Op-Ed: State subversion: how Somalia perfected the art of subversion and deploys it against Somaliland

Somaliland and somali flags

By:Mustafa Ahmed

Qosol been ah fool wada qayaxan qiil an garanaayo
Booraan afkii laga qafiley qabarna hooseeyo
Qusur oodan shebeg laysu qubay qoolad iyo xeelad
Qullaab iyo kullaab iyo lacaaf laysku qabanaayo
Qayaamada kobtaa daahiraan qun ugu soo jeedo
Doqon baa halkii lagu qatali qoorta soo dhigane
Maanaa mindiyo lay qarshaa laygu qali doono?
Sidee baan qanboosha u cunaa qabiska waabayda!
I know the intention of a fake smile in an open face
A deep-water hole with its opening hidden & with graves below
A depth of enclosed water with a net put inside, a halter & cunning
The hook, line & bait are all together
I see the cheating in that open place very clearly
A fool will put his neck down there where he will be killed
Is it me who will be killed with knives that are hidden from me?
How can I eat qanboosha, and its poisonous laden fruits!
Faarax Nuur of Somaliland

Nin ku yidhi sinnaan mayno Anyone who refuses to see you as equal
Adna buri sarrayntiisa: refute his superiority
Sidka waa wadaagtaane you were born in the self-same way
Ma sagaashan baa tiisu Was he carried for ninety months instead?
Mohammed Hadraawi of Somaliland


Somalia is the quintessential example of a failed state, a state often cited as an example of where not to go for countries on the brink of civil war. No term captures this precarious state of lawless existence better than Somalization. In the wake of the Arab spring, when various Middle Eastern and North African countries descended into chaos, Somalization gained wide acceptance among the academic community and diplomats alike. In a stark warning to Syrians, the Algerian diplomat and former special envoy of the U.N. and Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi raised the alarm over the prospect of Syria turning into another Somalia. Since 1991, Somalia has been at war with itself and with its neighbours by exporting instability to the region. The absence of any central government able to exert its authority across the country from Boosaaso to Kismayu gave rise to the formation of various clannistans, the so-called Federal Member States of Somalia.

Despite the concerted efforts of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, much of the country is still governed by Al-Shabaab and ISIS. An estimated 2/3rd of Somalia is under the direct or indirect control of Al-Shabaab and its affiliates, a group often described as a state within a state. Their presence on the ground means travel by road in Somalia is avoided at all costs, giving rise to a booming domestic air travel industry. In Mogadishu, Somalia’s largest commercial city, Al-Shabaab and the federal government of Somalia (FSG) have developed a dual bureaucratic taxation system where businesses and traders are coerced to pay taxes to both. To illustrate the sophisticated nature of Al-Shabaab tax collectors, businesses who owe taxes receive SMS reminders to settle accounts within a specified time or face severe penalties. This conducive environment for terrorists and radicals has transformed Somalia into a hub for global jihadi movements and individuals wishing to spread chaos and mayhem far beyond Somalia’s borders. In security terms, this represents a significant security risk for the region and the wider world. The 2008 bombing of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, in which 30 people were killed, and the Westgate shopping mall attack that left 71 people dead provide a poignant reminder of the danger posed by terror groups operating within Somalia to regional peace and stability.

The mushrooming of terror groups in Somalia forced the international community to intervene in Somalia both politically and militarily, to establish some form of authority in Mogadishu. As a result, a significant amount of time, money and manpower has been invested in keeping an artificial authority that nobody elected in place against a much more sophisticated and socially entrenched opponent. However, instead of taking on Al-Shabaab and bringing a degree of stability to Somalia, the authority in Mogadishu have invested greatly in tools designed for undermining the de facto sovereign state of Somaliland, the senior co-founder in the now-defunct Somali Republic that existed until 1991.

