I grew up with five-pointed white star of the sky-blue Somali flag, and at the time, me and all Somalis, were indoctrinated to believe that each of the five corners of the star stood for and represented one of the regions inhabited by Somalis in the Horn of Africa and namely Ex=Britsh Somaliland, Ex- Italian Somaliland, Ex-French Somaliland, West Somalia in Ethiopia, and the North Frontier District of Kenya. Two of the territories (Ex- British Somaliland and Ex-Italian Somaliland) were united to form present day Federal Republic of Somalia, while Ex-French Somaliland, became the Republic of Djibouti of today. West Somalia became the Somali State of Ethiopia, and no change has occurred in the Northern Frontier District of kenya.
We were made to believe in and strive towards the unification of all the Somali territories, under the beautiful sky-blue Somali flag. All the resources of the young Republic of Somalia of the time, and subsequent governments until the collapse of the state in 1991, both human and material, were geared towards that objective, which over the years, became ever more elusive. It was almost a sin and a high treason, to think and act otherwise.
I recall as a young schoolboy, in the late sixties, in Borama of Awdal, we were asked and organized to march all the way to Djibouti, French Somaliland of the time, to protest the continuing occupation of the territory, by France. We made to Quljet, a small dusty village, some 30 km West of Borama. This, indeed, was a great feat for young kids, such as we were, at the time.
That hope and dream, have over the years, led to immeasurable grief and death and destruction and great pains, across the Horn of Africa landscape. It was not a bad dream, though, or was it? It was, indeed, a beautiful dream to have all Somalis of the Horn of Africa under one flag and in one country, if only it was managed well. And after all these years and difficulties and sacrifices, can one just let it go? No success has ever been achieved, throughout the history of mankind, without pains, tribulations, and sufferings, but efforts must be managed well through adroitness and discipline and focus, taking into consideration not only one’s side of the story, but also the environment and all the other forces both near and far, arraigned against one.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, once explained in his book “Living Under tension” that “No steam or gas drives anything, until it is confined. No Niagra is ever turned into light and power, unitl it is tunneled. No life ever grows, until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” Indeed, this is one of nature’s laws and it applies to both living and non-living, inanimate, and inorganic things and that is, a price must be paid for everything in life, if one wants to achieve something. One may have to sink, sometimes, before one rises again, and there must, at times, be a loss, and a great loss, before a gain or a success is achieved.
In short, we are not in control of this world, although some of us, may have illusions in this regard. We must not forget that simple fact. Those who wish to succeed in life, must know this and must not forget it, for life and success, passes through stages, failures, half-successes, and successes, etc… etc… Those who cannot digest that simple act, may as well create their own little worlds, that would satisfy their needs, for in this world of ours, their dreams would and could not be achieved.
In this world of ours, one must dream and continue to dream and work towards achieving the dream. One must remember that sometimes dreams simply remain dreams and could never be realized. Human beings have been created to have and enjoy that innate ability to hope and dream.
The Department of Disaster Research Center in Ohio University is said to have once written that “The reality of events suggests that human beings are amazingly controlled and resilient in the face of adversity. Perhaps heroism, not panic and shock, is the right word to describe the most common behaviour in times of Disaster”.
Man, and I am not referring to the male gender only, but to both sexes of this homosapien species, is endowed with the capabilities to withstand and survive great disasters, including, when faced with annihilation. One must, therefore, not grieve or lament trials and travails or tribulations, and henceforth use his God-given capacity to reconstruct his life.
It is, in this light, that we suggest to the Somali, not to just kill their great Somali dream of unification but work towards reconstructing this Great Horn of Africa of ours, while learning from and taking advantage of the lessons learned from the failures of the past six decades. The Somali must realize that he needs to develop a new hope and dream, but this time different and more realizeable and much nobler than has hitherto been the case.
