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Somaliland’s Fledgling Democracy Comes of Age

By:  Mohamed A. Suleiman
Monday, January 1, 2018

“America was born out of a desire for self-determination, a longing for the human dignity that only independence can bring.” ---Maurice Saatchi

I purposefully chose to start writing this article with this quote about self-determination since Somaliland, against all odds, decided to reclaim its independence and distinguish itself from the rest of Somalia following the collapse of the ill-fated union and the disintegration of what was known as the Somali Republic in 1991.

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What a wonderful and exciting times we live in! A couple of decades ago it would have been impossible to fathom that a small country called Somaliland would become an international sensation by instituting a democratic process that parallels those that lay claim to the introduction of this phenomenon to the world. Those of us who are lucky enough to witness this miraculous transformation should savour the moment and pin it down as a pivotal time in history.

The journey was not easy however and only the memoirs of the people of Somaliland could chronicle the aggregate of past events that precipitated the reclamation of the independence that the territory received from Britain on June 26, 1960.

Somaliland is a product of the people who live there and it’s the people of Somaliland who decided to forge a new beginning for themselves following the failed voluntary union that they entered with their Somalia Italiana on July 1, 1960.

It is true that Somaliland is not recognized by the international community as a sovereign state. However, what matters is how its people feel about their territory and the phenomenal progress that it has made over the past couple of decades. No one encapsulates this sentiment with fervor, passion, and brilliance than Madam Edna Adan Ismail, as indicated in this video clip.

People who are not familiar with the horrid treatment that the people of Somaliland endured as a result of their union with Southern Somalia may never comprehend the vehement obsession of the territory’s people with self-determination and sovereign nationhood.

Somalia: A Government at War with Its Own People: Testimonies about the Killings and the Conflict in the North: An Africa Watch Report, published in 1990 would unmistakably contextualize the sentiment for anyone who cares to know.

The Irish literary figure, George Bernard Shaw, is quoted as saying: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” This wise expression which is in line with the old adage, ‘those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat it’, seems to have inspired the people of Somaliland to learn from their past experience and vow not to repeat it.

The international community, the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and regional organizations such as IGAD and others could continue to dig their heels in the sand and deny the people of Somaliland their indelible right to self-determination. They could continue their hypocritical selective practice of the lofty ideals that they call human rights, in which the right to self-determination is a cornerstone.

But Somaliland has proved time and time again that, no matter what the international community thinks, what matters is the aspiration of its own people. Those who continue to deny the territory’s right to self-determination are the same ones who were singing its praises when Somaliland pulled off one of the most sophisticated and democratic elections in the world just a few weeks ago.

Even with this remarkable achievement in tow, Somaliland’s detractors tried every attempt to dampen and discredit the accomplishment of the people of the territory. Some decried the National Election Commission’s (NEC) ban of the use of social media on the day of the election. Others denounced the fact that the presidential candidates are from the same tribal group. And yet others like the BBC Somali Service and the VOA Somali Program continued to spread disparaging messages in an attempt to vilify the glory of the people of Somaliland.

Those critics who denounced the NEC’s decision to ban the use of social media on the day of the election should look no further but follow the ongoing fallout from the United States’ 2016 presidential election in which false and misleading messages originating from a foreign entity targeting Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are believed to have tipped the balance in favor of Donald Trump and the Republicans. If the malicious usage of social media allegedly swayed the results of the election of the so-called world’s greatest democracy, one should imagine what it could have done to the election process of a fledgling democracy, like Somaliland. Therefore, kudos to the NEC’s courageous and prudent decision as the ban of the social media on Election Day contributed to the fairness and validity of the balloting of November 13, 2017.

Those detractors who indicated that the presidential candidates were from the same tribal group also missed the point by a wide margin. It is befitting in this regard to look at the definition of what democracy is all about. Isn’t democracy the control of an entity or group by the majority of its voters while at the same time protecting the constitutional rights of all its citizenry? It is a luck of the draw that Reer Sheikh Ishaq are the majority of the people of Somaliland who registered to vote and the fact that all three presidential candidates were from this tribal group only highlighted that. This phenomenon is not unique to Somaliland and it has been termed by prominent thinkers as ‘the terrible tyranny of the majority’. This being the case, Somaliland’s protection of the rights of its constituent entities is vividly reflected in the balance that President Muse Behi Abdi struck when selecting his cabinet members.

And to the BBC Somali Service, the VOA Somali Program, and other media outlets who demonstrated unequivocal hostility to the people of Somaliland, I could only reiterate what Madam Edna Adan Ismail said: “Shame on you”. I would just add a reminder that professional, responsible journalists would adhere to the basic principles of journalism – truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. The social responsibility of the journalist is critical no matter what their political affiliation or their stance on the fractured notion of Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn) may be.

A brief rundown of historical events may help put things in perspective for those who are fixated on the concept of Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn). Our nationhood suffered its first blow in Berlin in 1884; a major setback was dealt to it when big chunks of our territories were handed to Ethiopia and Kenya; a glimmer of hope was injected into it when two of the Somali territories gained their independence and the Somali Republic was born in 1960; a breath of air was infused into it during the 1964 war; hopes were dashed when Djibouti decided to remain a French colony in the 1967 referendum; a sense of optimism was felt during the 1977 war; a vital blow was done when Djibouti gained independence and decided to become a sovereign state; the unspeakable horrors that followed the coup of 1969, including the genocidal campaign against the people of Somaliland, polarized the Somali people into regional and tribal camps; the hell that broke loose in 1991 and the superficial creation of the TFG in 2004 marked the final nail in the coffin.

This humble attempt to chronicle all but the certain death of Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn) will hopefully allow you to connect the dots and give you a sense of closure as to what went wrong. It will hopefully allow you to do some reflection and help come to an understanding that the old dear Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn) is as illusive today as it has ever been. In the meantime, the old universal motto of the right to self-determination should take precedent and Somaliland should not be the sacrificial lamb of a nationhood that has long ceased to exist. Our attitude to Somaliland should therefore be that of: ‘live and let live’.

There is no doubt that the people of Somaliland has triumphed in the face of adversity. They will not only survive but will continue to thrive as long as the only nation they are destined to become is the nation they decide to be.

Mohamed A. Suleiman is a freelance writer and can be reached at: [email protected]

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