Somaliland at Critical Juncture

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More than quarter a century elapsed since May 1991s impromptu unilateral dissolution of the Union with the southern partners. It was a turning point in the history of our country, where we stopped being guests on our land and decided to take control. The events of that day marked the end of a long armed strife against a brutal and merciless regime, which embarked on an extermination campaign to uproot the citizens of Somaliland from their land.

It also heralded the demise of a rogue state that relentlessly tried to strip an entire population of their fundamental human rights and to subjugate them into second-class citizens.

It was a moment of profound emotional upheaval and decisive self-reliance, and despite appreciable differences between the top leaders of the liberation movement and the influential traditional elders regarding the long-term strategic significance of such important decision and the feasibility of its implementation, we all came together to a common interest.

The majority of ordinary men and women tipped the balance, and all parties succumbed to the will of the people by selflessly collaborating to reclaim our sovereignty and with it, our right to self-determination.

Although weak and destitute, the citizens of the newly announced nation were full of hope and pride. They were adamant in their quest for a better future, but they knew the realisation of their dreams needs an indomitable spirit of resilience and tiresome hard work.  A mission that later stumbled several times and proved more difficult and complicated than previously expected.

The ambitious plan of those founding fathers was clear and tangible. They aimed to build a modern democratic nation where all its citizens enjoy the same rights and obligations. A nation where the rule of law is the central fixative that holds the subjects of the state together. They envisioned a country individuals have the full right to express their views and opinions without duress or coercion, where the painful experiences of the past can heal.

They dreamt of a country where peace and stability are preserved at all cost, invested in, and protected. A country where ideas of self-appreciation and promotion are embraced and allowed to thrive by giving the new generation of citizens the freedom of choice, innovation and thinking.

With the newly established state, came great challenges. After almost a decade of civil strife and armed struggle, with the loss of tens of thousands of civilians to the war, diseases and starvation, in addition to a long-standing difference in opinions and strategic thinking between the significant clan leaders, the divisions were so trenched, such that they were ripe for internal armed confrontation.

Many factors contributed to the unfortunate inter-clan fighting during the early years of the new nation. Most notably, scarcity of resources and wealth turned the hasty-for-fortune armed factions against each other for the control of the few functioning income generating sources. The absence of credible national institutions and complete destruction of the major cities, coupled with the lack of friendly, reliable external support prolonged those confrontations and catalysed their recurrence. The way those internal conflicts solved by traditional methods of conflict management and damage control represented another admirable milestone in the long march to proper statehood.

However, as the current Somaliland political climate and the recently concluded clan conference at the famous Ga’anlibah Mountain indicate that there are various long-standing grievances continuously expressed by one of the primary sides involved in those internal civil wars. there is also a deep seated discontent with the way Somaliland’s government is constructed and the dynamics its authority and functions put into action. The legitimacy and validity of these grievances as well as the concerned parties obliged to accommodate them are the subjects of debate and careful discussion.

But what constitutes a grave danger to the spirit of the state is the fact that these grievances resisted appeasement and compromise through the formal institutional channels. The prime players behind these demands preferred to seek a final settlement through a reversion to the old tribal narrative of them-versus-us and collective condemnation rather than succumbing to the rules of democracy and the multi-party system.

Any substantiated complaints about or objections to how the process of state building moulded into the present shape and form should have been addressed by actively demanding diligent implementation of the constitution and the rule of law.

Alongside the aforementioned incidents, which many times hampered the progress of the newly established nation, the was miraculous zest for life and eagerness to succeed from the majority of the Somalilanders. They built Schools, Hospitals, Universities and many public institutions from scratch by their meagre resources and tons of patience.

Twenty-Seven years from 18 May 1991 and our once demolished cities, however dusty and disorganised, are bustling with life. Businesses are flourishing and perpetually growing. More children attend schools more than ever, and life has changed for many people for the better .We proudly accomplished what many foes and even friends have never expected us to achieve. And obove all we survived with dignity.