Much like the current president of Russia describing the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent emergence of 15 sovereign states as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in the 20th century” the people of Somalia and their leaders have become psychological prisoners of the past – a past in which there was Somaliland and Somalia united as a single ethnonational state until 1991 when Somaliland re-asserted the statehood it voluntarily relinquished in 1960. To Somalilanders, what happened in 1960 shortly after independence from the U.K was nothing short of the greatest act of betrayal of one generation by another when they united the newly independent state of Somaliland with Somalia. The British newspaper, the Daily Herald mocked this decision with the following headline: ‘the colony that rejected freedom” in its Wednesday 29th June edition. Such betrayal led to a 30-year long struggle for independence that came at the tragic cost of genocide – the Isaaq genocide.

Three decades on, rather than issuing an official state apology to Somaliland over the state-sponsored Isaaq genocide perpetrated in the name of Somalia, bringing the perpetrators hiding in Somalia to justice and paying reparations to Somaliland for the material and economic damage sustained during the war period, Somalia maintains the view that Somaliland’s existence and statehood is a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This does not come as a surprise to anybody at all, but to learned historians, Somalia has always been seen as Africa’s problematic state. The existential crisis that confronts Somalia (imaginary in nature) has its origin in irredentism and ethnic-expansionist tendencies that in the past led to wars with neighbouring countries. In 1964, in Cairo, the organisation of African Unity (OAU), a predecessor of the African Union (AU), declared that the “all Member States pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence’’ to prevent the continent being engulfed in endless border wars. But Somalia stood out as an outcast and rejected that resolution amid an embrace of irredentism and jingoism. It saw an opportunity to absorb the Somali territories of Djibouti, the Somali region of Ethiopia, and Kenya’s North East province into Somalia. But this is not an article on anarchism, terrorism and the rejection of norms and traditions that govern the world by Somalia [though intended to provide readers with factual grounding], but an assessment of how a weak government in Mogadishu, that is barely able to exert its authority beyond the gates of the city managed to build tools to subvert Somaliland and the extent it had any consequences for the target population in the absence of an active counter-subversion action by Somaliland.

Mission to regain Somaliland; Somalia – the schizophrenic Ex-partner
Traditionally, a state determined to incorporate another’s territory into its own often had to wage a war of conquest that ended in either defeat or victory. The latter could only be realised through a successful military takeover and the ensuing result is the annexation of a whole or part of a territory of the victim state. However, an interesting power dynamic exists between Somaliland and Somalia, alas Somalia has no military capacity to attack part or whole of Somaliland. Somalian policy makers in Mogadishu know and understand this limitation, given the dire shape of their armed forces. Somalia’s military is comprised of loosely arranged tribal militias that go without pay for months on end with little or no loyalty to the state. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find news reports of Somalian government forces gunning down civilians or engaging each other on the streets of Mogadishu. Despite this, Somalia never relinquished its claim to Somaliland. Though not keen on personifying a state, it can be tempting to nationalise the behaviour of Somalia as that of a schizophrenic Ex-partner that never got over the loss of Somaliland. If a country could be compared with a human being, Somalia would have long ago been admitted to a psychiatric institution for a mental habitation due to chronic stalking activities that threaten the sanity and wellbeing of its neighbour.

Nevertheless, still fresh in the minds and lurking in the background like a haunting ghost is the war of liberation in the 1980s and the defeat of Somalia’s military junta by Somaliland’s freedom fighters (SNM), at a time when had well equipped and looked after military force. As such it is highly unlikely this option is even contemplated – at least not in the short to medium terms while Somalia is weak and dependent on the international community for financial and security survival. There is also another important element at play that deems the use of force and aggression as unacceptable to preserve international peace and security. As a result, there is little appetite for direct or indirect (through proxies) confrontation with Somaliland. To compensate for this inherent deficiency, subversion has become the favourite and only tool at Somalia’s disposal for undermining Somaliland.

