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Somaliland and Peace in the Horn of Africa: A Situation Report and Analysis

M. Bryden
UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia
Drafted 13 November 1995


This report is based upon observations from an informal visit to Somaliland by M. Bryden, Consultant to UN-EUE, during September and October 1995. The observations and views expressed in this report are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.

I. Introduction

Contrary to most expectations, the recent round of civil strife in Somaliland, nominally between the government of Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal and "federalist" forces allied with General 'Aydiid, has done little to erode either the persistence or the integrity of Somaliland's claims to independence.1 As the conflict lapses into what would appear to be its closing phases, Somaliland seems to be emerging not only with its identity intact, but also fortified by its successful reply to the most serious threat so far to its exercise of self-determination.

Somaliland's evolution as a political, military, and commercial force within the Horn of Africa raises important questions, some specific to the selfproclaimed Republic, and others relevant to the collective security concerns of the sub-region as a whole; indeed, as the intensity of the present conflict cools, it is becoming clear that the achievement of an early cease-fire is perhaps the least daunting of the trials that Somaliland will face over the coming months and years. Among these challenges are two that affect the collective security of the sub-region as a whole:

The first of these is a broad, multi-faceted challenge confronting Somali communities throughout the Horn of Africa. Although it comprises many theoretical and philosophical elements, it is a real and practical problem. Historically, an indigenous Somali model of politically stable and economically viable government has never existed; the failure of previous and existing state paradigms helps to explain many of the recurrent or seemingly intractable conflicts that afflict the region.

The second issue represents a precise and acute danger to stability and security throughout the Horn of Africa. The states of the sub-region, whether individually or through their collective expression as IGADD, can no longer afford to treat Somaliland's claims to independence with indifference. Over the past four years, Somaliland has acquired sufficient political resilience, military force and commercial importance, that its demand for separate treatment from the South calls for serious attention. The sensitive, competent management of Somaliland's demands could help to define the new framework for co-operation and collective security now envisioned by the IGADD states; conversely, mismanagement or neglect of the Somaliland issue is likely to entail, sooner or later, a disastrous new Somali conflict of potentially regional dimensions. This paper will attempt to outline the nature of the problem as well as the need and opportunity for an appropriate international response.

II. The Present Conflict and Prospects for Peace

The outbreak of Somaliland's second "civil war" since the unilateral declaration of independence in May 1991, was widely expected to do irreparable damage to the credibility of the "Republic's" claims to secession, as well as to its population's resolve for independence. This danger was further exaggerated by attempts of the opposition leadership to portray the conflict as one between Somaliland loyalists and "federalist" forces of the former Somali National Movement (SNM) allied with General 'Aydiid in Muqdisho. Instead, the federalist agenda was quickly proven hollow and collapsed, leaving both the government and opposition in the position of defending Somaliland independence. It is therefore somewhat confusing that the two groups should still be fighting at all, thus raising new concerns about the nature of the conflict and the prospects for peace.

Failure of the Federalist Platform

"Federalism" and "Somali unity" are not alien concepts to the leaders of the Somali National Movement or of Somaliland: most were nourished on the dream of a greater Somalia during the heady struggle for independence, and again during the 1970s under Siyaad Barre's rule. Even during the SNM's long war with the Barre regime in the 1980s, the movement's leadership denied accusations that it harboured secessionist ambitions and declared Somali unity to be inviolable. Federalism was widely touted as the most likely post-Barre model of government. Many SNM members still regret the abrupt reversal of this policy and the brash, ill-prepared declaration of Somaliland's independence in May 1991 as a strategic error in their battle for self-determination. Nevertheless, both the first post-war SNM administration (1991-1993) headed by Abdirahman Ahmed Ali "Tuur," and the broader civilian government that replaced it under the leadership of Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal (Booraame, May 1993), recognised the depth and scope of popular Isaaq desire for independence, as well as the political futility of opposing it (both men had previously held Somali unity to be sacred). Today, the act of secession (or, more correctly, the dissolution of union and the "rebirth of the Republic of Somaliland, acquiring the status-quo of the 26th June, 1960"2), for better or for worse, is accepted by a majority Somalilanders to be an irrevocable, historical fact.

