Dr Abdishakur Jowhar
Saturday, April 30, 2011
A reflective mood
Somalilanders are in a reflective mood as they prepare for the 20th Anniversary of the birth of their nation. These days there is a sense of contemplation, thoughtfulness and re-evaluation in Somaliland circles.
It is in this context that Somaliland’s premier publisher and intellectual powerhouse Dr. Jama Muse Jama has initiated a process that can translate this self reflection into solid form. He invited a group of Somalilanders to put down their thoughts in a book in a manner that Somalilanders and other Somalis could share. I have contributed a chapter to the second volume of that book. Its first volume will be published on May 18, 2011 to coincide with the celebration for Somaliland independence. And I bring to you some of the highlights of my thoughts in this matter
In this 20th anniversary of its independence Somaliland has no choice but to contend with some poignant geopolitical realities. The commonest descriptor that follows its name remains to be “the Self-declared Republic”; the nation has gained no open endorsement and no international reward for 20 years of independent, peaceful existence in a thriving and stable democracy in a corner of the world with high prevalence of strong men, misery and misgovernment. The nation’s democratic and secular dispensation remains to be the ultimate target of an Al Shabaab movement that is perpetually gaining strength despite the constant predictions of its imminent defeat and demise. And Somaliland finds itself battling Somali pirates in its shores, unruly tribesmen in its hinterland and vengeful scheming Diaspora based tribal aficionados in the virtual world of web pages and blogospheres (read the nonsensical Awdal Virtual State of Somalia).
Meanwhile the Somali problem has become the epitome of a new version of Murphy’s Law. “In the Case of Somalia whenever you think it cannot get any worse, it invariably will”. And to sour the mood further Somaliland is increasingly becoming the unintended victim of the fatal side effects that arise from the regional and international efforts of managing and containing the Somali problem. The nation may be running out of time, it is likely to become the victim of the good intensions of its neighbours gone badly or it may find its demise in the hands of the benign neglect of its friends elsewhere. Surviving containment is in the books for Somaliland but the nation has to start thinking in new and innovative ways to overcome the challenges of the radically different and emerging problem of Containment.
Containment: the practice
Containment has become the emergent international response to the chaos in Somalia. It is based on the logical conclusion that the world is neither willing nor capable of solving the Somali problem and that the Somali people have run out of ideas and steam in finding a solution to the crisis that has decimated their population. Yet the twin problems of Somali Piracy and Somali Al Shabaab movement have become too big to be ignored by the international community for they pose significant risk to the life, liberty and pursuit of free commerce in the region and internationally. And so things have just fallen into place and containment has become the accepted practice, the default position so as to limit the bitter fruits of Somali chaos to Somalis only. It is seems as if the same conclusion has been reached in many different capitals of the world simultaneously. When all is said and done the idea of “containment of the Somali problem” provides the best explanatory fit of all or almost all of the recent developments in Somali political, religious and military circumstances. It has successfully dwarfed all attempts at reaching a rational solution or even managing the Somali Crisis. As the Somali proverb says “Biyo Meel Godan Bay isku tagaan” (water collects at the lowest point.) Containment became the trough where water collects.
Containment includes many national, regional and international initiatives that have been gradually gathering pace over the last few years. Many of these steps are mundane and preventative steps like the intense attention and search every Somali triggers at every international port of entry and departure.
In Somalia itself containment crystallized into a subdivision of labour among the active participants in the Somali crisis. The containment of Al Shabaab is subcontracted to regional organizations, and local powers (AU, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, Rwanda and Djibouti). They are the countries that have been willing to put boots on the ground and lives on the line. The containment of Somali Piracy in the high seas and on the ground has become the domain of those with floating flotillas of muscle and manpower, those with experience in the world of espionage, subterfuge and cloak and dagger, and finally those with deep pockets and vested interest that impels them to provide the funding necessary for the introduction of Private Military Companies (PMC) into the action. PMCs for those who don’t know is the gentler name for what has been previously called the dogs of war and mercenary forces. Saracen International (which may or may not have ended its involvement in Somali problems) is but just one example among those.
Containment of Al Shabaab
The war in South Somalia today is best explained as the regional attempt of preventing the Al-Qaida affiliated Al Shabaab movement of Somalia from breaking out into a formidable regional force that can threaten its neighbours and the world beyond.
AMISOM with its insufficient numbers and anaemic funding was never really in any position to defeat Al Shabaab or to dislodge the group’s hold on Somalia although, this was always and continues to remain its public mask. Never the less AMISOM has succeeded in its real task of denying Al Shabaab the glory and psychological boost of taking over the Somali capital while effectively maintaining the fiction of the existence of a Somali Government.
