Maanta Waa - Today is

The land and people

Somaliland comprises the territory, boundaries and people of the former British Somaliland Protectorate, defined by the following international instruments (GOS-Background: 1994):

1. The Anglo-French Treaty of 1888
2. The Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1894
3. The Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 18972

From the shores of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland extends southwards to the Somali National Regional State of Ethiopia, bounded by Djibouti to the west and Somalia (Puntland) to the east. Within these borders, Somaliland's territory covers an area of 137, 600 square kilometres, with a northern littoral of 850 kilometres (GOS - Somaliland in Figures, 1999). The territory's geography is distinguished by three main topographical features locally known as the Guban, Oogo and Hawd (Lewis: 1961).

The Guban (meaning "burnt") is the narrow coastal region, which is hot and humid with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees centigrade during the summer season (Xagaa) between June and August. The terrain is relatively barren, allowing only desert-type sparse vegetation. Eastwards from the main port of Berbera stony mountains hug the coastline, while to the west, the plain widens to provide rich grazing for pastoralists during the cooler months between October and March. With the exception of Berbera, the population of the Guban's sparse settlements tends to migrate southwards to the highlands during the torrid summer months, returning home when the climate becomes more bearable.

Inland from the coast, elevation climbs rapidly as the Guban gives way to the Oogo: the cooler highland zone dominated by the Gollis mountain range, which crosses Somaliland from west to east. The Oogo zone possesses an abundant supply of underground water, which together with its agreeable climate has encouraged settlement and development. The Oogo is home to all of Somaliland's major towns and supports a degree of cultivation, notably between Hargeysa and Boorame in the west, and around Ceerigaabo in the east.

The third topographical zone is the Hawd, which stretches across the border from Somaliland into Ethiopia. Although rich in pasture, the Hawd has virtually no permanent water sources. Historically, nomadic pastoralists grazed their herds in the Hawd during the rains, but were forced to migrate to more hospitable areas during the harsh dry season (Jiilaal) when water sources dried up. In the past half century, however, since the introduction of berkado (cemented underground water reservoirs), the Hawd has come to support permanent settlements. This has led to a steady process of desertification, decimating the rich pastures that once made the zone ideal for rearing livestock.

The inhabitants of these zones are ethnic Somalis, united by race, language, religion (Sunni Islam) and culture, which they share with the Somali inhabitants of neighbouring states. Population estimates vary between 2-3 million inhabitants.3 Somaliland's inhabitants also identify themselves with various clans and sub-clans, described in a submission by the Somaliland government to the 1996 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit as including the Isaaq, Gadabuursi, Ciise, Dhulbahante, and Warsangeli clans (Mohamoud: 1996). The west is inhabited mainly by the Ciise and Gadabuursi clans. The central regions are chiefly settled by the Isaaq, while the eastern areas are peopled principally by the Warsangeli and Dhulbahante clans. Numerous smaller kin-groups share the Somaliland territory with these major groupings, and the major clans also contain innumerable sub-divisions.


Historical overview

The establishment of the Somaliland Protectorate in the second half of the 19th Century epitomized the "absent-mindedness" with which much of the British Empire is said to have been acquired. Perceiving in the Somali hinterland a potential source of fresh meat for the British garrison across the Red Sea at Aden - a key naval coaling station on the sea route to India - the British entered into a series of agreements with the traditional leadership of the clans of the area. The original treaties represented no serious territorial ambitions on the part of British,4 but inroads by other imperial powers (namely France, Italy, and Abyssinia) endowed the British claims to Somaliland with strategic importance in the context of the "Scramble for Africa". Through an awkward sequence of agreements strung out between 1885 and 1955, the colonial powers ultimately arrived at Somaliland's present shape - a territory determined not by geography or demographics, but rather by the arbitrary logic of international and regional politics. In the process, the British surrendered considerable expanses of territory to the aggressive eastward expansion of King Menelik of Ethiopia (Drysdale: 1994). Most of the western, eastern and southern boundaries simply represent compass bearings. Only in the southwest, where the boundary follows peaks of the mountain ranges, does the demarcation correspond to recognizable landmarks. The southern border thus divided many of Somaliland's nomads from their most fertile pastures.