By espousing the federalist cause in late 1994, former Somaliland President Abdirahman "Tuur", General Jaama' Mohamed Qaalib (Jaama' Yare) and their supporters, apparently made a grave miscalculation. At the time, their discontent and complaints against the Egal government were shared by a broad spectrum of Somalilanders, not only the Garxajis clan (the confederation of Habar Yonis and 'Iidagale) to which both men belonged. But by defining opposition to the government in terms of support for their federalist platform, they publicly equated loyalty to Somaliland with loyalty to Egal and his administration. In doing so, they eliminated the political space occupied by other, more moderate opponents of Egal who shared their grievances, yet who did not subscribe to the repudiation of Somaliland's independence. The federal premise upon which the opposition leadership founded their cause has ultimately become their greatest handicap.

The methods adopted by the opposition leaders proved a further impediment to their success. Politically, Abdirahman "Tuur's" early dalliance with UNOSOM associated him and his group with an organisation for whom Somalis in general, and Somalilanders in particular, felt little but contempt and mistrust. In military terms, the opposition's support of the renegade 'Iidagale militia controlling Hargeysa airport (a source of acute embarrassment to the clan leadership, who actively supported the government's attempt to dislodge them), threatened from the start to provoke a broader armed confrontation. To Somaliland's non-Isaaq clans (especially the eastern Daarood), whose members probably sympathise most with the federalist option, the risks of armed conflict served to discourage any overt collaboration with the opposition, and in a surprisingly decisive gesture, the Gadabursi threw their support fully behind the Somaliland government. The remaining non-Isaaq clans chose to wait out the conflict from the sidelines: although members from all Somaliland clans participate in the government and armed forces (this is not true of the opposition), no non-Isaaq clan, except the Gadabursi, has officially endorsed one side or the other.

Lacking a firm base of support for their political ambitions, the federalist leadership has been obliged to resort to manipulation of clan loyalty in order to mobilise military forces, financial and logistical resources, and opposition to the government has therefore remained localised within the Garxajis sub-clan of the Isaaq. But even within the Garxajis, the federal issue has proved fatally divisive: its exponents have been increasingly marginalized by their own kinsmen, and even by their own military field commanders. Garxajis clan leadership, represented by a number of inter-linked political, military, and relief committees, has adopted a manifestly pro-Somaliland posture, despite their hostility to the Egal administration.

Outlook for Peace

With Somaliland's survival no longer at issue between the two sides, the conflict has reverted to an admixture of political competition and ethnic (clan) prejudice of an essentially internal nature. Specific grievances against the government have already been well-documented, and comprise a range of complaints - some well-founded, some less so - against which the administration must one day, peacefully and publicly, defend itself. For the moment, however, the inability of the two sides to agree on who should talk to whom, poses an even greater obstacle to peace than any given issue. The government insists on being party to any settlement, while the Garxajis leadership refuses to negotiate with the government, insisting instead that negotiations take place only among clans (as happened at the end of the 1992 Somaliland civil war). Neither has shown any room for compromise on this point, and the process remains deadlocked.

Political observers on the government side are quick to argue that if the opposition leadership had framed a peaceful, constitutional challenge to Egal from the start, rather than employing the airport militia as a proxy, they would have found allies throughout Somaliland:3 the concerns and grievances articulated by the Garxajis were (and still are) shared by members of various clans, but their recourse to violence served to set the Garxajis apart from other dissidents. Prior to the joining of battle, a majority of the Garxajis clan also favoured a peaceful settlement, but were unable to resist the call to arms once government forces pursued the "airport militia" to the 'Iidagale village of Toon south-east of Hargeysa - an act that inflamed Garxajis notions of clan solidarity and aroused fears that the government might be exploiting its battle with the renegade militia to camouflage a broader campaign against the 'Iidagale or the Garxajis people. Although the question of "who cast the first stone" in the conflict has now become moot, observers on both sides agree that prosecution of the war has contributed more than any other single factor to the consolidation of Egal's power base and the efficacy of his administration. It remains to be seen, however, whether such benefits will outlast the war or whether, over the long term, Egal's engagement in civil strife has done irreparable damage to his political fortunes and to the durability of his administrative reforms.

