationalism and an acceptance that the irredentist dream of Greater Somalia has turned into a nightmare. Re-establishment of the state in Somalia will perforce mean a new social contract between the people of Somalia, and, by extension, between the Somali peoples of the HOA. This inevitably means that the irredentist nationalisms of the Somali peoples in Ethiopia and Kenya also need to be reviewed in a new light. Instead of seeking separation from these countries, these Somali peoples need to secure their full, national rights within these countries, including regional autonomy, self determination and social development.
This vision of a peaceful, stable, democratic HOA in which all the Somali people achieve their full rights and self determination does not suit the self-interested, hegemonic designs of Egypt, which seeks through conflict and manipulation that which it can secure through wisdom, fraternity and negotiation. Until the Arab League ceases to let its policy on Somaliland and Somalia be held hostage to the misguided and monopolistic Nile policy of Egypt, until the Arab League decides to let its regional and geo-political interests determine its policy towards Somaliland and Somalia, the people of Somaliland will continue to see little or no convergence of interests between them and their Arab neighbours and kinfolk. It is an axiom of history, not to mention faith that “ye shall reap as ye shall sow”. The Arab League has sowed the disdain and enmity of the people of Somaliland for over three decades (including the period of the war against the Siyad Barre dictatorship); can it now be surprised if the harvest is the disdain and hostility of Somaliland’s people, especially its youth?
In conclusion, let’s return to Israel’s reported willingness to recognise Somaliland. Firstly, let us be clear, Somaliland is a sovereign nation and, as such, it can establish relations with any country that it wishes. Somaliland is seeking international recognition from the community of nations, and it is in our interests to reciprocate every hand extended to us in friendship and mutual respect. Secondly, certain members of the Arab League have full diplomatic relations with Israel, e.g. Egypt and Jordan, while others maintain informal ties and/or trade offices with them, e.g. Morocco and Tunisia. Thus, the knee-jerk reaction of the Arab League to the news reports is not only unwarranted, but in fact misses the point.
The point is not whether Israel is willing to recognise Somaliland, but why the Arab League remains hostile to exercise of the people of that country of their legitimate right to self determination and so recover the sovereignty they unwisely surrendered in 1960? Somaliland will not sacrifice its interests for any third party, but those that seek our respect and friendship must show us the same respect and friendship. Despite the history of hostility outlined above, Somaliland’s hand remains extended in friendship to our Arab brethren, the question continues remains, however, as to whether the Arab League will take it in the same spirit of fraternity.
Ahmed M.I. Egal