Maanta Waa - Today is


The Triumph of Democracy in Somaliland
Posted to the web 11:19 Sept 28 2002 by Adam Mohamed Egeh "Mardaadi".

Sept 28 2002 The people of Somaliland were once the architects of Somali unity. On June 26, 1960 Somaliand got its independence from the British. During that time, the sentiment of nationalism and Pan Somalism were all time high and Somalilanders were so enamored with the idea of bringing all ethnic Somali speaking communities under one nation (NFD, Djibouti and Ogaden).

The union took place on July 1, 1960, the day the Italian Somalia became independent. The international community was quite surprised with this unique decision taken by the newly independent British colony to surrender its sovereignty and merge with yet to become an independent Southern Somalia. The Italian Somalia was technically under U N trusteeship and was supposed to be free in December of that year. The headlines of the internal newspapers were among others, -- the colony that rejected freedom -- the colony that surrendered its independence and refused to join the Common Wealth. Unequivocally, the Somalilanders sacrificed their independence for the sake of attaining Greater Somalia.

This union was unconstitutional, since the parliaments of Somaliland - North and Somalia - South did not ratify it as a single act of union. Not a single year elapsed when the people in the north showed the initial signs of resentment about the ill-fated marriage between the two Somali regions. The southerners dominated all the cabinet positions of the newly created Somali Republic. Almost all-economic development projects were shifted to southern Somalia with nothing or very little allocated for Somaliland. The northerners immediately felt as being treated as second-class citizens. Their confidence and loyalty to the Somali government suddenly dwindled; the sense of being betrayed became wide spread. Somaliland was economically marginalized and politically oppressed by the southern dominated central government. Consequently, the northerners lost faith with the union and the talk of reversing the merger became very popular. That feeling was expressed in 1961, when a young army officer by the name of Hassan Kayd - a Sandhurst graduate and other northern military officers launched an unsuccessful coup in the north against the Somali government. These northern officers were brought to Mogadishu for trial. Citing the illegality of the union, the judge in the court dismissed the case against these officers on the grounds that as Northerns, they could not be tried and judged by a Southern court.

On October 21, 1969 the military regime overthrew the civilian government. Siyad Barre became the president of Somali Democratic Republic. This military regime became one of the most vicious and brutal dictatorships the world ever witnessed. This was the beginning of Somalia disintegration. The death knell for Greater Somalia sounded, as the government was politically unable to bring NFD-Kenya, Djibouti-French and Ogaden-Ethiopia into one nation. These Somali speaking regions saw the brutal actions of Barre's dictatorship and their interest to unite with Somalia immediately disappeared. Djibouti opted for its own separate nation and became an independent country on June 1977. The military regime also embarked on barbaric tactics against its citizens by targeting certain clans suspected of being opposed to the policies of Barre's dictatorship. Somalilanders formed Somali National Movement (SNM) and were first to declare organized military measures against Dictator Siyad Barre. The response of the military regime was near genocidal, as they unleashed a massive military might on the major towns of Hargeisa, Buroa, Berbera and Gabiley on the summer of 1988. Some 65000 innocent civilian people were massacred and more than half million people had fled to Ethiopia as refugees. The SNM with its huge supply of reserve army (incoming refugees) continued its armed struggle and finally defeated the military regime. The entire territory of Somaliland fell under the control of SNM and the restoration of Somaliland independence was declared on May 18, 1991.

Today, the Republic of Somaliland is little over eleven years old and had fiercely refused to take the path many African nations pursued during their independence. They decided to become a true democratic state. Some of the foreign reporters that visited Somaliland were quite impressed how the deliberations in the Lower House are carried out. They confessed that these deliberations are among the freest in the world. The people of Somaliland said no to one party system that is why this state is marching towards the institutionalization of full-blown democracy. Multiparty system has been created, aimed to neutralize the influence of tribal affiliation. There are nine political parties destined to compete for the up coming municipal, presidential and parliamentarian elections. The three most popular parties with 20% of the regional votes during the municipal elections will gain an official party status according to a new law designed to regulate the registration of the political parties. The date for municipal elections is already set to happen on December 2002, while the elections for the presidency and parliamentarians are also tentatively planned to take place in the first quarter of 2003. The question that comes to mind is WHY SOWING THE SEEDS OF DEMOCRACY IS VERY SUCCESSFUL IN SOMALILAND, WHILE THE SOUTHERN SOMALIA IS STILL WRACKED BY UNCEASING CLAN WARFARE AND TOTAL ANARCHY?

Apparently, the achievements of Somaliland to establish the major organs of civil society through a democratic process are not per chance. Therefore, the answer to the preceding question is two folds:

The will of the people remains the major bedrock for this success. The desire to establish peace and stability became the greatest priority in Somaliland. Enjoying the full support of the people, the elders worked around the clock to disarm the many different militia groups scattered throughout the country. The people also consolidated their collective efforts to rebuild the country. There is a general consensus among the communities in Somaliland that the only way to development and nation building is through a democratic process. The elders, politicians, businessmen, tribal leaders and the intelligentsia all agreed to assemble a democratic form of government; a broad-based government of regional reconciliation including representatives from all clans of the country. Eventually this facilitated the establishment of a government in which the people hold the ruling power either directly or through elected representatives. In addition the principle of equality of rights, opportunity and treatment are guaranteed for every citizen. When every region of the country is fairly represented in the government and no community is left underrepresented, the nexus that holds the nation together gains a substantial strength.

