Somaliland: If Eritrea & South Sudan Could Gain Sovereignty, So Could Somaliland
“In 1960, I took a country [Somaliland] with a viable economy, a balanced budged, and 2.5 million pounds in investment to Mogadishu…our [Somaliland´s] previous existence, history, and everything else has been eliminated…”—Mohammed H.I. Egal, Somaliland´s late President.
Although the African Union´s (A.U.) charter on the territorial integrity stipulates—or more precisely: pays lip services—to preserve the integrity of the colonial borders that the African nations inherited from the European colonizers, Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia on May 24, 1993, long after the colonials departed from Africa. Furthermore, with its new borders soon to be drawn, South Sudan is about to be carved out of Sudan. Now, if South Sudan and Eritrea could secede, Somaliland could, legally and morally, revert to its original borders, nullifying its doomed emotional union with Somalia, in 1960.
Somaliland borders are defined by the A.U.´s charter and the United Nation´s criteria for statehood. Legally, Somaliland neither violates the A.U.´s charter, nor U.N.´s definition for statehood. For one thing, Article 4 of A.U.´s charter calls for, “Respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”. Article 4 doesn´t state, explicitly or implicitly, whatsoever, if two African nations unite, as in the case of Somaliland and Somalia, “Respect of borders existing on achievement after two states unite.”; nor does Article 4 say, “Respect of borders existing on achievement after the two states forming unity reach a verbal or a legal agreement”. Clearly, what Somaliland calls for is the A.U. to respect its own charter: that is, “Respect of [Somaliland] borders existing on achievement of independence.” For another, the U.N. states, “A sovereign state is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, independence from other states and powers, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states.” Doubtlessly, Somaliland has a defined territory with clear international bounders inherited from the former British Somaliland with permanent population. Furthermore, not only is Somaliland in full control of its territory, but it also permeates democracy and the rule of law throughout the country. Additionally, Somaliland engages other nations bilaterally. Any way you slice it, Somaliland meets the criteria for statehood.
Despite Somaliland unambiguously fulfilling the fundamental conditions for statehood, some Somali unionists want to pull a fast one on you. Their assertions about the union between Somaliland and Somalia are based on flimsy arguments and verbal contracts between Somaliland and Somalia rather than on legal documents. The pro-unity groups argue that Somaliland´s sovereignty ceased to exist when it joined Somaliland in 1960. But there are two problems. One is: the union was never ratified. Somali unionists may groan and moan, whimper and whisper about Somali unity (or sacred cow), shed more tears than thunderclouds could spill rains for it, and write a deluge of opinionated articles to support it, but they fail to produce the only crucial material needed: legal documents signed by Somaliland and Somali leaders that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the legality of Somali union is untouchable. Worse yet, the unionists´ assertions don´t comply with the A.U.´s charter; nor do their unity reasons meet the U.N.´s criteria for statehood. In other words, Somaliland—one of the 17 African countries that gained independence in 1960 and was recognized by 34 countries before it relinquished its sovereignty to join Somalia—has the right to retain its border inherited from Britain based on the A.U.´s charter, not on anecdotal evidences. Additionally, whether Somaliland ceases to exist as a sovereign state does not depend upon the verbal contracts it has with Somalia but depends upon if the United Nation´s definition for statehood is violated.
Now, when the pro-unity camp feels inundated with overwhelming legal cases supporting Somaliland´s right to statehood, they conveniently ignore the A.U. and the U.N.´s charters and play, yet, another trick. Employing what they know best, their most horned skills, they, preposterously, resort to: the clan card (the clan canard). In a nefarious effort to sabotage Somaliland´s quest for sovereignty, they make desperate attempts to disintegrate Somaliland into clan fiefdoms. Also, to show their utter contempt towards Somaliland, some unionists even burn its flag while others wage a bloody war against Somaliland. How wicket! But one of the lame arguments which the pro-unity choruses repeatedly rehearse states, “The Dhulbahante clans of Somaliland never signed any treaties with the British colonizers, and as such their territory was never part of the Somaliland British Protectorate.” Granted that Dhulbahante clans didn´t sign any treaties with the British colonizers—but so what! Is anyone under the illusion that the colonizers had every African tribe´s (or clan´s) consent to include or exclude it from joining a newly created African republic? Of course not! For instance, Ethiopia alone has 91 different tribes. Now, is anyone convinced that the colonizers that drew the Ethiopian borders had the consent of the 91 tribes to become part of Ethiopia? No. The same goes for the rest Africa. Essentially, what the pro-unity groups are determined to do is: draw new tribal borders with blood while dismantling the internationally recognized boundaries—the colonial borders—in the name of resurrecting Somali unity. Paradox!
Put it differently: were Dhulbahante clans not part of Somaliland when it gained its independence in 1960, or did they join Somalia as a separate entity with its distinctive name (perhaps: the nomadic republic of Dhulbahante)? Again, the answer is no. In 1960, when Somaliland got its independence all its regions including the PSS region, home to Dhulbahante clans, joined Somalia as one entity called: Somaliland. They neither joined Somalia separately, nor negotiated for power sharing with Somalia independently.
Besides, today, not all Dhulbahante clans oppose Somaliland. A number of them not only chauvinistically support Somaliland´s quest for statehood but also vehemently reject the Somali unionists´ divisive and destructive tribal doctrine. Some clans adamantly believe that they have always been part of Somaliland society—historically, culturally, and geographically, and as such they want to retain their inalienable rights to remain part of Somaliland. A prove of this assertion is that Somaliland could not have ruled the PSS region without local clans and their politicians´ support.
