Wiil Uu Dhalay Madaxweynihii Hore Ee Somaliland (Cigaal) Oo Faallo Ingiriisi Ku Dhigan Ku Naqdiyey Siyaasadda Hoggaamineed Ee Md. Axmed-Siilaanyo

Wiil Uu Dhalay Madaxweynihii Hore Ee Somaliland (Cigaal) Oo Faallo Ingiriisi Ku Dhigan Ku Naqdiyey Siyaasadda Hoggaamineed Ee Md. Axmed-Siilaanyo

Keeping it in the Clan: Somaliland’s Tribal Turn under Silanyo.

By Ahmed M.I. Egal


caaPresident Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo of Somaliland, the self-declared sovereign state in northern Somalia, came to power in July 2010 after routing the UDUB government of Dahir Riyale Kahin in elections.

Silanyo and his Kulmiye party ran a campaign that was slick, energetic and media-savvy. Capitalising upon the fatigue of the Riyale administration that had been in office for eight years and had largely run out of new ideas, Kulmiye promised the people of Somaliland a government that was modern in approach, modest in number, professional in execution, and meritocratic in the selection of its office holders.

However, underneath the slick presentation and ‘promise everyone everything’ approach to securing support, the Kulmiye electoral campaign was characterised by a dark underbelly of naked tribalism. While a certain level of tribal politicking is inevitable in a society where the principal social cleavage is the clan or sub-clan, the 2010 Kulmiye election campaign was easily the most ‘tribal’ experienced in Somaliland since the country recovered its de-facto sovereignty in 1991.

This fact, and the Kulmiye government’s role in elevating the primacy of the ‘tribal’ imperative in politics since the election, is evidenced by the plethora of clan meetings, or shir beleed, that have been held, and are being held, by different clans and sub-clans since 2011. This practice, whereby individual clans or sub-clans hold meetings to discuss their political and social interests, harks back to the early 1990s and theclan conflicts of that era. Such meetings had in fact not been a feature of Somaliland politics since the democratic constitution was enacted in 1997 inaugurating the era of party politics, and the decline of the shir beleed had been seen by many as an indicator of the growing maturity of the Somaliland polity.

Keeping it in the clan: the Kulmiye kitchen clique

Immediately after taking office, there coalesced around President Silanyo a coterie of relatives/kinsmen, mainly comprising young diaspora expatriates, that controlled access to him. Even many senior cabinet members soon found that in order to gain access to Silanyo, they had to navigate a maze of officials and assorted relations, often with little success. Conversely, those in the ‘charmed circle’ – whether businessmen, government officials or ordinary people – could gain access at the drop of a hat.

It is common for heads of government to gather around them a small group of trusted advisors to debate sensitive policy issues. But the Somaliland clique is not a ‘kitchen cabinet‘ of colleagues discussing policy; rather it is the operation of a narrow ruling clique that has abrogated to itself all executive power and authority. The fact that this clique is characterised in the main by blood and familial ties to the president and his family accentuates its exclusive and impenetrable nature.

Soon after taking office, the Kulmiye government also wished to nullify political opposition to its rule. UDUB, the former ruling party, engineered its own collapse through internal struggles in the wake of its electoral defeat.

The other national party, UCID, also emerged from the election in disarray. Its leader, the mercurial Faisal Ali Warabe, reneged on his pledge before the elections to step down if UCID were defeated at the polls. This inevitably angered many party stalwarts. And seizing upon these divisions, the Kulmiye government fomented a split within UCID by encouraging a leadership challenge by a disaffected group led by the Deputy Chairman of the party and Speaker of Parliament, Abdirahman Mohammed Abdullahi Cirro. This support even went as far as allowing Cirro’s group to storm the central offices of the party in Hargeisa and lock out the group loyal to Faisal, the party’s founder.

The fractious dispute between the two factions of UCID ended up in court which ruled that the Cirro group could not simply oust Faisal without holding a party conference.  In the end, the Cirro faction left UCID and formed a new opposition party called WADANI, which has distinguished itself by not opposing the Kulmiye government, and instead being supportive of many of its most controversial policies.

Eradicating internal enemies

With UDUB and UCID thus eradicated as a credible political opposition, the Kulmiye government set about removing those elements within the ruling party that could present an obstacle to the unquestioned supremacy of Silanyo. These elements most significantly comprised of the political heavyweights Mohamed Abdi Gabose, the Interior Minister, Mohamed Hashi Elmi, the Finance Minister, and Muse Bihi, the First Deputy Chairman of Kulmiye. These three figures had been crucial to Kulmiye winning the election not only because of their tireless campaigning, but more importantly, because they were able to deliver their sub-clans for Kulmiye and Silanyo.

Once in government, however, these three figures – all seasoned political players –were not expected to acquiesce meekly to actions that could damage their own political interests. Nor were they to take kindly to being subservient to a group of largely diaspora-sourced kinsmen that comprised the clique around the presidency.

The first of the three to see the writing on the wall and jump ship was Gabose whoresigned in August 2011, after serving just one year, to establish his own party. Then, in March 2012, Elmi was fired after he refused to back down in a dispute with the Minister of Energy, Water and Mines.