Both parties seem to agree on at least one thing: they are tired of conflict and seem to be ready to talk peace. Serious fighting gave way months ago to sporadic skirmishes, and neither side has launched a major offensive for months. No camp can claim unqualified victory over the other: the government, while enjoying the upper hand militarily, lacks credibility (and, arguably, legitimacy) as long as large parts of its territory remain ungovernable, and nearly 300,000 of its citizens linger in asylum in Ethiopia pending the return of stability to their homeland. The opposition has little to show for its efforts, except that their forces can hold their own alone in a military contest against a powerful military coalition (though at dubious advantage to themselves or anybody else). Their greatest success, perhaps, is to have undermined Somaliland's hard-won reputation for relative stability and security vis-`-vis the South - an accomplishment that benefits the federalist lobby, but which contradicts the remainder of the Garxajis' professed dedication to the perpetuity of Somaliland's statehood. Regardless, since decisive victory for either side remains elusive, there would seem little danger of the conflict escalating, unless some unknown quantity (like Libya's recent sponsorship of 'Aydiid) were to alter the strategic balance.

Although military forces on both sides have, until recently, prosecuted the war with vigour, popular support for the conflict has cooled and civilians, by and large, remain aloof (this is probably more true of the government side where the military effort has been sustained by state-controlled resources, whereas opposition forces are in large part dependent upon clan (i.e. popular) contributions). Rural populations from "warring" clans manage to co-exist peacefully outside the theatre of conflict, and nowhere in Somaliland do hostilities seem to have generated the major "blood-feuds" that characterise and prolong conflicts in other parts of Somalia. Expansion of the war to encompass nomadic populations would be catastrophic in humanitarian terms, and the fact that this has not occurred lends hope to the prospects for a negotiated settlement.

Despite these positive signs, traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution have so far been unsuccessful in bringing the two sides together. Repeated contacts have failed to bring about a formal cease-fire, or even preliminary steps towards dialogue. In part, the failure of these mechanisms is due to the strength and solidarity of the government coalition: unlike the 1992 treaty, where fighting was essentially restricted to members of the two major clans who finally sat down together in October at the Sheikh peace conference, the government's success in committing forces from all members of its coalition to the fray has enlarged the conflict and also the breadth of participation in an eventual peace process. No single clan can deliver peace, and most members of the coalition seem to accept the government's assertion that they must negotiate as a bloc, or not at all. The government is also aware, of course, that separate negotiations between clans would probably lead to the kind of national conference that unseated Abdirahman "Tuur" and his administration two and a half years ago - an event that the incumbent leadership evidently would not like to see repeated.

The Peace Committee for Somaliland

The best hopes for a cease-fire and the initiation of a negotiated settlement may therefore lie outside the "traditional" sphere. Most promising are the efforts of the "Peace Committee for Somaliland," an informal and spontaneous team of Somalilanders (largely expatriate) led by Dr. Hussein Bulhan, a US citizen, who have joined efforts on the basis of their own personal resources and commitment to peace. The group involves members of all major "warring" clans, and has gone farther to win the confidence of both sides than any previous effort. Having paid their own way from Europe and North America in order to participate, the members of the Committee will disperse once the aims have been achieved. Suspicions that the group may have a hidden agenda are therefore kept to a minimum.

The Committee has already met with key figures and fighters on both sides, and appears to have overcome initial reservations about their involvement. The Ethiopian government has condoned the groups activities and may facilitate its transport needs. Although the Committee's efforts to date have been hampered by a lack of resources, they plan to press ahead as soon as possible (perhaps as early as second week of November), and will dissolve once a formal ceasefire is declared and an agreement on a venue and framework for more structured negotiations is attained.

The "Committee" clearly offers the best hopes to date for a rapid settlement of the conflict and its efforts have raised expectations throughout Somaliland that an end to hostilities may be imminent. On the other hand, optimism about the Committee's efforts also seems to be infused by a general sense of resignation that if this attempt does not succeed, then nothing will. Failure now will reinforce Somalilanders' profound scepticism and pessimism vis-a-vis any future peace initiatives.

