Misconceptions on Somaliland Case for Sovereignty at Home or Elsewhere

This article aims to shed light on the pressing issue between Somaliland and Italian Somalia, and how some minority in Somaliland and the majority in Somalia are misguided about this issue. Without clearly dealing with it, there will not be an answer sooner or later to South Somalia being a place without law and order. The assumption that the interventions from the foreign and regional governments and agencies would put full-fledged viable government back in Somalia without addressing the Somaliland case is actually unrealistic endeavor and remote from rational thinking. The two state solution and the reality that Somaliland experience and expertise are the only right prescription for South Somalia plight must sink in with the Southern Somali people, regional as well as international communities.

Independence of Somaliland was negotiated with the colonial Britain but the independence of Italian Somaliland was debated in the General Assembly of United Nations in 1949 and set to become independent on July 1, 1960.

Ethiopian troops in the AMISON mission

Somaliland was a British Protectorate established in 1884 and remained under the British Empire until 1960, a span of 76 years. Its boundaries with Italian Somalia to the South and with French Somaliland and Ethiopia to the West have been demarcated during this period in various treaties enacted among Britain, Italy, French, and Ethiopia.

Colonial era postage

Upon gaining independence on 26 June, 1960 from Great Britain, Somaliland entered into a union with Italian Somalia on July 1st 1960 creating the Somali Democratic  Republic. She stayed in that unification until 1987, a span of 27 years to be in exact. Somaliland has been independent from the defunct Somali Republic for the past 30 years starting from 1988 up to now  2018.

Image of Hargeisa, the seat of Somaliland government prior to the civil war

Simply stated, the dreamy Somali nationalism and the vision of unifying all Somali people in the Horn of African region under one banner was the main underlying force that drove Somaliland, particularly the elder generation, to go ahead with the union, even though the younger generation of Somalilanders were against that hasty decision of the Somaliland elders at that time.

“The unification of Somaliland and Somalia had been predicted 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. 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. In 1964 and 1977 Ethiopia and Somalia fought their 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.”[i]

That nationalism became dead and rotten right at the onset of the union. To illustrate this point, we can consider few events that occurred from 1960 and 1988.

On the evening of June 30, 1960 the Legislative Assembly of the new Republic convened and adopted in principal the union of the two states. On July 1, 1960, in joint session of Somaliland Legislative and the Somalia Legislative, a provisional president was elected, who in turn issued a “Degree-law” establishing the union on the same. Article 63 of the Somali Republic deals with the temporary and provisional degree-laws and based on it, this presidential degree-law must be converted into law within 5 days otherwise it would be come null and void.

A Constitutional Referendum was conducted throughout the Somali Republic on June 20, 1961 to vote on the New Constitution for the just newly created Republic by the union of the British Somaliland and the Italian Somaliland. In Somaliland, the dominant political party – Somali National League (SNL) – boycotted the referendum and encouraged local voters to oppose it.  Surprisingly, 60% of the approximately 100,000 votes casted from Somaliland disapproved the constitution.

The failed coup attempt on December 9 and 10, 1961 – a year after the creation of the Somali Republic – by young British-trained officers entirely hailing from Somaliland demonstrates the discontent of Somaliland elites with to the unification and also is a clear example illustrating the sentiment of the Somaliland people about the merger.

In June 1977 Djibouti gained its independence from France and declared its self-independent Republic, hence that was a total collapse to the pan-Somali state or dream. Her action and choice were contrary to Article 10 of Somali Republic’s Constitution that state: “The Somali state shall promote, by peaceful and legal means, the liberation of Somali territories, and shall encourage the unification of all Somali territories through peaceful means and the desire of the people concerned.” However, Somalis accepted and respected her decision.

Flag of the Republic of Djibouti

The last burial of the remains of Pan-Somalism occurred after Siyad Barre’s submission to the Ethiopian demands that came in the form of peace agreement with Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The two signed a peace accord in Mogadishu on April 3, 1988 in which he gave up the idea of Greater Somali State by agreeing that Ogaden region is part of Ethiopia. (US Foreign Policy in The Horn of Africa: From Colonialism to Terrorism by Donna Rose Jackson). Once again, this move was not questioned by the so-called Unionist who cannot swallow the independence of Somaliland Republic. 

As late as in 1991 when Mengistu Haile Mariam was toppled and a new Ethiopian constitution adopted explicitly allowing and recognizing the right to self-determination without any strings attached as Article 39 of thereof stipulates for any federal member state, the Ethiopian Somali state chose to remain with the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, shattering further the hope of realizing the pan-Somalism endeavor.

An image of scars left behind by the bombardment carried out by Siyad Bare Regime

The intention of the Somaliland forces that liberated her was not to stay in that union with Italian Somalia but to start discussion on how to dissolve the merger of 1960. To their surprise, a new administration took shape in Mogadishu without their consent and contact. That left them nothing but one option of making unilateral resolution of dissolving that union without obtaining agreement from the party therein, marking the start of Somalia’s downfall and the rise of Somaliland Republic.

