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[Dehai-WN] Pambazuka.org: Somalia:Conference: Somalia,s expectation for self governance disregarded

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 3 Feb 2012 23:03:14 +0100

Somalia: Somaliland and the London Conference On Somalia

By Ahmed M.I. Egal,

3 February 2012


Listening to Somaliland - and deploying some of its methods in achieving
stability - is crucial to addressing the crisis in Somalia.

The upcoming London Conference on Somalia, and the UK's urging of the
Somaliland government to attend, has understandably generated a lot of
debate and comment within the Somaliland community, both within and outside
the country. One of the stated objectives of the conference, according to
Matt Baugh, senior representative for Somalia, is to '...reinforce the
relative stability in areas of Somalia, such as Somaliland and Puntland and
in the south...'.

This statement has, again understandably, aroused the ire of the people of
Somaliland since they recovered their sovereignty from the erstwhile
Republic of Somalia in 1991, and have steadfastly maintained their distance
from the anarchy, state collapse and war that have engulfed Somalia ever
since, despite repeated attempts often involving violence (e.g. Al-Shabaab's
attacks in Hargeisa and upon expatriates in Somaliland) to drag them into
this unending maelstrom.

Somaliland and its people expected more from their former colonial
protector, and it is either a reflection of the insensitivity of the current
Foreign and Colonial Office to the aspirations of the people of Somaliland,
or simply of their lack of knowledge of the politics of the Horn of Africa,
that they refer to Somaliland as a region of Somalia, as Puntland is. The
interpretation that many hard line, anti-Somaliland politicians within
Somalia have given this British insensitivity or ignorance, is that the
British have coerced the Somaliland government to attend the conference as a
regional authority, just like Puntland, Galmudug etc. Whatever the
explanation for this impolitic language, and it is likely to be a
combination of all three outlined herein, the fact is that the British
government has put the Silanyo administration in a very difficult spot
indeed. If they attend the conference, as they have stated they will, then
they will reap the wrath of the vast majority of their people; if they
don't, and they may yet be forced to a volte face, then they will look weak
and will reap the wrath of Albion through curtailment of aid and a downgrade
of bilateral ties.

Leaving aside the issue of Somaliland's attendance for the moment, it is
instructive to consider what this latest conference on Somalia is meant to
achieve and the likelihood of it achieving its stated objectives, which have
been set out as follows:

- Security: sustainable funding for the African Union Mission in Somalia
(AMISOM), and support for Somali security and justice sectors.

- Political Process: agreement to what should succeed the transitional
institutions in Mogadishu in August 2012 and the establishment of a Joint
Financial Management Board.

- Local Stability: a coordinated international package of support to
Somalia's regions.

- Counter-terrorism: renewed commitment to tackle collectively the terrorist
threat emanating from Somalia.

- Piracy: breaking the piracy business model.

- Humanitarian: renewed commitment to tackling Somalia's humanitarian

- International coordination: agreement on improved international handling
of Somalia issues.

This is quite a challenge and it is clear that no single conference can be
expected to achieve these gargantuan goals, so we must question what the
British government actually hopes to achieve at this conference. According
to Chris Allen, UK deputy ambassador to Ethiopia, more than 40 senior
government officials and multilateral organizations, including French
President Nicolas Sarkozy, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are expected to attend the conference.
Clearly, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague
have invested considerable political capital and much personal credibility
in this conference.

The fact is that there have been some 17 or 18 conferences (depending upon
one's criteria on what constitutes a conference) held to effect
reconciliation and establish a credible, effective government for Somalia
since 1991, including the latest one earlier this month in Garowe. All of
these conferences can be said to have failed miserably since Somalia remains
the very definition of a failed state with no central state authority in
control of the country. Yet, the British government has raised expectations
internationally and within East Africa by hosting this conference and
prevailing upon heads of state and government, the foreign donor community
and the current Somali leadership, such as it is, to attend. On the face of
it, given the near debacle of abject failure at the recent Garowe
conference, which was only avoided by the UN acceding to the opposing
demands of the two camps into which the participants divided regarding the
basis upon which a future government of Somalia would be formed, the
prospects for success seem rather dim.

So what do the British have up their sleeve, as it were, that leads them to
believe that this conference will bear the sweet fruit of success where all
the others have failed? Firstly, they have been dangling the enticing carrot
of increased international aid for 'peaceful' regions, which has resulted in
a sudden proliferation of regional states announced by aspirant diaspora
would-be 'leaders' seeking their fleeting 15 minutes of fame (or perhaps
infamy might be a more apt term) on the world stage, or in this case, the
London stage and a briefcase of money - courtesy of the foreign donors. This
opportunistic gold rush of regional statehood has even infected the peaceful
parts of the erstwhile Somali Republic (i.e. Somaliland and Puntland) with
the recent moves to legitimise the dangerous, diaspora-driven, political
mischief-making disguised as Awdal State and Khatumo 2.

Thus, while the direct responsibility for the recent deaths of security
personnel and civilians in Buhoodle in Somaliland can be laid at the door of
the naked ambition and greed of the Somali Diaspora carpet-baggers seeking a
place at the London conference, the British government must accept its
indirect, if unintentional, culpability. To quote a much-misused political
axiom of our times, actions have consequences.