III. Administration and Governance: Avoiding War, Consolidating Peace

Because it controls the production and distribution of material and social resources, the state has become the focus of conflict. Access to state power is essential for the welfare of its subjects, but such access has never been equally available to all the people of the Horn, and to many it has never been available at all. Since those who control the state have used its power to defend their own privileged position, the state has become both the object of conflict and the principal means by which it is waged. Dissident groups seek to restructure the state in order to gain access to its power, or, failing that, to gain autonomy or independence. The ultimate goal of most parties to the conflict, of course, is to enlarge their share of resources commanded by the state. This is the real bone of contention and root cause of the conflict in the Horn, whether it is fought in the name of nation, region, religion, ethnicity, or clanship.4

Daunting as it seems, achieving a cease-fire in Somaliland, whether through the good offices of the "Peace Committee" or though some other mechanism, may prove the easiest step on the long road to permanent security and stability. Similar conflicts in Somaliland and Somalia over recent years have been temporarily resolved, only to flare up months or years later. Once the present fighting in Somaliland comes to an end, it will require more than the usual superficial, face-saving concessions if war is not to erupt again at some later date: a change of president, cabinet, or the proportional representation of clans in the national assembly, will not guarantee a peaceful future. Only by tackling the delicate and fundamental issues inherent in statehood - power sharing; decentralisation of authority; separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers; guarantees of political, social and economic equity; a system of checks and balances - in essence, a new "Social Contract," will the potential for future wars of this nature be defused. Such issues clearly cannot be defined by a government or task force alone, but mu Tst be addressed through a process as inclusive and as transparent as possible.

Failure of the State Paradigm: The Need for Reform

Markakis' observation, cited above, that the state (or, in the absence of a state, local structures of government) is in itself a prime source of conflict, is borne out by recent Somali experience. Somali specialists Ken Menkhaus and John Prendergast have convincingly argued that UNOSOM's ill-fated efforts at state-building (i.e. establishment of local government structures) directly undermined its own, parallel attempts to encourage reconciliation by introducing a new source of social dissent. The devolution of state authority to the Somali community in Region 5 as part Ethiopia's recent experiment with "ethnic federalism" has awakened tensions between competing blocs (often clanbased), severely circumscribing the efficacy of successive regional governments since 1991. In Somaliland, perceived dominance of national government by clan-based coalitions has led to two civil wars in the past four years.

A further problem concerning the models of administration applied so far within Somaliland (and in Somali areas in general) would seem to be confusion between the permanent structures of "statehood" and the transitory organs of "government." The equation of the "state" with the government of the day implies a "zero-sum" calculus of power, where the predominance of one political faction is understood by others to be intrinsically detrimental to their interests, and eventually becomes intolerable. Convinced that the state can only represent the interests of the dominant group, dissidents deny the possibility of compromise through dialogue and accommodation, and instead seek redress through force of arms - what one observer has called "'primitive rebellions' based on generic dislike for the current order and the inhumanities of the age it presides over."5 Thus armed resistance to the Somaliland government may be as much a consequence of the failure of the political system (or state paradigm), as it is a failure of the government itself. Under the present circumstances, any Somaliland government, no matter how inclusive or benign, would eventually be exposed to the same kind of charges faced by the Egal government today, and by the Tuur government that preceded it. Similarly, every government in Ethiopia's Region 5 since 1991 has been subjected to criticism and opposition, sometimes violent, by members of clans who felt alienated from, or denied access to, the apparatus of state power. Since origins of such conflict derive from the nature of the state itself, then solutions must be sought through constitutional and administrative reform, rather than through parliamentary and cabinet reshuffles or a simple change of government.

Towards a New State

Finding a new or better model of statehood will not be easy: historically, the Somali experience of government has been typified by external interference and alien models of administration. Divided between five different states at the moment of their independence, the Somali people have known a bewildering array of administrative systems: systems that, as a rule, were imported, imposed and artificially maintained. Even the so-called "self-reliant," "Socialist" system envisioned by Siyaad Barre was in fact dependent throughout its life-time on generous hand-outs in cash and kind from donor states, running up a debt worth more than 360% of its annual gross domestic product (under Siyaad Barre, Somalia was among the top recipients of international aid per capita in Africa). In other countries, administration of Somali communities was generally either heavily subsidised (by a central or foreign government) or underwritten by imposing military force. An indigenous Somali model of politically stable, economically viable government has yet to emerge anywhere in the Horn of Africa.

