- The modern day Republic of Somaliland, which declared its Independence on 18 May 1991, is the third incarnation of the territory established by the British in the Horn of Africa in 1884. In June 1960, after more than seven decades as a British Protectorate, the British Somaliland Protectorate received its independence from Queen Elizabeth II. Somaliland hastily united with the Italian ruled south Somalia just five days after obtaining its own independence with the aim of uniting the five Somali inhabited territories namely British Somaliland, Djibouti – under French colony, the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia, the Somali northeast province of Kenya and the Italian ruled south of Somalia under a single flag.
The merger with Somalia
Somaliland’s second incarnation as an independence and sovereign state, was shorted lived. A Royal proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II granted independence to the British Protectorate at midnight 25 June, 1960 – and State of Somaliland came into being on 26June. Despite its plans for imminent unification with Somalia, Somaliland’s independence received internationally as welcome step in the process of African decolonisation and consequently recognised by a host of foreign governments. Five days later, on 1 July 1960, the Italian Trust Territory of Somalia also received its independence. The legislatures of the two countries met in joint session in Mogadishu and announced their unification as Somaliland Republic.
Although officially unified as a single nation at independence, the two countries were from an institutional standpoint, two separate countries Italy and British had left them with separate administration, legal and education systems where affairs were conducted according to different procedures and in different languages. Police, tax and exchange rates of their separate currencies were also different. The orientation of their education elites were divergent, and economic contacts between two countries were virtually non-existent.
These problems were exacerbated by perceived southern domination of the new government. Mogadishu became the national capital, while Hargeisa – the capital of the former British Somaliland Protectorate, “declined to a mere provincial headquarters remote from the centre of things. Representatives from the British Somaliland received 33 seats in the new 123 – member national assembly. The posts of the President and Prime Minister were both held by the southerners, as were the principal ministerial portfolios such as Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Interior.
Precipitate nature of the Union had left a number of important legal questions pending. The two Acts of Union approved by the respective legislatures different somewhat, and no single legal document actually bound the two territories.
Dictatorship and Civil War
The so called Somali Republic saw successive democratically elected governments in the wake of the merger of the two countries before the military takeover 1969. The last democratically elected President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarker was assassinated by a disgruntled policeman 15 October 1969 and less than a week later the military staged a coup d’état under the leadership of Siyad Barre. And Prime Minister Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal was incarcerated on his return to the country followed he attended the General Assembly of United Nations in New York.
Many Somalis were hopeful that the military takeover would represent an improvement over the decrepit civilian administration, which had become spoiled by corruption and nepotism. The military also embraced a “Greater Somalia,” policy of political and military irredentism, which lapsed in the late 1960s, reviving some of the popular enthusiasm had underpinned the original Union between Somaliland and Somalia.
The honeymoon was short lived. The military regime’s disastrous defeat in 1977-78 in the fight with the neighbouring Ethiopia, military leader’s dependence on select branches of his clan for political support – and increased brutal character all contributed to public disillusionment.
In 1981, a group of Somalilanders exiles in London declared the formation of the Somalia National movement (SNM), an armed movement dedicated to the overthrow of Siyad Barre military regime and reclaim Republic of Somaliland. The SNM established its first bases in Ethiopia in 1982, and by 1983 it had established itself as an effective guerrilla force in northwest (Somaliland). In response, military regime increased its pressure on the Somaliland population, which it deemed sympathetic to the SNM, took form of “extreme and systematic repression.”
Summary arrests, extrajudicial execution, rape ‘disappearance’ all became commonplace as the government sought to deprive the SNM of the support of Isaaq public. Predominant clan in Somaliland), the government also enlisted the support of the non-Isaaq clans in Somaliland, attempting – with only partial success – to exploit traditional kinship affiliations.
In 1988, following a meeting in neighbouring Djibouti between the President of the military regime of Somalia – Siyad Barre and his counterpart, Colonel , Mengistu Haile Mariam – the Ethiopian government instructed the SNM to cease operations in Somalia and its forces from the border areas. The SNM, fearing the collapse of its long insurgence instead attacked the major towns in the northern regions currently Somaliland, triggering the onset of full-scale civil war in the northwest (Somaliland), the government response was fierce: artillery and aircrafts bombed the major towns into rubble and forced the displacement of roughly a million refugees across the border into Ethiopia. Isaaq clan dwellings were systematically destroyed, while their settlements and water points were extensively mined.