Although the British sought little more from Somaliland than rations for their troops, big game for their hunters, and a bit of adventure (for explorers like Richard Burton), they inevitably discovered more than they had bargained for. In 1899, they were confronted with a vigorous uprising led by the leader of the puritanical Salihiyya order, Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan (known to the British pejoratively as "the Mad Mullah"), which reminded them disconcertingly of the Mahdist revolt only years earlier in the Sudan. The Sayid's Darawiish (Dervish) movement tied up the energies of the British in bloody and unpredictable campaigning for two decades. In 1910, at the height of the uprising, the British were obliged to retreat to their coastal outposts, leaving Somaliland's interior in violent turmoil. The subsequent years were a period of such acute distress and scarcity that they came to be locally known as Xaarame Cune (literally: "eating the forbidden"). It is estimated that during this period as much as one third of Somaliland's male population perished (Jardine: 1926).

Following the defeat of the Dervish Movement in 1920, the British gradually initiated administrative and social service programs in Somaliland. Some roads were cleared, a few students were sent to Sudan for higher education and a number of agricultural and water initiatives were undertaken. But in the 1940s, their efforts were again interrupted - this time by the Second World War. In 1940, British forces retreated from Somaliland to Aden, paving the way for a short-lived occupation by Italian fascist forces. In 1941, Somaliland was recaptured by the British, and remained in their hands until independence nearly two decades later.

In the world-wide wave of anti-colonial sentiment that followed the Second World War, the "wind of change" was blowing as strongly in Somaliland as elsewhere in Africa, and the British undertook to prepare their protectorate for existence as an independent state. In the few years that remained to complete the task, their neglect of the territory became dismally obvious. On independence day, June 26 1960, Somaliland possessed only a handful of university graduates and a single secondary school. Not a single sealed road linked the major towns. The principal natural resource of the territory was its livestock, and an industrial base was non-existent. Nevertheless, in its newfound freedom, Somaliland greeted these challenges with optimism - even euphoria.


Pre-independence socio-economic context

One reason for Somaliland's optimism was the relative prosperity it enjoyed in the decade prior independence. During the 1950s, the Arabian oil boom generated an unprecedented demand for Somali livestock. The central towns of Hargeysa, Berbera, and Burco became the hubs of that trade, forming a triangle that would eventually become the core of economic development in the region. During the same period, in the Hawd region, the colonial authorities (in the person of engineer Jack Laurence5) built a chain of earth dams along the Ethiopian border to collect run-off water. These man-made depressions prolonged the period nomads could graze their livestock in the Hawd, and thus changed the face of the land forever. Permanent settlements began to appear, raising surplus livestock for export to Arabia through the markets of Somaliland's central economic hub. In the years following independence, this zone became increasingly specialized in the commercial production of livestock and related export services. The relative economic dominance of this central triangle, and its relationship with the Arabian livestock markets, has changed very little up to the present day.

Eastern Somaliland (composed essentially of present day Sool and Sanaag regions) was affected relatively little by the livestock export boom. Nomadic pastoralism has historically been the predominant social and economic mode in eastern Somaliland, but the area has nevertheless evolved somewhat separately of the central economic zone between Hargeysa, Berbera and Burco. Sanaag region has long maintained independent, sometimes clandestine, trade ties with the Arabian countries, especially Yemen. Export of livestock and frankincense in exchange for consumer goods from the Arabian side evolved into a strong commercial and cultural relationship of central importance to Sanaag's social and economic life. Further south, the inhabitants of Sool region long ago developed a niche as an economic and social gateway between Somaliland and Somalia - a role the region still plays.

Western Somaliland, comprising present day Awdal and western Woqooyi Galbeed regions, also embarked on a course of slightly separate development. Around the turn of the century, inhabitants of the area began to borrow ox-plough farming techniques from neighbouring Oromo groups (in Ethiopia) and have since developed an agropastoral mode of production in which cattle raised in sedentary agricultural villages have replaced camels as the principal stock. The region has since become increasingly specialized in the production of cereal crops - chiefly sorghum and maize - which are traded throughout Somaliland. More recently, cereal production has been supplemented by fruits and vegetables grown on small scale irrigated farms for domestic consumption.