In this regard, Somaliland has been fortunate in its historical "underdevelopment." The region's deprivation of both state support and international assistance, even under British colonial rule, has promoted a culture of self-reliance to which the declaration of independence has given new-found expression. Since 1991, two major towns (Hargeysa and Bur'o) and dozens of villages have been rebuilt from ruins, and a dynamic service sector - overland transport, airlines, telecommunications, construction, etc. - has blossomed. Despite a grave theoretical "food deficit," commercial imports appear to be sufficient for the population's needs and malnutrition has been kept to acceptable levels. In sum, Somaliland's progress over the past few years would seem more indicative of a minor miracle of economic recovery than of the "economic collapse" usually ascribed to post-war Somalia.

Somaliland has also made considerable progress in the political domain, creatively addressing the kinds of structural problems outlined above. From its inception, the SNM asserted the imperative for radical reform of the state apparatus, stating in its 1981 general policy guidelines that:

We propose a new political system based on Somali cultural values of cooperation rather than coercion; a system which elevates the Xeer or interfamily social contact in which no man exercised political power over another except according to established law and custom, to the national level.6

A "national Xeer" is almost exactly what was signed at the 1993 Booraame peace conference, which took the bold and unprecedented step of legally enshrining the role of traditional clan "elders" (guurti) in the National Charter - a kind of interim Constitution - as a way of preventing and resolving potential conflicts. Although the measure evidently proved inadequate for the latter purpose (war broke out anyway), discussions with parties to the present conflict suggest that the next peace process will almost certainly be infused by a similar spirit of innovation, perhaps involving reform of executive powers (e.g. the President and Cabinet) and the decentralisation of authority. One can only hope that any future reforms will be more successful at keeping the peace.

Also in keeping with its 1993 Booraame mandate, the incumbent government has established a Constitutional Commission (assisted by an expatriate Constitutional advisor) which is soon to complete its first draft. Extensive deliberation of the document and a comprehensive process of public consultation with communities throughout Somaliland is planned before the finished product is submitted to a parliamentary vote and a general referendum. These measures imply that the government is well aware that a transparent, inclusive consultative process is essential to the legitimacy and relevance of the Constitution itself. Clearly, even a technically flawless document (i.e. a model democratic constitution) will prove worthless unless it convinces all Somaliland communities that their basic rights and privileges will really be protected, and that practical guarantees exist to protect the state from absolute (and perhaps permanent) dominance by a single political faction. Failure to establish a system to which both government and opposition groups subscribe, and which assures their right to political self-expression, will eventually persuade dissidents that their interests can only be preserved through conflict, reform or usurpation of the state apparatus. Ominously, the resignation of two consecutive chairmen of the Constitutional Commission implies that the current constitutional process is not without its difficulties and flaws, and probably requires some fine tuning.

Arduous and controversial as this kind of reform may be, it is worth taking the trouble to get it right: failure to restructure the state in a such a way that it can accommodate competing political forces within a Somali socio-cultural context, can only lead to further disillusionment, dissent and conflict.

A Role for International Assistance: Regressive, Preventative and Curative Development:

In its own way, the international community has proven as resistant to reform (and as unrepentant in failure) as the Somali state. Efforts to assist the Somalis since the collapse of the Barre regime have been at best modestly successful, at worst disastrous. Formulation of a constructive, supporting role for the international community is not only desirable, but necessary if Somalia and Somaliland are to break the "cycle of despair" that has consumed their energies and resources to such destructive effect over the past few years. Aid should encourage and abet attempts at reform and the quest for creative solutions, rather than incite futile attempts to resuscitate the defunct Somali Republic.

Aid policies of the Siyaad Barre regime, as well as its "democratic" predecessors, actively encouraged the subsidisation of ambitious national "development" programmes, regardless of their sustainability or feasibility. Since the collapse of the Barre government in 1991, the pre-war infrastructure and remaining human resource pool have provided the only points of reference for community leaders, faction leaders and aid agencies in their efforts to reconstruct the Somali state. Unfortunately, the blueprints of the former Somali state - and most of the aid programmes that sustained it - represent nothing so much as a formula for a discredited and unworkable system of government. One report on Somalia's development in comparison with its neighbours concluded that after more than a decade of Siyaad's crusade for Socialism and self-reliance, "Somalia had the lowest GNP, the lowest physical quality of life index, the lowest per capita public education expenditure, the highest infant mortality per 1,000 live births, and the highest per capita military expenditure."7 Many of today's "reconstruction" and "rehabilitation" programmes are designed to do little more than to repair, piecemeal, the ruins of the former system; UN agencies and NGOs rarely consider to what extent their programmes may replicate the profoundly flawed and dysfunctional expansion of the old unsustainable, largely artificial, and aid-dependent Somali state. In the aftermath of Siyaad's downfall Somalia has, inadvertently, embarked upon an agenda for "regressive" development whose consequences are all too predictable.

