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`Don`t Force Statehood On Somalia` - in Defence of Richard Dowden
by Prof Said Samatar
November 08, 2011


My initial impulse in perusing Richard Dowden`s piece Don`t Force Statehood on Somalia [Read below] was to cry “BLOODY MURDER!”-he must, as I have persuaded myself, have had access to an article I penned a couple of years back entitled “America, Pray Leave Somalia to its Own Devices” (published first in Journal of Contemporary African Studies, v. 28, no. 3 July 2009. 313-323.)

But I then realized that certain temperaments tend to come up with identical visions/solutions without knowing of each other! Don`t just laugh here, gawk! His suggestions for nudging wayward Somalia towards a workable political solution happen to match my own - step for step, strategy for strategy, concept for concept. Only I didn`t bring in the Swiss as a model.

Mr. Dowden does not need my help, as he is surely capable of defending his small niche of an argument - or to pastoralize it - to protect his herd of camels against tribal interlopers. Still, in pointing to Switzerland as a potential political model for Somalia Mr. Dowden, if I understood him, was uninterested in tracing the torturous route by which Switzerland became Switzerland, nor in trying to draw a comparative parallel in the histories of the Swiss and hapless Somalis. He was only, again if I understood him, referring to the tiny mountainous, heterogeneous country`s success in creating for itself autonomous communities of prosperous self-governing units, thereby becoming the `Wunderkind` of Europe. Since all attempts at centralizing Somalia have so far failed, he seems to be saying, why not try something new, something similar to the “Swiss model?”

Two further points. One is a trifling kvetch: the word Gurti - elder for Somali and spelt `Guurti` - was NOT used by the British during their tenure of northern Somalia. It is of more recent coinage. Instead, the British preferred the Arabic `Aaqil (sg) `Uqaal (pl).

The other is more serious and would have rendered Mr. Dowden`s points unchallengeable had he recollected it. He refers to the “fertile” inter-riverine region of southern Somalia. And it is a fact that the only piece of rich real estate that Somalia boasts happens to be this part. In the early 1970s a Somali-government commissioned Chinese team concluded that 50m farmers could comfortably live off this strip of territory. Allowing for the Chinese team`s assumption in the equality of farming skills between Chinese and Somalis (gawk again!), my own personal experience in the area tends to support the Chinese assessment. Again in the early 70s I used to run an adult night school in the port town of Kisimayu right in the heart of this region. My colleagues and I used to take pleasure excursions into the surrounding countryside. What we witnessed was a land unlike any in the rest of Somalia - a land covered with brilliantly swaying-in -the-wind woodlands teeming with domestic and wild life - myriad numbers of camel and cattle herds, flocks of sheep and goats, huge elephant herds, vast herds of ostriches, multiple prides of lions, leopards, cheetahs - the whole works. A very Serengeti-like environment, if you will. Much of this world has of course now vanished, wiped out almost to extinction by violent uncontrolled Somalis wielding AK-47s. (Whoever gave AK-47s to Somalis has committed an unpardonable sin against Somalia!) The land is now denuded of the woodlands, the big trees mowed down to be sold as commercial charcoal to the Emirate markets and beyond. Still, it remains the prime real estate in Somalia.

Why then, Mr. Dowden, should have asked, is this most fertile region inhabited by a perennially starving, famine-haunted population? The answer is as straight as it is terrifying. What nobody seems to know is that southern Somalia is an occupied territory -occupied in precolonial times by the predatory pastoral clans of Dir, Daarood and Hawiye who rapaciously preyed on the pacific peasant population of Bantu, Oromo, and Raxanwayn, etc. Then the Italians followed on their footsteps to conquer and occupy the Bantu and Raxanwayn, pastoralists, too, for good measure, and then conscripted the lot as slave laborers to work on their vast banana plantations. Then the successor national state that was born in 1960 from the merger of former British and Italian Somalilands, dominated by pastoralists, and therefore unsympathetic to this region, continued apace the oppression of the local population. Then Gen. M. Siyaad Barre`s totalitarian military regime took oppression of the region to new heights, then in the wake of Barre regime`s collapse in January, 1991, and the disintegration of Somalia into civil anarchy, the hordes of the late and unlamented Gen. M. F. Aydiid moved in, ravishing and raping the region. And now al-Shabaab Islamist thugs equally addicted to slicing off limbs of supposed refractors and gang-raping, first, 13-year-old lasses, then accusing them of adultery and publicly stoning to death these defenseless children in the market place.