Ethiopia and more recently Kenya has taken on the role of containing Al Shabaab from the peripheray with varying degrees of Success. These neighbouring countries, who were at one time victims of the Somali wars in search of Great Somalia and who may still find themselves in a similar situation in the future have taken on with gusto and dedication to the task of containing Al Shabaab to the regions it now holds in South Somalia.
Ethiopia and to lesser extent Kenya employ Somali tribal militia that they train, arm, pay and fully control for this purpose. They surround Al Shabaab with these tribal militias from the north, west and south and the Indian Ocean completes the circle on the east. Tribal militias are volunteer gangsters whose first loyalty is to the ancestral God of vengeance and honour. The Containment militia however are beholden to a secondary master (Ethiopia or Kenya) for their survival. It is in the nature of tribal militia to fight anyone, Al Shabaab or any other “enemy”, provided that they are given a hand against their real enemies that happens to be the neighbouring Somali tribe. That is the nature of the tribal beast. Ethiopia and Kenya understand it well and they have succeeded to put these basal instincts of the Somali tribe to their own good use.
These tribal militias carry different names in various parts of the country. They started life as the militia of Warlords. Sometimes they “elect a president” (usually a Diaspora Somali) and take on the identity of an “xxx state of Somalia”. The xxx stands for whatever name the tribe or sub tribe chooses as an acceptable alternate to its name (Galmug State of Somalia, Maakhir State of Somalia Azania State of Somalia, Ximan iyo Xeeb etc). At other times they throw on religious garments and become god’s warriors of “Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma”. In the lofty conferences in Nairobi and other high places these tribal militias undergo an ideological abstraction and bureaucratic nomenclature, ending up being referred to as “building blocks”, “4.5”, “Federal Constitution”. It is exceedingly important to deconstruct this terminology for it adds to the confusion of the Somali problem. Here is the essential description of a tribal militia: Its members all belong to the same tribe. Its leader is from the same tribe. It works out of the traditional tribal homeland. Its internal reason for existence is to defend itself from the neighbouring Somali tribe. It can take any name and fight for any “cause” determined by any sponsor that is willing to arm it and assist it in its primary mission.
With these innovations and initiatives AMISOM, Ethiopia and Kenya has so far succeeded to contain Somalia’s Al Shabaab Movement to regions it occupies in South Somalia.
Containment: the collateral Damage
Containment is neither as passive nor as peaceful as it sounds. It is an active process of war. It is a low grade chronic warfare that exacts a nagging ever present pain. Containment is a war in which the side that is on the offensive deliberately avoids killer blows and inflicts only small wounds that maim the victim. The intention is to force the victim to die of slow bleeding, starvation and shock. Containment is how the mighty soviet empire was made to collapse under its own weight. To see the modern effect of a war of containment on the body of a nation look no further than Mogadishu, no further than the hundreds of villages that witness the process of containment on a daily basis all over south Somalia. Where are the people of these ghost cities and towns? Why are the morgues full all the time when the streets are so empty, so deserted and so destroyed? The death of Somalis through constant daily bombardment, shelling, displacement and outright murder of large numbers in the active phases of containment in this unfortunate society has become the norm, a common factor that is simply driven out of the equation.
The invisible wounds exacted by Containment run deeper and further into the culture and psyche of the Somali people. The tribal militias of containment (Tribal Homelands, AKA Federal Constitution. AKA Ahlusuna Wal Jama, AKA 4.5, AKA XXX State of Somalia) create a Somali society that is permanently at war with itself. Tribal forces are incapable of living within a state, any state. Wherever you find an armed organized tribal militia you will also find a complete or near complete absence of the state. The two are mutually exclusive. The invisible wound of containment will be the permanent death of a Somali State. In other words under containment Somalia can exist only in the form of a large number of heavily armed tribes, each at war with all of its neighbours and each dependent on Ethiopia or Kenya for its continued existence. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Somaliland has become the unintended victim of containment as well. The creation of so many tribal militias, the ready availability of funding from TFG and from international and regional sources interested more in the defeat of Al Shabaab and much less in supporting the independence and stability and democracy of Somaliland has created a tribal storm in the heart of Somaliland. The dangling of a Federal Constitution, which essentially promises each Somali tribe its own state if it is able to establish its credentials by arming itself and fighting against the neighbouring tribe, has created most immediate and toxic environment for Somaliland. Already tribal wars about demarcation of tribal territories have started in eastern part of Somaliland and already tribal hot heads in the Diaspora has started to agitate for war in Awdal State of Somalia in western regions of Somaliland. Furthermore the arrival of mercenaries (Sercen International) in the Puntland State for the dual purposes of strengthening defences against Al Shabaab and going after the pirate lairs on land has destabilized the delicate balance of guns and bullets in the region and has been an essential element for fanning the flames of tribal wars in Somaliland.
