A section in a book titled “Somaliland: The Legacies of Non-Recognition”, which is still in the works, deals with Somaliland’s relationships with its neighbors, other relevant key countries and multilateral political organizations, such as the AU, the UN, the AL and the EU . The following is the chapter in that section that examines the Somaliland-Djibouti Relationship.
BY AHMED I. YUSUF
Perhaps it is more appropriate to characterize Djibouti’s policies and attitudes towards Somaliland as a manifestation of its president Ismail Omer Gelle’s personal mind-set rather than a reflection of the Djiboutians’ popularly held wishes and sentiments. However, it is always a dictatorship’s tendency to take positions that are in contradiction with its citizenry’s real beliefs and opinions. At any rate, when president Gelle thought he could manipulate the affairs of Somaliland and Somalia, he failed to look at himself in the mirror and draw obvious conclusions.
Lets us start with a few facts about Djibouti. With a population of about three quarters of a million and an area of just 23,200 sq km, Djibouti is the tiniest state in the Horn of Africa. Its climate is desert; hot, torrid and dry. It has no known natural resources; no arable land; no forests and grassland.
The economy, which is almost exclusively based on service activities, has been repeatedly beset by recession, civil war, a high population growth rate and fiscal mismanagement. It has serious employment, education, and health problems. Due to pervasive corruption, cronyism and lack of transparency, foreign aid donors have on occasions been reluctant to continue with their largesse.
In adversity, if all men who are fit to bear arms are drafted into military service, Djibouti will be hard pressed to muster more than 65,000 men. In case, God forbid, any of its neighboring countries so much as sneezes in its direction, Djibouti will be swept off its feet and the landing would likely be hard.
Above all, Djibouti is plagued by that most destructive of world curses: the all encompassing, omnipresent and demonic tyrant who is at the helm and in the thick of all affairs of state no matter big or small.
By any measure, Djibouti’s circumstances are unenviable. Admittedly, this condition is not exclusive to that country. Many nations around the world share the same fate or worse. However, its predicament is aggravated by a geographical ill fortune of being in a rough neighborhood and by Gelle’s ill-advised tendency of foolishly putting his middle finger in the said neighborhood’s problematic pies.
Given its physical and economic statuses, it would have been most logical and prudent for Djibouti’s leaders to follow the paths of countries like Switzerland, Singapore, and Costa Rica. These countries long found out that because of their tiny sizes, neutrality in the political affairs of the regions in which they are respectively located is a virtue. They maintain cordial relations with all their neighbors and stay away from their disputes.
This policy should not be construed as lack of ambitions on their part. Rather it is attributable to pragmatic and sober realization that any meddling by them in disputes would not, at the end of the day, make much difference in the outcomes thereof. One the other hand, interference could potentially prove detrimental to their interests.
Quiet development and minding their own business became their preferred preoccupations. Today they are beacons of prosperity and stability.
Djibouti or rather Gelle, however, has chosen a different and ominous tack. He has a finger in every regional contentious pie. In the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of the nineties, he was very vocal in his opinions. Nonetheless, neither country was pleased with his noises. Immediately after that conflict cooled off, Djibouti itself went to war with Eritrea that is yet to be resolved. Eretria allegedly still occupies some Djiboutian territory.
For too many times, Djibouti plunged to neck deep into the muddy political water of the erstwhile Somali Republic. The danger also here is that Djibouti’s head may go under water and risk suffering consequences that are as awful as they have been preventable.
But the most baffling and absurd of Gelle’s behavior is his irrational almost paranoiac hostility towards Somaliland. Paradoxically, Djibouti is one quarter from which Somalilanders least expected disfavor of any kind and magnitude, let alone hostility.
Djiboutians and Somalilanders have common ancestral linage and overlapping geographical habitation. For Djiboutians, Hargeisa and other Somaliland cities were always and continue to be literally their second hometowns. They could and still can stay in the country indefinitely; own property and even obtain Somaliland citizenship—all without let or hindrance. Djiboutian nomads cross into Somaliland for any purpose without second thoughts. Somalilanders as a matter of fact never bothered to make any distinction between themselves and Djiboutians.
In their struggle for independence, Djiboutians could count on Somalilanders’ unreserved support. At the time, Somaliland had been in the midst of its dark union with Somalia. The erstwhile Somali Republic, ostensibly true to the Pan-Somalism creed, had admittedly also been helpful to the freedom cause. However, Somalilanders’ succor, unlike other Somalis’, was much more than a mere expression of national policy. It was more emotional, more personal, more dedicated, more material, more practical and more effective.
Many Djiboutian freedom fighters used the Somaliland regions of the erstwhile Republic as their base of operations, or took refuge there after carrying them out, without the then governments’ express involvement or even knowledge. This was partly because many of these fighters had also been members of families in Somaliland.
Yet when Djibouti became independent, and Somalilanders’ efforts to free themselves from the Union’s yoke started in earnest, Djiboutian governments conferred them neither sympathy nor assistance nor refuge. Worse still, to the Somalilanders’ utter chagrin, Djibouti authorities played willing and active roles in the oppressor’s brutal countermeasures aimed at quelling Somalilanders’ just aspirations. In Djibouti, any Somalilander, who had fell under suspicion of being the Somali National Movement (SNM) member or sympathizer was unceremoniously detained and promptly handed over to Siad Barre’s security services at border.
No one who had suffered that misfortune was ever seen again.