Bihi was a different kettle of fish. Firstly, although he was de facto head of the Kulmiye party, he held no executive position in government and thus posed no immediate threat to Silanyo. Secondly, before the 2010 election, Silanyo had publicly pledged to endorse Bihi as Kulmiye’s candidate for president in the next election, scheduled for2015, and Bihi was not going to forego that opportunity easily.

From the beginning of 2011 up to now then, Silanyo and his clique have employed every tool at their disposal to induce Bihi to leave Kulmiye. Silanyo has even gone so far as to announce his support for Abdul-Aziz Samale, Elmi’s replacement as Finance Minister and a clansman of both Bihi and Elmi, as Kulmiye’s future nominee for president at the next election, in contradiction of his public pledge to Bihi. Yet Bihi refuses to rise to the bait and continues to bide his time.

An electoral masterstroke

Through various tactics, Kulmiye has thus proven highly adept at nullifying potential opposition, with the exception of Bihi. But in all this, its perhaps most masterful move may have been its decision to permit the establishment of political parties to contest the municipal elections in November 2012.

Every Tom, Dick and Harriet that harboured presidential ambitions immediately set about establishing a political party and announced that, in addition to their party contesting the municipal elections, they would be the future nominees for president of their respective political parties. Never mind that the presidential elections were some three years and two elections (municipal and parliamentary) away!

For a full calendar year then, the people of Somaliland were subjected to a ‘tribal’ political circus wherein the vain, the deluded and the outright venal jostled and jousted for media attention and their political support.  And since the newly-created parties had no political programmes to speak of and were only established as vehicles for the political ambitions of their founders, the appeals for support were inevitably based upon clan affiliation.

Thus, each clan and sub-clan grouping called for and held a shir beleed in order to extract the greatest possible concessions from the prospective candidates. Kulmiye was more than happy to play this game since they had the largest war chest in the form of the government exchequer and unmatched patronage to offer.

The municipal elections of 2012 enjoyed a large turnout and were peaceful.  Nevertheless, there were clear instances of vote-rigging. Unsurprisingly, Kulmiye won the elections though their success was vehemently disputed in various cities and towns such as Hargeisa, Berbera, Gabiley and Borama where there were large demonstrations, some of which turned violent and resulted in civilian and police deaths.

In addition to Kulmiye, UCID and WADANI emerged as the other two national political parties qualified to contest the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, while the plethora of other parties and their presumptive presidential nominees were officially disqualified and left politically spent.

Breaking the rules of non-engagement

Finally, it is necessary to briefly comment upon the foreign policy of the Kulmiye government, which has embarked upon a new approach to foreign affairs, abandoning two of the guiding principles of Somaliland foreign policy since 1992. These broken rules are: 1) not to participate in international meetings convened to form ‘governments’ in Mogadishu, or to discuss reconciliation and the re-establishment of the state in Somalia, since Somaliland is an independent country and not part of Somalia; and 2) to only open dialogue on matters regarding separation and ‘good neighbour’ relations with a government in Mogadishu that is legitimate and formed by the people of Somalia through an open and representative process.

Breaking rule 1), the Kulmiye government attended the London Somalia Conference organised by the UK government in February 2011. Participation at this conference, which caused a great furore inside Somaliland, resulted in a decision brokered by the UK government for Somaliland and Somalia to commence a dialogue to resolve their differences – thus leading to the abandonment of rule 2). In addition, the Kulmiye government also agreed to attend the international conference for Somalia convened byTurkey in May 2012.

The first two rounds of talks between Somaliland and Somalia were undertaken with the Transitional Federal Government of Sheikh Sharif in London and Dubai respectively in June 2012. Though dubbed ‘historic’, all these talks essentially resulted in were the two sides agreeing to continue talking.

It can be argued that opening a dialogue with Somalia is in of itself a positive step.  However, the decision to commence the dialogue with a lame-duck, transitional government that had only two months remaining of its term of office and therefore could not commit to any substantive agreements did not seem wise or carefully considered. Further, the decision of the Kulmiye government to support the candidacy of Sheikh Sharif for the presidency of the new, supposedly permanent government was not only ill-advised but has proven to be counter-productive. After all, Sharif lost, and the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has demonstrated his ire with the Kulmiye government by undermining them in a variety of ways, principal among which has been his repeated declarations affirming the inviolability of Somalia’s territorial integrity. Mohamud has also appointed several high-profile Somaliland opponents of the Kulmiye government to his cabinet, in particular Fowzia Adan as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

The writing on the wall

After three years of Kulmiye rule in which tribalism has been given increasing prominence and clan politics has been pushed to the fore, it seems the writing is finally on the wall for Silanyo and his clique.

The maturity of the people in deciding to wait out Silanyo’s term rather than engage in mass protests bodes well for the survival of Somaliland’s experiment in representative government. And it is likely that Kulmiye as a political party will eventually suffer the splits and demise that has befallen UDUB and that Kulmiye so cleverly orchestrated for UCID.

But what does not bode well for the future, however, is the debasement and coarsening of political debate and competition that has reverted to the pre-constitution era of naked tribalism and the primacy of clan and sub-clan identity over the national imperative.

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