For the first time in known Somali history, one realizes that the Somali is more comfortable with the Swahili and the Habesha (The Oromo, the Amhara, the Tigrayan and the Afars, and many of the other ethnic groups of the Horn of Africa) than with their own kinsmen, the other Somali. This is not a bad thing, after all, to have a good rapport with our fellow citizens of our Great Horn of Africa. The trick is how to channel that new feeling into a positive and useful energy, while retaining the old dream of reuniting the Somali and overcoming the depressing, senseless, and directionless, travails of the Somali society of today.
Maybe we should look at the Japanese experience. We all know that the United States of America, nuked two major Japanese industrial centers (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), towards the end of the Second World War. One would normally assume that the Japanese should be hating the Americans. But is that the case?
When one looks at the situation, one finds that the Japanese seem to have no grudge against the Americans. In fact, deeper down, the Japanese reason that the Americans only reacted to the Japanese violence against the United States, for it was Japan that bombed the hell out of America’s top naval base (Pearl Harbour) at the time, in the first place and hence provoked the wrath of a much more resourceful nation.
What an attitude and an adorable one at that. And look rather than to giving in to hatred and keeping endless grudges, the Japanese have channeled all their energies positively and reached one of the highest pinnacles of human development.
A much closer story is that of the people of Awdal. Remember that during the warring years of Somalia’s clans towards the end of the Mohamed Siyad Barre Regime, the people of Awdal and the peoples of the Somali National Movement territories were on opposite sides of the conflict, with the people of Awdal defending themselves against the incessant attacks of the Somali National Movement (“SNM”), wondering all the time, why the SNM was so violent against the region. When the Government and state organs collapsed in Somalia in 1991, the clans of Northeast and Togdheer (both SNM territories) started a new phase of war, fighting against each other for no apparent reason, other than hunger for power.
Indeed, this was as fratricidal as any war can be, for the peoples of the two regions of Northwest and Togdheer were relatives. It was then that the people of Awdal, took over the mantle of leadership and interceded between the two clans that were at each other’s throats and from thereon, forgave the killings and destruction caused by the SNM. They replaced the grudge and antagonism between the people of Awdal and the SNM territories into a construction of peace, and thereon embarked on developing Awdal to return it to its previous glorious days of Adal. The energies of the people Awdal were redirected to towards development, and it is where the reconstruction of Somalia, in earnest, originated. Schools to higher education were built, roads were constructed, and the water systems fixed and developed. The health services were reconstituted and developed and Awdal thus beacme a beacon of hope in the Somali country, and remains so today.
Can the Somali learn from the Japanese experience, if not from Awdal, because it is their own kind? Can the Somali be magnanimous and admit their mistakes and faults and proceed with life, on a new premises, outside the unending squabbles among them? I believe, he can, and it is in this light that I propose a new vision for the Somali, for the Somali, indeed, needs a new vision and mission, a mission that would not only be beneficial only to the Somali but to all the peoples of the Horn of Africa.
The proposal may, for many Somalis look like touching the untouchable, but propose, I must, for it is proposals and ideas such as this, that may move forward, the lot of the peoples of the Horn of Africa. I must, in this respect recall, the old five-pointed white star in the middle of the Somali flag. It represented a particular symbolism, that of the Somali. We need to change the symbolism to represent the five countries of the Horn of Africa, namely, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Djibouti. I sometimes refer to the region as “SEKED” or straight or more appropriately the Horn of Africa States or “HAS” in short, under a partnership form, much like that of the European Union, whose structures can be worked out later, by the countries, in the most optimal way, that satisfies the interests of all the peoples of the region. Initially, the four countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, can easily create a closer relationship, for Kenya, in my view, may have other matters to settle before moving on to join HAS.
For many, in all the countries of the region, this would seem an audacious proposal, and in fact, that is exactly, what it is meant to be. However, if we look at the proposition very carefully, we will find that it is beneficial for the peoples of the region and would put to a halt all the miseries and wars that have ravaged the region for so long. We must look at the countries of Europe and how they have overcome their terrible twentieth century and how they are replacing it with a hopeful and peaceful twenty first century for themselves.
Why shouldn’t the peoples of the Horn of Africa, have a similar hope and why should they pay heavy prices for the greed and senseless politics of their politicians and dictators? Why shouldn’t the peoples of the Horn of Africa aspire to develop like their co-citizens of this earth and become useful citizens instead of being beggars and paupers, as they seem to be today.