The sedentary agricultural mode of production in the west created a concentration of settlements unmatched elsewhere in Somaliland, including Gabiley, Tog Wajaale, Dila and Boorame. Furthermore, this zone came to serve increasingly as a transhipment point in the trade linking Djibouti, Jigjiga and Dire Dawa to the major population centres of Somaliland. Despite the region's "separate development", western Somaliland's relative prosperity, the metropolitan influences from neighbouring towns, and the settled nature of the population have encouraged its gradual integration within Somaliland's broader economic and political context.

The growing importance of central Somaliland over the past century has been matched by the gradual decline of the coastal areas. The importance of ancient settlements like Seylac, Bullaxaar, Xiis, Maydh, Laas Qoray and Ceelaayo was diminished when the British colonial authorities shifted their administrative centres from the uncomfortable coastal climate to the cooler Oogo zone, and was further eclipsed by the development of major ports at Berbera and Djibouti. Among the coastal towns, only Berbera, by virtue of its port facilities and its key role in the central "triangle" export trade, has gained in size and importance.


From independence to unification

For most of the period of British rule in Somaliland, very little political activity was either permitted or encouraged. The colonial authorities exercised control through a system of indirect rule that relied upon traditional leadership structures. Only in the two decades prior to independence did the British foster any meaningful indigenous political development. The small, educated civil service elite, which adopted British administrative discipline and work ethics, also inherited - to an extent - a reluctance to involve itself directly in politics. Thus as Somaliland braced itself for independence in 1960, it was equipped with a relatively strong civil service, adequate both in quality and in quantity, but was almost entirely lacking in political cadre.

As the clock ticked towards independence, the few political leaders who had emerged were absorbed with a single issue: the question of unity with their neighbour to the south: the United Nations Trust Territory of Somalia. Those who advised caution, or engaged in a nuanced debate over issues were overwhelmed by the nationalist cause of unification in the quest for a pan-Somali state - Greater Somalia - to include Somaliland, Somalia, the Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia, the Côte Français des Somaliens (Djibouti) and Kenya's Northern Frontier District (NFD). Immediate and unconditional merger with other Somali territories - beginning with Somalia - was considered by many in Somaliland to be a panacea; so powerful and persuasive was the impulse towards unity that even the sceptics were borne along by its urge.

The politics of independence led to a mushrooming of political parties in the closing years of the 1950s. The Somali National League (SNL), the National United Front (NUF) and the United Somali Party (USP) all emerged in response to the overarching need of that particular moment in history: to receive the independence of the Somaliland Protectorate from the British authorities. In 1960, their purpose served, they disappeared - just as the Somaliland state disappeared into the new "Somali Republic."6 But before even a year elapsed, the Somaliland population's initial euphoria was exchanged for a more sober appreciation of the true situation.

Politically, Somalilanders entered the union at a disadvantage. Despite Somaliland's preference that a single Act of Union be agreed to by both governments prior to merger, this fundamental step was never taken. A presidential decree entitled the "Law of Union of the State of Somaliland and Somalia" submitted to the combined legislatures failed to win their approval, and the matter was ultimately referred to the people in a problematic referendum. Somaliland's Prime Minister was assigned the relatively junior post of Minister of Education in a cabinet heavily dominated by southerners. Likewise, Somaliland was allocated only 33 seats in parliament versus 99 for the south. The designation of Muqdisho as the remote national capital left the majority of Somalilanders estranged from their new government and alienated from the country's social and economic nucleus.

The north had sacrificed more than the south. The south, with the capital and National Assembly at Muqdisho, was still the hub of affairs; but from its former position as the capital of a small state Hargeysa had declined to a mere provincial headquarters remote from the centre of things. Even though many northern officials now held key positions in the government, northern pride found it hard to stomach this reduction in prestige. (Lewis: 1965)

Northern discontent with these arrangements surfaced almost immediately. When a referendum was held in June 1961 to approve the new, joint Constitution, the Somali National League (SNL), decided to boycott it. Of the 100,000 recorded voters in Somaliland, over 60% opposed the constitution, 72% in Hargeysa, 69% in Berbera, 66% in Burco and 69% in Ceerigaabo. As a vote of confidence in unity with the south, Somaliland had given a resoundingly negative verdict (Drysdale: 1994). Nevertheless, the vote was carried by a southern majority.