If Mr. Dowden drew attention to the dramatic contrast between the arid unyielding but thriving autonomous, self-governing north and northeastern regions on the one hand and the fertile but starving occupied south, his argument calling for a Somalia of loosely connected self-governing entities would have been untouchable!

Finally, I gained a number of valuable insights from the two critical responses. What I miss in them is the kind of concrete proposals that Mr. Dowden puts forward. It is one thing to attack another`s ideas, another to put something tangible on the table! Perhaps it should be made a law that nobody without concrete submissions should enter this site!

Further, for the record there was, to my knowledge, no centralized state system in precolonial Somalia. The nearest thing to an organized state system in precolonial Somalia were the little eastern coastal sultanate of the Majeerteen Boqor, or Sultan `Ismaan Mahamuud and his enterprising usurpist nephew Yusuf Ali Keenadiid, who occupied the Hawiye lands around the southeastern coastal town of Hobyo (Obbia) and oppressed the natives there. (Incidentally, both of these statelets` economies prospered mightily on plundering traffic on the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean. Some things , apparently, never change. And in the west the tiny kinglet of the Ujuuraan led by the noble clan of the Gareen in the upper reaches of the Shabelle, or the River of Leopards, which was certainly no empire. (If anyone is in a mood to look into the Ujujuuraan further, they might start consulting a book co-authored by David Laitin and myself, entitled Somalia: a Nation in Search of a State, Pp. 15-17.

Coda: I loathe to take sides in debates but this time around my love of justice gets the better of me: The use of the word “cliché” in description of Dowden`s entry strikes me oddly. Cliché, as I understand it, is a word, phrase or concept that has lost its original power of validity through overuse or indiscriminate repetition. If so, it doesn`t apply to Dowden`s piece. If anything, his commends itself for its iconoclastic freshness.

Said Samatar teaches in the history department of Rutgers University.

Don`t Force Statehood On Somalia
by Richard Dowden
October 20, 2011

Street gunfight in Karaan, south-east Mogadishu

Oct 20, 2011 (African Arguments/All Africa Global Media) -- The model for Somalia is Switzerland. Don`t laugh! Political power in Switzerland lies in the cantons - the 26 proud self-governing communities. The state, such as it is, deals with international matters and national law. Who cares - or even knows - who the president of Switzerland is. The way people live and are governed is decided locally. The Swiss confederation means that cantons have joined the state willingly and can leave if they want to. If they were a simple federation, they could not.

Somalis - unlike the Swiss but like most Africans - are stuck with a constitution that leaves total power in the hands of a president. Strong centralised states are the legacy of colonial rulers and unsurprisingly the inheritor governments have kept it that way. Terrible wars - such as those in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan - were fought to keep the countries together, but in the latter two they failed. In Somalia civil war began in the late 1980s and since then fragmentation has continued. Good. Leave it that way. It suits Somali society.

The odd factor is that Somalia is one of only two sub-Saharan African states made up of a single ethnic group. The other being Botswana, the most peaceful country on the continent. But the Somalis are different. I realised that when I was having dinner with a minister at a restaurant in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. One of the waiters recognised my host and having delivered the food, decided to give the minister an earful. In most African countries the man would have been dragged off to jail - or worse. But not only did the minister have to listen, he got to his feet and argued back. This was an argument between equals.

“Every man his own Sultan” is how one Ugandan visitor described the Somalis in the mid 19th century. Its nomadic tradition makes it a very self-sufficient, individualistic society bound by complicated codes of loyalty and rivalry. Within families and clans it is a very hierarchical society. But between families and clans it is very level, competitive. Somalis regard everyone as an equal. And they are used to defending themselves.