Containment has been effective in minimizing the risk from Al Shabaab towards regional and international participants in the Somali conflict. It is has become the death knoll for Somali society and imminent risk to the existence and prosperity of Somaliland.
The Raabi Prophesy
Dr. Omer Osman Raabi
Containment and TFG hoax has allowed neighbouring countries with dubious aims to impose their own designs on Somalia. This tribal sentiment which happens to be the natural inclination of the Somali is fed, armed and inflamed under the direct supervision of Ethiopia and Kenya, two nations that have a vested interest in Somali affairs that may not coincide with that of the Somali people to put it politely.
Ethiopia and Kenya can breathe better now with the concept of Great Somalia dead and its religious reincarnation in the form of Al Shabaab successfully contained. Kenya can now impark in building a democratic society that includes Kenyans of Somali ethnic background. Ethiopia can concentrate on building its infrastructure of roads and dams and electricity as it blissfully waits for its own Tahriir Square moment again with Ethiopians of ethnic Somali origin fully on board. Somaliland agrees with these developments. It wishes for a peaceful co-existence with all of its neighbours. With its own reclamation of its independence on May 18, 1991 Somaliland repudiated completely the concept of Great Somalia. It removed the symbol of Great Somalia, the five pointed star, from its flag and from its other logos. Somaliland realizes that the concept of Great Somalia with its ethnocentric and fascistic flavour has caused immeasurable misery for all Somalis and for all of its neighbours. The central justification of Somaliland’s existence is based on the sanctity of the colonial border on the day of its independence in June 26, 1960.
The role Kenya and Ethiopia are currently playing in Somali affairs however goes way beyond the re-affirmation of the colonial border with Somalia. It appears that the hyena has been selected to guard the sheep. And the hyena is being true to its nature. Meles Zenawi now enjoys the honorary status of Grand Reconciliator of Somalia’s warring tribes who have developed an intensity of hate for one another that is many times more passionate than their hate for Ethiopia’s “occupation of Somali territory of Ogaden, Hawd and Reserve area.” Meles may even be in the blessed state of entertaining the now more realistic thought of ending the land locked status of his nation once and for all.
The more a Somali tribe comes to regard the neighbouring tribes with hostility and fear, the more it sees Ethiopia as its trusted friend and protector and the more the tribe finds irresistible the concept of access to a market of 80 million of Ethiopian customers who may be even ready to help them build a seaport in their part of Somalia and a tarmac road for the tribe that connects them to the heart of the beast. These proposed radial Somali-Ethiopian roads could be expected to have the secondary effect of disconnecting each Somali tribe from those on either side of it, as the tribe’s social and economic life integrates more organically with that of Ethiopia.
Somaliland which harbours suspicions against Puntland is ready to share the port of Barbara with Meles. Puntland who is engaged in a dispute with Somaliland on one side and who is suspicious of the motives of the Hawiye to the south is ready to share the port of Bosaso and any other ports that can be developed in the region with Meles Zenawi. Galmudug State of Somalia who has similar mutual tribal hostility to the Somali tribes north and south to it plans to build a seaport in Hobyo and then to build a 172 km tarmac road that will connect that port to Meles Zenawi. And this strange affliction of building seaports and radial roads that end up in Ethiopia is going on at the present time in all the shores of Somalia and Somaliland. Meles is adapting, learning and evolving faster than his predecessor on the Ethiopian crown. Why invade Somalia when Somali tribes are begging to belong and to be protected.
In the late nineteen seventies, just before the wars against Siyad Barre started, the great scholar and pan Somali nationalist Dr. Omer Osman Raabi of Djibouti predicted that Ethiopia will gradually absorb Somali territory and thus achieve its dream of finding access to the sea. Dr. Raabi reached this conclusion by studying the geographical and territorial history of Ethiopia over the last few hundred years. The conclusions of a scholarly analysis that seemed, just twenty years ago, so totally absurd and out of touch with reality appears to be on the verge of becoming real all too soon.
Surviving Containment and Saving the Somali people
There is no doubt that Somaliland has shown an inner resilience, guts and muscle that allowed it to weather many a fatal storm in the past 20 years. It has not only survived but it has prospered and has become a beacon of hope of possibilities that are compatible with life to all Somali people in the horn of africa. There is no doubt that it will survive this one too aided primarily by its own inner steel and not by any support from any external force.
