There is no doubt when a nation is united there is strength in it, but a nation that is troubled by ongoing conflict and a nation that continues to suffer from the killer disease of tribalism which rages havoc in the human brain to self inflict, there is little hope that a union or unity will be achieved. In order therefore to rebuild the society and avert further problems and self inflictions ahead, there needs to be a compromise on both parties, that is Somaliland and Somalia. In this short article, I will propose ideas that will pave the way for achieving peaceful coexistence and securing stability that will enable and ease the path to rehabilitation and much needed psychotherapy to bed in the nations psyche.
The task ahead is indeed a monumental task and it takes, a visionary and bold leadership that takes stance for the common good of Somalis. Such vision and bold decision needs to take stock of the past and contemporary history of the nation. If one does not reflect on the history, then it is unlikely that they will resolve the Somali problem and start to rebuild the Somali persona that is currently afflicted by brain haemorrhage.
Brief reflection of history of Somalis:
If we look back the history of Somalis in the last 200 years alone, we find that the Somalis where initially nomads following their livestock and yet they were territorial and lead tribal and clan based lifestyle. It is well known that different tribes and clans inhabited different areas of the horn of Africa, where Somali inhabitants are currently found. There were no known borders, but each tribe and clan had a main base and they moved around to peripherals of their main base and they constantly came into contact with each other. This often caused frictions and inter tribe and clan wars.
It was not until the colonials arrived in late 18th century that the Somalis found a common enemy, namely the colonial powers, Britain, Italians and French. During this time, although not perfect, Somalis have achieved a level of cohesion and a common goal, that was to rid the colonial powers of Somali territories. However, the struggle for independence was not characterised by unified organisation but each region struggled separately. The only commonality between these Somali inhabited regions with regards to this was a feeling of Somali identity and uplifting the Somali nation as whole from eastern Kenya (NFD), reserve area and Ogaden region and to Djibouti in the north west. After the independence in 1960 only two regions united, that is Somaliland and Somalia. The peripheral regions remained separate. NFD was annexed and given to Kenya, Djibouti went alone and Ogaden was annexed left for Ethopia and reserve area was given to Ethiopia by the late Somali Republic government in late 1980’s in return for aiding resolve domestic problems, the conflict between the rebellions of the north (Somaliland) and the Somali Republic which was predominantly a state run by southern Somalis.
In this brief history the lesson we take from is that there has never been a strong, unified and organised, shared history among the Somalis. So we should ponder the implications of this for the future and for any negotiated settlement. I believe any settlement that does not consider these historical facts is not likely to produce fruitful results and will only stoke problems for the long term future.
The destruction of the Somali Republic:
One has to ask why did the state created after the independence in 1960 failed so spectacularly? There is no other explanation accept reasons rooted to culture and Somali lifestyle. As we have mentioned above, the Somalis have always been a nation of tribal and clan interest, which is a problematic in it self. This coupled with differences in historical development and extreme competition for scarce public resources were the root causes of the collapse of the union. Prior to the creation of the state when tribes compete for scarce resources, that is gracing their herds, and conflict arises tribes were able to retreat to their heartland and conflict will die down as elders mediate using traditional conflict resolution methods.
However, the establishment of the state came with urbanisation and new forms of resources, that is not gracing land, but wealth, power and status. These were new phenomena’s that required new solutions and governance of justice. A nation that is blinded by tribalism is unlikely to establish firm justice and appropriate systems of citizenship that supersedes the clan based thinking. Tribal or clan based thinking is a hardwired attitudes that no system can presently address effectively and it will be source of problem in the foreseeable future. This requires years of perhaps psychotherapy and deliberate design of a system that supports the treatment without compulsion.
Solutions and the way forward:
If we are to seriously tackle the problem, we need to take it in stages and gradually rebuild what we could regard the Somali personality. Shaping the thinking of the people is key to this. In order to undertake this we need to take stock of the historical facts and take lessons from the history. That includes the fact that there has not been an organised shared history and civilisation among the Somalis. Since that is the case there has to be a realisation that there can be no union between Somaliland and Somalia and to continue a path of union is indeed futile at the present time and in the foreseeable future. In order to achieve that goal one has to create a shared history first. This requires leaders who use their head and knowledge, and not leaders, who have their heart in their sleeves, who cannot tell the wood from the trees. Put it another way the answer to this problem is not emotionalism but rationalism and realism. This is what is required of politicians of both sides in particular leaders from the South or Somalia proper. The same is required of public educators, that is individuals who have a degree of status within the society, whether that derived from knowledge or position in the society.
The realities on the ground and the historical facts do not support the engagement and pursuit of union or greater Somalia. To continue to advocate for that without a change of realities is indeed a short sightedness and it will indeed be a source of friction and conflict which will continue to hamper any progress for the Somali nation as a whole.
Separation is the likely route that will deliver tomorrow what some people call for now. I say this, with foresight, because what needs to happen first is to rebuild the trust of the people. There has been a bitter war that costed so many lives and caused so much destruction. It is therefore incumbent on the politicians of today to not repeat the mistakes of yesterday, by following blind emotionalism, without due consideration of the facts before us.
The people of Somaliland have spoken clearly and loudly so that must be respected if there is any chance or hope of rebuilding the trust of the people. Recognition of Somaliland’s entitlement to self determination by the other party will pave the way the establishment of two separate states with strong ties and cooperation. The international community sees the issue as a Somali problem and that the solution lies with Somalis and rightly so. This is the best if Somalis can achieve reconciliation and acceptance without an international pressure. It will go down the history and will be forever ingrained in the psyche of the nation as the people who settled their differences with due consideration. Furthermore, it will have positive implications for the future relations of the two states and could pave the way for the creation of long term shared history.
The role of the international community:
If the Somali politicians fail to resolve and provide appropriate answer the big question. There has to be alternative means of settling the issue. The international community, neighbouring countries, and the African Union all have a duty to assist to resolve the issue. An appropriate pressure needs to be applied that a recognition of Somaliland is in the interest of all the Somalis and the region. This will allow normalisation and peaceful coexistence that will lead to prosperity, development and greater regional cooperation.
This issue is an issue that the AU needs to take greater interest and show leadership as it embarks its efforts to uplift the people from the continent from poverty and it attempts to address the causes of poverty, that is the ongoing conflict, destruction, displacement and other systemic issues.
The differences of political view point between Somaliland and Somalia is rooted to history and the Somali cultural lifestyle preceding the statehood and the emergence of urban settlements. The political upheaval resulting from the historical differences has damaged relations of the people and continues to impact on people’s livelihoods negatively. It therefore needs to be addressed urgently and settlement of the issue needs to be prioritised by both Somalis and the international community.
It might become incumbent upon the international community to take a unilateral decision and take the decision out of the hands of the Somalis, who have, for more than a quarter of century, failed spectacularly to settle the issue. The international community needs to seriously consider this issue in order to enable the Somalis, Somalilanders and Somalians to live side by side peacefully and avert further future problems.
By Mowlid Ali Hure