Such a partnership of the states of the Horn of Africa or HAS, should ease mobility of both people and capital in the region. This would be especially good for Somalis who currently live in all the countries, and who have been one of the major sources of disasters and wars of the region. They would easy access to their kin and kith all over the place. For the other countries, this would eliminate the threat of wars initiated by the Somali, in his quest to regain the “LOST” territories.
The proposal would, indeed, bind the non-Somali populations with the Somali and with each other, in a new deal, that must augur prosperity and progress for the region. The Somali of Ethiopia and Kenya would discard the idea of session, while the Somali of Djibouti, would not blame himself for not having joined the Somali fold. Scattered Somalis in Eritrea would know that they are not anymore totally isolated from their anicient brethren.
For those who cannot grasp the greatness of the proposal, we would like them to think of a road under repairs, where one often sees signs like “Road Closed”. This is like the situation of the Horn of Africa, where the various countries of the region are stuck with ages-old prejudices, that are continually reinforced by the political elite. Going back to the story of the road under repairs, one should ask oneself, if the road is really closed? A closed road does not really mean that one’s path to one’s destination is totally blocked or totally closed. One often finds a detour or ways that lead to the destination.
Reaching one’s destination does not necessarily have to be through a straight path. A path can sometimes, be twisting, meandering and/or zigzagging. It only takes longer than a straight path. Life’s journeys can also be zigzagging, and one must accept reaching one’s destination through longer meandering ways. We are alluding to this symbolism, for at the end of the day, what the people of the region want is a peaceful and prosperous life, where they can go about their daily lives, raising their kids, having access to a good healthcare and education systems, good roads, and other infrastructures, that ease their lives. The present mental state of the people of the region, however, seems to be the one seeing only the “Closed Road” signs, everywhere. But is it really closed?
I see it differently and I am sure that there are many others, who share the same views, but we need to talk and discuss the issues and the way forward for the region. We cannot be stuck in the past or even splinter more, as some of my people aspire to. The proposal, heretofore, may seem an impossible project. Even worse, it may make some angry or worse. This, however, is a possible and workable proposition and a solution to the current mental stalemate of the people of the region, who seem to be all mad at each other, for some perceived prejudices created by politicians of the past and propagated by the current ones.
I have not touched on how I see the structure would work. I am simply putting the proposition forward for further discussion among the peoples of the region, and most of all among the Somalis, who have a lot of stakes, in the region.
I know the region would benefit from its enormous economic potential, its huge population, its huge land mass, its multitude of rivers and plains, plateaus, and mountains, its beautiful savannahs, its large animal population and above all its long maritime coast which including the islands and inland waters, and could be well over 9,000 km, with some 6,200 km just along the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, alone.
It would be a region to reckon with, for it would overlook and straddle some of the world’s major sea and ocean trading routes. It would be the gateway to the heart of Africa and a major exit route for its enormous mineral and agricultural wealth and its manufactures, in the future, for it enjoys the ports of Mussawa, Assab, Djibouti, Berbera, Mogadishu, Kismayo, Lamu and Mombasa and many other smaller ones and still others planned to be built in the not-too-distant future. It would be the largest country in Africa, since the Sudan split into two and would be able to create a sizeable GDP that would be more than half a trillion in Unites States Dollars, if all the resources, were directed at economic and social development, instead of weaponry and instruments of death and destruction.
The Horn of Africa States (“HAS”) would be a formidable regional community, that would negotiate better terms for its populations with other trading blocks of the world. It would be a powerhouse that would enjoy a variety of natural landscapes unrivalled anywhere in the world such as the Great Rift valley, the Ethiopian Highlands, The Great Danakil Depression, the Great lakes, and forests and as we noted earlier, some of the most beautiful white beaches of the world.
It would be peaceful and would contribute to the wellbeing of the world.
Dr. Suleiman Walhad
*Dr. Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the Eurasia Review as an Op-ed.