By Mohamed Ahmed
To those of us who came of age after the collapse of Somali government in 1991, the need for something a kin to lucid and thoughtful conversation about how the Somali Union was formed is demanding. So much would seem, upon reflection obvious. But beyond the catchy phrases (Muqadas), the misleading crass, and dishonest language a serious historical look into the issue of the union is required. To Some history is boring stuff. They can forget about it and it doesn’t matter anymore, but if you are a Somali person history is your friend. It is your guide through the contours of Somali politics.
Somaliland rights to secede can’t be overcome by verbal magic, but by historical facts. Let us consider the Unionist agenda of One Somalia more carefully from historical perspective. If, as appears likely, Unionist wants to ignore history, then their point collapses upon slightest scrutiny. When a shared premise of understanding history is lacking there is the untoward consequence of big misunderstanding!
We all know the State of Somalia came about into existence in 1960, resulting from merger of Southern Somalia, an Italian trust territory and Northern Somaliland, a British protectorate. In the words of the eminent Somali scholar Professor Ahmed Samatar these were the two original “lands” . It is indeed true all these other mini-states utterly baffles the mind.
The 1950’s was a very noble and elevated period for Somalis. According to historians this was also the time the 1954 Anglo-Ethiopian treaty, which permitted the British to cede part of Somalia to Ethiopia was signed. This treaty motivated the North to rally behind a campaign for unification and independence. The Somali nationalism (Somalinimo) during these period obscured the historical and political differences that existed between the British-Somaliland and Italian ruled South Somalia. During the same period, it was a time where many African countries wanted to overcame colonial domination and exploitation.
The eighty year British rule came to end on 26 June 1960 when Somaliland gained independence. Five days later, South Somalia gained independence From Italy. In a hasty decision driven by Somalinimo a Union was declared with South Somalia. This shows British- Somaliland was actually a separate independent State for five days before joining the Italian Somalia. This brief period of independence coupled with territorial integrity serves today as the principal legal justification of Somaliland right to secede. The state of Somaliland and its people indeed existed as a sovereign person!
The Somaliland legislature passed the union of Somalia and Somaliland law on 27 June1960.But Somalia refused to sign it, instead Mogadishu based national assembly, which didn’t have jurisdiction over Somaliland, repealed the treaty and instead drew up their own Act of Union on June 30 1960, which they called Atto di Unione. In retaliation also Somaliland refused to sign their act. On June 30th at midnight the Italian trusteeship expired and president of legislative declared independence of Somalia
Despite the lack of valid act of Union signed by both parties a United Somalia was announced. This was strange way of forming a union between two different countries. A proposed unitary constitution was adopted without the blessing of British Somaliland. In fact some reports indicated the voters turn up in the North for the referendum constitution of June 1961 was very low. Nevertheless the new constitution was adopted without the blessing of British Somaliland citizens.
Somaliland gullible elites were to blame for accepting a non-existent union that no one consented. According to Some observers these elites were seduced by Mogadishu power .In fact one can argue the same problem exist today with woolly-minded elite from Somaliland( individuals like Fowzia Yusuf Haji and Buuba) abandoning Somaliland and taking up positions in quick-get-rich scheme in Mogadishu. Seasoned politicians like the founder of Somaliland Egal was given position of Prime minister by Abdirashid Sharmake government. This government didn’t last long. It was over thrown by Siyad Barre on October 1969. General Barre seized power and assumed leadership. He declared the country a Socialist one, and instead got a state where opposition to his regime grew.
Barre Regime which was brutal continued to marginalize the Somaliland citizens. The north demands for fair distribution of the wealth of the country was met with mass killing and aerial bombardment of major northern cities like Hargeisa. Africa watch, the human rights watchdog group documented- in the early and late 1980’s- the grisly killing, detention, torture, rape and the psychological intimidation of the Somaliland citizens. The Somali National Movement (SNM) which was created in London in 1981 with the declared aim of overthrowing the Barre regime responded in guerrilla tactics to defend the Somaliland public. The Barre regime was later defeated in the North by the SNM and in the South by the combined effort of USC& SSDF. It is unfortunate that after the dictator has fallen Somalia never found peace with itself!
In May 1991 a meeting was held in Burao and it was there that Somaliland self-determination was born. There is some who argue that the SNM leadership was against secession and favored alliance with the South, but some say the commanders’ wing of SNM supported independence. A provisional government emerged from this meeting. On 18th May 1991, the 1960 union with South Somalia was dissolved by the northerners for the first time.
Today Somaliland is on its fourth president with elected members of parliament and territorial integrity protected by its army. Today Somaliland has a national flag, currency, political parties and all the features associated with a recognized state! Unlike in South Somalia where political participation withered for so long, efforts at democracy and political participation flourished in the North. Somaliland was spared the anarchy that begun in South Somalia in 1991. This anarchy spewed forth clan warlords and long odious political disagreement.
Somaliland today is turning away from South Somalia politics, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond clan politics into a stronger democracy! Even those who do not make these crude differences agree that there is a profound differences in how government is run between the South and North. Many have doubted the secession of Somaliland only to have their lingering mirage of Somali unity to fade.
Somalinimo pretension proved to be unfounded. Oh what seductive illusion it was! Even before the disintegration of Somali state the argument for Somalinimo rang a bit hollow. Somaliland citizens always lived under the threat of Somalis and not any other outside force. Somaliland citizens have demanded, reasonably enough, to be accepted as an independent state. They have moved forward and are at a point where they are behemoth with conscious to rule their land.
When optimism and enthusiasm withers, I believe Somaliland citizens shouldn’t lose sight of the main reason they formed this country!It is the responsibility of the current leaders and the opposition parties to work towards a unified country! Somaliland evolution to its present state occurred under the mantle of visionary leader like the late president Egal, and couldn’t have happened without his leadership! This abounds irony since he was part of the gullible elites that made the previous mistake. The sooner Somalia comes to term with the unalterable reality of Somaliland independence, the better It will be for all those rallying cry for Somalinimo.
Somaliland elusive independence New African Jan2006