Dr Hussein Bulhan’s proposal fails a test of coherence but it could nudge Somalia-Somaliland talks towards a timely breakthrough, writes Liban Ahmad
Dr Hussein Bulhan, the President and Founder of Fanon University in Hargeisa views two-state solution as the route through whichSomaliland can secure recognition. Professor Bulhan attended Heritage Institute of Public Studies Forum for Ideas held in Djibouti several weeks ago. Professor sees no hope in reviving the Union of the North and the South that culminated in the creation of the Republic of Somalia in 1960.
Nearly four years ago Dr Bulhan told Daily Maverick that “Peace doesn’t pay. Maintaining the peace for 25 years, not becoming a base for radical Islam, fighting piracy, doing the right things…this has not helped Somaliland internationally. Its sovereignty has been given to Mogadishu, to a group of people who don’t even have control of Mogadishu.”
The same year Professor Bulhan told Universal TV that Somaliland political leaders had only succeeded to create political parties based on personalities and clan loyalties instead of ideas. The judgement of 2017 Somaliland electoral observers – “over-reliant on a customary system to solve problems, and with representative electoral institutions not yet fully capable of supporting the transition to a stronger nation-state” – adds to the plausibility of Professor Bulhan’s judgement on Somaliland body-politic.
At HIPS Forum of Ideas Dr Bulhan proposed association of states in which Somalia will recognise Somaliland as an independent state. According to Dr Bulhan association of states will lead to a regional entity similar to IGAD, with Djibouti as a possible candidate. This is not a proposal any Somali President sworn in on the preservation of the Union will support. Why has Dr Bulhan given up on giving the the Union a second chance? He offered two reasons. Dr Bulhan points finger at delusions of grandeur. As a former tenured psychology professor at Boston University, Professor Bulhan diagnosed a collective psychological flaw in all Somalis. At HIPS Forum when Professor Bulhan referred to his clinical expertise, the Somali politician or citizen becomes a patient. Secondly, the power struggle predisposes every Somali clan to strive to become the “top dog” running the state. This diagnosis runs counter to post-1991 political realities. If Dr Bulhan views pre-1991 Somalia as arena for mono-clan dominance, post-1991 Somalia did not produce a situation in which one clan has captured the state. His diagnosis fails to mention Somali minorities whom the post-1991 Somali politicians from major clans relegate to second class citizenship.
Dr Bulhan pays no attention to power asymmetries in Somaliland. As Professor Ahmed Samatar argued recently, “the long-‐ standing disgruntlement by the kin communities in the western and eastern Somaliland over what they believe to be a severely lopsided and unacceptable distribution of parliamentary seats, one that allots 56 out of the total of 82 seats to the kin community in the geographicalcenter of the country” has yet to be solved. Waddani Party has proposed constitutional reform to solve underrepresentation in many parts of ex-British Somaliland. The Somaliland power-sharing mechanism translates into overrepresentation and more share of development assistance in Western Somaliland regions compared to eastern regions, where Somaliland’s sovereignty claim places some regions in disputed territories designation, making them inaccessible to aid workers.
Secessionists hold the view that the collapse of Somali state vindicates their loss of confidence in the Union but Professor Bulhan pins the blame on what he theorised as clan ethos. His two-state solution contains seeds of self-destruction he detects in federalism which,Bulhan said, “will lead to the centralised unitary state”. Unlike Southerners, Northerners are divided into secessionist and unionist camps. The path Somaliland has taken to unilaterally secede from Somalia differs from the path Eritrea and South Sudan have taken. WhereasHargeisa looks upon secession as reassertion of independence it attained in 1960, Mogadishu likens secession to the end of Somalia as a nation-state. The International Community urged Somaliland to talk to Mogadishu about its quest for sovereignty.
Bulhan’s reasons for two-state solution are not legalistic. They reflect lived experience of Somalis under a unitary state between 1960 and 1991. Upon returning to Hargeisa Professor Bulhan said that would he would carry on with advocating two-state solution. In Djibouti Professor Bulhan did not show willingness to be challenged by his fellow Northerners given how he reacted to pro-union views of Professor Hussein Warsame of the University of Calgary. Professor Bulhan’s proposal is more persuasive than the argument based on the unilateral secession and referendum of 1991 and 2001 respectively.