Traditionally disputes between Somalis were sorted out by the clan elders who would arrange compensation payments after clan or family battles or theft. In the north of Somalia, Somaliland, British indirect rule left the traditional leadership of clan elders - collectively known as the Gurti - in place. During colonial times Somaliland virtually managed itself and the Gurti retained respect and authority. That has carried through to present times and Somaliland is stable with political parties and democratic elections. Twice electoral disputes have reached crisis point in recent years. Each time the politicians have turned to the Gurti for a ruling which has been accepted by all. In the Italian-ruled south the Gurti was dismissed in colonial times but it still exists beneath the surface.

Somalia`s civil war began in the 1980s between clans in a winner takes all battle for total national power. The former British-ruled north west territory, Somaliland, declared independence. The north east, Puntland, also declared itself self governing until a proper government was restored. The centre, Galmudug, is also self governing. The war continues as a battle for Mogadishu, the capital and for the ports and fertile river valleys of the south. It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

Although alliances have shifted, no formula has been devised that can bring peace at a national level. The only period of peace in the south was in 2005 when the clan warlords were defeated and Islamic courts took over the administration of justice and kept the peace. Some courts were harsh but southern Somalia was safe, trade and investment increased and people walked freely in the streets, A united peaceful Somalia however, especially under the rule of Islamic courts, was a threat to Ethiopia. The Ethiopians persuaded the Americans this was Islamic fundamentalism taking over. The Ethiopian invasion at the end of 2006, backed by the US and - shamefully - Britain which should have known better, in fact strengthened the fundamentalists. Three years later the Ethiopians were forced to withdraw and were replaced by an African peacekeeping force of Ugandan and Burundian troops. Since then they have managed to hold a small part of Mogadishu on behalf of a weak ineffective government most of whose members reside in Nairobi.

The rest of the city and much of the south was at the mercy Al-Shabaab, an Islamic fundamentalist movement. But Shabaab made the crucial mistake of not letting foreign aid enter the country during the worst drought since the 1980s. That turned the drought into a famine and turned the people against Shabaab, forcing them out of Mogadishu and other areas to allow food aid to arrive.

This presents the government - known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) - with an opportunity to prove itself and deliver food and security to the people. But this is unlikely to happen according to Professor Ken Menkhaus, a Horn of Africa specialist. “This is the TFG`s best and probably last chance to do something right and capitalise on Al-Shabaab`s weakness by showing that it can and will govern well” he says. “I wish I could say I am hopeful it will, but the TFG`s track record so far points to the opposite conclusion - it has never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

The UN now talks glibly about restoring the Somali state and holding elections. This is the way to continue the war, not end it. Political parties in Somalia are little more than a cover for clans so an election simply elevates one clan over the others. Allow the government in Mogadishu to run the city and port, perhaps the Benadir region, but no further.

Negotiations should then take place region by region about the relationship between them and the capital, leaving power in local - not national - hands. The zones should be soft bordered encouraging trade and dialogue between them. Taxes should be raised and spent locally. To act as the national security blanket a forum of clan leaders could be formed, joined by traders, businessmen, religious leaders, poets and musicians (both very important people in Somalia) - in fact a sort of Somali House of Lords to counterbalance the inept and greedy political class.

This forum might turn into a body that negotiates between groups and chooses who should represent Somalia internationally and take the Somalia seat at the UN and represent Somalia in its diplomatic missions. But neither the forum nor the government should be given nationwide powers at street level. That should remain entirely local. Any attempt to create a powerful Somali state will ensure the civil wars will continue.

That is especially true of Somaliland where the feeling against the south is still very bitter. Reunification with the south is unanimously opposed. Not a single Somalilander I know wants reunification. Not a single Somali from the rest of the country wants Somaliland to stay independent. Unless we are very careful, peace in the south of Somalia will mean war in the north.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa; altered states, ordinary miracles.

© 2011 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved

Somalia is Not a State
Timothy A. Ridout
The Huffington Post
July 13, 2011

Most think of Somalia as a single entity, but it needs to be conceptualized in terms of three distinct regions: Somaliland, Puntland and southern Somalia. The first two are functioning states in northern Somalia, whereas the rest of Somalia is an anarchic region allegedly governed by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

The TFG is not actually a government, and the state it purports to govern does not exist. Both are fictions perpetuated by the United Nations and its member states. By doing so, the international community is impeding peace, development and anti-piracy efforts in Somalia.