On May 18, 1991, the joint leadership of the Somaliland people – traditional leaders and liberating force executive committee -decided to annul the 1960 federation with the Italian Somali Trusteeship on grounds, most of the Somalis either honestly choose to overlook or intentionally prefer to ignore for a reasons of simply envying that decision.

“This grand conference attended by most of the distinguished representatives of all the clans of the northern regions of Somalia was convened on 27th April 1991 and was rounded up on 5th May 1991. More than twenty Suldaanno, Garaaddo and Ugaasyo (titled traditional leaders) representing all the clans called upon Burco. The clan delegations also included other participants from other sectors of the society such as artists, intellectuals, military officers, delegates from the Diaspora and business people who provided most of the financing. The following conclusions of the conference were passed to the subsequent SNM Central Committee meeting for endorsement:

  • The Northern regions should stand by themselves without any relations with the South.
  • Islamic Sharia Law should be introduced in the country.
  • The security of the country should be well sustained.
  • A Northern Administration (Government) should be established.
  • All clans should be equally represented in all government structures.
  • Peace-building and reconciliation efforts in Sanaag region should be encouraged and consolidated.
  • SNM combatants should be given a priority in the recruitment of government employees.

These draft conclusions of the Elder’s conference were passed to the subsequent 2nd SNM Central Committee meeting which was held soon after the elders Conference. Having prepared its own agenda incorporating the Elder’s conclusions, the SNM Central Committee meeting continued for a period of almost two weeks. The SNM Central Committee agreed upon the following:

  1. Endorsement of the Elder’s conclusions.
  2. Restoration of the Sovereignty of Somaliland and returning the country back to its legal status of 26th June 1960.
  3. Declaration of the formation of the Republic of Somaliland.
  4. Formation of the government of Somaliland:
    • With the Chairman and Vice-chairman of the SNM becoming respectively the President and Vice-president of the Republic.
    • Enlargement of the Central Committee of the SNM with non-Isaaq members to serve as the Constituent Assembly
    • A transitional two-year rule by the SNM and the accommodation of the non-Isaaq communities in the government structure during this period.
  5. Reconciliation of the warring parties to the conflict.
  6. Continuation of the peace-building process
  7.  Initiation of a separate reconciliation process for Sanaag region.”[I]
Nomination of late Mohamed H. Ibrahim Egal as president succeeding late Abdirahman A. Ali in Borame

Ten years later in 2001, the verdict of a constitutional referendum conducted confirmed the intention of the people in withdrawing the union and restoring of the Somaliland sovereignty with 97% approval rate.

In the light of the preceding paragraphs, the first narrative that Somaliland’s decision of unilaterally dissolving its union with Italian Somali Trusteeship is solely based on the oppression, inequalities in national resources distribution, injustices in its many forms, mistreatment, and abuses Somaliland people suffered during the days of the Federal Republic of Somalia is a misconception.

The second belief that the atrocities, brutality, and the bombardment on the Somaliland people during the civil war that ensued after the fall of Siyad Bare Regime precipitated the Somaliland’s choice of taking that path of despising another merge is misleading as well.

Both arguments held by some minority in Somaliland and many in elsewhere deliberately or mistakenly attribute the torture, torments, and tragedies the Somaliland people must endure anyway in the process of regaining and reestablishing again the sovereignty of the Somaliland, mishandled in 1960 by the elders, to be the causes of Somaliland’s decision to go solo for the last 27 years or so.

Had these explanations been valid, the issue of South Somalia becoming a failed state would have been over by now, as South Somalia is willing to mend fences with Somaliland by making good past mistakes, accommodating the entire so called demands of Somaliland beyond her expectation, and giving up the throne for her.

However, the truth of the matter is this is not the case and Somaliland people care less about prosecuting the culprits of the horrors inflicted on them and getting the bigger size of the pie in terms of future Somalia governments. In today’s reality in Somalia coupled with the mighty armed forces of Somaliland, perpetrators of crimes against Somalilanders can be easily apprehended but that is not a priority They believe that It is regrettable at this time that South Somalia still beating around the push and not serious enough to face the reality. The reality that exists in Somaliland and the reality that Somaliland experience and expertise are the only right prescription for their plight. Trivializing the real issue and dwelling on the pains and wounds in the past to cast a shadow over the real question of the sovereignty is not helping the

Ambassador Hotel in Hargeisa, Somaliland

Somaliland rose up from ashes and ruins inflicted by the late Somali Regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre. Healing and reconciling among Somaliland society, disarming the local militia forces and rehabilitating them, growing local economy from scratch, and restoring basic services as well as institutions of government were done  within no time and without any meaningful foreign assistance, As soon as the real issue of Somaliland’s sovereignty is resolved without any further delay, a  practical and  proven path for successful state-building is what Somaliland would offer to South Somalia and its foreign backers. Nothing short of two state solution is going to be an answer to the Somaliland case and Somalia’s anarchy

Ahmed J Yassin

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed here are those of the author/authors and do not reflect views of Somaliland Intellectuals Institute (SII) and/or its sponsors or partners. SII reserves the right to edit articles before publication. To consider publishing your opinion piece or analysis please email to webmaster@somalilandintellectualsinstitute.org January 1, 2019