In 1988, when millions of Somalilanders, in order to evade the ongoing genocide, had to flee their country under unrelenting bombardments, both rear and aerial, nearly all went to Ethiopia. Djibouti simply had closed its border at their face.
After Somalilanders, despite daunting odds and Djibouti’s unexpectedly hostile attitude, prevailed and regained their country and independence nonetheless, they bore no hard feelings towards Djiboutians. They knew Djiboutians, as people, had never shared their leaders’ untoward polices. Somalilanders had learned the hard way that dictators never give a damn about their subjects’ sentiments or viewpoints.
Still, Gelle’s guile against Somaliland did not end there. He proceeded with an intensive and persistent campaign to negate Somaliland’s restored independence.
He sponsored countless so-called Somali Reconciliation Conferences with the primary objective of reestablishing the erstwhile Somali Republic of which Somaliland would, of course, be part and parcel. Ignoring the true wishes of most Somalilanders and their legitimate leaders, he used all means at his disposal, foul or fair, to entice Somalilanders to participate in these conferences so that he could claim that these meetings and whatever ultimate outcomes thereof had the requisite appearances of inclusiveness and broad representation and therefore all the hallmarks of legitimacy and acceptance.
The current superficial government in Somalia, under the ‘presidency’ of Sheikh Sharef Sheikh Ahmed; before that, the one formed in Arta in 2002 under Abdiqasim Salad and at least one prior to both all laid comical claims as being the legitimate government of what used to be the Somali Republic, including (of course again), Somaliland. They all had been formed mainly through Gelle’s efforts.
Admittedly, the misguided, though some of them well meaning, policies of some countries towards Somalia and Somaliland; the maliciously self-interest driven intentions of others and the total indifference of the rest of the world were all helpful to Gelle’s tragicomic theatrics. Yet if a Gold Medal were in contention for hosting Somali Reconciliation Conferences and other gatherings where one of their central agendas and objectives had been snuffing the last breath out of Somaliland, Gelle would have been won it hands down.
Gelle’s professed motivation in repeatedly and selflessly going into these troubles was nothing more than his altruistic love for his fellow ethnic Somalis. He, on every such occasion, was beside himself with grief at the unfortunate suffering that had become the sorry lot of his Somali brethren since the fall of their last great government. His sense of brotherhood alone made it his divine duty to be the first and foremost to spare no effort in reinstating their unity, the rule of law and order and a strong central government that could exercise effective control over all its territories and affairs. (Kudos, right again, if you assumed that Somaliland is included herein)
It might not be proper to dismiss out of hand Gelle’s proclaimed and apparently benevolent intentions. However, it is not out place to go beyond the surface and examine two aspects of his modus opparandi and the outcomes thereof.
First, none of his stated lofty objectives materialized despite his amazing doggedness in striving to achieve them. Neither reconciliation nor unity; neither rule of law nor effective government was realized in Somalia at any time since Gelle had embarked on his seemingly charitable odyssey. This would have normally convinced such enterprise’s primary sponsor that either the ends or the means used to achieve them had been faulty and that changes in either one or the other were in order. However, how such an obvious conclusion could have escaped Mr. Gelle or, if indeed it has not, what motivation he could have had ignoring it, is anybody’s guess.
The second pertains to Mr. Gelle’s consistently uncontrollable rejection of—nay, his gritty resolve in reversing—Somaliland’s right of self-determination. Again, his oft-professed purpose in suffering this obsession have been nothing but preserving Somali unity and saving the flame of Pan-Somalism candle from total extinguishment.
Somaliland had long determined that it was in its best interest not to be a party in whatever role, form or degree in Somalia’s intricate problems. Its legitimate leaders are duty bound to tow their electorate’s popular sentiments and cannot be seen engaging in policies and actions that do not enjoy grassroots support; much less in policies and actions that could remotely be looked upon as constitutionally circumvent and therefore be liable to charges of treason.
Somaliland and its leaders’ position on Somalia and its never-ending reconciliation and state-building conferences is straightforward: Somaliland need not reconcile with Somalia or, for that matter, any country with which it has no dispute. Somaliland has no intractable issues of contention with Somalia. It has no objection and every desire to engage in and establish mutually beneficial relationships with Somalia or, for that matter, with any country—especially with a neighboring one—that is at peace with itself and with others as long as both parties follow universal conventions of mutual respect and noninterference.
Beyond that, Somalia can count on Somaliland’s best wishes and prayers that the former’s efforts to overcome its problems as well as endeavors of the International Community (IC) in rendering honest and disinterested assistance towards this noble objective would bear the desired fruit. Moreover, Somaliland would be willing even to lend a helping hand towards this enterprise if so requested; or if Somaliland offered such assistance without solicitation, it would not construed as Somaliland’s readiness to entertain second thoughts about its core commitment to its full-fledged nationhood.
Faced with this insurmountable fortitude on Somaliland’s part, which obviously has been exasperatingly at odds with his scheme of things, Mr. Gelle has resorted to a course of action that has been as simple as it has been counterproductive. Until recently, he basically has been ignoring Somaliland, its right to self-determination, its legitimate leaders, its everything. He has been simply pretending that there has been no such thing as Somaliland, period!
To this end, he apparently suffered from no shortage of imagination in bestowing the required appearances of inclusiveness and broad representations to the charades which he recurrently presents as genuine Somali Reconciliation Conferences.
The reset of the article is available here: Read More
By Ahmed I. Yusuf
July 31, 2012