In the strictly legal sense, the TFG is the internationally recognized government of the Somali state. But by every other measure, the Somali state ceased to exist in 1991, and no government has effectively administered all of Somalia since. The TFG exists only because of financial and military assistance from foreign supporters. It does not have domestic authority or control outside of Mogadishu, and if it tried to assert any claim over Puntland or Somaliland, it would be rebuffed by the established authorities in those states.

Puntland has governed itself as an autonomous region since 1998, but it has not officially broken ties with the rest of Somalia. Somaliland declared independence in 1991 and has since become one of the most robust democracies in Africa. Southern Somalia remains anarchic and stateless.

The TFG has never enjoyed much support among Somalis. Created in 2004 after a peace conference in Mbagathi, Ethiopia, it could not even enter Mogadishu until the Ethiopian invasion of 2006-2007. Backed by the United States, this invasion routed the Shariah-based Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Before the invasion, the home-grown UIC had defeated warlords and was establishing a rudimentary government. It brought the greatest level of order to southern Somalia since 1991.

After destroying the relatively moderate UIC and implanting the unpopular TFG in Mogadishu, Ethiopian troops went home, leaving the task of supporting the TFG to a few thousand African Union soldiers operating under a UN mandate. Known as AMISOM, this primarily Ugandan contingent has been fighting hardline Islamist militants who emerged from the shattered UIC. The main militant group is familiar to many: al-Shabaab.

Although the TFG`s mandate was set to expire in August 2011, it was recently extended for another year at a UN-sponsored conference in Kampala, Uganda. This was a mistake. Conferences held outside Somalia that attempt to graft a government onto Somali society have failed for 20 years. Instead of embracing and learning from indigenous Somali successes in the north, the international community undermines them by supporting the TFG.

Somaliland and Puntland were created by Somalis through extensive clan-based consultation, incorporating traditional leaders and culminating in local peace conferences. They have achieved levels of peace and stability unknown in the south.

Puntland initially flirted with democracy, but it has moved toward a more authoritarian model. Puntland`s first president was Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Though criticized for his strong-arm tactics, he strengthened the state apparatus and helped build institutions. However, he soon became focused on leveraging his position to become the head of the TFG, and Puntland started to languish.

Yusuf led the TFG from 2004 until 2008. He was succeeded by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who had been a prominent leader in the UIC.

Puntland still has a functioning government, but it has not lived up to its early potential. Piracy has flourished in Puntland because of corruption and lawlessness. Had the international community offered institution-building assistance in the early 2000s instead of trying to artificially reconstitute the Somali state, Puntland probably would not be the pirate haven it is today.

Somaliland is a stable democratic state that respects the rule of law (it even has a pirate prison), but its economic growth has been hampered by its lack of international recognition. Investors, aid agencies and Somaliland`s diaspora have been deterred by Somaliland`s ambiguous legal status.

Last year, the Obama administration implemented a “dual-track“ approach toward Somalia, engaging both the TFG and the governments in Somaliland and Puntland. This is a good first step, but the TFG should be taken out of the equation as soon as possible. The international community should find a way to combat al-Shabaab without supporting the TFG. Military assistance in southern Somalia should be geared toward providing security while locals are encouraged to build their own government from the ground up.

Meanwhile, Puntland should be given incentives to root out corruption and enhance the rule of law. Assistance should be offered to help build its institutions and professionalize its security apparatus. Whether it declares full independence or someday forms a state with southern Somalia is Puntland`s decision to make.

Somaliland should be recognized as a sovereign state. It is a model of effective self-governance in a chaotic region, serving as bulwark against terrorism and piracy. The politics of international recognition are complicated, but South Sudan shows that they are not insurmountable.

Recognizing the reality on the ground and adjusting our policies would do much to help the Somali people. Continuing to pretend that Somalia is one state governed by the TFG will bring more of the same.

Timothy A. Ridout is a Master`s student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University


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