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Somaliland: The Myth of Clan-Based Statehood
By: Dr. Ali Ismael (Barud)

The campaign to legitimize the secession of Northwest Somalia, which was one-sidedly named as “Somaliland” by few self-interest groups belonging to one single clan, who cleverly manipulated and disorientated some sectors of their people, particular those with the least education in a bid to further their ambitions of becoming “big fish in a small bond” had puzzled the minds of Somali people and many experts and observers on Somali issues. The illusion of this divisive force is to create a clan-based state in the 21st century, where countries of mutual or economic interests are uniting and world is becoming a global village. The pity reasons of wanting secession as they allege are that:
(1) If Djibouti can stand alone as a state, why cannot we?
(2) They disgracefully claim that they are not ethnic Somalis, but migrants from Arabia and therefore, have to break away from Somalia. And
(3) they claim that they were marginalized by the southerns and Siyad Barre regime tried to destroyed their town and villages. These three simple reasons are all they have to back or justify of seceding from the union of the Somalia.

The claim if Djibouti can stand alone why cannot we, doesn’t fully justify secession. Their claim of been independent once and have brought the flag to Mogadishu alone is untrue and ignores the fact that there were two major political parties each belonging to one of the major clan alliances in the region. The SNL drew its support from the Isaq, while USP was an alliance of Darod clans of Dhulbahante and Warsengeli and Dir clans of Issa and Gadabursi. The consent and unity of these two parties along with the SYL in the south had created the union of the Somali Republic. Therefore, it was not only the SNL of the Isaq that had created the union between the south and north. On the other hand, the Djibouti case is different because of time, cold war effect and superpowers interests in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa area. The French and its Western allies forbid Djibouti to join with socialist Somalia, which was in the Communist block at the time. Djiboutians themselves cannot understand why the Isaq want to secede while they pursue to reunite with their motherland.

On the other hand, Somaliland consists of five regions of which three are populated by non-Isaq clans. For instance, Sool is purely a Dhulbahanta territory. The Dhulbahanta also occupy the district of Buhodle in the neighboring Togdher and southern plains of Sanag. Sanag itself is mainly a Warsengeli territory except the northern highlands were the Isaq sub-clans of Habar Yonis and Habar Jelo inhabit. Both Dulbahanta and Warsengeli belong to the Harti branch of the Darod clan family. Moreover, Sool and Sanag currently fall under the regional administration of Punland in the Northeast.

In the Awdal, the most western region, is occupied by the Gadabursi and Issa both belonging to the Dir clan family. In fact, there are forces in the Awdal who are campaigning for the break away of Awdal if Somaliland is recognized as a clan state. The name “Awdal Republic” is already in the circulation. The Isaq concentration is limited to Northwest and Togdher regions. In other words, more than two third of the land area of Somaliland is inhabited by non-Isaq clans.

The question is, where to draw the line of secession? Is it the former British Protectorate of Somaliland as the Isaq claim? Since their intention is to secede the whole territories under the British Protectorate, what about the rights of non-Isaq clans whose territories fall in this region? Was it their choice to be part of this Protectorate or the powerful Great Britain seized their lands forcefully and united them under its flag? Do these people have the right to say NO to the Isaq illusion of declaring the region as one of their own?

Ethnically, Isaq belongs to the Dir clan family. Of the four main Dir branches, Isaq belongs to Mohamed Maha Dir. Other Maha Dir sub-clans include Biyomal, Bajimal and Quranyob. The other Dir clan families in the north are the Gadabursi and Issa, who belong to Madaxweyne and Madobe Dir, respectively. The Isaq is divided into three main sub-clans namely: Garhajis (Habar Yonis, Ida Gale and Arap), Habar Awal and Habar Jelo. Garhajis who are the largest and most powerful sub-clan are against secession. Many Habar Jelo intellectuals I spoke with told me that majority of their peoples are not secessionists.