Subverting Somaliland
It is worth noting war is not just confined to or fought on the battlefields, skies, and seas alone; state subversion is an extension of war, albeit one fought without a bullet being fired; and war is a tool of statecraft designed to achieve specific geopolitical aims. Contrary to what many Somalilanders may choose to believe, Somalia’s hostility toward Somaliland has never ceased. Rather, it simply morphed into psychological warfare, and they are fighting this one differently owing to the persistence of Faqashism – a fascist ideology held by those who deny the Isaaq genocide and oppose the formal restoration of the sovereign state of Somaliland. Beneath the smiles and warm words of ‘Soomaalinimo’ brotherhood lurks a Machiavellian mindset that offers nothing but duplicity and deceit. Faarax Nuur’s artistically crafted words of “qosol been ah fool wada qayaxan qiil an garanaayo” offers a cautionary tale on how to approach a ruthless and cunning opponent.

To readers unfamiliar with this subject, subversion is a state-sponsored subversive activity intended to weaken or overthrow a government from within. In the context of the state, it can be considered a gradual process in which the principles and values underpinning a system in the target country are challenged by a hostile state. It aims to change the established norms and traditions of a society and its structures i.e., government, institutions, laws, and the social bonds that hold them together. The intention is to destabilise the target country as far as possible by demoralising its people. Hence, subversive actions by nature amount to an attack on public morale and their ability to withstand external pressures that gradually erode their domestic unity, and loyalty to the state and the country. As such it’s universally illegal to engage in sedition and subversive activities against the state. This is an area Somaliland is falling behind the rest of the world and there has never been a better time to address this issue by legislating anti-sedition and subversion laws.

For Somalia, bringing Somaliland back into the fold through military means lacks any practical feasibility. Therefore, the need to adopt tactics and employ subversion as an alternative to war represents an attractive option for two key reasons: A) the risk is minimal and B) the overall operational cost is low. Consequently, it’s very much a convenient choice of warfare that is unlikely to alarm or be recognised by the Somaliland population. The very nature of subversion is to achieve a long-term strategic geopolitical outcome. It is a slow-motion process akin to stealthy infiltration and takeover of a country without bullets and bombs.

The four stages of ideological subversion
Ideological subversion as it is referred to is designed to alter the perception of reality among the masses through brainwashing techniques over several years, usually more than a decade. As people lose their perception of reality, they no longer waste time, effort, or intellectual capital in differentiating fiction from facts. Yuri Bezmenov, the former KGB propagandist, and USSR defector who was featured in a television interview in the 1980s described the soviet approach to ideological warfare against the United States as a long-drawn process that comes in distinct stages, four to be precise. They are demoralisation, destabilisation, crisis, and normalisation. In brief, the first stage is time-consuming when you consider the length of time required to influence a generation of people, which ranges from 25-to 30 years, followed by the destabilisation stage aimed at influencing the foreign relations, defence and economy of the target state. Subsequently, chaos follows in the form of crisis culminating in the final stage of normalisation where the status quo disappears, and take-over of the state is completed with or without invasion.

Multi-dimensional campaign of demoralising Somalilanders
In the context of Somaliland, the first stage of the subversion campaign is more relevant and observable. The values and moral fortitudes binding Somalilanders together and the existence of their country are being repeatedly questioned. Stories originating from outside of the country regularly make their way into the public domain. But what Somalilanders value and hold dear is their unity and sense of responsibility for one another, democracy, freedom, shared heritage, and cultural identity, as well as the independence of their country. In open societies like that of Somaliland, the challenge is malign actors find it easy to engage in subversive activities through disinformation and propaganda campaigns. They hide behind freedom of expression.

Let’s consider the various methodologies used by Somalia to subvert Somaliland by examining Somalia’s fallacious narratives in the context of history, culture, language and literature, media and politics.

