There is an English saying that describes the current hubbub in Somalia and Somaliland regarding the ‘recognition’ extended by the Obama administration to the government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamed – Somalia’s latest, foreign-sponsored and foreign-financed putative ‘government’. The saying is: ‘a storm in a teacup’. This phrase sums up the fatuity of the entire event, the nothing-ness of it, if you will, and, therefore the futility of the heated discussion and debate around it that Somalis have so eagerly and energetically devoted to it. What is truly laughable, however, are the supposedly learned pieces crafted around this ‘recognition’ by the US government by members of the Somali intelligentsia which seek to derive the ‘true meaning’ and ‘underlying consequences’ of this supposedly watershed event. These pieces remind me of a rather scathing definition of ‘intellectual’ which was once offered by a very witty and very wise Somali man – an intellectual, he told me, is one who has been educated beyond his intellect! Since then, I have forever eschewed the title.
Let us call a spade, a spade. The US government has been intimately involved, whether behind the scenes or in a direct sense, in the creation of ‘governments’ for Somalia since the creation of the TNG at the Arta Conference in 2000. Successive US administrations have worked with the TNG and its successors TFG-1 (of Abdillahi Yusuf) and TFG-2 (of Sheikh Sharif Hassan) and extended to it not only financial and material aid, but all the diplomatic niceties due a legitimate (read recognised) government, even though these ‘governments’ did not control any territory except for a couple of city blocks around the Presidential residence in Mogadishu, and possessed no popular mandate from the people they purported to govern. Let us also remember that the US government was very instrumental in Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia to rout the ICU (Islamic Courts Union) in 2006, unseat Abdillahi Yusuf in 2008 and install Sheikh Sharif as President under TFG-2. I seem to remember a beaming Hilary Clinton shaking the hand of a bemused Sheikh Sharif in Nairobi in late 2008 and hailing him as the saviour of Somalia, much as she did with a much less bemused Hassan Sheikh Mohamed recently at the State Dep’t.
As the French say, plus ça change! However, in truth, something has changed. This is that the Western Powers, and the US in particular, have become frustrated that their efforts over the last two decades have not produced a result in Somalia that is satisfactory to them, and have thus resolved to use the present military weakness of Al-Shabaab to withdraw from their deep involvement in Somali affairs. However, in order to do this they need to ‘establish’ a ‘permanent’, ‘legitimate’ government in that country to which they can then cede responsibility, and blame for future failures. This is the true reason behind all the drama and hoopla surrounding the creation of this latest version of the TFG (or TFG-3 as I like to term it). Professor Michael Weinstein, an astute chronicler and analyst of Western policy on Somalia, has cogently outlined the Western policy perspective and the reactions to it by the political actors in Somalia. His articles are published on www.garoweonline.com. It is in this context that the ‘recognition’ by the US of TFG-3 can be properly understood. By claiming that Somalia now has a ‘real’ government which it recognises, the US can legitimately withdraw from direct engagement in Somali affairs and reduce its commitment of financial, material and human resources.
The Western Powers have concluded that Somalia is probably beyond their capacity to fix and they have now chosen to leave it largely to its own devices, while they will, of course, retain the option to respond to perceived terrorist threats through the use of Special Forces and drone attacks. In the meantime, they are happy for their regional allies, Ethiopia and Kenya, to carve out such ‘spheres of influence’ or ‘buffer zones’ in southern and western Somalia as they deem necessary, i.e. Jubaland and Galmudug autonomous regions. In short, the ‘recognition’ afforded the TFG of Hassan Sheikh Mohamed is nothing more or less than the second, neo-imperial carve-up of ex-Italian Somalia. This is the bitter fruit of some 22 years of anarchy and calculated opportunism by the political elite of that poor, benighted country.
Finally, I would like to address the issue of the impact this US ‘recognition’ has on Somaliland and its quest for international recognition. The simple, short and unequivocal answer is that this supposed ‘recognition’ will have no impact whatsoever upon Somaliland and its future. In fact, if anything, this ‘recognition’ probably strengthens Somaliland’s position in the medium term since it is, and will continue to be, the only functioning state in the region with which the world can engage. Irrespective of this, however, the fact remains that the sovereignty of Somaliland lies in its people and their decision to recover their precious freedom which they had surrendered nobly some 53 years ago in the cause of pan-Somali unity. The fact that their noble sacrifice was turned into their enslavement and attempted extermination merely highlights the evil against which they had to extricate themselves, and the nightmare to which they can never be induced to return. Increasingly, Africa and the rest of the world is being forced to deal with the simple reality that the people of Somaliland have forged for themselves a successful, indigenous democracy and that they are building their nation and their future, bit by bit, with their own hands and their own will.
The true danger to Somaliland and its hopes for a better future lies in the corruption, venality, ineptitude and treasonous tribalism of the Silanyo administration. This government has reduced our politics to a tribal auction, our quest for international recognition to a charity drive begging for alms as aid and our proud tradition of conflict resolution and national reconciliation to a tawdry spectacle of sharing the spoils of power. This government has abandoned the mission of national unity and the primacy of the ‘Somaliland Project’ for the narrow perspective of clan loyalty and the fleeting pleasure of personal aggrandisement, and in so doing they have demoralised the people. The danger to Somaliland lies not in the corridors of Washington but in the Presidency in Hargeisa.
Ahmed M.I. Egal
27 January 2013