Light At the End of the Tunnel
By Prof: Ibrahim Maygaag Samatar
What follows is not a narrative account of the activities of the Somali National Movement (SNM) since the start of its struggle against the military regime of Siyad Barre. Nor is it an impartial academic evaluation of its performance and impact on Somali politics. It is not an analysis of ”’the Siyad Barre regime or an examination of the role of external players in the Somali debacle. It is none of these and yet it is all of them. It is none of the above because it does not deal with each aspect with the necessary and sufficient depth and extent required for full treatment. It is all of these because these aspects of the Somali tragedy are touched upon in one way or the other.
This presentation is as its title says: reflections. And reflections by their very nature are untidy. They go back and forth in time and cross-¬sectionally across topics without any predesigned order. In this respect many aspects of the Somali problem are discussed. The zigzags in international policy towards Somalia, together with many false starts, are described. The experience and development of the Republic of Somaliland and its essential difference from the rest of Somalia is brought out. After a digression on the problems of politico-economic processes in Africa, a return is made to critical evaluation of the struggle of the SNM.
But there is method in the madness. In reviewing topics, the connecting thread is to seek those factors that were causal in the decay and destruction of the Somali state and the effect of that destruction on civil society. The seeking for causal factors itself means the identification of those elements essential for revival. In this search for casual factors, the torch light focuses on several dualities: dependence v. delving inward; authoritarian state power v. participatory democracy and traditional structure v. “modern” institutions. Even though all these dualities are interconnected, there is a contradiction — complementary spectrum within each duality: in other words, a dialectical struggle.
There is a parable in Somali children’s folklore about a race between a fox and a tortoise. Both finally reached home. But the fast fox, in its hurry, met with many obstacles, difficulties, and twists and turns. We may say that the fox’s situation was a case of more haste and less speed. The tortoise, on the other hand, was definitely slow, but it reached home with steady and sure steps and with less damage. Can we take this parable as an illustration of the choices available to us in social change: depending on tradition itself for continuity (tortoise) or throwing the old overboard and welcoming the new with gusto? Or is a dialectical intermix better than the either/or?
The discussion of such matters in the text is conducted with specific reference to the practical struggle of the SNM — as well as its vision. It is therefore neither a theoretical evaluation nor a practical account. It has a little of both, but it aims to sum up the experience in an introductory way!
Finally, I am not impartial. As one of the leaders of the SNM itself, I cannot be impartial. Irrespective of whether we in the SNM made mistakes or not, I cannot be impartial to the cause of liberation against dictatorial despotism and injustice. But this does not mean lack of objectivity. A partisan for liberty cannot do without a merciless search for truth. Impartiality is required of a judge in a judicial case. But historical causes require partisanship with objectivity.
- Predilections of Policy
A cursory glance at the confusion and tragic complexity of Somali politics today may convince the observer — and sometimes the participants — of the impossibility of a solution. Many are persuaded to throw up their hands in despair. At the same time, many players plunged into the deep water of Somali politics with undue haste, only to pop up again and get out without giving the swim a try.
The pessimist has many points stacked in his favor.
- The United States, the major power in post-cold war politics, led the international community — that was moved by pictures of starving children — into the quick plunge of Operation Restore Hope. The amassed technology, the number of troops, the apparent resolve, the pomp of the military machine, and the glitter of the media — it was a big show, marvelous to watch. Nation after nation joined the bandwagon and declared its willingness to send troops to Somalia. For the general public of world opinion and specifically that of the United States — uninitiated in the history and slippery politics of our small nation — it was as if the international community had at last come of age. The cold war is over and peace is no longer endangered by superpower rivalry. As for local conflicts, the world can act, in a collective, multilateral fashion led by the only remaining superpower, to resolve them or at least contain them and prevent them from spreading and disturbing the larger prevalent peace. The humanitarian consequences of these local conflicts can simultaneously be dealt with in a resolute manner. Thus, the stage was set and Somalia became the prime test of the new interventionist mission
I–a contradiction in terms or the first installment of newspeak phrases of an Orwellian age — which became mired in a local civil war, shooting and killing the people it was supposed to save, and destroying their homes. The interventionists just added a new name — UNIUS — to the long list of the contesting so-called “Warlords.” Finally, Operation Restore Hope ended up — via UNOSOM II — in debacle, as “Operation Despair Rescue. ”
- The United Nations Organization, as the depository of the international community’s collective wisdom and systems of action, has been bungling the Somali crisis from beginning to end. The day Siyad Barre was defeated, the UN bodies and staff fled as if they were part of his regime,2 rather than staying and performing their expected duty of serving the people. If evacuation was dictated by reasons of staff security, a rationale not wholly acceptable, then at least a stop-gap measure and a plan of return should have been put in place.
In lieu of a consistent policy and line of action, what we have witnessed on the part of these international organizations led by the UN is a mass of ad hoc activities moving like a pendulum from extreme to extreme. From the extreme of total neglect and abandonment there was a sudden move again to a position of over-involvement and domination. The mandate was no longer confined to the traditional functions of the UN and its related agencies, such as the delivery of humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. It now included forced disarmament of the factions involved in the civil war (in other words, direct intervention which, evidently, cannot be neutral), “guiding” or, to tell the truth, running the process of reconciliation and attempting to determine the shape and form of its end product — a government of “national unity.” The new concept of peacemaking was coined and the Secretary-General had to work hard to obtain new resolutions from the Security Council in order to obtain the empowerment necessary to implement these new burdens.
In the meantime, the UN has to create its own special bureaucracy — United Nations Operation for Somalia or UNOSOM — to carry on administrative as well as judicial functions, because there is no “government.” In other words, the UN put itself in the position of a new outside or colonial administrator after the collapse of the Siyad dictatorship until such time as a government of “national unity” is created. This aggressive interventionism on the part of the UN apparatus has been given a jolt by the withdrawal of American — and later other western) troops early in 1994. But despite this shock, up to now, we see no sign of the UN apparatus abandoning its political-interventionism. We see no indication of a broader and wiser policy with a long-term vision to replace the current ad hocism.
¬3. Last, but not least, the pessimist would point to the abysmal record of the Somalis themselves. For twenty-one long years, they have acquiesced to one of history’s most horrible tyrannies. After the first few years of Siyad Barre’s “revolutionary honeymoon,” the nature of his regime became clear to all. By the end of the Somali-Ethiopian war of 1977 -78, it became evident to all who could think clearly that the continued existence of this regime undermined the future existence of the nation itself. Somalis with conscience foresaw that if the regime were allowed to continue to pursue its policies unchecked, that by the time it is overthrown or it just comes to its natural end, there may be nothing left to save. They were, like the prophet Noah, crying at the deaf ears of their countrymen and the rest of the world, that the monster should be stopped and the monstrosity put to an end.
