The Chinese finger trap is a gag toy used to play a practical joke on an unsuspecting victim where once someone puts his fingers in, he will be unable to get them out because the harder one pulls his fingers apart the tighter the trap will hold them in place.
It can be a great teaching tool in life pointing out the wisdom of one accepting the reality of the moment and stop fighting fire with fire and instead concentrate on the solution rather than aggravating the problem because as it so happens the only thing keeping one’s fingers trapped is the pulling force exerted when one is attempting to free himself from the trap.
A clear example of this is evident when we look at the negotiations between Somalia and Somaliland where a final answer is to be determined whether Union or Separation will be the prevailing argument with each side playing the immovable object and pulling away from each other with all their might.
The fact of the matter remains that Somalia cannot force Somaliland into the Union without its consent and Somaliland cannot get recognition without Somalia’s consent. This reality is known to both parties, yet it remains un- addressed because neither party has what it takes to make bold moves and display leadership qualities moments like these demands. Each side is content hiding behind popular sentiments while fully entrenched in their bunker mentality which requires little risk or effort.
The meaning of a leader is the one who leads and that means sometimes he goes against popular sentiments because he can envision a better future for his people in the long run. It requires courage, fortitude and a fundamental belief in the righteousness of his actions.
Nixon goes to China and changes history by neutralizing the Red scare and integrating China back into the world body. Anwar Sadat lands in Tel Aviv and usher’s peace in the Middle East, Abiy Ahmed goes to Eritrea and changes the political map in the Horn of Africa. None of these leaders had
the support of their people before they took action, went on a limb and eventually brought everyone around to accept a new paradigm shift.
History is not too kind toward timid and indecisive leadership who fiddle and grow too comfortable with the status quo and have events overtake them, because time waits for no-one and change is inevitable.
When someone sits at a negotiating table with an antagonist, there is an implied understanding that one is willing to give some ground from previously held positions, how much ground shall remain to be seen and will become more evident during the negotiations to come but nothing is off the table, otherwise this becomes an exercise in futility.
This means that Somaliland’s secession and Somalia’s unity are both on the table depending on how successful these negotiations progress.
Now I am not going to rehash all the arguments for or against Somaliland’s self-determination, God know I’ve made my share, but what I am going to attempt to do is find a solid foundation and a starting point where an honest debate can begin.
Let’s start with the facts:
Somaliland did not leave Somalia, Somalia left Somaliland or at a minimum through a series of insults and injuries brought about the conditions that necessitated the exit of Somaliland.
June 26th British Somaliland cedes its independence and unconditionally forms a Union with Italian Somaliland. The outcome of the union was the Somali Republic which came into existence on July 1st, 1960. When the new government was announced, the President, the Prime minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, the General of the Police Forces, the General of the Armed Forces and just about any cabinet position worth having were all allocated to members of the former Italian Colony of the Somali territories. The only position worth noting was the Minister of Defense position appointment for the leader of the Somaliland delegation (Hon. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal) which brought about the unity of the two states.
Even after seeing how shabbily they have been treated, there was no uproar or calls for separation from the Somaliland community and when young officers in Somaliland attempted a coup in 1961, they could not muster the support they needed from the people and the coup failed. They were later found not guilty on a technicality due to the fact that the Union of the two nations was yet to be ratified when the coup took place and therefore their actions could not be found to be illegal in Hargeisa. In other words, one cannot overthrow another country’s government by staging a coup in a different country.
Extrajudicial killings, mass incarceration and the full might of the Somali Army was deployed against a specific segment of the population in Somaliland to suppress an insurgent militia capable at best to accomplish few hit-and-run operations. Hargeisa the second-largest Somali city at the time was practically levelled to the ground by air and land bombardments. The carnage was so senseless and disproportional that at least one Somali pilot tasked to bomb the city defected to Djibouti with his MiG when he couldn’t in good conscience execute his orders. Rhodesian mercenaries were then employed to continue the bombing campaign.
No one has the actual number of civilian deaths, but the estimates range from 50 to 100 thousand people, the victims were mostly elderly, women and children.
These actions may have been the unintended consequences of a tyrannical government nevertheless the result was nothing short of Genocide.
It is never a good idea to throw around shocking accusations just to make a point but if one looks at the meaning of what the word Genocide means one will find this description:
“The systematic killing of substantial numbers of people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, social status, or other particularities”.
No one can dispute that mass killing of civilians took place in Somaliland or
that a specific group of people were targeted.
Again, no calls from Somaliland communities for separation and self- governance.
When the government of Siad Barre collapsed in 1991, SNM (Somali National Movement) the rebel movement fighting the Siad Barre regime took control over all contested areas in Somaliland and unlike the South through consultations and elders’ engagement, reached a peaceful resolution with all the resident tribes in Somaliland.
Having peacefully pacified their territory the governing body of SNM did not declare separation or succession from Somalia, they instead waited for Mogadishu to get its act together and convene a round table consultation with all the stakeholders, mainly the different factions responsible for the demise of the previous regime to form an interim governing body until elections could be held.