The myth of ethnic homogeneity in Somalia; “Somalia is for Somalis”
One of the most enduring myths about Somalia is ethnic homogeneity. Somalian public like to think their country is one of a few culturally and linguistically homogenous nation-states to exist in Africa, but this could not be further from the truth. This is a misconception based on the assumption that Somali people have a single point of origin, common ancestor, shared language, and culture with nomadic means of production for sustenance. It is this myth that has been propagated by Somalia’s successive governments and is largely accepted by most Somali speaking people due to decades of brainwashing. It forms the foundations for the dream of Greater Somalia in which all Somali territories in the HoA are politically united under a single ethnonational state governed from Mogadishu.

However, I.M Lewis, the pre-imminent pioneer of Somali studies questioned this when he described the differences between the Af-Maay and Maxaad languages, albeit one rejected by students of Somali studies engaged in the perpetuation of cultural, linguistic and identity erasure of other Somalians in pursuit of ethnic purity. An example of non-ethnic Somalis includes the Jareer (Bantu), Banadiri, Arabs, Brawaani and Baajuun and together they represent a significant percentage of Somalia’s population. Their languages, traditions, and cultures are suppressed to the degree that some are actively referred to as ‘addoomo’(slaves), half-humans. By any standard of measure, this amounts to a wholesale cultural and linguistic genocide.

Furthermore, it remains a point of contention whether or not the Raxanweyn group that inhabits the fertile lands between the two rivers of Jubba and Shabeelle can be regarded as an ethnic group of their right given their distinct Maay language. Therefore, Somalia’s claim of homogeneity stands on shaky grounds and cannot stand scrutiny. Nevertheless, the argument of ethnic homogeneity could only be applied to Somaliland where a hundred per cent of the population comprises ethnic Somalis with no linguistic or cultural variation among them.

Despite the availability of these facts, Somalia has successfully managed to hijack and weaponise the ethnic identity of the Somali people scattered across the Horn of Africa (HOA) region and beyond for political reasons. The country portrays itself as the homeland of Somali speaking people regardless of their country of origin, thus, the genocidal mantra of ‘Somalia is for Somalis’. In fact, any Somali speaking person could relocate to Somalia and immediately become a citizen of Somalia while simultaneously denying sections of their people the same privilege. The notion of citizenship is absent from the legal books of Somalia and who is and isn’t a citizen of Somalia has never been defined. It shouldn’t however escape our attention the fact that most Somali speaking people do not reside in Somalia and are not citizens of Somalia. Obsessive attempts to tie being a Somali to Somalia are nothing more than a symptom of a country and people in a state of a perpetual identity crisis.

What makes this even more interesting is, that many older Somalilanders who grew up under the communist regime of Somalia were subject to historical revisionism and propaganda in their formative years and were brainwashed into accepting Soomaalinimo fiction without questioning the political and ideological motives behind it. On occasions, this horror comes to the fore as it’s not uncommon to watch or hear Somaliland officials deliver speeches only to be caught drifting off script into the wilderness of Soomaalinimo. It’s even more peculiar witnessing how what was supposed to be a bygone era affects younger Somalilanders due to the glamourisation of Soomaalinimo. Sustaining myths is not without merit, it is a part of an overall strategy by Somalia for maintaining a specific narrative against Somaliland’s statehood.

Theft of Somaliland’s cultural heritage and intellectual properties
In terms of creativity, Somalia produces literature, art and poetry of little value, a void filled by Somalilanders who are known for their rich cultural and linguistic heritage. Therefore, Somalia is feeding off the intellectual, cultural, linguistic, art and music heritage of Somaliland and passing it on as a Somali Heritage ‘dhaxal Soomaaliyeed’. Even on occasions of historic importance as Somalia’s Independence Day on 1 July 1960, the current president of Somalia was caught quoting Kaana siib, kanna saar” poem of Cabdillaahi Suldaan Timacadde of Somaliland, who composed the poem on the eve of Somaliland’s Independence Day from Britain on 26th June 1960. Perhaps the greatest theft of Somaliland’s cultural heritage and intellectual properties was most pronounced during the Kacaan era of Siyaad barre who sought to erase the history and identity of Somalilanders in preparation for the Isaaq genocide. Axmed Idaajaa and Aw Jaamac were handpicked for this project and armed with all the resources of the state, they presided over what could only be considered the greatest state-sponsored appropriation of the cultural heritage of one people on behalf of another.

