Between a rock and a hard place: The existential crisis facing Somaliland

It has always been a source of pride that one of the principal factors underlying Somaliland’s success in achieving reconciliation, peace and the establishment of an indigenous democracy was the integrity, basic honesty and national commitment of its leaders. But during the last seven years, this record of largely clean and open governance has surrendered to a culture of greed, nepotism and rampant corruption.

Introduction

During the seven years since the Kulmiye government of President Silanyo came to power in 2010, Somaliland’s quest for international recognition has not only flagged dramatically, it has declined to its lowest ebb since liberation in 1991.  Despite the heady optimism generated by Kulmiye’s campaign promises to secure the consent of the international community for Somaliland’s recovery of its sovereignty through a new, forward-looking foreign policy characterised by engagement with Mogadishu, the reality is that Somaliland is no closer to achieving its aim of international recognition, and indeed is farther away from achieving it than before this government took office.

The Kulmiye government inherited a state that, while admittedly still a work-in-progress, had nevertheless established security and the rule of law over the entire country.  The unrest in the Sool & Sanag region, which was largely fomented from Somalia and Puntland by self-serving politicians seeking to translate this unrest into a place at the table in the discussions for the establishment of yet another foreign-sponsored ‘government’ for Somalia mediated by the Western powers, was being effectively addressed through patience and negotiation.  The Silanyo government, to its credit, continued this policy of patience and developed it into a pro-active engagement to secure the willing participation of the people of the eastern regions in Somaliland’s national project.  This new approach of positive engagement was initiated and developed through the tireless and courageous efforts of Suleiman Haglatosia, the current Minister of Health.  Integrating the eastern regions more effectively into the country’s politics and economy, which continues to require sustained effort and state attention, can be considered the one of the rare successes of this government.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the disastrous foreign policy initiatives pursued under the leadership of the government’s first, neophyte Foreign Minister, Mohammed Abdullahi Omar.  The strategy of engagement with Mogadishu that he championed with the support of President Silanyo backfired by bringing Somaliland into Mogadishu’s orbit, thereby diluting its autonomy, without any tangible benefits with respect to advancing the country’s claim for international recognition.  With respect to domestic policy, the Silanyo government embarked upon a strategy to enhance government revenues through the imposition of new taxes while securing greater aid inflows from Western governments in return for the policy of unconditional engagement with Somalia.  As government revenues increased, so did the size of the public sector.  The Council of Ministers of the Silanyo government, which comprised 20 in 2010, had grown to more than 70 by 2017, and this does not include the plethora of state agencies and presidential advisors which carry the rank of Minister of State.

 

This bloated public sector has provided fertile ground for an ingrained culture of nepotism and the deep-seated corruption that such a culture inevitably breeds.  Indeed, it is widely acknowledged by local and foreign observers that the levels of corruption prevalent in the Silanyo government have reached the dizzying heights of the Siyad Barre dictatorship.  In this context, it is no surprise that the popular nickname for the President’s son in-law (Bashe Awil Haji Omar) who is the Ambassador to the UAE  and the architect of the DP World deal to manage Berbera Port as well as the UAE military base in Berbera, is ‘Morgan’ – the nickname of Siyad Barre’s son in-law Mohammed Said Hersi ‘Morgan’ who was elevated from a member of the President’s bodyguards to  colonel in the Somali Army and the Military Governor of the ‘Northern Regions’, i.e. Somaliland, because of his marriage to the Siyad Barre’s daughter.  This ‘Morgan’ is notorious for the genocide he perpetrated against Somaliland civilians during the Liberation War against the Siyad regime which earned him the moniker of ‘The Butcher of Hargeisa’.

Of course, Bashe Awil is not a genocidal monster like his Siayd Barre-era parallel, rather the similarity arises from the elevation of an inexperienced and unqualified man to a position of great power, influence and wealth due to his marriage into the President’s family.  Where the exercise of political power in the Siyad Barre regime was mediated through the deployment of military force, such exercise of power in the Silanyo government is mediated through the appropriation of public assets for personal financial gain.  In the case of Bashe Awil ‘Morgan’, this is evidenced by the deliberately opaque deals to award Berbera Port and a military base at Berbera Airport to UAE government entities, which many believe carried large brokerage fees which were appropriated clandestinely.

The current situation

After two extensions of its term of office, which formally ended in June 2015, the Silanyo government is now scheduled to hold Presidential elections in November of this year.  This is a deeply unpopular government which has been further undermined by a savage drought which has decimated the pastoral population and their livestock for two years.  The government’s response to this national catastrophe has been slow, disjointed and feeble to say the least – what little amelioration has been provided has come from the efforts of ordinary people seeking to assist and support their relatives and international relief organisations.  Indeed, the ruling party, Kulmiye, and its Presidential candidate, Muse Bihi Abdi, have been more focused upon political campaigning than mobilising, organising and delivering relief to the devastated rural population.