Fortunately, Somalia's experience has also dramatically heightened awareness that international assistance has the potential, when mismanaged, to do more harm than good. Complex emergencies, in which humanitarian issues may be inextricably intertwined with military, political and economic considerations, require exceptional caution where infusions of aid are concerned. On the other hand, international assistance properly managed can play a crucial, catalytic role within the context of "curative" (post-conflict) and "preventative" (conflict avoidance) development strategies associated with complex disasters of the Somali variety. Judicious provision of aid to communities recovering from conflict can contribute materially to the realisation of an enduring peace and the establishment of a stable, economically viable political environment.

Somaliland's remarkable revival since 1991 offers some insight into the direction in which a new Somali state might develop, while highlighting those areas in which external assistance could be used to the most valuable and constructive effect. As described above, Somaliland has seen tremendous expansion of the private sector over the past few years, even such traditionally state-run enterprises such as air transport, telecommunications and, to a lesser extent, education and health. Certainly, private initiatives fall far short of the ideal of universally accessible education and health care, but they have already partially responded to certain community priorities like primary and religious schooling, vocational training, and out-patient health care. This represents a determined break with the past, where public services functioned under the aegis of the state or not at all. As privatisation takes hold, the state's share of the burden has been dramatically reduced, to a point much closer to its real capacity to sustain public services than ever before.

The aftermath of conflict also provides an environment in which aid programmes can play a particularly constructive role. In Somaliland, the re-integration of refugees, internally displaced, and of demobilised soldiers, is beyond the capacity of the community and its embryonic government to absorb. Support to the weaker components of the public sector like education and health, and their extension to previously conflict-ridden zones, will help to consolidate societal commitment to, and confidence in, the maintenance of peace, but should never lose sight of the long-term capacity of the state to assume the burden of these services. Credit schemes have also proven effective at accelerating the re-integration of war-affected populations, leading to early self-sufficiency rather than long-term dependence on government or external support. Given the evident dynamism of Somaliland's private sector, programmes that facilitate access to credit would complement and catalyse the recovery process.

Somaliland's experience is also an emphatic reminder, however, that recovery, rehabilitation and development cannot succeed in a political and administrative vacuum. Security, the rule of law and order, and the most basic of administrative structures are fundamental features of an environment in which public and private sector activities can thrive. External assistance through technical co-operation and capacity-building can help restore and maintain such an environment. As the Somaliland community grapples with the intricacies of nation-building, the potential for international engagement and influence in issues pertaining to good-governance and democratic development is enormous, but Somaliland's unilateral declaration of independence has so far precluded intensification of this kind of international co-operation. On its own initiative, the Somaliland government has already exchanged experience in programmes for the demobilised and war-handicapped, on constitutional reform, and on a range of other issues with governmental and non-governmental partners in Ethiopia and Eritrea, but elaboration and follow-up on these exchanges has been sluggish. Donors might do well to consider giving programmes of this nature a boost: whatever kind of association Somaliland ultimately agrees upon with the rest of Somalia - confederal, federal, or outright independence - the promotion of good governance, peace and stability throughout Somali areas is a matter not of national, but international concern.

IV. Somaliland and the Horn of Africa

It is beginning to look as though the latest "war" may have done "Somaliland's" claims to independence more good than harm. As rhetoric subsides and the dust of battle settles, the effects of the conflict can be seen: in government- controlled areas the administration has established a degree of law, order and governance unknown throughout the remainder of the ex-Somali Republic: overt rejection of the "federalist" cause, even amongst the government's adversaries, has emphasised the durability of Somaliland nationalist sentiment throughout the majority Isaaq clan; even minority clans have failed to demonstrate support for the anti-Somaliland cause (the Gadabursi have even shown unanticipated commitment to the Somaliland state).