Framing Somaliland as a secessionist region
Part of the ideological warfare Somalia wages against Somaliland on the diplomatic front is the propagation of false and misleading narratives. What this does is confuse the international community by reducing Somaliland’s historical and legal right to statehood as a separatist problem for Somalia, which deliberately ignores the historic and legal case of Somaliland as a country that freely entered a union (the act of union was unratified) with Somalia in 1960. A narrative designed to obstruct any chance of Somaliland being re-recognised. Something Somalia argues could lead to the rest of Somalia disintegrating into various clannistans. An argument that holds little or no weight that it was dismissed by the AU’s own 2005 report on Somaliland. The legal case of Somaliland might be watertight, but Somaliland’s elites are not as cunning as those of Somalia who run what can only be described as a mafia state.

The granddaddy of all absurdity is the claim of Somalia that pre-dates the partition of Africa in 1885. They believe European powers divided Somalia into five regions. However, when the Italian, French and British arrived in the HoA, they encountered bellicose and periodically warring Somali nomads dispersed across a vast land. These nomads shared little in common beyond the lands grazed by their animals and were certainly not unified or living under any form of a recognisable system of government. The concept of modern statehood, and civil administration, as far as Somalis are concerned, coincided with the arrival of Europeans in their respective territories. The local traditions and tribal chieftain rulers reigned supreme. Almost all the countries in Africa, except a few, are the product of European colonisation. Somalia and Somaliland are no different. But what this kind of historical revisionism demonstrates is total regard for all accounts of history and facts in favour of lies, deceit and propaganda – a quintessential modus operandi of Somalia. A practice that can be traced back to the Kacaan regime of Siyaad Barre that pioneered history revisionism and transformed many questionable figures of history into heroes and heroines of Somalia (see the Mad Mullah and Hawa Tako). A debate for another day in the de-kacaanification of Somalia’s history.

Today, nothing is more absurd, if not more embarrassing for Somaliland than the presence of a cohort of impersonators claiming to represent the people of Somaliland in the political institutions of Somalia. These are people whom nobody elected or could ever set foot in Somaliland. Somalia’s shell of institutions including the supreme court, parliaments, and cabinet employs these political fraudsters. Their presence in Somalia is meant to reinforce an image of Somaliland that is still part and parcel of Somalia but in reality, these imposters are nothing more than rent-seekers with the parasitic intent of leeching off Banadir communities – Somalia’s sole tax-paying constituent. Paradoxically, this constituent of two or so million people have no genuine representation in the political institutions of Somalia and is subject to constant insecurities in the form of bombing and bullets from the warring actors of Somalia. The political relevance of these imposters to Somalia is as important as a flower might be to the courtyard of a dilapidated palace. Beyond the optics (illusionary in intent), it’s entirely unnecessary to the actual functioning of the house of “duopoly” – to quote a term coined by Prof Ahmed Samatar of Macalester’s Institute for Global Citizenship. Nevertheless, narratives are to be actively maintained if the intended objectives remain outstanding by enhancing the tools of influence for maximum damage. The world of media, academia and influential personalities in Somaliland represents three key areas ripe for exploitation.

Capturing key influential people and media personalities of Somaliland
Traditionally, conventional media such as television, radio and newspapers dominated the news and current affairs space. They were trusted sources of information and brought their audience factual news and analysis of important events while holding those in power to account through the scrutiny of their work and conduct in public offices. To this end, they largely played a constructive and positive role in society. But what happens when a journalist morphs from being a credible source of information into chasing clout in the form of likes, shares, and comments on social media – where news is now instantaneous? What happens to ethics, morality, integrity, and the professionalism associated with journalism? Additionally, what is the position of those lacking appropriate academic background, qualifications and training who misuse the title of a journalist? These are the kind of questions Somaliland is grabbling with and formulating coherent answers may form part of the solution.