Yet the reaction of their Somali countrymen was to cooperate in the continuation of their own oppression. They have allowed Siyad Barre to play on the characteristic rivalry of the clans so well that they were wiIling to be hoodwinked into bribery, cajolement and blackmail, even to bear arms against a so-called hostile clan. The fervent competition for the regime’s favor reached such a pitch that any man of integrity who resisted the co-option risked imprisonment, the loss of life and property, or being labeled as a madman. Likewise, any group, clan, or region, attempting to safeguard its rights, protect itself or voice opinions for the better running of the nation’s affairs risked genocide by the regime…with the apparently willing cooperation by the rest of the Somali community. It somehow escaped the attention of Somalis that the acquiescence — if not downright approval and collaboration — by the rest of the community in singling out a single section, clan, or region for persecution and genocide spelled the same fate for the rest.
Nonetheless, the end of the regime came through a combination of a number of factors. The persistence, to the point of death, of the minority that was leading the armed struggle against it, at last proved that the dictator can be opposed, resisted and finally defeated. The defeat of his army by the militants of the Somali National Movement and the total collapse of the governmental machinery in the North after 1988 encouraged the incipient opposition in the South to be braver.
With some help from the SNM, the United Somali Congress (USC), representing the bulk of the population of the center from Galkacayo to Mogadishu and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) of the Kismayo area were able to fan the flames of the armed struggle against Siyad Barre in the south. They were joined by the normally silent, but very large population, west of Mogadishu and all the way down to Kismayo. These people in the southwest, who were under-represented throughout all the regimes, now had the chance to participate in some real action determining their destiny through their organizations — the newly formed Somali Democratic Movement (SDM) and a southern wing ofthe Somali National Movement (SNM).
By this time, the Siyad regime was near collapse. True to its nature, the dictatorship was unable to compromise. Whatever carrots it offered were either wrongly delivered, insufficient, or offered too late. Instead, it continued to alienate and antagonize ever newer elements of the society. The clever manipulation of the divisive clan structure of Somali society paid its final dividend of reducing the manipulator to what he really was — a lonely madman. The international press, at this time, dubbed him the “Mayor of Mogadishu.” The loss of the North, and the closure of Berbera port, the main exit port for Somali exports of livestock, put the regime in financial bankruptcy. At this time also, with the horrible massacres of Hargeisa and Burao becoming evident to the whole international community, those governments supporting the dictatorship could no longer do so brazenly and had to terminate their aid to him.
- Whatever the cause may be, the pessimist would continue arguing — whether through the sole action of the opposition, whether through erosion of internal and external support, or whether through old age and madness, the dictator was finally pushed out. But did the Somalis seize this long-awaited opportunity to engage, now that Siyad Barre was out of the picture? Did genuine reconciliation efforts pick up the pieces, rebuild the tom social fabric of their society, heal the wounds, and put their nation back on the road? The pessimist would give a clear and resounding NO. He would point to the horrible bloodletting that ensued after Siyad Barre, to the senseless fratricidal war of clans, to the un’ending victimization of the weakest, that finally led to the international intervention mentioned earlier. . He would point to the inability of present Somali leaders and the so-called movements they represent, despite all the pushing and promoting of international organizations and friendly 1)eighbors, to come to any sensible working arrangement of their affairs so far. He would point to the adamant refusal earlier in 1989 of the SNM, the use, and the SPM — the three movements who were conducting the at;1’J100 struggle against the regime at the time — of any and all initiatives ah:ease fire and dialogue between them and the Siyad Barre regime.
These movements, in those days, indicated the futility of any dialogue with Siyad Barre, their unwillingness to grant him on the table what he has. already lost in the field, and argued instead the appropriateness of conducting any dialogue, compromise, and rearrangement of their future by the Somalis themselves outside the framework of the Siyad Barre regime. This looked like more than an empty promise when the three movementS made a formal agreement in mid- I 990 among themselves on the modalities of their cooperation during the struggle against the regime and after. Specifically, the agreement envisioned that after the overthrow pfdie dictator, the movement(s) responsible for the victory will form a government of national unity led by, but not necessarily confined to, them Despite the glimmer of hope provided by this agreement, the actual behavior of the signatory movements at the hour of victory – the pessimist’s argument continues — was quite contrary to the letter and spirit (1)the flgreement.
Whatever the politics and internal pressures acting upon them, separately or concurrently, a faction of the use formed a “government” of its own without consulting its partners and even parts of its most active wings. The SNM declared the separation of the North -¬the former British Somaliland — from the rest of the country and formed the Republic of Somaliland. The SPM, for a short while, fought against its former ally, the USC. The description of the subsequent melee need not detain us here.
The pessimists themselves can be considered to be of three types:
Those who have given up hope that the Somalis can make their own history, and can come up with a solution to the crisis. This view looks for an outside solution and, in a nutshell, is calling for recolonization, with all the consequences this entails not only for Somalis, but also for the rest of Africa and other Third World countries wherever and whenever local conflicts become intractable.
(b) Those who despair of any solution from outside. This point of view considers the Somali clan structure, the political chess game that goes along with it, and the enigmatic nomadic psychology of the Somalis as too much of a puzzle for non-Somalis to tackle. Non¬ Somalis can play only a secondary, complementary role, but the initiatives have to be taken by the Somalis.
(c) Those who despair of both internal and external solutions. This point of view u the most dismal — waits for a miracle to happen. Well, “miracles” n in the sense of the improbable — do happen. But when they do, they demand as their prerequisite somebody who is willing to take the initiative, and who. despite the tremendous odds, perseveres with an unshakable faith in the pursuance of the vision. “Faith” as the old adage maintains “moves mountains.”
Ironically, policy options recommended by the pessimist of the first type are the same as those preferred by the enthusiasts of the new global interventionism. Similarly, policy recommendations resulting from the pessimism of the second type more often than not coincide with isolationist views — a sort of unrealistic laissez-faire attitude toward international relations. Since one or the other of these attitudes was predominant at anyone time in international circles (as well as in sections of the Somali elites), we should not be surprised at seeing involvement alternating quickly between policy extremes of over-involvement to total neglect that made many of us giddy.
III. False Starts
In this presentation, we differ with all of the above conceptions and viewpoints as well as the lines of action that flow from them. We believe the Somali clan structure, and the politics it reflects, to be no more mysterious than other more or less “ethnic” systems pertaining elsewhere in Africa and Asia. It is a structure that can be studied (and has been studied), analyzed, and understood. As such, it is amendable to policy¬making, though not totally malleable as some may think. The cultural, linguistic, and religious homogeneity of the Somali people is not a guarantee against conflict, but helps in understanding and facilitates matters of policy-making. Such analyses and understanding are not a monopoly of Somalis alone. Outsiders, unhampered by clan affiliation, can give objective and impartial analysis and recommendations, provided they have no axe to grind.
Useful foreign contributions to the present Somali crisis in the form of arbitration, encouragement of productive local processes, and material and humanitarian assistance are not only possible, but necessary at this critical stage in which Somali institutions either have broken down or are in an incapacitated state. Foreign players will range from private volunteer organizations, foreign governments, and international bodies acting either in concert or separately, though coordination will always be essential.