On the27th January 1991 the dictator Siyad Barre gets ejected from Mogadishu, two days later on January 29th 1991 Ali Mahdi a business man in Mogadishu declares himself the President of Somalia validating Somaliland’s well founded fears that they will forever remain an afterthought when it comes to sitting at the grown up table and no weight or consideration will be given to them as equal partners when decisions that affect the future of the country were being addressed.
This last insult broke the proverbial camel’s back, and three months later on May 18th, 1991 Somaliland reclaimed its sovereignty. As it is evident it wasn’t one thing or another that precipitated the decision for Somaliland to chart its own course but a series of events that necessitated the only viable option to be exercised and own its future.
These are simply the facts as they occurred and those representing Somalia in the current discussions must acknowledge, say amen and accept them as the genesis of the fracture of the Somali state. There cannot be two narratives if we are to move forward or we shall ever be stuck in this never-ending tug of war where no one is wrong when everyone claims to be right.
There is a tendency for people to assume guilt for crimes committed in their name by their predecessors, which turns them defensive favoring denial and resistance instead of acknowledging past sins and seeking healing solutions.
A clear example of this can be seen in the US where proclaiming Black lives Matter will prompt someone else to protest that Every Life Matters, as if acknowledging that Black Lives Matter will expose untold liabilities against white people for all the injustices and horrors heaped on Black folks over the centuries, when in reality it means for God sake, enough is enough stop brutalizing black people NOW, because their lives matter!
Somalia cannot convince Somaliland that it is seeking to restore Somali unity and brotherly love when it actively undermines any gains Somaliland achieves in the international arena particularly on matters related to economic development, and international aid. It cannot restore lost trust when it does not fulfill agreements reached in good faith by both parties, it cannot heal still open wounds when it cajoles, welcomes and celebrates convicted war criminals.
Even a casual observer would be a bit skeptical of the disparity between stated intentions and actions taken by Mogadishu so far, and if things are to change and move in the right direction, more much more needs to be done to prove intent because the onus is on Somalia to put Humpty – Dumpty back together since it has embarked in this noble odyssey it must rise to the occasion and make believers out of a very skeptical audience. This requires, leadership, creativity, Stamina, Resolve, patience but most of all willingness to power down defenses, take a leap of faith and surrender to your brother.!
Unconditional Surrender is what is required here, just like Somaliland did on July 1st, 1960.
Let’s examine some scenarios and for a moment as hard as it may be, let’s remove egos and emotions from these what if’s and evaluate outcomes.
- What are the ramifications if this time Somaliland is placed on the driver seat and gets to dictate the terms of the new union?
Somaliland will dominate the political arena of the new entity in the foreseeable future by controlling most if not all of the relevant institutions of power where important decisions are made. This may sound to be an unreasonable outcome for some but that is exactly what happened when the first union came to be. The only difference is that the roles were reversed and if that bitter pill was something Somaliland was willing to accept for the sake of brotherly love, surely Mogadishu considering all the water that went under that bridge can reciprocate and prove once and for all the seriousness of its resolve to see a united country once again where it is possible for someone other than the usual suspects to be perennially in charge.
- What are the ramifications if Somaliland is to become an independent nation?
There will be a third Somali nation in the Horn of Africa and Somali nations most likely having more common interests than differences will have three votes at the UN, the OAU and IGAD. Non-aggression pact and Mutual defense agreement against foreign foes can be established, common market and freedom of movement of citizens from both countries exists already and can continue.
This is new territory for both country’s and much can be accomplished in terms of creating a favorable environment for both countries when the goal is to co-exist peacefully and respect each other’s sovereignty. Obviously, there is a possibility that things can go the other way where hostilities escalate and hard borders are established similar to Ethiopia-Eritrea like situation before peace was established but it doesn’t have to be that wa because it benefits no one.
These are hard questions and a fair and equitable solution for all must be found in order to prevent the seeds of discord or poison pills at the foundation of whatever decision is ultimately reached that can allow a new beginning and forward movement.
There are going to be some people on both sides who cannot be moved by any argument and will remain forever locked into their position and that is ok, because they have a right to their opinions and beliefs and one cannot expect one’s point of views to be considered and valued if one is not willing to consider other’s.
Couple of things are worth noting:
Politics, not Genocide precipitated Somaliland’s separation from Somalia, that means a political solution can be found and politics and policies can be changed to right previous wrongs and lessons learnt applied, it happens every day everywhere.
See in the link below Former President Mohamed Mohamud Silanyo addressing this very topic https://m.facebook.com/story.php story_fbid=3499888890030437&id=100000280810 559&sfnsn=mo&d=n&vh=i
On the other hand, if Somalia’s territorial integrity is sacrosanct, the apparent muted reaction of this event renders it mute when the very individual (Former President Sheikh Sharif) who reportedly gave away
100.000 sq. Kilometers of Somali territorial waters to Kenya would be hiding under a rock, in jail or worse right? No, He is actually running for president again and has as many chances of succeeding as anyone else who is running for the office. This hypocrisy can only go so far and demonstrates the insane workings of tribal politics gone amuck.
For Somalis today, the only thing worse than a tribal government is a tribal government run by some other tribe instead of theirs and for as long as this statement remains true, we shall forever be stuck in a Chinese finger trap.
By Mahdi Ahmed Abdi