In the past, Somaliland's internal turmoil and impotent administration have given grounds to disparage its claims to independence. Today, this is no longer the case. Certainly, some of the most delicate issues still require clarification: "Somaliland" as a polity does not yet fully encompass the territory of the former, eponymous British protectorate (as described in the present National Charter), nor have the wishes of certain minority clans been allowed full expression, but the ambitions of the Somaliland government and a probable majority of its population to exercise their right to selfdetermination are more sharply defined than ever. The kind of relations that other states decide they want with Somaliland is open to speculation, but the existence this fledgling "sub-state" and the desire of the majority of its population for independence from a future Somali state based in Mogadishu, leaves them no choice but to sit up and take notice. The real choice they face is whether to come to terms with the issue sooner rather than later or, more grimly, the choice between pre-emptive diplomacy or conflict resolution.

Despite nearly five years of anarchy, the re-establishment of a Somali state in Muqdisho will, sooner or later, become reality. There are even indications today that events in the South may be entering a cathartic stage. The return of government to Somalia and the retrieval of its national sovereignty, are of course developments to be welcomed. But they will also herald a new and dangerous phase in relations between Somalia and Somaliland. No faction in the south has indicated flexibility on the issue of Somali unity, and it should be taken for granted that any new southern Somali government will claim title to all of the territory and population of the former Somali Republic, of which representation in the UN, the OAU, IGADD and other international fora will be part and parcel. International recognition of such a government would implicitly legitimise its pretensions, making a conflict with the Somaliland administration all but inevitable. In the resultant atmosphere of confrontation, room for negotiation will be severely circumscribed and the design of a face-saving formula for peace will prove extremely difficult, if not impossible. On the other hand, the SNM's long war against Siyaad Barre's highly trained and well-equipped armed forces should be sufficient forewarning that a military solution will also be unattainable. If negotiation fails, then the region may witness yet another bitter, protracted Somali civil war.

Despite the danger for conflict, the opportunity for a negotiated settlement of this problem, and maintenance of regional peace and stability, are perhaps better now than at any time previously. Both the SNM and Egal have historically articulated their desire for good relations with their neighbours within the Horn of Africa - a principle enshrined in the SNM's Guiding Principles as well as the present Somaliland National Charter. Egal himself, as Somalia's last democratic Prime Minister, was responsible for breaking Somalia's post- independence isolation and restoring good relations with both Ethiopia and Kenya. Officials within the present administration have already expressed concern that in the restoration of government to Muqdisho could lead to confrontation, and would welcome the good offices of other regional powers in establishing a framework for peaceful resolution of the issue.

IGADD's member states, despite present tensions between certain members, have also recently expressed their collective commitment to reform of their organisation and the establishment of a conflict resolution mechanism in support of their collective security. The Somaliland dilemma offers the states of the sub-region the rare opportunity of acting to prevent a crisis rather than to pick up the pieces afterwards. IGADD's proposed conflict resolution mechanism is still only an idea on the drawing board, but if member states do not exercise timely preventive diplomacy, then Somaliland may well be among the first orders of business on the new regional organisation's conflict resolution agenda.

  1. The description of the war as one between "pro-" and "anti-Somaliland" forces has served the purposes of political leaders on both sides, but is misleading and has done much to obscure the root causes and dynamics of the conflict.
  2. Declaration of the Conference of the Council of Elders of All Ethnic Groups of Somaliland, The Republic of Somaliland, National Charter. Booraame: 25 April 1993.
  3. Opposition figures are equally quick to argue that it was the government, not the opposition, who first resorted to military means by attacking the 'Iidagale village of Toon, precisely because it would serve to divide the government's opponents over the use of force. Whatever the case, the resort to violence demonstrated the preference of certain groups on both sides for an armed confrontation over a negotiated settlement. This issue will be dealt with further in Section II, below.
  4. Markakis, J. (1994) Ethnic Conflict and the State in the Horn of Africa in
  5. Fukui and J. Markakis (eds) Ethnicity and Conflict in the Horn of Africa. London: James Curry Ltd., pp. 217-8
  6. A.I. Samatar (1988) Socialist Somalia: Rhetoric and Reality. London: Zed Books Ltd, p. 157
  7. Quoted in Samatar (1988), op cit., p. 142
  8. Norman Miller (1981) "The Other Somalia: Illicit Trade and the Hidden Economy". American Universities Fieldstaff Reports: Northeast Africa Series
  9. Quoted in Samatar, op cit., p.148

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