Yet despite this need for foreign involvement, the argument that Somalis themselves should provide the key to the solution of their problems is basically correct, simplistic as it appears. Here, the pessimist’s second argument — those who despair of outside contribution — have more potency than the other pessimist’s view — giving up on Somalis to make their own history. If it is true — which we hold to be the case — that Somalis are primarily responsible for their debacle, with some foreign muddling and intervention of course, then the converse must also be true. In other words, the Somalis must also be responsible for the remaking of their society, with some foreign help along the way. Indeed, we would go beyond the “should” and assert that they are capable of doing so.
It is the main import of this article that the Somalis not only are” capable of shouldering this responsibility, but are actually doing so even 1 now. The very process of remaking Somali society is going on before our eyes if only we care to look. The tragedy itself and the debacle of the last few years give renewed opportunities for tackling many issues that were’ either missed or mishandled in the recent history of the nation. .
Needless to say, the availability of an opportunity does not guarantee its correct utilization or that the attempt to do so would be successful. This would depend on many factors foremost among which are the attitudes adopted, and actions taken or not taken, by the actors concerned, both domestic and foreign. The point here is that the opportunity exists. If full advantage is taken of this opportunity, chances are that Somali society would be reconstituted for the better and may provide lessons for other societies where “ethnic” conflict threatens the existence of their nations as presently constituted.
The swift alternation between over-involvement and abandonment by the international community creates its own events that in turn produce their own effects and so on. By the time a chain of events plays itself out we are so far removed from the original positions with so much damage done and opportunities lost. Thus, a new drama is played over an already ongoing tragedy, with the result that the deeper undercurrents of the original tragedy are sometimes overshadowed by the new fanfare. It is . this atmosphere that creates the present tendency to overrate what is happening in Mogadishu and its surroundings, and generalize it to the rest of the country. The scriptwriters and the dramatis personae of the new drama concentrate on their own scenarios and subplots to the almost total neglect of the themes of the major play. If the overt playing out of certain themes (or scenes) of the original play seem to contradict or threaten their performance, the danger has to be met either by elimination or assuming its non-existence.
Viewed in this light, the total silence on the causes of the Somali tragedy may be understood. The majority of Somali leaders and intellectuals, especially in the South, are not willing to deal with the present crisis as primarily a consequence of the past and, therefore, partly a consequence of their own actions and attitudes. The crisis is viewed simply as a conflict of clans and a struggle of so-called “war lords” over power, after the collapse of central authority and the departure of Siyad Barre. Similarly in the international arena, only the present conflict is discussed as if the genie suddenly popped out of the bottle and can suddenly be put back again if only these “leaders” could be brought together to reach an agreement. Nothing is said about the long years of stifling dictatorship in which the Somali state, social values, and the institutions based upon them were being gradually undermined, a process of destruction in which foreigners wittingly or unwittingly had their share. Nothing is also said about the equally long resistance to this nihilistic rule in which alternative options of organizing society were being tested.
Such questions as to why conflict among the various clans which throughout history was confined to particular localities at particular times, now took this form of gigantic national catastrophe, or why the political factions now existing are purely clan-based, whereas the political parties prior to the 1969 military coup were on the whole built on alliances across clans, are rarely raised, let alone investigated. Somali intellectuals who, on the whole, contributed little to the struggle against the dictatorship, show scarce interest, if any, in investigating the relationship between traditional clan structures and overall political development, or the consequences of politicized clanism. Such investigation would, hopefully, enable us to see whether, and how, the traditional structure can help reshape future institutions of the nation as well as being itself reshaped. Instead, they continue to bemoan the so-called overwhelming role of clanism while their actual behavior is more “clannish” in the political sense, than their ordinary nomadic clansmen. And to their final shame, they advocate shifting the responsibility of reconstructing their society to the international community, a recommendation which is only a measure of their own bankruptcy as a group.
This lack of seriousness breeds animosity to radical departures from the beaten path. We have mentioned earlier that during the reign of the Siyad Barre dictatorship any group raising opinions for the better running of the nation’s affairs were marked out for persecution, while the rest of the population either acquiesced or cooperated in that persecution. The international community also adjusted itself to that atmosphere and cooperated accordingly. The present unwillingness to dissect the legacy of that regime or the hostile attitude adopted towards those who refuse to go along with the conspiracy of silence may be considered as a continuation of those previous attitudes. The road of self-analysis and self-correction was never paved with roses. It is always easier to repress painful matters and avoid going along uncharted territory, even though the correct path may be staring us in the face.
- The Unique Case of Somaliland
A most revealing illustration of this suppression of relevant matters is the almost total omission by the Secretary-General of the UN in his reports to the Security Council of the Republic of Somaliland and what is happening there, as if it did not exist. On the contrary, understanding the almost lonely and heroic efforts of the people of Somaliland at reconstruction as well as the reasons for the break away holds a major key to the larger riddle of Somalia. Several impartial observers have pointed to the relative stability of Somaliland. Inheriting a totally destroyed country, with almost nothing to build on, the people of Somaliland began literally to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They avoided. major internal conflicts and man-made famines. Today, they feed themselves, have one of the lowest malnutrition rates in Africa, and are putting in place the future edifices of a viable system of governance.
In the south, in contrast, the major destruction took place after Siyad Barre fled and not in the struggle against him. Attempts at reconciliation most often give way to renewed waves of conflict, and famine, mainly man-made, reached the huge proportions that “justified” the intervention. Here, in this contrasting situations of two parts of the same previous country, may lie a lesson. Instead of studying the relevant success of Somaliland, encouraging it and drawing conclusions that may be of use to the south, as well as to the future of the whole, we find, on the part of both the southern elite and international bureaucracy, an unreasonable animosity towards Somaliland. Instead of giving a helping hand, the UN bureaucracy is bent on destroying Somaliland and nullifying the efforts of its people, as if a cancerous growth has to be eradicated. The southern elite, on their part, repeat phrases on the sacredness of Somali unity and the inviolability of the territorial integrity of the former Somalia, while their own backyard is burning.
Be that as it may, being misunderstood, isolated, or persecuted is nothing new to the Somali National Movement (SNM) and its leaders.
As the political movement which bore the brunt of the struggle against Siyad Barre, it has learned how to deal with persecution, vilification, and isolation. As the political organ that gave birth to the democratic experimentation in Somaliland, and is still guiding it in more ways than one, it has learned how to forgive, how to compromise and accommodate, and how to relinquish state power when this is dictated by the principles for which it Was struggling, even at the temporary cost of its own internal unity. While the so-called “war lords” in the South are at each others throats, the Somali National Movement (SNM) did not find it difficult to transfer state power even prior to the disarmament of its liberation forces and the armed militia of other clans who opposed it during its guerrilla’ warfare against the military dictatorship.
I can recall no other example of a liberation movement which won power through the barrel of the gun and which was simultaneously so uninterested in ruling with its gun. Even in those cases where the movement concerned was serious about the democratic transformation of society, elaborate measures were taken after victory to ensure that the victor in the armed struggle also remained so in the peace. This was done as if the accomplishment of the required social change could only be performed by that particular organization and no other. The result of this type of political engineering is the ossification of the revolutionary movement and the gradual loss of its originally genuine support. A good example of this type of development is the FLN in Algeria. In other cases, the victor in the revolutionary armed struggle refuses the participation as partners of other actors who were in the field -¬irrespective of whether they were acting in parallel for the same goal or in opposition.
