Somaliland: Twenty-three Years of Leadership Limbo
By Jaafar M Sh Jama
Today (May 18, 2014) the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland, under the tutelage of the Isak confederate tribes, celebrates the anniversary of its unilateral declaration of independence from Somalia in 1991. The state remains unrecognized by the rest of the world—even after twenty-three years of pitching its case throughout the world. The African Union did not want to revisit existing colonial boundaries to open a case whose tenets are based purely on tribalism. Instead, it simply reaffirmed the sovereignty of the Somali state based in Mogadishu. The Arab League and the United Nations reiterated the position of the African Union. Europeans and others cringe at the thought of a Somali tribe going back to colonial boundaries that served the political, diplomatic and imperial interests of Europeans one hundred and thirty years ago. The Somali state—in an attempt to appease all tribal stake holders—is willing to keep the state together by giving various tribal fiefdoms autonomy to run their local affairs, yet also share the federal government’s allocation of resources, powers and the attendant benefits of federalism. While briefing the United Nations Security Council in March of 2014, the United Nations Special Representative to Somalia, Nickolas Kay, said, “The best hope for peace and stability in Somalia, the Horn of Africa and beyond remains a united, secure and federal Somalia. This is achievable.”
Domestically the Somaliland government has done nothing to strengthen its ambition for statehood. On the contrary, it has reinforced tribalism by concentrating all key organs of the state within the tribe. Somaliland leaders revived the old dictator’s model of government to keep the state within the family, even if it collapses. A majority of the Dhulbahanta–who constitute Khatumo State—have already opted out of Somaliland and established the Khatumo State of Somalia in alignment with the Somali federal constitution. The militia of Khatumo State is already in charge of several key towns within Somaliland.
Several prominent Isak figures have changed loyalties, including Fosiya Haji Yusuf, former political party head in Somaliland, who abandoned Somaliland to become the Foreign Minister of Somalia. Ismail Hurre Buubaa, a former Somali Foreign Minister of Isak descent, opposed the secession and considers an independent Somaliland a non-viable option. Other prominent figures from Somaliland, including the current Foreign Minister and other cabinet members in the Mogadishu government are from Somaliland. Approximately 35 of Somalia’s 275 parliamentarians are from the Isak tribe—now serving in Mogadishu in positions allocated to their tribes based on tribal power distribution. There are an additional twenty-five members of parliament from northern tribes other than Isak. The total number of parliamentarians from the north is close to sixty.
There is no unified Somaliland as the various tribes are all vying for different opportunities by declaring their own mini-states within Somaliland. There has been no model of government in Somaliland outside of the long-established and well-worn traditional leadership by tribe or dictatorship. Somaliland has not presented a model of government that is worthy of recognition. The governing mechanism is tribe, and that is no different from what is going on in southern Somalia.
Recently Somaliland hired a South African firm, The Brent Hurst Foundation, to lobby for recognition abroad. In the end it is tribal issues that will determine which way Somaliland goes. Of the five tribes that reside in Somaliland, four are opposed to recognition—even though some of them are out-gunned. Nevertheless, the respective tribes will determine their own fate. The Dhulbahantas are standing their ground in spite of Somaliland’s efforts to undermine the tribe. The tribe is sitting on vast oil reserves and is believed to have the potential to become the seventh largest oil producer in the world. That comment is based on Professor Ali Khalif Kalayr’s remarks during a recent speech to spectators in Buuhoodle. He urged his listeners to defend their land and resources. He cautioned Somaliland to stop meddling in the affairs of the tribe. If the ruling clan is not willing to compromise in regard to federalism, it would seem that all-out war is inevitable.
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