For the sake of this argument, let us put aside any emotions regarding who is a “Somalilander”, the demographic composition or geographical boundaries of Somaliland. Let us assume that “Somaliland” is the Former British Somaliland Protectorate, which had declared unilateral secession from the Somali Republic following the Civil War and seeking international recognition as a new sovereign state in the Horn of Africa. For the moment, we are not getting ourselves into the controversies of who is for and against the secession and disappearance of colonial demarcation lines after union of July 1st. 1960.
I believe that all would agree that the bottom-line for the objective of the secession is self-government for the inhabitants of that part of Somalia. If that is the case, are there any other better options to achieve the same while remaining within Somalia, but at the same time avoiding the enormous complications of unilateral attempt to break away without a national referendum, a legal separation and negotiated agreement between Somali parties?
As South-Central Somalia was in chaos and had no creditable representatives to talk to, in the course of our debates on Bottom-up Approaches
to restore Somalia’s State and embark upon reconstruction plans, leaders of Puntland State of Somalia approached their Somaliland counterparts in the late 1990s on working out ways, conditions and terms for a fair, united and prosperous Somalia. Multiple letters and envoys had been exchanged between the Late Leaders of Somaliland and Puntland: Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed.
This was done discreetly and diplomatically through mutually trusted envoys who shuttled between Garowe and Hargeisa.
To spearhead and champion for a federal system of government in Somalia, Puntland State proposed to Late President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal to agree to the creation of a rotating Common Presidency between Puntland and Somaliland in which Egal assumes the leadership of the first term. Under this arrangement, each state was to retain its local public institutions in a federal fashion while mutually benefiting from all advantages each had to offer in the way of economic, political and security cooperation. A Puntland Plan (B) in that initiative was to remind President Egal that legally and technically he was the last Somali Prime Minister overthrown illegally and he had every right constitutionally to reclaim Somalia’s leadership. While maintaining Somaliland as the first federal state, he could move on to be a central leader in a Federal Republic. Puntland offered him its full support if he was to choose the second option.
In the course of these diplomatic exchanges, there were two obstacles President Egal could not handle despite his known political shrewdness:
For Puntland State of Somalia, the issue of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn was easy to resolve, i.e. holding an internationally observed referendum for the residents in those three regions to decide their own fate and respect the final outcome. Moreover, if the two states were to integrate into a federal system the political tension surrounding these regions would have disappeared immediately for all parties to benefit, particularly inhabitants of these regions, who suffered such much under these political claims and counter-claims.
These negotiations finally collapsed with Egal holding a Somaliland “Constitutional Referendum” in May 31, 2001 with little or no say by the inhabitants of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn as they massively boycotted it. Deceptively, there was a last minute insertion in the questionnaire of that orchestrated referendum regarding Sool, Sanaag and Cayn approval of it as “considered” their acceptance of the “Somaliland” rule. This is a historical mistake that will haunt Hargeisa political leaders for years to come and make any “Gooni-Usu-Taag” impossible.
Missed opportunities are in abundance in Somali politics as the new Somali President, H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, himself an unknown quantity and untested, suffered one this weekend by producing a new prime minister out of the blue consistent with the same fashion himself came to the Presidency. The Somali saying, Buur baa wax badan docotay, deedna dhashay jiir
(a mountain has been painfully laboring for a long time and finally gave birth to a rat) is quite appropriate in this context. While I do not harbor any bias whatsoever against the appointment of the new Prime Minister, this selection does not sound the right choice to unite a country already in de facto decentralization bordering on a dangerous fragmentation. It is also an ominous sign for the federal political arrangement agreed upon and enshrined in the Provisional Constitution (See Public Trust Deficit in Somalia
Let us hope for those missed opportunities to present themselves again for leaders to seize in the best interests of their people and Somalia.
By Ismail Haji Warsame,
The author is the former Puntland Presidency Chief of Staff and long-time participant of most Somali National Reconciliation Process since 1995. He lives in Toronto, Canada.