Hence, the Isaq claim that they aren’t ethnic Somalis or have been discriminated against by the south are pity fabrications and unfound hysteria engineered to incite hatred between the peoples of the south and north. In fact, it is in the records that the Hawiye and southern Dir sub-clans had greatly contributed to the formation and financing of the SNM in its very early stages. In his “The Cost of Dictatorship” book, Jama Ghalib (an Isaq) witnesses the contributions paid by the Southern Dir clans and Hawiye to the SNM in early 1980s. If there were no blood ties, then why wouldn’t they pay the same contributions to the SSDF, which was Majerteen opposition faction?

The barbaric actions of the late dictator Siyad Barre against the Isaq people are regrettable and his living generals should hold liable to the heinous crimes committed against the civilian populations. However, Siyad Barre’s barbaric actions were not limited to the Isaq towns alone. He burned villages, destroyed water wells and massacred civilians in the Mudug, Lower Jubba, Hiran and Mogadishu. Moreover, what happened in Hargeisa and Burao may also be blamed on the SNM commanders, whose military blunders and miscalculations had caused the destruction of whole towns and massacre of innocent civilians. The SNM’s ferocious kamakazi style attack on Hargeisa and Burao gave the tyrant every excuse to hit back and hit hard. Should the SNM take a different military strategy, what happened to Hargeisa and Burao would have been averted. Therefore, the SNM commanders are equally liable and should be questions of what their intentions were. Were their intentions to overthrow Siyad Barre or give a ruthless tyrant a pretext to destroy their towns and people?

On the other hand, the reality of the so-called Somaliland administration is that it barely functions in Hargeisa and Berbera, the home turf of Mr. Egal’s Habal Awal sub-clan. In fact, Sool and Sanag are part of Northeast regional administration of Puntland. The administration is not popular in Awdal and Togdher either.

The currency, which Egal and his Habar Awal sub-clan introduced and used to rob the properties of the people, is not accepted outside Hargeisa and Berbera. The Somali Schilling is still used in Togdher, Sool, Sanag and Awdal. Moreover, the Habar Awal merchants who financed Egal’s administration practically control all trade and main port of Berbera. Non-Habar Awal merchants have difficulty exporting or importing anything at this major regional port. Many merchants from Togdher, Sool and Sanag are alternatively using the port of Bosaso, which offers them courteous services and far less duties. The Awdal merchants use the port of Djibouti.

The secessionists in Hargeisa have been very busy of buying or bribing the elders of the Isaq and non-Isaq sub-clan in the region to legitimize their claim. So far, they have been very unsuccessful. As mentioned before, Sool and Sanag joined the regional administration of Puntland. Awdal is planning to stand alone if Somaliland is granted recognition, which will trigger a bloody civil war. The secessionists have been also busy of destabilizing Mogadishu and the south believing that the longer Mogadishu stays in chaos and anarchy the better chance they have to get international recognition. Actually, Mr. Egal had been paying millions of dollars to sum warlords in Mogadishu to continue the chaos and tarnish the image of the country’s capital as one dangerous one.

The international community is warned of the dangers of accepting clan-based statehoods in this volatile region or continent. If these clan-based secessionists are granted statehood, it will set an unprecedented step towards the integration of the countries in the Horn and many others in Africa, Asia and even Europe. Multiethnic countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria may be immediately affected. It may lead to the declaration of independence by sub-clans and village states may be reintroduced, taking the world back into Aristotle’s time.

The consequences of springing clan states in today’s dangerous world also carry the danger of these poor clan states becoming safe havens to drug barons, international smugglers or even terrorists. A situation like this will be unable to be monitored or controlled as hundreds of clan based village states sell whatever they can cheaply in order to survive. Therefore, the international community has obligations to safeguard the interests of all the peoples and should not allow the birth of clan-state in Somalia or anywhere else in the world in order to prevent and unprecedented chaos and lost of world law and order. .

By: Dr. Ali Ismael (Barud)

Updated: Dec, 04, 2002



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