Sometimes it so happens that some sections of the society are unorganized during the struggle and support neither side. The victorious revolutionary movement then interprets that dormancy as tacit support to the enemy who now lost. This section now comes under suspicion and is prevented from acting as partners in the new democracy; The result in the two latter cases is an invitation to a new round of civil war either in the early stages of the victory itself or in the ensuing later years as a reaction to the increasing monopolization of power by the victorious group. In countries .where political organizations are more or less co¬terminus with ethnic groups, the explosiveness of this kind of situation needs no emphasis. Such may be said to be the case in Mozambique and Angola, where the ruling groups and the opposition are now in the different stages of learning the process of conflict resolution through dialogue after a lengthy period of painful fratricide.
The new experiment in South Africa, where the leading liberation movement, the African National Congress, came to power through a process of dialogue and reconciliation with its former enemy, is a promising, though untested, development. It augurs well for the future as a promising, less violent means of achieving freedom, justice and democracy. All men of goodwill cannot but congratulate and wish well the leaders of the ANC and others involved in this new experiment. Certainly, the ANC is not a newcomer in the struggle for justice. It is almost a century old and certainly much older than many liberation movements that came to power before it did. It therefore has accumulated plenty of experience, both of its own unique struggle and that of others, that can allow it to chart a new road. Specifically, the pitfalls suffered by the peoples of Africa who, after gaining freedom from colonial rulers did not realize true liberation but slipped back into the darkness of dictatorships and misery, are very instructive. That the monopolization of power by the successful movements played a critical role in the retrogression to the abyss cannot escape the attention of the newcomers.
I have no intention of putting the SNM on the same pedestal as the African National Congress. Certainly in terms of age, the long accumulated experience, the complexity of the issues involved in its past and present struggle, the importance of the country and theater in which it is operating, as well as the stature of its leadership, the ANC is a giant. Moreover, a lot of political organizations (liberation movements as well as established political parties) are eclipsed into dwarfs. In a comparison of this sort, the SNM would appear as the dwarf of the dwarfs. It belongs not only to a small country, but its support can be considered to be based mainly on one clan of that small country. It has no particular ideology that can, despite the smallness, give it luster. And in terms of
leadership, it is a listless movement.
Some may even go further and accuse the SNM of being a visionless movement, without a program, without a disciplined cadre, and thus incapable of forming a cohesive administration that would fill the void. These critics would point to the record of its administration after liberation. From 1991-93, the paralysis and the civil strife caused the people to lose patience. They replaced the SNM’s administration in early 1993, despite the wishes of the then existing leaders of the SNM.
Such criticism, we maintain, takes a superficial stand. It confuses the personalities of the leadership with the organic nature of the movement. On the contrary, we are here arguing that in these seemingly negative qualities lie the greatness of the SNM. As a movement that primarily drew its support from the narrow base of a clan it succeeded in bringing down the strong edifice of the national dictatorship. The so-called lack of ideology gave it independence and resilience. The absence of “charismatic” leaders and disciplined cadre is one of the ways in which it avoided the build-up of dictatorial tendencies within itself. If the Republic of Somaliland today enjoys relative stability within the context of conditions in the Horn of Africa, then we need to try to understand why. If the people of that small country are surviving through self¬reliance, despite international boycotts and deliberate sabotage, then one should try to determine how they are doing it. And if the Somalilanders have found ways to reconcile their differences and reconstruct their society, then perhaps the rest of Somalia would benefit from knowing how it has been done.
.The two parts of the former Somali Republic, i.e., the former British Somaliland and the former Trusteeship territory of Somalia, have had the same historical experience since their independence and union in 1960 until the overthrow of the last government of Siyad Barre. Could the different reactions of the two parts to the breakdown of the United Somali state be due to their different colonial experiences under the British and the Italians? Maybe, for the differential impact of the two colonial systems on the underlying traditional structure could have had different consequences. Could the different reactions be due to differences in the underlying traditional structure and cultural values? Unlikely, since the points of similarities in the Somali cultural milieu, irrespective of geographical location, overwhelm points of differences. But before one delves into that distant past, it is certainly more fruitful to look into the most recent past which just merges into the present.
While we do not deny whatever influences the above-mentioned factors may have, we maintain that the relative success of the Republic of Somaliland, as well as its weaknesses, are primarily due to the experience of the SNM in the struggle against the Siyad Barre dictatorship. How it handled (or mishandled) issues at hand; how it utilized or missed opportunities; and how obstacles either enriched or obscured that experience are all part of the essential record of achievement. If self-reliance, internal democracy, and resolution of problems through dialogue and compromise are the characteristics that today differentiate Somaliland from Somalia, it is because these qualities were learned and practiced by the SNM in the heat of the struggle for liberation. If it were not so, it would not have been easy for the movement to offer the hand of reconciliation to those who did not support it even prior to total victory. Nay, it would not have been easy for the militants of the movement to give safe passage to those Somali ex¬refugees from Ethiopia who, through an ironical mutation of history, became part and parcel of the apparatus of the dictatorial regime and who,” for all intents and purposes, replaced their former hosts.
- Perspectives on African Development
In order to understand the experiences gained by the SNM during the struggle and to put these experiences in broader perspective it may be more useful to consider some issues fundamental to the crisis of underdevelopment in African countries. These broader issues impinge upon both economic policies and the system of governance at large. The failure of most African regimes, after the euphoria of the first few years following independence, in both economic performance and the democratic governance of their peoples, compel re-thinking these issues. For our purposes, these issues can be formulated as:
- What is the most appropriate way to forge a nation? Is it through forcing a centralized state machinery or through the voluntary associations of the existing components of civil society?
- What is the interplay between “modern” national institutions, such as political parties and state bureaucracy and traditional structures such as clan (ethnic) systems?
- To what extent should one look inward or outward for the solution of one’s problems?
In order to understand the experiences gained by the SNM during the struggle and to put these experiences in broader perspective it may be more useful to consider some issues fundamental to the crisis of ” underdevelopment in African countries. These broader issues impinge !if!.upon both economic policies and the system of governance at large. The failure of most African regimes, after the euphoria of the first few years fol1owing independence, in both economic performance and the democratic governance of their peoples, compel re-thinking these issues. For our purposes, these issues can be formulated as:
These issues can be restated as the questions of dictatorship vs. democratic development, centralization vs. autonomy and self-reliance vs. dependency. No matter how they are phrased the essence remains the same; and the answering of one issue in a certain manner sets the pattern . for the rest and forecloses other paths of development.
It is a well-known story that in the early decades after independence African governments pursued a statist approach in politico-development matters which relied heavily on foreign borrowing, not only capital and technical help, but even ideas and sometimes wholesale institutions. Since economic growth, as such, was perceived to be the magic key to the problems of development and since Africa lacked an experienced capitalist class with the wherewithal to carry on the process, the initiative was shifted to the state. The attraction of this approach to the new ruling elites was further increased by the example of the Soviet model where an apparently former backward country has succeeded in transforming itself through utilizing the state machinery.
