Jun 04, 2010

Somaliland: Peace and Democracy is Threatened

Active ImageReligious Fundamentalist Groups and Criminal networks of Pirates threaten Peace and Democracy in Somaliland.


Below is an article published by the Horn of Africa Development Organisation:

Long sought and valued, the existence of democracy and peace within Somaliland is threatened by Religious fundamentalist groups and criminal networks of Pirates operating in the geographically southern and central regions of Somalia.

Somaliland has enjoyed peace and stability since it declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in May 1991, while the rest of Somalia has been ravaged by famine, political instability and civil war, contributing to and causing the regions ongoing humanitarian disaster of the past two decades.
 Somaliland is currently struggling to tackle the increasing threat posed by terrorism from groups linked to Al-Qaida which operate in Somalia.  Whilst Somaliland managed to establish a functioning government, a basic economy and a relative degree of peace the rest of Somalia was mired by clan wars and poverty amidst the absence of any political authority in which religious and tribal groups fought over and asserted power.
The government of Somaliland has had to counteract the challenges posed by the threat from Somalia’s pirates which have been successful in the abduction, theft and ransom demands of many small and high profile international commercial freight and independent ships. Somaliland, with what little financial capability it can, protect its shores and the few key essentials it relies on arriving at its port. Ports, which are constantly harassed by Pirate gangs who are openly active in the Red sea and Indian Ocean.  Surprisingly Despite financial constrictions, Somaliland has had much success, the government of Somaliland states that it has detained hundreds of pirates currently awaiting trial in Somaliland prisons. In the majority of these cases, captives released from the detention of International governments had been deported to Somaliland territory, at which point Somaliland’s coast guards had in custody and decided to decrease any future threat they would pose by arresting them.  
Further more, piracy does not stand as the only key threat to Somaliland’s peace and democracy, the challenge faced by the Somaliland government in dealing with terrorist groups is far greater and more complex than that of dealing with Piracy. Terrorist groups have long held a track record of attacking foreign nationals particularly relief workers operating in Somaliland.
 The first reported attack occurred in   2002 when a foreign businessman was shot dead by unknown gun men in the capital city Hargeisa. The same year a lone gun man hijacked a 4 wheel drive belonging to the WFP, injuring the driver and several locals during the incident.  
The following year, on October 5th 2003 an Italian relief worker was killed in Borama with no one claiming responsibilities. Shortly after on the 20th October of the same year, a British couple was shot dead in the city of Sheikh by unknown gun men.   
On 19th March 2004, a terrorist group from South Somalia attacked a car with a group of German relief workers GTZ in the settlement of Dhubato (small village between Hargeisa and the main port Berbera), in which a female relief worker from Kenya was injured alongside a male German colleague.  
The Somaliland community who had experienced relative peace since the Somali civil war had a shocked response to the series of terrorist activities which had taken place on Somaliland soil. Initially the Somaliland government had suspected key oppositional parties of organizing the attacks to stir up instability and dissent. The parties, however, categorically denied any involvement.  
Any information on the groups who had conducted the attacks would not come to light until 19th March 2004, when terrorist who carried out  the  Dhubato village attacks  were caught by  the community of  Dhoqoshay village, after a three hour battle ensued resulting in their defeat  and ultimately in their arrests by the Somaliland police.  
The worst terror acts to occur in Somaliland ‘s recent  history  took place on 29th  October 2009 when three car  bombs were detonated  outside the Somaliland presidential palace, the Ethiopian Trading liaison office and United Nations Development Program  head quarters in Hargeisa, leaving 25 civilian dead and dozens of  others  injured.  This was most tragic accident since Somaliland regained its independence and separated the rest of country in 1991.  
Following the atrocities, Somaliland Courts called for the maximum penalties to be given to the perpetrators, with the authorities linking the attacks to the Al Shabab, a group currently involved in clashes with the Somalia government for control of its capital. Somaliland’s security officers had also revealed terror plots shortly before the Parliamentary election took place in September 2005.