To protect both the reputation of the profession and the freedom and independence of journalists in Somaliland, the scope of their activities must be regulated and legally defined. This is where having a robust media law fits in. The skills and journalistic capacity of journalists can be upgraded to meet minimum acceptable standards. A licence to practice can ensure the profession is not brought into disrepute by unscrupulous actors masquerading as journalists. Arbitrary arrest of those accused of committing media crimes is doing more damage to the international reputation and image of Somaliland than good. It is also an open goal for Somalia and its propaganda army to paint Somaliland as a hostile environment for the freedom of the press. Regardless, we shall be reminded, that freedom of speech is not absolute; it’s constrained by many factors, especially where the rights of others are infringed upon.

The role of media in modern warfare is fast changing and is shifting to new grounds: social media has become the new battleground for spreading disinformation to populations with high internet and device penetrations. States and malign actors alike are shifting their focus into this arena. Achieving political instability by sawing the seeds of discord and division through social media has become a preferred choice of warfare for Somalia against Somaliland. The absence of any laws governing the responsible use of social media platforms meant anyone can post anything without facing any consequences – a form of digital anarchism. Therefore, the law must catch up with social media platforms given their power and influence on people.

The situation is complicated by the recruitment and capture of media personalities in Somaliland by Somalia’s intelligence agency to spread chaos and confusion to the public in Somaliland. Since Farmaajo came to power in Somalia in 2016, the recruitment of influential people and media personalities from Somaliland has been turbocharged amid the promise of foreign visas, money, and political positions in Somalia. Young men and women born, raised, and educated in Somaliland are lured into Somalia where they pose for pictures with officials in Mogadishu. It is not long after they become ideologically transformed, and they begin propagating Somalia’s official narrative on Somaliland. For those confessing to be ‘journalists’, their standard line of defence is “I am a Somali journalist who impartial to all Somali people” when challenged or questioned. Imagine, a scenario where a Taiwanese journalist becomes a Chinese propagandist just to offer the ludicrous explanation of being “A Chinese journalist who is impartial to all ethnic Chinese people”. What conceivable excuses – if any, could they offer for being the tool used to undermine one’s own country by another country that is ideologically and existentially opposed to yours.

To muddy the water further, there are at least a dozen or so media outlets owned by Somalia operating in Somaliland airwaves broadcasting propaganda. Almost the perfect situation to shape the public opinions of your adversary from within. An effective solution is to shut them down permanently. No other country tolerates being undermined from within by its adversary, and Somaliland is no exception to the rule.

Another remarkable feat of success for the Somalian campaign to subvert Somaliland is the think tanks based in Mogadishu that organise annual gatherings of ‘Somali Academic’ in various cities across the HoA. The organisers and think tanks all originate from and carry the name of Somalia, yet panellists from Somaliland still participate. It shouldn’t escape our attention that these think tanks have never disclosed the source of their funding or the purpose of their existence beyond the carefully curated PR statements of being the spark plugs for igniting debates. Members of Somaliland’s academic community and thinkers should tread carefully when participating in these Somalia oriented conferences.

Joining these YouTubers are a long list of religious figures, poets, musicians, and other members of society who engage in the same subversive acts. The gift of subversion itself is that if sustained long enough, there is a point where your enemy no longer perceives you as such argued Yuri Bezmenov – the former KGB propaganda officer. If recent world events offer any examples of this for Somaliland’s government and its policymakers, they should look no further than Eastern Ukraine and how subversive activities led to chaos from within. Trump’s ascent to power in 2016 is another pertinent example of a major world power being subverted. Both are examples of what happens when state subversion goes unchecked, and the hostile foreign power begins supporting its preferred domestic political actors. Today, there are shady figures within the political establishment of Somaliland who actively propagate or assume the same position as Somalian politicians on matters of great importance. If the elites can be subverted and infiltrated this way, what chance do the common man or woman in Somaliland stand? This is nothing short of a spectacular failure of a country’s elite.