There are two opposition parties, nominally, however UCID, led by the mercurial Faisal Ali Warabe, is not considered a serious contender for several reasons.  First, Faisal’s erratic leadership has denuded the party of credible stalwarts as many have left the party to pursue their political aspirations elsewhere.  Second, Faisal has been partially co-opted by Kulmiye with which he has maintained an ‘on-again, off-again’ alliance of convenience.  Thus, WADDANI is the only credible opposition party and its leader, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi (Cirro), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is the only credible alternative to Kulmiye and Muse Bihi.  The weakness of WADDANI is evidenced by the fact that, despite the Kulmiye’s government’s deep unpopularity, evident failure in governance and vacuity of vision, the opposition has been unable to knit together a unified, national movement to unseat the government.  Instead, WADDANI has played the government’s game of trading upon clan affiliations to secure political support.  This strategy of tribal musical chairs wherein the principals compete for the support of influence peddlers of this or that sub-clan, mirrors the failed politics of the post-independence era which continues to bedevil the failed state of Somalia to the south.

The abject failure of the Kulmiye government is mirrored by the equally abject failure of the opposition in presenting a positive vision of progress and a rebirth of the Somaliland Project as an organic, representative democracy dedicated to peace, development, regional reconciliation and economic progress through collective responsibility.  This is the existential crisis faced by Somaliland – if such a national ethos focused upon unity and a clear vision for the future and the country’s role in it is not articulated and developed to mobilise the will and spirit of the people, then the very raison d’etre for the re-establishment of the nation comes into question.  At this crucial juncture in the country’s history, it is necessary to get back to the basic question: why Somaliland?  The answer to this question has to be clear and it has to be greater and nobler than to merely provide the opportunity for the latest bunch of ne’er do wells and carpet-baggers to appropriate elective office in order to loot the nation’s coffers.

 

The Silanyo government has lost the international support and goodwill it inherited from the Rayalle administration largely because of the failure of its domestic and foreign policies. The lean and effective state which focused upon establishing security and the rule of law, while leaving socio-economic development largely to private initiative and entrepreneurship has been replaced by a bloated, corrupt bureaucracy characterised by nepotism and patronage. In foreign affairs, the Silanyo government has sacrificed and downgraded Somaliland’s traditional friendship with Ethiopia, as well as growing relationships with other African counties, e.g. Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa (to name but a few), in favour of closer ties with Djibouti and the UAE which have yielded no benefits in enhancing Somaliland’s standing in international diplomacy or the quest for recognition.  However, the closer ties with Djibouti and the UAE have yielded lucrative business, brokerage and patronage opportunities for the favoured political elite.

The youth of the country, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the population, know these facts all too well and this is reflected by the fact that they are largely disaffected by the cynical, clan-based and manipulative campaigns of the two main political parties.  Many of these young people have already voted with their feet by risking their lives in the hands of human traffickers to seek a better life in the Arabian Gulf countries, Europe and North America.  Some fall into despair at home in the face of unemployment, disease and drought to succumb to drugs and crime.  But many more than might be expected continue to strive to better themselves through education, work (often self-created through individual, self-help initiatives).  These young people have never known anything other than the country in which they were born and in which they have grown up in peace and stability, even as Somalia continued to be trapped in a cycle of anarchy, terrorism and so-called governments imposed and maintained by foreign powers.  Their love and loyalty is to Somaliland and they are fierce in their devotion to their unrecognised country.

Conclusion

If the existential crisis for Somaliland is: why Somaliland? then the crisis of survival for its political leaders is: why you?  Thus far, the Somaliland political class has no answer, and the record of the Kulmiye government, as well as lack of vision of its putative opposition, has only brought this question into ever sharper focus.  The ‘rock’ is the existential crisis into which the Kulmiye government and the opposition have delivered the country, the ‘hard place’ is the consequences of the despair of the young, mutating inevitably into a violent whirlwind that will consume the political class, and possibly the country itself.  The question before the people of Somaliland at this juncture in the electoral cycle is no longer one of party politics, but rather the very existence of the nation itself.

For the first time since 1991, some stalwarts of the Liberation War are publicly questioning whether the interests of the people of Somaliland are best served by maintaining the country’s independence under the leadership of the current political class.  It has always been a source of pride that one of the principal factors underlying Somaliland’s success in achieving reconciliation, peace and the establishment of an indigenous democracy was the integrity, basic honesty and national commitment of its leaders.  During the last seven years, this record of largely clean and open governance has surrendered to a culture of greed, nepotism and rampant corruption sustained by a the elevation of a toxic and corrosive political ethos of tribalism.

* AHMED M.I. EGAL is a Somalilander who grew up in Europe. Egal has a BA (Economics & Politics) from Warwick University and an MA (Area Studies/African Development) from London University.

* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM

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