Secondly, with the support of the US and UN Security Council (UNSC), the
British hope to revisit the agreement reached at Garowe wherein all things
were promised to all parties. At Garowe, a further interim period of four
years was agreed, during which Somalia would be 'governed' by a new interim
government formed on the basis of the 4.5 clan model upon which the present
TFG was formed. Thereafter, in 2016, a permanent government for Somalia will
be formed based upon regional representation and not the 4.5 clan structure.
The foreign donor community had intended that the Garowe conference would
form the permanent government that has been pushed back four years, although
any rational observer with knowledge of Somali history and politics,
particularly during the period since the collapse of the Siyad Barre
dictatorship, would have seen the chasm between these intentions and the
hard reality on the ground. What, in effect, the foreign donors were
attempting to effect was to construct the edifice of a permanent government
upon quicksand, since the basis upon which a new Somali state was to be
formed had not even been addressed.

The London Conference seeks to revisit the political agreement on the
formation of a permanent government for Somalia, because the issue was
ducked at Garowe, and the prospect of another four years of anarchy and
political stasis under yet another interim government is unpalatable to the
foreign donors. However, since the core issues underlying the collapse of
the Somali state have not been addressed - and are not tabled to be
addressed at the conference - it is destined to fail. These issues revolve
around the rationale for the existence of the state itself, i.e. what is the
underlying basis for political consent in Somalia? The rationale for the
creation of the erstwhile Republic was the irredentist dream of Greater
Somalia, and this dream has been consigned to the dustbin of history for a
whole host of reasons, both internal and external, which are beyond the
scope of this paper to delve into. However, despite the lingering passion of
some Somalis for this mirage of the past, and the false, in-name-only
adherence of some regional powers seeking to advance their own self
interested, political calculations, this discredited and empty irredentism
can no longer further the political aspirations and hopes for a better
future of a new generation of Somalis.

Succeeding generations of young Somalis, which have been robbed of any and
all opportunity for betterment while observing both their own misery and the
changing world around them are no longer inspired by dreams of Greater
Somalia. The call to their political loyalty is to their sub-clan and the
call to their faith is to a medieval nihilism masquerading as Islam. They
demand a life and the chance for betterment now and a faith that connects
them to humanity and human progress, not one that not only denies it, but
cuts them off from it in the name of piety. The lucky few that can muster
the necessary payments, vote with their feet and join the millions of
illegal migrants that are preyed upon by human traffickers each year. The
unlucky are forced to choose between death, beggary and fighting for one
side or the other in the interminable war that has come to define Somalia.
This conference will, as did all of its predecessors, focus upon the
symptoms of Somalia's malaise - the anarchy, lack of governance, corruption
of the self-serving and self-appointed leadership, the nihilist menace of
Al-Shabaab and maritime piracy - without ever addressing the root cause of
the disease.

Addressing the root cause of the disease requires asking the question: in
the absence of the irredentist dream, what is the basis for the existence of
a Somali state, and on what terms will the people of Somalia, particularly
the young, accord to such a state their political consent? This question
cannot be sensibly or productively debated and concluded in a couple of days
at a swank conference hall in London by unelected and unrepresentative
Somali 'politicians' in the pay of the UN, senior representatives of the
foreign donors (however well intentioned), and senior members of the
international aid nomenclature. These questions can only be sensibly and
productively debated and concluded by the people of Somalia through their
genuine, indigenous socio-political and cultural leadership. Such a genuine,
grass-root, Somali-owned process does not lend itself readily to Western
notions and perceptions of structured political debate and negotiation.
Rather, it harks back to traditional Somali culture of clan meetings,
dispute settlement and peace making under the galool tree that has endured
for hundreds of years. These meetings and discussions are open to all,
although respect and deference is afforded to the elders. However to quote a
Somali adage pertaining to such meetings, participants are urged to 'da' ha
raadininee, dunta raadiya', or seek and follow wisdom, not longevity.

To return to the issue of Somaliland's attendance of the London conference,
it is accepted wisdom among most Somalilanders, that attendance should be
rebuffed. This is largely an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the
arrogance/ignorance of Britain in referring to the country as a region of
Somalia and then exerting strong pressure for attendance upon the Silanyo
regime, which it has successfully inveigled into attending previous meetings
for Somalia to Silanyo's domestic political cost. The overwhelming majority
of Somaliland citizens, and especially the young who have much less
attachment to Britain and no fond memories of the relatively benign colonial
protectorate administration, would like their government to cock a snoot at
Albion's perfidy and shun attendance. However, this would be a mistake since
an emotional response to another's slight (intentional or otherwise), while
often satisfying, is rarely wise and almost never in one's long term self