 In addition, the Somaliland police confirmed to have uncovered suspicious terrorist activity in various locations across Somaliland particularly key larger cities including Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera, Borama, and Laas Aanood.   
In the last year, military and police officers were assassinated in the city of Laas Aanood as authorities grappled for control of Somaliland’s contested Eastern Sool and Sanaag regions .Further to such disputes, on 1st November 2009 the famous Somaliland military leader ,Yusuf Osman Nuur was assassinated leading to further unanswered questions on the threat of terrorism against Somaliland.
The Sool and Sanaag regions are geographically situated to the East of Somaliland. The regions are disputed by both Somaliland and the autonomous Puntland region with both claiming the land as being  within their territories, such disagreements have lead to  clashes between the two armies and continued political tension between Somaliland and Puntland.     
The leader of Somaliland’s main opposition party Mr Siilaanyo, said recently “Somaliland is ready to cooperate in the global fight against terrorism alongside the international community, however the lack of recognition will hinder the effectiveness  of Somaliland’s efforts”.
Mr Faysal Ali Waraabe chairman of UCID party said: “a strong government would serve to counter violent extremism. Terrorism is a result of anarchy. If we make a strong state, there won’t be groups like al Shabab.”
Similarly, the Somaliland president Dahir Rayale stated that “We are the only government in the Horn of Africa that is fighting terrorism, due to the lack of recognition, Somaliland can not fully cooperate with the International community in the Global War against Terror, for example in sharing intelligence with other nations”. Rayale further requested Britain  take a leading role in recognising Somaliland, in order to gradually  achieve international recognition, allowing Somaliland  to participate effectively in  combating  international  terrorism, most specifically  that which exists in  the Horn of Africa. He added “We can contribute, ensuring the security and maintaining peace and stability in the region and as a result the globe”.
A Spokesperson for Dr. Mohamed Omar, foreign secretary of the KULMIYE Party said “Somaliland is a peaceful entity in an unstable region with a large Muslim population susceptible to radicalisation. The longer the world ignores its achievement, the greater the risk, a better approach would be for the international community to offer Somaliland an interim UN membership. This would put it in a position to consolidate on its democratic credentials, to support the regional peace making process and to deny international extremist groups of a potential recruiting ground”.
Somaliland has a long history of fighting against terrorism and radical groups. The people of Somaliland assisted the British Empire’s fight against Mohamed Abdullah Hassan( Mad mullah) who fought against the British military in the Horn of Africa between 1990-1920.  
The international community supported the weak Somali Transitional Government (TFG) who only had the support of the American government through their provision of $100 Million dollars for weapons and other military equipment. The TFG estimates to have spent nearly 6.8 million training its new federal army. There are speculative reports that most weapons made there are sold to Al Shabab fighters and other rebel and militia groups fighting against the TFG in which some of their trained soldiers defected to the terror groups.
 Whilst the International community had supported the weak Transitional Federal Government both diplomatically and financially,  the Somaliland administration were all but ignored and denied any such military, financial and political assistance much  to the dismay of the Somaliland community. Thus, a fundamental question arises, why give so much support to the unsuccessful, unpopular, Federal Transitional Government and deny the rights of Somaliland’s people to establish its own state and enjoy its independence which it proclaimed in a conference in Burao 18th May 1991.
Moreover, one could state that the international community’s plays a part in Somalia’s ongoing political conflict, as it had chosen to show such extensive support to the Somali Federal Transitional Government while denying the rights of Somaliland’s citizens.
Historical background:   
Somaliland was a British Protectorate for 86 years and got its independence in 26th June 1960.Known as British Somaliland It was an internationally recognised sovereign state until 1st July 1960. Shortly after receiving independence from Britain, it united with the South of Somalia, known as Italian Somaliland and colonised by Italy until its merger with Somaliland to form the Somali Democratic Republic. The drive behind the Republic  was based on vision of united greater Somalia.