On the flip side, what the pro-unity group conveniently ignore or due to selective amnesia forget is: just as Dhulbahante clans of Somaliland have their rights to join Somalia, not Somaliland, as the pro-unity group emphasize, because of their tribal affiliations to Puntland´s population—so too the Issa clans of Somaliland have their God-given rights to secede to Djibouti because of tribal affinity reasons. A double-edged sword, isn´t it? What´s more, the large Dir clans of southern Somalia and their land have equal rights to join Somaliland´s Dir clans (Isaq, Gudabirsay and Issa). If asked to join Somaliland, the Dir clans of southern Somalia would do so in a heartbeat. (Unionists, please make up your minds! How do you like your steaks cooked: medium or rare?) Unionists should be careful what they wish for—they may not like it. In this case, clearly, they are better off sticking with the A.U. and the U.N.´s criteria for statehood; otherwise, if their arguments are justified, the odds will favor Somaliland. It will gain more land, resources, and population.
Similarly, the A.U., U.N., and Somali unionists avoid mentioning that 1991 is not the first time that Somaliland attempted to withdraw its emotional, gunshot marriage with Somalia. In 1960, no sooner Somaliland and Somalia united than Somaliland began withdrawing from the union; once Somalilanders realized that they got the shaft in power sharing, the northerners´ (Somalilanders´) discontent was immediate. A unity referendum with the south (Somalia) was conducted in June 1961, followed by a group of northern disgruntled army officers who carried out a coup d´état in Somaliland. A research paper entitled, A Self-Portrait of Somaliland: Rebuilding from the Ruins details, “Of the 100,000 recorded voters in Somaliland, over 60% opposed the constitution, 72% in Hargeysa, 69% in Berbera, 66% in Burco and 69% in Ceerigaabo. As a vote of confidence in unity with the south, Somaliland had given a resoundingly negative verdict (Drysdale: 1994). Nevertheless, the vote was carried by a southern majority.” As history attests, 1991 is the second time that Somaliland attempted to divorce Somalia, but to no avail.
Additionally, Somaliland is not the first nation that voluntarily joined another, and as the hasty union went from jubilant to disastrous abandoned the marriage. Egypt and Syria, Senegal and Gambia, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, and Senegal and Mali all renounced their original commitment to unity and reverted to their colonial borders. And Somaliland is not an exception.
From 1960 to 1991, thirty-one years of oppression, Somaliland people not only lost everything, but they also became a minority in their land. In late ´80s, during the northerners´ revolt against the former Somali dictator, Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre´s barbaric regime, all Somaliland´s major cities were pulverized to dust, and over 60, 000 civilians were slaughtered. Somaliland was brought to its knees. And Somalilanders´ land was supposed to be inherited by other Somalis according to the infamous former Somali Army General, a.k.a the butcher of Hargeisa, General Mohammed Said Hersi Morgan´s letter: The Letter of Death in which he purposed a campaign of obliteration against northern Somalis.
But then war-ravaged yet optimistic Somalilanders thought that it would get better. Despite their popular referendum for sovereignty held on May 31, 2001 in which 97% voted in favor of independence, from 1991 to 2011, twenty years of holding Somaliland hostage, both the U.N. and the A.U. continue to deny Somaliland´s right to exist, not because of legal reasons, but because of countries like Egypt which wields a major power in the A.U. ´s decision making and Saudi Arabia which most of the A.U. countries depend on for handouts, resolutely oppose and vigorously campaign against Somaliland’s independence.
In addition to the overwhelming evidences that support Somaliland´s right to statehood, legally and morally, if Eretria and South Sudan could gain sovereignty, even though they were not countries with specific populations and defined borders before the colonial regimes departed from Africa, while, on the other hand, Somaliland which fulfils the criteria for statehood and retains its colonial borders is held hostage—then the credibility´s of the A.U. and the U.N. are in question. It would be immoral if Somaliland is held hostage any longer because of political reasons, not because of legal challenges.
As one can see, evidently, failure to grant Somaliland its sovereignty would open a can of worms. Because of the A.U. and the U.N.´s indifference to Somaliland´s political and economic limbo and their intransigence to grant its independence would surely expose the A.U. and the U.N.´s moral bankruptcy, where they would be viewed as the symbols of injustice. Consequently, many regions around the world that struggle for recognition and self-determination would take a leaf out of Somaliland´s historical fact book for statehood and take matters into their hands; new ones will follow in suit.
As for the Somali unionists, they either want to play their clan ruse (their clan card) which they will lose because Somaliland holds all the aces, or stick with the A.U. and U.N.´s criteria for statehood. The pro-unity groups´ arguments remain paradoxical to the core, replete with self-sabotaging canards. Logically, winning the hearts and minds of Somaliland people to reunite with Somalia as one entity is far more rational approach than transforming their peaceful country into perpetually feuding clans, in order to impede its quest for independence.
Also, if Eritrea and South Sudan could secede, what would be the legal, moral, and logical reasons for withholding Somaliland´s sovereignty? From 1960 to 2011—fifty-one years of struggle for self-determination, Somaliland will not settle for anything less than full independence. No ifs, ands, or buts! And independent or not, Somaliland is here to stay. What is good for Eritrea and South Sudan is also good for Somaliland.
Clearly, if there was ever the slightest fear of a break-away region in Africa setting a precedent, Eritrea and South Sudan would not have been let go. And in the case of Somaliland, it is neither breaking-away from Somalia nor violating the A.U.´s charter. Simply, Somaliland wants to revert to its original borders. Therefore, it is time for the A.U. to practice what it preaches: “Respect of [Somaliland] borders existing on achievement of independence.”