Getting Somalia Wrong:From Somaliland Perspective

Last  July at Hargeisa International Book Festival (HIBF), it was launched a book with the title ‘Getting Somalia Wrong; Faith,war and hope in a shattered state .Although this book was written for the international readers and has an important messages in it,  admittedly ,  Somalilanders seemed  it immaterial and irrelevant as we are striving to prove that we no longer have nothing to do with Somalia.  But we were wrong! We got  ‘’ Getting Somalia Wrong’’ wrong. This book is a rare and valuable account of admirable intellect that gives a concise picture of the contemporary Somalia which contains historically many administrations  and our break away Somaliland. It also gives  the clearest picture of all time to the  outside interested groups  willing  to get  a  proper diagnosis for the perplexed situation of Somalia.  Often Somalis which naturally includes Somaliland are remembered about  with  the worst connotations like Piracy, Extremism and Violence. This book tries to demystify the reality on the ground and rectify those misconceptions sensentionalized by the media.

The author of the book Mary Harper who is a journalist and writer, specialising in Africa and currently working as Africa Editor at the BBC World Service  has written a resourceful and contemplated account collected over the decade’s long experience of hers on Somali people , culture and problems. I’m not writing to  talk about the weaknesses or the strengths of the book but the point that I have pondered during reading this book is how the author put the situation of Somaliland and my review conveys this opinion supporting  it with evidences from the book.

The contents of the book goes back for clearer understanding to the ancient history of Somali people through early civilizations established at the coasts to the colonial rule and the followed dream of the great Somalia that could be considered as the root cause of the failure of the central government of the Somali Republic. Those carefully selected six chapters  are concisely and artfully put with clear and convincing language and are also organised in chronological manner. More importantly, the author devotes considerable space for lengthy direct quotes from Somali actors, allowing them to speak with their own voices, unfiltered by the author. After the last chapter ‘’ Somalia and the outside World’’ , she concludes with logical arguments and why many attempts on Somali reconciliation failed because of misguided policies and repeating the  same mistakes, that is, giving the highest priority to form a central government based in Mogadishu. Mary Harper suggests the world should seek the solution from a different perspectives and takes the case of Somaliland  reconciliation as a possible role model process.

Besides, convincing the world that Somalis has managed to do so well without a central government  because the clan-based lineage system of  Somalis is an effective way of governing society and the truth that Somalis were able to keep similar standard of living compared to their African counter parts, the author clarifies that western powers were very late to adopt the new ‘dual track’ Policy. Although Somaliland benefits the most from this approach as the international aid which was previously monopolised by the TFG will be distributed more fairly and effectively, it must be recommended for the world to give more attention to that new policy as certain things need to be  more correctly and suitably tweaked. Urging the TFG to give a recognition to Somaliland could be an appropriate suggestion for improving the ‘dual track’ policy to actually make a difference on the ground.

Mary Harper dedicates more than 14 pages for Somaliland noting down the successful popular peacemaking processes which unlike those political conferences of Somalia were neither foreign-funded nor held abroad but remained to  be an example of hope and potential to those parts of Somalia that always fail to extract themselves from an almost endless cycle of conflict and instability. The author also adds that designing hybrid system of government, whereby western-style institutions were fused with more traditional forms of social and political organisation, has gradually directed to the transformation of the Multi-party system. She also mentions how our late president Egal(May Allah rest his soul) has given our population the confidence that they could go it alone.  Qouting  the great African thinker,Ali Mizrui, as saying the Horn of Africa experiences a‘Tale of Two Somalias’ namely as the  Somalia of Mogadishu which continues to be the case of anarchy without order and the Somalia of Hargeisa which gathered a momentum as a case of ‘bottom-up nation building’ rooted in culture and energised from within, the author  agrees with him when she visited Somaliland.  She makes a short comparison between  Somaliland and Somalia writing that she had witnessed the existence of the‘Two Somalias’ and how they are world apart. Investigating further, because the territory is not internationally recognised and can not access big foreign loans for infrastructural and other developments , she proves that it’s something that frustrates president Ahmed Silanyo telling in his interview with her that Somaliland has been very patient about that and  hopes  their  patience  to be rewarded very soon.

In Conclusion, the book says that the outside observers have generally not realized that Somalis in general devised fascinating alternative ways of organising society and the fact that they could be considered stateless in many ways does not mean they are wrong, bad or threatening. One key example mentioned is the case of Union of Islamic Court which has emerged from the grass roots of the society rather than being imposed from the outside but soon the world saw them ‘threatening’ and we all know that the consequences got more worse. Somaliland which is now considered by the world as ‘ state-within-state’  also remains to be the author’s second successful example. But that is never enough. Bringing about lasting positive change in the territory needs more creative and adventurous approaches , as the author says. So , to this end,  giving Somaliland a recognition could inevitably complete what  Mary Harper  had to say to the outside world.

By Eng. Khadar Jeep


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