In late January 1991, the SNM was engaged in the final stages of its “mopping “operations against the government forces in the northwest (Somaliland), while General Mohamed Farah Aideed’s forces entered the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, 0ver 1600 thousand Kilometres away to the south. The remnant government forces disintegrated and fled and vestiges of civil administration collapsed.
The New Republic of Somaliland
Within months of the SNM victory, Somaliland appeared in its third incarnation. On 18 May 1991, Somaliland was unilaterally declared in a Grand Conference represented all clans in Somaliland, and a provisional National Charter followed about a week later. Article I of the Charter stated: The State formerly known as British Somaliland, which secured its Independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 25th Day of June 1960, is hereby reconstitute as a full Independent and Sovereign State.
The Charter also stipulated that for a transitional period of two years the government of the new ‘Republic of Somaliland’ would be the responsibility of Somaliland National Movement (SNM), whose Chairman Abdurrahman Ahmed Ali and Vice Chairman Hassan Isse Jama would become respectively the President and Vice President of the New Republic of Somaliland. Upon conclusion of the transitional period, the Provisional National Charter would be replaced by “Constitution approved by the people of Somaliland in a National Referendum.”
Since then, it has followed a very different trajectory from southern Somalia. While the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime plunged the south into civil war and kind of institutional vacuum that has since come to epitomise the notion of “State failure”, Somaliland embarked on a remarkable increased political stabilisation and economic growth. And the SNM’s two years mandate came to an end in 1993 and power was transferred the unanimously elected civil administration led by veteran politician, President Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal.
Under the leadership of President Egal, Somaliland experienced its most prolonged and dramatic period reconstruction and economic growth. The sphere of the activity of the administration was broadened to almost all parts of territory; and the process of democratisation, which had essentially remained frozen since the 1991 Conference in the Independence of Somaliland was reclaimed finally, went, forward.
On 14 April 2003, the people of Somaliland enjoyed an experience all too rare on the African continent: The re-election of the incumbent President Kahin came as a surprise for a number of reason: First because of the razor thin margin of victory. Secondly, because he is not a member of Somaliland majority clan. Thirdly, because the opposition was tipped to win. Somaliland’s Presidential election was remarkable for other reasons as well: It was given the opportunity to express preferences at the ballot. The Presidential elections followed by the Parliamentary election which took place on September 29t, 2005, and the opposition had won the majority of seats.
The second democratic Presidential elections were held in Somaliland on June 26, 2010, and were contested by the Somaliland’s existing parties namely Kulmiye (now the ruling party), UDUB, and UCID. The election took place in a free, fair and transparent manner with the presence of International Observers. The ruling party, UDUB had been defeated by the main opposition party – Kulmiye led by veteran politician and the former SNM Chairman Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Siilaanyo. The President Kahin, who lost the election immediately accepted the outcome of the elections and congratulated the newly elect on his victory and promised he would work with the newly elect President of Somaliland unhesitatingly.
The International Community described Somaliland’s peaceful transfer of power as unprecedented and a welcome step in the right direction. These bold steps towards democratisation set Somaliland apart from the rest of Somali Republic which has become virtually synonymous with the term “failed State” since the collapse of the despotic regime of Siyad Barre in 1991.
Somaliland has also set vivid example for the rest of African dictatorial regimes, which clinging onto power, amassing country’s national wealth and stashing away in foreign accounts.
It is the need of the hour that the international community grant diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Somaliland since it is eligible for recognition and that it fulfilled yardsticks for being statehood. Somaliland is not a renegade province from Somalia or any other country rather it was formerly an independent country, I, therefore, strongly urge the Arab league, the regional grouping, and the African Union to embark on a bold step to recognising the Republic of Somaliland as this would curb the lawlessness and the terrorists outfits prevailing in the neighbouring failed State of Somalia. It would also play a vital role in the fight against the pirates and the international terrorism since it locates strategically important area that is the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.
By Mukhtar Mohamed Abby
(India, Karnataka state)