The very words used, and naturally still in use, such as “development” “modernization,” and “progress” assume moving from one stage to another. For the development experts of the time, and their African pupils, who were molded by the same educational process, this meant, implicitly if not explicitly, the attempt to emulate the attributes of the “developed” West. The attributes to be emulated include, of course, the political institutions, to the extent possible. The consequent development strategy thus gave scant attention to the real complexities of the societies that were to be developed. It goes without saying that, according to this attitude, African indigenous values and institutions are inimical to “development” as they are rooted in “backward” conditions. The corollary that development policy should be pursued, in spite of the people, follows immediately.
The result of this attitude is the transformation of development policy into, in the words of a famous African writer, “an epic struggle, of the very few who know, to manipulate or coerce the many who are ignorant into a new and better mode of being in spite of themselves.” Needless to say, all this obviates the essential in development, which is the learning process of the majority of the people. The sustainability of the development process in the longer run can be ensured through the commitment of the people to, their participation in, and their internalization of the requirements of that process.
But the state machinery available to Africans on the eve of independence was a colonial product, born out of a long history of oppression and ill-suited to purposes of genuine self-development. This colonial state was viewed by our people with suspicion, and rightly so.
They took refuge in strengthening communal and kinship systems. Hence the divergence between the interests of the state and its machinery on the one hand and that of civil society on the other. We know too well that during the early years ~f the euphoria of independence we did not question the relevance of the inherited state machine to our goals. Thus, we did not attempt to qualitatively transform it, but simply adopted it wholesale. Lacking the experience of its predecessor and burdened with an ever-increasing role, the new African state tried to fill the lacunae through expansion. Unable to deliver the goods and thus obtain compliance through meeting the genuine demands of the people, it tried to elicit such compliance through compulsion.
With the degeneration of the early democracies into empty shells, authoritarian methods, one party systems, and military dictatorships became the rule. Because their authority is not based on the consent of the governed, these authoritarian regimes are, in fact, less authoritative. They, therefore, become increasingly concerned with short-term security matters rather than long¬term development. Is there any wonder, then that the situation today in Africa is generally characterized by stagnation, corruption, repression, resistance, civil wars, and mass starvation?
The challenge to all Africans for the last decade and a half has been to pioneer an alternative path of development that leads away from this impasse and opens the door to real progress. Among the clear lessons is the realization that the present crisis in Africa is not only about economic matters but, on the contrary, involves larger political and moral issues. Overcoming the inhibiting legacy of the colonial state compels an inward¬ looking perspective that examines the present society and its mores for ways of transforming it.
The first requirement in this self-examination for an alternative path is to find creative political initiatives for eliciting the necessary participation of the people. We have already seen the limits of elitist forms of democracy, i.e., those who imitate the West, as well as coerced forms of “mass mobilization” that only endorse what has already been decided by an authoritarian state. In fact, these are not two different and opposing forms of organizing society. On the contrary, they finally converge in the form of the authoritarian African state. This is not surprising since the content of both types is the dictatorial way of deciding for the people.
Both forms, i.e., elitist corruption of democracy and “socialist” coerced “mass mobilization,” breed cynicism, further alienation from the state, and withdrawal into pre-colonial communal and kinship ties. These traditional structures themselves, have been affected by their long relationship with the colonial authorities. They cannot be considered pure. Yet they still command loyalty and respect. What is therefore required is an approach that integrates this cultural heritage into the formal political structure of the state. The state and civil society need not be hostile and juxtaposed entities. Instead democracy must be planted on the African soil. The specific forms of this democratic regeneration and the specific pathways to it — whether peaceful or violent — will vary according to the situation and the circumstances, but the need and necessity for it is clear.
Also certain broad features — common to all working democracies -¬can be outlined. First, there must be a limit to the arbitrary authority of the all-powerful state. Second, economic and political power must be shared and diffused throughout society, both horizontally and vertically. Third, the rule of law must be paramount and replace the whims of the holder of power. If these features appear to be the tenets of Western liberal democracy whose imitation by Africans we have considered to have failed, this should not be surprising. Indeed, we consider these broad features to be the essential contents of any democracy. It is the forms and the specific working details that differ according to the existing social context.
It is easily forgotten, though Africanists all the time remind us, that precolonial Africa, surviving today somewhat in communal traditions, was rich in these broad features of a democratic society. After all, the all-powerful dictator, equipped with an impersonal machinery presides over the fate of society is a post colonial product. In precolonial Africa, councils of elders, chosen through lineage hierarchy or other means of popular suffrage, prescribed the powers of the ruler -¬king or paramount chief, where there was one. Rules elaborated through wide discussions and codified in cultural heritage, religion, custom, and laws circumscribed the conduct of all — young and old, rulers and ruled.
The integration of these democratic practices and values into the institutions of the modern state must start at the lowest rung. It is at the village level (where normal administration, social services, development programs and political matters can hardly be distinguished) that the training of the common people as citizens should begin. Freely chosen representatives at this level could form the first steps of a pyramid culminating at the national level. It is at the village, district and provincial levels that the communal, clan, ethnic interests can be coordinated, reconciled and combined with that of the nation at large. Traditional leadership structure goes down to the roots and can tap grass roots support. But if not corrected or complemented by cross¬sectional political organization — in other words where leadership does not depend on ethnic/clan loyalty alone — then it is likely to give way to divisive and centrifugal forces.
The above general remarks apply with particular force in the case of the Somali Republic. Inheriting two disparate colonial experiences, great — and commendable — energy was spent in the early years in integrating the different political, legal, administrative and educational systems. A liberal constitutional parliamentary democracy was adopted. However, this attempt at creating the new nation was based not only on the inherited centralized structures of the colonial state but strenuous efforts’ were applied to transplant all the institutions associated with liberal, democracy and move away from the traditional clan structure. The latter as a precolonial institution, was considered primitive, anarchic, divisive, with potential for savage clan-based fratricidal wars.
As such the traditional system was perceived to be the number one enemy of the goals “‘l of national independence, i.e., social and economic progress, freeing the individual from the shackles of the ascriptive bonds of tradition, and’ fostering instead the foundations of. the institutions of “modern” nationhood with which free individuals can identify. (I recall, as an active member of that special “tribe” of high school students, how in those days we despised everything that had anything to do with “clanism” and how emotional we were about matters of “nationalism” and “independence. “)
Indeed, attack on tradition was an integral part of the independence movement. Despite the veneer of seeking freedom from the colonial yoke and its consequent domination of many aspects of social life, the independence movement imbibed more values from its colonial metropolitan adversaries than it rejected or wished to change. This should not be surprising. Aside from whatever brainwashing there was as a result of educational molding, nationalism, as an historical movement, was a European phenomenon. Moreover, the concept of nation-building, prevalent in those days and paraded as the quintessence of research by political theorists, is the ideological heritage of Western post enlightenment.