The outcome of the referendum was echoed in popular plays and songs critical of unification, and in the unsuccessful efforts only six months later by a group of Sandhurst-trained military officers to stage a coup d'etat in Hargeysa. The rebellion, which was poorly organized and quickly suppressed, proved to be less of an embarrassment to national unity than the subsequent trial of the officers involved:

When the leaders of the attempted coup were brought to trial in Muqdisho before a British judge on charges of treason... he acquitted the officers on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction over the State of Somaliland in the absence of an Act of Union. (GOS - Background: 1994)

The ruling in favour of the northern coup plotters had exposed a very basic flaw at the heart of the Somali Republic: legally, it did not exist. It would survive for only three decades before the contradictions at its core would lead to its dissolution.


From unity to civil war

The unification of Somaliland and Somalia had been predicated not on the promise of a bilateral treaty, but rather a multilateral one in which the three remaining Somali territories would also ultimately be incorporated. That dream would also be badly shaken in the years that followed independence. In 1963, the British awarded independence to Kenya, including the mainly Somali-inhabited Northern Frontier District (NFD), disregarding their pledge to respect the findings of an independent commission that an overwhelming majority of the people in the NFD sought unity with Somalia. The following year, in 1964, Ethiopia and Somalia fought their first major military action over the disputed Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia, in which the might of the Somali armed forces was shown to be unequal to the task of annexing the territory. The initial momentum towards a pan-Somali state had suffered another setback.

The fledgling Somali Republic was soon in difficulty at home. During a brief period of parliamentary civilian rule (1960-1969), the country's experiment with western democracy proved poorly adapted to the clan-based nature of Somali politics, and was soon corrupted. Against a backdrop of growing popular discontent, President Cabdirashiid Cali Sharmaarke was assassinated by one of his bodyguards while touring the Laas Caanood area, and one week later on October 21, 1969 the army commander, General Maxamed Siyaad Barre, seized power in a bloodless coup.

Although few Somalis relished the prospect of military rule, Barre's "Supreme Revolutionary Council" was widely received as a welcome alternative to the disappointments of civilian rule. A mix of young idealists and ideologues flocked to his banner of "Scientific Socialism", which also won the backing of the Soviet Union. The "Revolution" quickly introduced the first official Somali script, launched massive literacy campaigns, and embarked on an ambitious programme of self-help schemes and social development projects.

But the regime's popularity proved short-lived. Barre's vision demanded the dismantling of the traditional clan-based social order, economic networks and political institutions upon which the majority of Somalis still depended. The regime's primitive attempts at social engineering revealed an ideological arsenal dominated by crude shock campaigns and a cult of personality that drew heavily upon China's Cultural Revolution and the "Juche" philosophy of North Korea's Kim Il Sung (Lewis: 1994). Each campaign employed armies of revolutionary opportunists to ensure coerced participation of the population. No aspect of Somali private or public identity was spared the government's zeal for command and control: culture, family life, nomadism, traditional authority and social organization, religious beliefs were all denounced as anachronistic or subversive and targeted for reform. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a subtle and manipulative exercise in corruption and clan politics was beginning to take shape.

 As the first flush of enthusiasm for his "Revolution" began to fade in the mid-1970s, Barre turned to the pan-Somali dream to reinvigorate his flagging support base. With the help of the Soviet Union, Barre built up the Somali army to become one of the largest and best equipped in sub-Saharan Africa. By 1975, clandestine units were operating across the border in Ethiopia's Somali region, and in 1977 full-scale war broke out as Barre launched his forces in a dramatic offensive across the border. Somali forces made early, rapid gains, but when the Soviet Union withdrew its support from Barre and weighed in heavily on the Ethiopian side instead, the tide began to turn. The Somali army was routed, suffering heavy losses and Barre was forced to capitulate.

The 1977-8 Somali-Ethiopian War marked a watershed for the Barre regime, for the Somali people, and for the state they had fashioned for themselves less than 2 decades previously. Somalia's defeat decisively buried the dream of a pan-Somali state - a fact underscored by Djibouti's choice of independence rather than union with the Somali Republic in a referendum the previous year (1977). Two important threads in the fabric of Somali unity had just unravelled.