The mutual agreements of the community were clearly enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Somaliland, which was adapted throughout a National Referendum held on May 31, 2001. The people of Somaliland voted for the constitution and 97.09% accepted it. Foreign observers monitored the referendum and declared it as being conducted openly, fairly, honestly and in accordance with internationally recognized election procedures. The results of the referendum were very convincing and clearly indicative of the will of the Somaliland community, i.e., a state laboriously striving to develop the country by way of democratic process. The rights of the individuals, freedom of opinions, freedom of movement, freedom of public demonstration, the right to own private property, and freedom of press and media are guaranteed under the constitution of Somaliland.

The other major contributing factor to the easy transition to democratic system is the deeply rooted cultural conditions that have been hospitable to the tender shoots of democratization process. The nomadic communities in Somaliland have their own distinct cultural traditions that nourish the spread of democracy. Long before the arrival of the European colonial powers in the area, the ethnic communities of Somaliland developed a traditional form of democracy, unique to their own environment. This is the concept of pastoral democracy with an effective and efficient built in mechanism of conflict resolution under the guidance of tribal elders. These conflict resolutions are normally conducted under the wisdom tree. The big shadow of the wisdom tree serves as the traditional courthouse. Tribal chiefs, Sultans and elders are the final arbiters in any unexpected situation perceived as being a treat to peace and the harmony among the various clans. Any verdict rendered by these elders is always binding on the parties in conflict. In addition, the nucleus of this culture did not suffer any significant injury during the British rule of Somaliland Protectorate. Therefore, the fast based democracy taking shape in Somaliand stems from the homogenous blend of that traditional Pastoral Democracy combined with some contemporary democratic ideas adapted according to the needs of this vibrant and viable state of Somaliland.

When the British set foot on the coastal city of Berbera, the tribal leaders entered a historic agreement with the British colony. The British were asked not to interfere with the culture of the indigenous people, and neither British children were to be born on the soil of Somaliland nor British citizens are to be buried in Somaliland. The British honored these demands, as their colonial style was distinct from that of other major colonial powers such as the French and the Italians. The British practiced a policy of indirect rule, and they administered Somaliand through the chiefs and clans - an indirect form of rule that left the cultural practices of the society fully in tact.

In contrast, the faction leaders in Southern Somalia have failed miserably to lift their country from the chaos and anarchy, which are the hallmarks of Mogadishu. Numerous mediation efforts by the UN, the IGAD and the neighboring countries did not bear fruit. The leaders of the south were unable to map out a viable political agreement intended to rebuild the fundamental foundations of civil society. Ironically, the only known agreement the faction leaders in Southern Somalia have in common is not to allow the restoration of Somaliland independence. Understandably, the binding clue that used to counterbalance and keep the defunct Somali Republic together suddenly vanished from the scene. They desperately need a new strong molecular structure capable of replacing the missing link.

Furthermore, the Italians have colonized the Somali communities in the south. Apart from their imperial intentions, the Italians were involved in major economic activities in the south, such as crop plantation, hotels and the local shops. The colonial style of the Italians was direct rule. They mingled with the ethnic communities and created a working class from the indigenous population employed in the plantation and other sectors of Italian businesses in the major towns. With the meager economic incentive available to them, this emerging working class, and the government employees become a subordinate group very close and loyal to the colonial master. The Italians also married from the ethnic societies, thus creating a maternal kingship within the southern communities. As a result, the colonial master was able to neutralize the cultural aspects of the native society. This type of colonial practices and the fact that cultural homogeneity was not wide spread, the southern Somalis suffered an insurmountable cultural disorientation. The lack of uniform cultural traits that connect them rendered each tribe to be confined in its own dwelling places minding their own interests. That is why the elders in the southern Somalia are chronically inept in undertaking regional reconciliation and effective conflict resolutions among the local clans.

This unrecognized state in the horn of Africa has all the attributes that make a perfect sovereign state. It has a fully functioning administration, police, military, national currency and immigration department that grants visitors a visa at the airport.

Furthermore, the local businesses are booming, of course under the sprit of free market. There are six different commercial airlines operating in the country, and five different telephone companies providing a fairly affordable communications to the international world. Somaliland achieved all these without receiving an iota of economic assistance from the international communities. The Republic of Somaliland is free from foreign debt, because the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund do not provide economic and development aid to Somaliland, as these two organizations do not acknowledge the statehood of Somaliland.

In Somaliland, the elders are the backbone and the brain behind the peaceful Co-existence among the clans. Their pious efforts to secure lasting peace and stability throughout the country will not only serve as beacon light, but a vivifying force that encourages every individual to respect the law and order.

Undeniably, they are strong pillars in the edifice of learning and maintaining lasting democratic principles. Their contribution to the cause of restoring Somaliland sovereignty and nation building is tremendous and without parallel.

They are also a galaxy of unique hope and virtue whose exemplary determination for the betterment of the country was and will remain a perennial source of guidance and inspiration to everyone in Somaliland. Without a doubt, the elders are such a source of strength and vigor to which Somaliland cannot afford to lose.

By:Adam Mohamed Egeh "Mardaadi"
Toronto, Canada
September 6, 2002



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