The Somali Republic like many others in the African continent, failed in transplanting the liberal state. With the benefit of hindsight, this is also not surprising. Traditions die hard, no matter what strenuous efforts are “1 expended in creating the new. After all, the cultural heritage of a people ~i cannot suddenly be revamped. Institutions that have served a purpose for :i1 generations cannot just be outlived unless and until an alternative is found: that better serves those same social needs. Otherwise they will continue to exist, albeit sometimes in a corrupted and destructive form. The new laws and institutions of the liberal state could not easily and quickly replace all traditional ones. Implicit in the concept of the liberal state and its laws is the assumption that society consists of free individuals, with basic rights and endowed with different talents. This assumption underlies the rules of equality and even the ballot, the sine quo non of a liberal democracy, is based on that assumption.
One need not quarrel with these assumptions of liberal democracy. They are indeed necessary, but not sufficient for full democratic expression in African countries.
The missing link between the state and the individual is an intermediate category where the bonds of solidarity and human fraternity, so much neglected by liberalism but indeed essential for human survival and welfare, are nurtured. If in the industrial world this warmth of human solidarity and fraternal bonds is sought in organizations based on class, in the less developed world, specially in Africa, they are easily provided in ready-made form by ethnicity in the Somali case by “clanism.” The extended family in the Somali case is the basic economic unit, adopted and adapted throughout the ages for the survival of its members. One family member may be a skilled worker in town, another a merchant, a third abroad in Europe or oil-rich Arabia, and another left to tend livestock in the hinterland. All their incomes buttress one another. As such the Somali extended family is a versatile system that is self-reliant, internally balanced and autocentric.
The Somali clan structure is a complicated pyramid with the extended family at its lowest form and a large, more or less political group claiming to originate from a single ancient ancestor at its pinnacle. Subclans in the middle echelons of the pyramid are most often more important for questions of survival and interest. I have no intention to go into a treatise about Somali clan organization and its functions. The simple point being raised here is that sometimes the extended family system may not have the carrying capacity to fully provide for the needs of its members in terms of security (economic and otherwise), emotional support and simple social interaction. Upper rungs in the pyramid are therefore called upon to supplement the efforts and resources of the extended family. The more difficult the problem to be solved in both extent and intensity, the higher the rung called upon. Most often the most important rung in these matters is the diya-paying unit of the clan.
This is the unit that is responsible for injuries caused unto others by its other members. The other layers of the clan structure, most often dormant, are activated at times of stress, civil wars, famines or liberation struggles. In urban areas services that are normally provided in industrial countries by the state, municipalities, trade unions, cooperatives, etc., now become the function of the extended family and/or the clan in African countries. The need for clan solidarity, although assaulted in many ways by urbanization, becomes strengthened by it.
The consequence of these contradictory forces — the inherited colonial state and the liberal laws adopted wholesale on the one hand, and the continuing need for clan support and solidarity on the other — is a bifurcated society, with a non-integrated personality. This bifurcation is a breeding ground for corruption, misuse of power, manipulation of clan loyalty, mistrust among the clans themselves, and hence instability. The resulting disillusionment, right on the heels of the euphoria of independence, provided the fertile soil for the African coups. Whether, given sufficient time, these contradictions could have been overcome peacefully and democracy could have been workable is one of the “ifs” of history. The fact remains that in the case of Somalia the Siyad Barre military dictatorship came and completed the job of total disintegration. How it did so is an important subject by itself and need not detain us here.
- The Experience of the Somali National Movement Reviewed
The resistance to the dictatorship was affected by this historical background in more ways than one. The terror unleashed by the regime, the abolition of national representative institutions, and the transformation of the remaining state bodies into instruments of oppression and spying, left the extended family and the related clan network the only relatively safe haven. While this clan network had already, prior to the regime, built-in advantages for political organization, the behavior of the terroristic regime made it the only avenue for any opposition to it. Further, the clandestine nature of any opposition to the police state of Siyad Barre and the latter’s manipulation of the clan structure, setting one clan against another, not only inhibited the building of bridges between incipient opposition groups, but succeeded in the displacement of any resentments against the regime into aggressions against other clans.
Those who criticize the SNM for not starting off with a broader clan base, minimize this factor. There is no need here to recount in detail the efforts of the SNM to do so. These efforts did not materialize in substantial success in the early stages and are witness to the depth of the disintegration process wrought by the regime. Several factors are at play: the smaller bases of support in the center and the south of the country opened by the SNM in the early years; the modus vivendi with the SSDF before the latter’s slip into dormancy; the active coordination and subsequent alliance with the use and SPM; and finally the reconciliation process embarked upon on the eve of victory with those northern clans who opposed it all speak with eloquence of the sincerity of these early . SNM efforts to broaden its base, despite the odds.
In the meantime the movement had to continue its work where it was most effective vis a vis the north of the country. The single-minded support given to the SNM by the Isaaq clan speaks only of the unevenness of the regime’s oppression and its singling out of this clan in the mid and later 80s for particular persecution. The numerical strength of their support, and the uninterrupted nature of their habitat in the North, provided the SNM with ample opportunity not only to continue the valiant struggle with tenacity but also to experiment with ideas and forms that could lay the basis for alternative paths of governance and development. These forms and ideas, needless to say, were not ideological recipes, prepared by elites in the ivory tower, and experimented on an unsuspecting population. Rather they grew out of the practical needs of the struggle itself.
This does not mean that the struggle was visionless. Vision, there has to be. Otherwise it is almost impossible to move great numbers of human beings into action. The tremendous odds against which the SNM operated and the sacrifice it demanded from its supporters over an extended period of time could only be sustained by a vision of the future in which they believed. Some cynics maintain that hate also can move masses of people into action. They point to the Nazi movement, whose effectiveness has threatened the world for sometime, and the ever-present ethnic massacres in today’s world. But, evidently, this cynical argument cannot be taken seriously. For one thing, occasional jacqueries should not be confused with sustainable movements. And those sustainable movements that have a large element of hate in their arsenal show it in their expressions and actions. The SNM definitely passes that test. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The vision itself (from which programs of action are formed) is a mixture of ideal and the antithesis of the system one is attempting to change. Certainly hatred of the oppressive system and those who actively and willingly maintain it forms part of the driving motives of the fighter for change. But this is quite different from the kind of hatred alluded to by the cynic, for it is not directed against a particular ethnic group of tribe/clan or section of humanity. It is directed against an oppressive social structure whose removal is a milestone towards realizing justice. For this to be achieved it has to be accompanied by the articulation of the l . alternative, even if that articulation does not fall into any of the known ideological molds.
We have seen, in the preceding pages, that the oppressive system that evolved in Somalia –and the rest of Africa in various different ways -¬was characterized by an excessively centralized, dictatorial state, divorced from the traditions and historical continuity of the people it ruled. We have also touched upon the outlines of an alternative form of governance; one that integrates the state with civil society, is democratic and auto centric and decentralizes the arenas of action as much as possible.
This, precisely, is the vision which the Somali National Movement presented from its inception in its programs of action and which it attempted to practice while still conducting the armed struggle against the military regime. If this alternative vision was not very well-known ~, outside its ranks, it speaks less of the limited ability of the SNM to propagate this vision than of the blinders inhibiting outsiders to see the actual truth. I say this with confidence, because even if we lacked the resources with which we could compete with the government in the propagation of our ideas, our actions and activities were an open book for” anyone taking the pains look. Let us now take some of the main elements” of the alternative path, discussed earlier, and which also inform SNM’s vision and see what role these ideas played in the praxis of the SNM during the phase of the armed struggle.