Instead, the Silanyo administration should attend the conference with the
aim of telling truth to power and challenging the international community to
honestly address why the Somali state collapsed in the aftermath of the
Siyad Barre dictatorship and in doing so return ownership of the process of
reconciliation and establishment of a new, 21st century rationale for the
state to the people of Somalia. Somaliland has unique experience of this
type of genuine, grass-root, democratic peace making and reconciliation
rooted in local culture, traditions and religious faith. The Borama
Conference of 1992, which laid the foundations for the re-emergence of
Somaliland as a peaceful, democratic and free republic lasted for over four
months, was rooted in local culture and history, ensured that all sections
and groups within society, including those historically not accorded a
voice, were represented and were heard. In addition, this conference called
upon the skills, experience and knowledge of those from the diaspora as
equal citizens and not as fortune or position-seeking carpet baggers. The
representatives/participants at this conference included clan elders and
leaders, traditional Sultans, intellectuals and poets, business people and

The conference had no formal agenda, but everyone knew that the central
topic of discussion was the terms upon which the people of this country were
prepared to live together in peace and fraternity in a post-dictatorship,
post-irredentist future. The first item that was agreed, which set the tone
and stage for the subsequent reconciliation and agreement to form a
representative government, was that all previous political and clan disputes
between the peoples and clans of Somaliland, whether rooted in the defunct
dictatorship or in the subsequent liberation war, were null and void, were
consigned to history and that it was 'xaraam', a sin, to ever raise them
again. The people of Somaliland have a lot to offer in assisting the
international community in developing a workable road map for genuine
reconciliation in Somalia, and they are prepared to put this experience,
expertise and their good offices as an honest broker between the warring
parties on the table.

However, the international community has to come to the realisation that the
continued failures of its efforts towards re-establishing a viable Somali
state over the last two decades are neither accidental nor due to any bad
luck or lack of effort. Rather, they have been doomed to failure because
they have sought to paper over the cracks of a political edifice that cannot
be resurrected because its very foundation has disappeared. Somaliland's
willingness to play the role of peace broker, impartial adjudicator and host
of the reconciliation process for its brothers to the south is genuine and
heartfelt. Equally, its commitment to its sovereignty and independence is
unconditional and also genuine and is not subject to question or debate by
others. Somaliland won back its independence and freedom at the barrel of a
gun, after a long war, and with the precious blood and treasure of its
people. Somaliland's freedom and recovery of its sovereignty was neither
negotiated at a conference table nor granted by fiat, and it will not be
surrendered on any terms. International recognition may not come today, or
this year, and the powers represented at the conference may choose to ignore
the will of the people of Somaliland for as long as they wish, but this will
neither deter them from their chosen destiny nor dismay them from their

It does not often come to pass that a leader is presented by history with a
chance to represent the wishes of his people and the justice of their cause
to the international community by issuing a challenge, so honest, so
heartfelt and so rooted in the basic humanity shared by all peoples, that it
marks a turning point in international diplomacy and modern history. Such a
moment was presented to Emperor Haile Selassie at the League of Nations in
1936 and the challenge he issued to a world community dominated by European
colonial powers on behalf of the Ethiopian people suffering under a brutal
onslaught by fascist Italy, brought a destitute, backward and impoverished
African country into the League as a charter member and changed the course
of history. In 1974, Yasser Arafat went to the UN and said: 'Today I come
bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the
other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat, do not let
the olive branch fall from my hand.' The world never saw the struggle for
Palestinian rights and the creation of a Palestinian state through the same
prism again.

President Silanyo has such an opportunity at the London conference. He must
challenge the world to deny the self evident will of the people of
Somaliland and their unique achievement of creating a democratic,
post-irredentist Somali state, imperfect as it may be, adjacent to the
longest-running failed state in modern history. He must point out that the
denial of Somaliland's rights and the continued consignment of the people of
Somalia to a never-ending nightmare of anarchy, terrorism and war are two
sides of the same coin. The Somali people have the ingenuity and the will to
solve their seemingly intractable problems if provided by the international
community with the means. The missing ingredient is the imagination and
creativity to step back and let the Somalis do it for themselves.
Somaliland's message to the London conference is simple: if the definition
of madness is repeating the same action again and again yet expecting a
different result each time, then we are your sanity pill; ignore us at your

The world may ignore Somaliland's right to recover its sovereignty, but we
have the solution to our brothers' troubles, and we stand ready with an open
hand to offer it, if you will let us. The prolonged misery of Somalia and
Somaliland's continued prodigality are linked and both the result of the
lack of imagination and creativity on the part of the international
community, which has for too long consigned the 'Somali issue' to the back
burner. If the world is now serious about finding a solution for the
problems of the Somali people of the Horn of Africa, then it should open not
only its heart, but also its mind and its ears, because Somaliland has been
shouting the solution for years to deaf ears. Somaliland's attendance of the
London Conference must challenge the status quo, not only with respect to
its own situation, but also with respect to the situation in Somalia.
Somaliland, as the first post-irredentist Somali nation-state, must deliver
this message and deliver it emphatically. Who knows, forcing the world to
properly address the 'Somali Issue' may just save the conference and save
the credibility of Albion.

Ahmed M.I. is a Somalilander who grew up in Europe. Egal has a BA (Economics
& Politics) from Warwick University and an MA (Area Studies [African
Development]) from London University.


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Received on Fri Feb 03 2012 - 17:03:21 EST
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