When its second president Abdulrashid Ali Sharmarke (1967-1969) was assassinated by his own bodyguards in Laas Aanod City, the vision of unity started to fall apart. A bloodless coup-de-tat on 21st of October 1969 ensued resulting in army General Mohamed Siyaad Barre becoming president. Barre wasted no time in establishing an authoritarian regime, starting off his first year by giving unlimited powers to the military.  
The population of Northern Somalia (Somaliland) were denied the same provisions in welfare and aid. Barre, who describes himself as a Socialist, created uneven distribution of resources across Somalia, leading to vast inequalities apparent between North-South with regards to education, health and development. This, together with a number of other factors resulted in the birth of the Somali National Movement (SNM) a political military liberation movement (April 1981). In 1988 Bare awarded the Houd region to Ethiopia in-exchange for the Ethiopian government to expel the Somali National Movement (SNM) from the Houd and reserve the area.
 In 1988 there occurred a clash between the government forces and SNM soldiers. The SNM fighters captured most of the northern regions of Somalia (now known as Somaliland). The government took revenge by indiscriminately killing civilians. They killed thousands of innocent people. They destroyed homes,livelihoods and took cliam of the  properties. More than half a million people fled Somalia, and crossed the border to  neighbouring countries, with those unable to flee displaced and helpless, becoming  refugees in their now completely destroyed regions.
 The Somaliland people continued to suffer as victims of brutality, as crimes against humanity were being  perpetrated by Somalia's military regime under the authority of the Somali Government. Internationally condemned, many Human Rights' organizations, and western states documented the war crimes and genocide acts committed against the people of Somaliland. There are internationally documented mass graves across Somaliland, particularly in the big cities, such as Hargeisa, Berbera, Erigavo and other Somaliland towns and villages. Unfortunately, the International community failed so far to bring those war criminals to justice. Mona Rishmawi, a Palestinian lawyer who also works for the Independent International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), was speaking to reporters after returning from a visit to the Horn of Africa. ``The story of the massacres has to be told because it is a horrible story”, she said.Adding ``People have to understand that systematic killing of civilians, even in a situation of chaos and civil war, when hundreds of people are rounded up and massacred, is just not acceptable'' .Rishmawi recommended an effort to set-up an international criminal court in Somalia stating: "It is very important for the integrity of the U.N. human rights system that we deal with such events''.Still in efforts to establish an enquiry,  Rishmawi commented on progress, noting that discussions would start soon on setting up an international criminal court.
In conclusion, the IGAD governments and the international community should not attempt to side with one or the other in a dispute between Somaliland and Somalia. They can better play a meditation role. Democracy is served by accepting the will of the Somaliland people.  
The Somaliland communities have long described themselves as a peace loving people who are victims of terror attacks whilst standing on the front line against piracy. The Somaliland democratic process and its peace and stability, is thus, fundamentally threatened by the Islamic fundamentalist groups and Pirates operating in the South and central regions in Somalia, efforts require international support and recognition to succeed in its goals to protect itself and its democracy in combating challenges.
President Riyaale said: “The international community will come to the conclusion that we have a right to self determination. We are a functioning state. There is no state in southern Somalia. We have become a victim of a failed state.”
However, in the place of support, GAD government s and much of the international community are now putting pressure on Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Dismissing Somaliland’s hardships, achievements and 20 years independence. This pressure has left much of the Somaliland population disappointed, with many interpreting the international efforts for reconciliation as mired in bias and favoritism to Somalia. With many asking if encouragements for unification are motivated by international political interests? In the limbo of Somali politics and the instability of the region, it can be concurred that only time will tell.  
 Peace in the region could also be advanced as the idea of Greater Somalia threatens not only Somaliland but also the whole region. The Greater Somalia "constitution" did not recognise the borders with the neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and so the recognition of Somaliland is also to the interest of IGAD. Re-creating a Greater Somalia could destroy the stability and peace in the Horn of Africa.