If one were to single out a phenomenon in which the SNM is unique among liberation movements, past and present, it is the extent of its self ¬reliance. To be sure, all genuine liberation struggles have to strive for a measure of self-reliance if they are to achieve success. But, more often than not, it is almost impossible to do without some form of external support in terms of moral and material assistance. Specifically it is the material support that becomes a sine qua non in the case of armed struggles. To mobilize, train, supply, replenish and maintain fighting units is a very expensive affair. Expensive also, if only slightly less so, is the political wing with its far-flung cadres, internally and externally.
A liberation movement, conducting an armed struggle, can hardly meet the total of these financial burdens from its own coffers. But the more it relies on external support for the sustenance of its operations and organization, the more it sacrifices its autonomy and independent decision-making. The tendency to be autonomous and independent and the need to seek outside support and allies and thus be part of a larger block is a contradiction that has plagued liberation movements throughout history. Rare is the movement that has found a judicious balance.
The SNM solved this dilemma by tilting towards total autonomy and facing the consequent risk. To be sure the SNM received assistance from Ethiopia in the form of sanctuary for its leadership, training bases for its fighters, and ammunition and fuel. Financial assistance from Ethiopia was next to nothing and even the ammunition and fuel were token contributions. Although this assistance was vital, especially in the early stages, in the long term it was small. The more valuable assistance from Ethiopia was the provision of sanctuary, not the material aspect.
This help itself was not a one-way street. The presence of Somali opposition to the Siyad Barre regime in Ethiopia preempted the converse, while at the same time weakening the main threat to Ethiopia from the east. This mutual advantage had the additional strength of sowing the seeds of future peaceful cooperation between the two countries, instead of the then existing antagonism. Sensing this advantage, the Ethiopian regime was wise enough to avoid alienating the SNM by manipulation as much as the latter was careful in insulating its decision-making to itself.
In that Ethiopia was the only source of external assistance, the movement had to provide its own resources or perish. There was, of course, no lack of potential helpers. But the premium put on independence was such that the movement chose to eschew any and all aid that seriously affected its independent decision-making. The harm caused by Libyan cash to the sister and older movement — The Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) — was a clear enough warning. This choice of self-reliance by the SNM paid its dividends. It was compelled to raise cash from supporters abroad and inside the country. The fighting units were to be sustained by supporters in the areas where they operated. Foreign branches engaged in propaganda and diplomatic activity had to rely on their own resources.
All this meant that the rank and file as well as ordinary supporters could no longer be passive sympathizers. Instead, they were transformed into active participants. Thus the path of self-reliance easily led to the road of democratic decentralization. The people whom the movement were trying to recruit and commit to the struggle were already rebelling against a suffocating dictatorship. If they are to be convinced to give the best they have, even their lives, to the cause, they cannot be denied the freedom of choice within the movement. The people have to “own” their movement. One cannot claim to struggle for liberty and deny that liberty itself within their own ranks.
In the context of the struggle conducted by the SNM, the democratic practice expressed itself on two levels: (I) at the top organizational level : (1) at the top where the higher leadership — the Chairman, Vice Chairman and the Central Committee — were elected in broadly representative Congresses, and (2) at the local level where branches in foreign countries and in the field put forth their own leadership. The most pressing matter is the relationship between the center and the localities. The centralization/decentralization paradox bedevils not only liberation movements but most Third World governments as well.
Central authority is a must if a nation has to exist as one. But how much power and responsibility should be devolved to lower bodies, outlying regions and the private sector, and how much power should be retained by central authorities, in order to attain a measure of both democracy and unity is a question not easily resolved. In the case of the SNM struggle, the wide geographic distances involving branches in many countries and field operations across the width and breadth of the country as well as reliance on own resources dictated autonomous activity and decision-making. This left for the center tasks such as broad policy formulation, overall coordination of the implementation, and contact with foreign bodies.
Since particular areas were more often than not occupied by particular clans or subclans, the policy of the movement’s autonomous activity in reality translated itself into clan autonomous activity. We have seen in the earlier sections of this article that the post-colonial state failed to integrate traditional authority positively into the modem institutions of society. We have also briefly argued that this divorce between the state and civil society reached an extreme form in the former Somali Republic. Here, the solution to this dilemma of modem versus traditional authority presented itself before the movement in clear form by the exigencies of ,the struggle.
Ironically, the clan organizational form became the vehicle for a revolutionary process of restructuring society. First, the solidarity it ‘naturally provides became a safe haven for members from the state terror. Second, self-reliance itself means that the movement, instead of relying on outside supporters, relies on its people and hence on their local leaders and ways of doing things. There is a mutual feedback here between the movement and the ordinary peoples. The movement brought urban cadres — the teacher, the army officer, the student, the medical doctor, the politician — into the rural areas who then interact with the clans and their elders. Here, at the level of the fighting unit, the SNM found the opportunity of integrating traditional authority and methods into the democratic practices and needs of the movement.
These factors created opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past, make use of existing structures, and correct the divorce between civil society and the state. One of the tentative ideas that came about then was a greater role for the elders of the clans as autonomous decision-makers, and participants at various levels of the clan pyramid, parallel with and interacting with the various levels of the formal organization of the movement. The experimentation with the role of the elders was finally formalized in the form of the” Guurti,” that is, the senate or the council of elders, which is co-equal with the Central Committee, the legislative organ of the SNM. This parallel co-participation stretched from the lowest units all the way up to the highest level.
We see, then, that the vision of an alternative path of governance replaced the centralized, dictatorial regime. The SNM provided an alternative system whose hallmark is participatory democracy from top to bottom. It was thus possible for it to carry over this tradition to a national level after victory, providing avenues for dialogue and compromise while state structures were still weak, culminating in the fora for consensus building such as the Borama Conference. And it is this that makes the vital difference between Somali land and the rest of Somalia.
If there is any weakness in the performance so far, it is that the insistence on free decision-making and participation at all levels has sacrificed the need for discipline and obedience. This has weakened the formal organization of the SNM as a political organ. If this choice has enabled it to escape the appearance of dictatorial tendencies and “war¬lordism,” it has allowed the formal structures of the movement, as a political organ, to be diluted and absorbed by the traditional structures. Admittedly then, the experimentation for new forms has gone to the other extreme, tending to open the door for centrifugal forces since traditional structures by themselves cannot form the basis for a modern state.
But this danger is not as great as it may appear to those who are not familiar with the depth of the changes wrought by the SNM struggle. It is precisely the decentralized forms and the actual democratic participation, especially that of clan elders, opened by the SNM that have minimized conflict within the SNM — supporting Isaaq clans and between them and the others in the North by institutionalizing dialogue and compromise. Unlike the SNM, the other political factions in the south claiming legitimacy neither opened up such avenue s of activity (at least on a stage comparable to that of the SNM) for the people they claim to represent, nor even conducted formal democratic congresses to legitimate their own leadership. Hence their inability to contain the situation after the breakdown of the Siyad Barre regime, let alone move it forward.