Yet, the task of state building is never near finishing. And with all those high hopes and dreams we had, our efforts are far from fruition. So many fundamental prerequisites for credible and robust state institutions were never addressed.  Important regions of the nation feel abandoned and marginalized and new hostility is fomenting at the eastern border.

A number of social ailments and formational defects in our national institutions undermined the healthy progression of the state building journey.

For instance, our democracy is still procedural undertakings intended to, periodically, settle the internal tribal tensions and to impress increasingly unsatisfiable foreigners. An endeavour it has so far failed to achieve.

National institutions, like, the Parliament, High court, Central bank and the Prosecution office lack the technical capacity and autonomy to carry out their duties and the moral confidence to project a more representative image to the public. The unrestrained powers of the President’s office has long enfeebled these vital departments and restricted both their function and maturity.

When public institutions fail to strengthen their professionalism, independence, and sense of duty, their connection with citizens is lost and they become hollow structures, vulnerable for personal exploitations and profiteering, and in the case of Somaliland, most institutions evolved into unavailing, futile skeletons with no public trust and respect.

Systemic corruption and pillage of public funds became epidemic in all agencies of the successive administrations. Those who unashamedly caught the public eye with their extravagant lifestyle and instant get-rich frenzy were never chastised let alone prosecuted.

Over the years, a laisser-faire attitude was adopted towards the public purse; bribery is heedlessly tolerated, nepotism and tribal fidelity transcended individual faculty and virtue. As a result of this, uneducated and incompetent officials were appointed to highly sensitive administrative offices and purportedly tasked with formulating strategic plans for an impoverished and unrecognised nation.

Tribalism is another issue that seeped into the core of the system and eroded what credibility it retained. It is true that temporary power-sharing arrangements were put in place to suppress any impending tribal tensions and mutual understandings were reached regarding the highest positions in the government. the intention was to bring all feuding clans to the negotiation table by enticing them to participate equally and positively in the democratisation process.  Although bothersome, it yielded an acceptable degree of cooperation and interest from all parties and resulted in the current fit-for-purpose system of governance.

To conclude, many challenges are facing Somaliland. For too long; we constructed our foreign policy on two significant issues: democracy and stability. We lamented the lack of credible partner from the South to negotiate with to finalise our succession. That strategy proved to be both naive and a waste of time.

It is well known that the majority of these problems predate the incumbent president and his cabinet and they are merely few months in power, although the Party machine which brought him to the office has ruled so long, and either created or aggravated most of the problems.

What is required from the President is to assume a damage control approach towards these challenges, where he refrains from initiating new ones and wisely downsizing the old and chronic issues.

Certain topics need urgent response and the most alarming is the foreign Policy.  The long-awaited Southern partner turned to be combative and hostile, and ready to act on a synchronised effort of distabilization and economic embargo on Somaliland. Thus, our foreign policy needs a new direction, vision and energy, a strong drive for survival and militancy is required to lead our engagement with the outside world; the current Minister cannot provide these qualities, and the desired change should start with him and his advisors if there is any.

Let us not forget that our strength lies in the cohesion and unity of our society that was what helped us march through the years of uncertainty with a steady pace. So that, grievances and protestations coming from some parts of the country must be listened and positively engaged with. We must not allow the legitimate demands of citizens to escalate to open dissent by belittling them or ignoring.

Serious questions about the concept of statehood and governance must be asked and presented for intellectual debate; an example for that would be; why our institutions are unable to talk-hold?. The relationship between the statesmanship and tribal inclinations must be defined and preserved by law, and the role of clan leaders must be restricted to the traditional dealings.

The region around us is dramatically changing, and new realities are being created. Old enemies are reconciling and burrying their animosities to create new opportunities for their citizens, and new alliances are emerging. We have to re-evaluate our position in the region and explore what vital roles we can play to promote our cause and capitalise on our untapped natural resources and strategic location.

In a nutshell, Somaliland needs a new way of thinking and bold actions to shake the status-quo, if we want to survive in a poor country surrounded by hostile regimes.

Abdikarim D Hassan

Qurbe206@hotmail.com

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