But Somaliland can and must do more than merely survive this ideological, military and tribal invasion. Somaliland has the promise of bringing something more to the region and to the world at large. It can show the way to an alternative future for Somalis in the horn of Africa and for Ethiopians, Kenyans, and to Djiboutians. A Future that is based on peace not war, on citizens not tribes, on well established colonial borders not the shifting sands of border disputes, primitive tribes with revenge and murder on their minds; future that can allow Ethiopians, Djiboutians, Kenyans and Somalis to prosper together under the stability offered by the sanctity of colonial borders; a future that precludes invasions of neighbouring countries and the building a future of injustice, cruelty, hostility, oppression and subsequent liberations for future generations.
In this regard it is important to realize that what is unique about Somaliland is not that it lacks the destructive power of primitive tribal urges and tribal bloodletting. It has plenty of these. What is unique about Somaliland is that it has stumbled upon a democratic model of governance that can give space to the rise of the concept of a Somaliland citizenship and that opens up for the Somalilander a wider horizon of moral, economic and political action that goes way beyond the narrow confines of tribal identity, tribal wars and tribal revenge. This model of equal citizenship, of one man one vote has given the republican nomad a means of co-existing with other tribes without resorting to the spear and the club as the only arbiter. Somaliland has guarded this uniqueness of its modern existence with all that is at its disposal. Its first line of defence has been to refuse to participate in all Somali reconciliation conferences precisely because every one of these invitations were delivered on the one condition that Somaliland abandon that which is unique about it and that is central to its peace and prosperity (the concept of democratic dispensation, statehood, citizenship, acceptance of colonial borders and the unequivocal and open rejection of Great Somalia.) The open invitations, the behind the scene conspiracies and the secret offers all demanded that Somaliland join its brothers in Somalia on the basis of its tribal subdivision (as Dhulbahante, Gadabuursi, Isaak Issa, Muse Dhariyo, Warsangale and other tribes of Somaliland)and not as a unitary state. Somalilanders knew that the invitation was the Somali tribal offer of “ninkii rooni reerka ha u hadho” (let us fight it out and let the strongest remain standing) and Somaliland rightfully and appropriately rejected every one of these invitations.
And now the time is ripe for a counter offer. Listed below are the necessary elements for the reconstruction of Somali society. Somaliland can succeed in these tasks even though they appear to impossible at first examination. Somaliland must show the willingness to dedicate itself to this course of action until success is achieved. But there is one caveat. Somaliland can only carry such a heavy responsibility if regional and international forces help it achieve these goals and recognize Somaliland as a separate and independent state. In all other circumstance Somaliland should continue to insist on its statehood and independence however long its international recognition takes and however hard the road becomes for the alternative of melting into the Somali problem poses a much more ruthless futue for its population.
The Five Essentials of Reconstruction of Somali Society
- The military defeat and disarming of all tribal forces, an armed tribe is not compatible with statehood and peace. There can be no compromises here.
- The military defeat and disarming of all religious groups in a manner that allows space for Salafi, sophism and other versions of Islam to co-exist in peace in a democratic environment.
- The defeat of piracy at its lairs on land
- The Resurrection of Somalia in which governance is based on citizenship, not tribal affiliation and land ownership is legally mandated not tribally determined.
- Open and unequivocal rejection of the concept of Great Somalia and acceptance of the sanctity of colonial borders.
Bringing about such changes to the Somali problem will require both the club and the carrot. It will require many, many dedicated boots on the ground and many more lives on the line. It will require Somalis negotiating with Somalis about the future of Somalis in their own country. Somaliland must start to canvas these thoughts with other Somalis, build the necessary coalitions that could bring it about, avoid the simplistic hair brained “solutions, constitutions, projects, conspiracies and scholarly theses” that are divorced completely from the reality on the ground and the hard work necessary for building a society from the ground up in the field and not in a fancy conference rooms in other countries. Somaliland must allow the means and methodology necessary to complete the task to arise from Somali minds on Somali soil uncontaminated by money, corruption and adverse regional interests. Such consideration must prove themselves real in the harsh hot light of the day in Somalia and on its hard dry grounds where Somalis live, sweat, kill each other and die.
No other nation could be more appropriate, could have deeper commitment, and could be better equipped to deal with the Somali Crisis than Somaliland. No other nation could have a better understanding of the Somali Crisis. No other nation has more profound and fateful vested interest to see the success and rebirth of Somalia. In this initiative Somaliland will be driven by kinship, by self interest and by economic and military necessarily.
And finally can the world listen to the pleas of Somaliland finally.
Dr Abdishakur Jowhar