Moreover, those of us who are still optimistic enough to believe in progress also know that trends are never on a smooth, straight line. Like the business cycle, there are troughs and peaks, but the trend is upward with today’s trough possibly higher than yesterday’s low. If the abhorrence of the dictatorial centralized post-colonial state created in those who thought it a tendency toward too much freedom and reliance on the informal networks, I say proudly that this is good.
There was need to restore these networks and legitimize them formally just as freedom was essential. With these firmly established the pendulum will swing back towards formal cross-sectional organizations. Reactivation of the SNM organization is a relatively easy matter and together with those other political organizations that are bound to come up in the present free atmosphere, political alliances across clans will be formed. The need is there and the ground work of dialogue and compromise has already been laid by the struggle of the SNM.
The reader may be struck by the fact that I have said nothing about the important issue of dialogue and reconciliation between the north and the rest of the country, or more precisely, between the Republic of Somaliland and the original Somalia (i.e. the Trusteeship Territory before independence). It is not an oversight, but a deliberate omission, the 1 ~asons for which are simple.
First, if by reconciliation, we mean a return to the original union between the two parts, I am afraid it is now counterproductive to harp1at tune. Every problem, like an organism, goes through certain stages of a life cycle. There is the stage of early detection and prevention. . There is the long middle stage of curative treatment, and there is the last stage of death and burial. A Somali friend once aptly remarked to a group that “the eggshell of Somali unity is now broken. We may talk about making a scrambled egg or an omelet out of it, but we cannot reconstitute the original broken shell!” Treating the problems that led to the separation was possible during the early and middle stages, but not now.
Second, this separation is not the result of manipulation by few politicians. Some people confuse the declaration of the Republic of Somaliland by the SNM in Burao on May 18, 1991 with the fact of separation itself. Separation was a political reality long before that. It is ¬consequence of an historical process whose two protagonists were the cruel persecution by the regime and the stubborn resistance of the persecuted. It is the culmination of the victory of that lonely struggle by 1e SNM for an extended period. Siyad Barre himself effectively sanctioned the separation and put the last nail on the coffin of the union y his bombardment of the cities of the north and the mass murder of their citizens which led to the fleeing of terrorized civilians into Ethiopia.
To ignore the victory, which to them is not only the downfall of the Siyad Barre regime, but also includes the separation itself, won by the people of the north with such superhuman sacrifice, or to treat it as non-existent, is foolhardy and borders on the callous. The Burao declaration only put the final touches on an already existing reality.
Third, the present use of “Somali unity” is a misnomer. The original ~! leaning of unity for the Post World War n Somali independence movement was the liberation of the five parts into which the Somali¬ speaking peoples were divided by the colonial owers and their eventual inclusion under one nation state. When the Somaliland Protectorate gained its independence from Britain it had closer and more advantageous links with Djibouti and eastern Ethiopia than it did with Mogadishu. But it chose to sacrifice its newly won statehood and join the Trusteeship territory, without conditions, in order to lay the basis of the united state which the remaining three parts could later join.
It is a well-known story how that Somali irredentism collided with the then existing international order, specifically how the neighboring countries and the Organization of African Unity, with the support of the rest of the international system, resisted any notion of revision of African boundaries on the basis of ethnicity. It is common knowledge how the pursuit of their goal of unity by the Somalis and the resistance of their neighbors to that goal caused instability in the Horn, including two major wars between the Somali Republic and Ethiopia, and the introduction of superpower competition and the arms race into the area, to the detriment of their peoples, especially the Somali people who, on all sides, bore the greater brunt of the havoc.
The upshot was the frustration of Somali unity, with Djibouti opting for its separate statehood and the borders with Ethiopia and Kenya remaining intact as left by the colonial powers. The marriage between the two original parts had became unworkable, Some of the reasons were touched upon in this presentation. Rather, the marriage had lost its raison d’etre. After great suffering and with Herculean efforts the people of Somaliland have restored the statehood which they both won and sacrificed in 1960. Moreover, they are willing to go about it through the internationally agreed methods of elections and plebiscites, even though they are by all logic entitled to it. What is indeed strange is that the international community — as represented by the UN and other regional organizations — which originally frustrated the Somali unity project, is now opposing the exercise of this legitimate right of self-determination and attempting to maintain and enforce an unworkable marriage and reconciliation and a now non-existent Somali unity.
Fourth, any process of reconciliation requires negotiation and dialogue between existing entities. The state of Somaliland, even though weak and not yet recognized by the international system is a de facto entity brought into existence by its own people. There is no such comparable entity in the south, i.e., the former Trusteeship territory, with which it can negotiate. Even the many factions have no legitimate standing (at least the majority of them) vis-a-vis the peoples they claim to represent in terms of democratic procedure. The proper course, dictated both by logic and justice, is to accept and assist the correct process of political development in Somaliland, while at the same time, encourage similar processes in the south until such time that a comparable entity appears with whom proper negotiations can take place. But, alas, we know this is not the policy at present pursued by the UN. Instead, it is following a policy of strangling Somaliland and enforcing the: establishment of an artificial so-called” government of unity.” It is a dead- end with more negative consequences and precious time lost.
In this analysis, I did not follow that beaten path with no exit. Instead, I chose to go beyond and beneath these superficial formulae. There is a Somali proverb — “Haani guntay ka tolantaa” – which literally means “a vessel is mended from the base upwards,” but which can be roughly translated as “charity begins at home.” In the spirit of this proverb, my approach was to understand what happened to the Somali way of living. The research and analysis required to reach this understanding is tremendous and lies before all of us.
Yet from these simple reflections, one reaches the inescapable conclusion: that what happened is not a matter of an enigmatic primitive society gone astray. Neither is it a question of “warlord” versus chiefs. It is a matter of a system of governance that has gotten off on an early false start since the colonial days and ended up awry with the military dictatorship. The antidote to that system is its antithesis: an antithesis that can only be found through the practical activity of the people, enlightened by some vision.
I have tried to show the contents of that antithesis as well as the vision in the struggle of the SNM. What we need most urgently is to find ways of resewing the tom fabric of Somali society. Whether that resewn fabric is reconstituted under a single, two, or several states is for a free people to decide. But let us first build that freedom, not on shifting sand, but on solid ground. This is the road for sound reconciliation. And in this respect, the struggle of the SNM, and the present democratic experimentation in Somaliland, have something to offer. We are also willing to learn. But I doubt whether many in the arrogance-ridden UN system and the parrot-like singers of so-called unity in the south are really listening.
- During the visit by President Bush to Somali to raise the morale of American soldiers on Thanksgiving Day and to present the olive branch of the new humanitarian mission to the starving Somalis, some American newspapers printed a story of the appearance of Jesus Christ (to both American soldiers and Somalis!) above a cloud of dust over the small town of Wanlawein. The authenticity of the story is not as important as the timing of the apparition. Have we reached the limits of propaganda gimmicks?
- Whether or not, and how much, international organizations contributed to the longevity of the dictatorial regime, and to the misery of Somalians, is another topic outside the scope of our present story.
By Prof, Ibrahim Maygaag Samatar.