Somaliland: Exhausted Consensus? North/South Divide? Opportunity for Meaningful Dialogue

Sunday April 30, 2017
By Mohamed Ibrahi


Having returned from Hargeisa three months ago I found resilient, tolerant and striving society with a common courtesy and humour we are commonly known for as Somalis. When I was student I used to hear words like relative safety commonly repeated around my international relations subject class. In my time in Hargeisa, I got to know the meaning of the word in practice: the ability and confidence to go about your daily business knowing you have high probable chance of returning to your home unhurt or alive.

For someone who has seen hit and run drivers in the West, I was taken aback by particular incident I saw on the road while I was in Hargeisa. As my tax driver was driving me to a meeting there was a traffic jam. Having enquired, it became apparent another driver has run over a goat in the middle of road, blocking all other cars. One would expect the driver to run and leave the scene. But the goat as it lay dead on the road had a telephone number imprinted on her body. The driver called the number and said the following words: “War yaahe, there has been a tragedy. I run over your goat by accident. I sincerely apologise inaa deer. As you know, we have a culture, this is my number and you can find me at Deira Mall. I will recompense the value of the deceased goat” I found this quite amazing. There self evident, was application of self justice between society and commitment to the rights of animals or goats and value of life”

As people sip coffee and teas outside cafes on their laptops or having the odd political gossip, you begin to appreciate the social and institutional achievement this society has developed over 25 years. Subsequent governments have made tremendous progress on democratic reforms and institutional governance. When you see a functioning police, military, courts, ministries – and a democratic spirit within society and government, one should not be surprised why they feel they are a nation state. You can sense and see the whole mark of state apparatus.

These achievements are something all Somalis with open mind and good heart should commend and welcome.

However, with the international recognition becoming an ever allusive dream and abject poverty proving a huge challenge, you sense a degree of alienation and young people are beginning to ask fundamental questions about their destiny socially, politically and economically – and rightly so after 25 years of allusive recognition.

Somaliland has now reached a tipping point where the political consensus and settlement that was agreed in Burco that brought about so much of the progress is now being tested. It’s my assessment that this consensus is now exhausted fully – and if political leaders do not quickly map out a concrete political and economic direction that gives impetus for a renewed consensus and purpose, the results will be disastrous.

I will not be doing this article justice if I do not reserve few concrete remarks for Abdimalik  Coldoon and what his imprisonment  means in the context of my article .Firstly, it’s important to state his imprisonment is a complete injustice and farce but reflects a much wider institutional and political stagnation in Somaliland.

The issue of him being arrested for going to visit Somalia and meeting its leaders and HE President Farmajo is also another smoke screen intended to confuse people. To borrow a metaphor from English literature: “if you can’t convince them, confuse them” I suspect there are other players in the scene as Coldoon was someone who with passion has exposed human rights abuses by Ethiopia.

If I was not committed to confidentiality I can name you few serving and previous – and I  stress again – serving Somalia’s Government ministers and officials and businessmen alike who freely go to Mogadishu and then return to Somaliland, regularly. Why are they not arrested or imprisoned for two years? The hypocrisy of the legal case submitted against Coldoon is beyond palpable. It’s political not a legal detention.

As someone who was born in Somaliland I am saddened and embarrassed on many fronts by the Coldoon imprisonment. This is the case because the foundation of the struggle for freedom from military dictatorship under Siad Barre was, I thought, about struggle for freedom of speech and thought. Many Northern Somali intellectuals, activists and officials were imprisoned by Siad Barre’s dictatorship .how ironic and sad it’s the case that Coldoon is now imprisoned for thinking his mind, impinging on his freedom of speech and thought. When you see this collective amnesia to events, sometimes I wonder whether all our Somali leaders do not know any better – or can’t politically develop to further and strengthen the common ideals and aspirations of maturing democracies.

When you see administrations or states behave like this, one has to conclude their leaders have run out of ideas. As the Somaliland election draws close, it’s reasonable to predict a change of the guard to provide new impetus and political and economic direction for Somaliland. It seems change is happening everywhere and I predict Somaliland is not immune from this phenomenon

As for political direction, it seems the current regime has run out of gas and change is the air. In this context, I would like to encourage Somaliland’s next leaders to focus on sustainable economic and political direction for Somaliland. This sense of direction should not exclude the plausibility of compact and re- negotiation with Federal Government of Somalia. This is strategically necessary for the following reasons: in real politik – the world is about number populations and ability to bargain trade and commerce within those numbers as one entity – this is where economic prosperity lies – not in isolation. Secondly, in the area of security, this renewed compact makes strategic sense. With neighbouring hegemony in the region, you always remain the lesser partner in every way militarily, politically and economically. Isolationist politics more often than not create de- facto create client states by proxy. To do otherwise would be a strategic blunder.

With the enormous progress Somaliland has achieved with its security architecture, fiscal discipline, institutional building and a collective sense of northern identity, they will negotiate from a position of Strength. With this plethora of bargaining chip, the capacity to renegotiate a better political and economic settlement is there to see.

Will the next leaders cease this golden opportunity for a better sustainable future?

As for Southern politicians, brothers and sisters, I say this with caution.  One should not underestimate the confidence, pride, common shared purpose, and self- determination Somalilanders feel about going it alone, recognised or otherwise. As in every-where in Somalia, they are a young society who can’t remember Somalia as a unitary state or what the blue flag means for them. They associate bad memory with the blue flag – in this context Southern politicians and society have a lot of bridge to build and compromises to undertake if they ever to practically envisage a United Somalia. This issue is far more psychological as it is politics. One of the key challenges I have observed is that great majority in Somaliland (the public) feel Mogadishu has nothing to offer to them. The challenge for Southern politicians is to break this impasse with meaningful and sustainable package of measures.

The first set of item that can foster a renewed relationship is obvious to me. It relates to trade policy. Rather than have countries negotiate with one political entity as we are seeing now with UAE and Turkey, all Somali authorities and regions should form a Comprehensive Trade Negotiating Block around agriculture, natural resources, ports and infrastructure to fully maximise its potential as a region. This will involve resource sharing, which will alleviate poverty and create an economic trade engine across Somalia. In my view this will provide the vehicle and exit strategy from identity politics. At current trends, the activities I am seeing is lose-lose economic arrangements (on our side) where larger influential countries are laughing at us and giving us peanuts in exchange, which does not alleviate poverty or promote greater economic development for all the regions in Somalia. In fact in the grand-scheme of international trade, the figures being offered by outside countries amount to Shaxaad money. In some cases, with the DP World involvement in Berbera and Bosaaso, it is actually intended to stifle further progress by having a control share of these ports so that they do not in the long run compete with Dubai Ports as a regional hub. Call it a Modern Economic Colonialism. This is the consequence of political fragmentation, which leads to political and economic stagnation in the long run for all. It is an economic blunder of huge proportion driven by short-term political gain and economic shaxaad.

To conclude, as I recall a discussion I had with ardent Somalilander at my Mansoor hotel: he eloquently asked me : Mohamed, if we re-join Greater Somalia, what is the price on the table for our relative peace and achievement  gained in the last 25 years? This I found encouraging. It gave me an insight that people in Somaliland are open to negotiation providing that the price on the table is right for them.

Food for Thought for all of us who care about Greater United Somalia

Mohamed Ibrahim

Mohamed Ibraahim is the chairperson of London Somali Youth forum (LSYF)

He can be reached through the below means.

Email: @mi_Shiine (Twitter)