Elite failure in Somaliland
To lead is to be trusted, and to be trusted is to lead. And with leadership comes a vision. In the grand scheme of things, Somaliland is a relatively young nation-state. In the aftermath of the war of liberation in 1991, the elites were remarkably successful in steering the young republic away from anarchism and state failure through a series of organic peace and reconciliation conferences (39 in total) that laid the foundations for the modern-day state of Somaliland. In the first and second decade since the re-establishment of Somaliland, the late President M.I. Egal and his successor D. Kaahin were preoccupied with state-building. Both leaders and their respective administrations closely guarded the sovereignty of the state by rejecting to recognise the legitimacy of the authorities that were based in Mogadishu. It’s almost as if the words of the great Somaliland philosopher and poet Hadraawi were playing in their minds: “nin ku yidhi sinnaan mayno, adna buri sarrayntiisa, sidka waa wadaagtaane, ma sagaashan baa tiisu” to persist in mutual recognition or none policy towards Somalia. Laws were passed that prohibited Somalilanders from engaging and taking part in the political macabre of Somalia. An approach that proved a success and prevented subversion against Somaliland from within.

In life and as well as in politics, change is inevitable, and if anything brings free societies moments of surprise, it’s the periodic change of guards in government. Newcomers initiate change that better reflects their ideological and manifesto commitments, but some changes bring seismic shifts in policies, both domestic and foreign. The 2010 election in Somaliland brought to power a new party and a leader – with a different vision from that of his predecessor. President Siilaanyo and his foreign minister Dr Abdullahi Omar – the infamous architect of the Somaliland-Somalia talks – pursued a foreign policy based on soliciting the maximum aid possible from donor countries. In 2012, the U.K. government organised a conference on Somalia and sought the participation of Somaliland by offering Siilaanyo’s government a £105 million aid package. Lured by the promise of aid money, the elites gathered in Hargeisa and made a swift decision to attend the conference. It marked a major departure from Somaliland’s previous policy of non-engagement with anything involving Somalia.

The outcome of the conference was to have a profound impact on Somaliland when the communique suggested talks between Somaliland and Somalia to clarify their future relations. The public in Somaliland was sceptical of talks with Somalia but the elites were eager to try something new, alas without a strategy. A decade on, talks with Somalia reached a dead end. For Somalia, the objective of the talks was always about reconciliation – a contradictory position to that of Somaliland which seeks to formally end the status quo. Nevertheless, Somalia’s elites outmanoeuvred those from Somaliland by localising the talks to a mere internal reconciliation process. But Negotiations continued with teams from both sides meeting in the U.K, Turkey, and Djibouti without any substantial achievements. Almost all the bilateral agreements reached between the two countries were negated by Somalia, which calls into question Somalia’s capacity to enter and honour international agreements.

The failure of Somaliland’s elites does not end there. They failed to realise this: by agreeing to engage in open-ended talks with Somalia, they were lending the authority in Mogadishu a much-needed political legitimacy to show they were the sole representative authority of Somalia. A fatal (if not stupid) error of historic significance.

By the end of the decade, Somaliland lost its airspace management to Somalia and agreed to the streamlining of international aid into one via the Somalia multiparter fund. This means aid for Somaliland is channelled through Somalia, giving them immense political leverage over Somaliland. The recent catastrophic fire in Hargeisa laid bare how aid channelled through Somalia was used to subvert Somaliland by eroding the collective confidence of the people in their government. This is all happening due to a lack of political foresight among the elites addicted to aid.

Aid as we know it is closely tied to politics and diplomacy. Donor countries to Somaliland have their diplomatic presence in Mogadishu under the one Somalia framework but they regularly visit Hargeisa where they are afforded the privilege to tour state institutions. This has effectively transformed Somaliland into another federal member state of Somalia with the blessing of the elite in Hargeisa even when it is obvious to them that the country’s sovereignty is being infringed upon. The icing on the cake – if such a term could be used in this context, was the social and political integration of Somalia and Somaliland that led to the removal of all barriers relating to trade and free movement of people. Somaliland’s elites were masterfully played like a fiddle as though history thought them nothing. The cumulative effect of their choices through the years is caused irreversible damage to the country. Therefore, to truly de-couple Somaliland from Somalia, the country must reject anything related to Somalia including diplomats based in Somalia. Aid is not a substitute for sovereignty, thus operating with an NGO mentality when tasked with state affairs is a failure at the highest level of government. Worse yet, a culture of subcontracting the delivery of basic public services to NGOs means institutional development has no chance. Every ministry in Somaliland is attached to one or more NGOs based in Mogadishu, giving Somalia a real chance of subverting Somaliland’s institutions.

The institutions of the state are only as good as the people occupying them; in the case of Somaliland, they are individuals with little or no regard for the common good of the people and country. Their appointments are not based on meritocracy, experience, or expertise but on filling a tribal quota system at the behest of the chieftains. When meritocracy is disregarded, the great offices of the state become saturated with people whose only reason for being there is to satisfy that very system, thus, incompetence reigns supreme paralysing the state. Therefore, the separation of the state and the tribe is necessary and timely by stripping the chiefs of their self-anointed powers over the people. The existence of parallel authorities in the country, more powerful than the elected government is an existential threat to the continuity of the state. A symptom of elite failure and multi-party democracy that could hasten the demise of the state – a frightening prospect for all.

If history teaches us anything, it’s our ability to study and learn from it in the hope of avoiding a repeat of past mistakes. In this regard, the London 2012 Somalia conference and the subsequent agreement between Somaliland and Somalia must be regarded by Somalilanders as the biggest blunder since the rejection of statehood in 1960. A clear example of elites not learning anything from history. Somalia’s refusal to see Somaliland as an equal, demands a response in kind by reflecting on the words of Hadraawi of Somaliland: “nin ku yidhi sinnaan mayno, adna buri sarrayntiisa”.

The Machiavellian mentality of Somalia’s elites has been there all along and is not to be under-estimated. It is woven into the fabric of their thought process. Yet, their cunning, manipulative, and ruthlessness work every time against Somaliland elites who get outwitted at every turn. Given this, engaging in talks with Somalia is an exercise in futility. They have shown to be completely incapable of honouring agreements, a serious reminder to Somaliland not to trust a wolf in a sheep’s clothing. Taking Somaliland’s legally watertight case to the international court of justice stands a greater chance than seeking a political settlement.

The social and political integration between Somaliland and Somalia must be reversed. It’s the genesis of all the subversion activities currently taking place in the country. Surely, by now Somalilanders must have lost any residual faith in their elites whose actions are leading the country to a point of no return. A new breed of leaders with a sufficient understanding of what it means to be public servants and committed to the preservation of the country’s sovereignty must rise to the challenge of our generation. Shy patriots who are currently watching everything from the sidelines like spectators in a football match shall know indifference is an endorsement of the current status quo.


Will she, the camel (Maandeeq) go missing again?


    1. UN News, 2012. UN-Arab League envoy warns of the threat of “Somalization” of Syria. UN News. Available at: https://news.un.org/en/audio/2012/12/577182
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Mustafe Ahmed is a graduate of Biomedical Sciences and MSc student in medical imaging based in the U.K. He is known for political activism and is a self-appointed ambassador of Somaliland.

You can reach on twitter : MustafaAhmed42

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