The defeat also sowed the seeds of mistrust between the north and the south. Northern officers who had been at the front felt not only that they had borne the brunt of the campaign, but also that they had been deliberately undermined by the machinations of a southern military hierarchy. Northern civilians, who had backed the war enthusiastically, also felt that they had been subtly manipulated by rival southern interests and suffered disproportionately from the conflict.

Far more profound and far-reaching on its impact in relations between North and South, however, was the massive human influx to Somalia generated by the war. More than 1,000 refugees a day poured into Somalia - most of them ethnic Somalis, although a substantial Oromo minority joined them in their exodus. By 1981 refugees constituted about 40% of the national population (Simons: 1995) - about 400,000 of them in the north.

Although the refugees were settled throughout Somalia, their arrival in the North created considerable tension. Most of the refugees were Ogaden Somalis, a group non-resident in the North, and whose political leadership were closely associated with the Barre regime. Local inhabitants felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the arrivals, who overflowed from the designated camps and began to settle in the major towns. Aid resources earmarked to settle and care for the refugees, without any obvious benefit to the local people, became a source of envy and resentment. Many refugees, by virtue of their clan, were favoured by the regime for posts in local government and in the military garrisons of the area. Over time, the refugees also received preferential treatment in terms of business licenses, contracts, and other commercial benefits. As the rift between the refugees and their hosts widened, refugee militia were established and armed by the Barre government, escalating the situation dangerously. In a memorandum to the president dated March 30,1982, a group of 21 Isaaq elders enumerated the grievances of their community concerning the refugees, warning ominously (and prophetically) of "the dangers facing us," which included "a real threat to the unity of the Somali people," and "the threat of disintegration"(Africa Watch: 1990).7

Tensions between the local inhabitants and the refugees were just a symptom of the government's cynical manipulation of kinship divisions within Somali society for the purposes of "divide and rule." Shaken by its defeat in the Somali-Ethiopian War and by an attempted coup d'etat by military officers in Muqdisho in April 1978, the regime had concentrated the economic resources of the country in its hands, using their selective redistribution to ensure loyalty to regime. Massive amounts of foreign aid were diverted and misappropriated by the regime, whose cronies amassed enormous private wealth.8 Very little of the assistance ever reached the north,9 except for that destined for the refugees, whose allegiance was important to the ruling clique; perversely, northerners suffered instead from the draconian economic conditions often imposed by foreign donors.

In contrast with the treatment the government accorded the refugees, during the 1980s, it became evident that the Isaaq clan had been singled out as a target for political, economic, social and cultural oppression (Ghalib: 1995). At the national level they were discriminated against in terms of public employment, international appointments, and even business opportunities. Two major sources of revenue for the Isaaq community, the "Franco Valuta" exchange system, in which traders were permitted to retain a portion of their hard currency earnings to purchase import goods abroad, and the traffic in qaad, were both abruptly curtailed for reasons that seemed based as much on clan politics as any other rationale.

In the north itself, the government crackdown manifested itself in a variety of ways. Restrictions were placed selectively on the livestock export trade, making it increasingly difficult for Isaaq exporters to acquire licenses, open Letters of Credit, or transport livestock to Berbera for export, while their competitors from other clans were relatively unaffected. Similarly, multiple layers of bureaucrats and security systems preyed upon the Isaaq business community, initially by skimming profits and later by cutting to the bone their commercial earnings. Ultimately, business activity was reduced to a subsistence level, as traders resorted to bribery and smuggling in order to provide goods to the urban population, who endured curfew for months on end. As repression intensified, urban commerce such as transport, retail stores, and hotels was effectively placed off-limits to the Isaaq.

Some of the regime's methods were more direct. In February 1982, imported goods estimated at a value of US $50 million were confiscated from Berbera port (Africa Watch: 1990) - an act interpreted by many in the Isaaq business community as a declaration of war by the government. A threshold had indeed been crossed, and outright appropriation of Isaaq's private property by government officials and members of the security forces became commonplace.

The State of Somaliland was occupied wholly by a corrupt and inexperienced army of officers purporting to be administrative officers in charge of Districts and regions. The judicial system no longer functioned. It was superfluous since Habeas Corpus had been annulled in October 1969. The country was effectively the Hangash (military intelligence), the Dabarjebinta [sic] (military counter-intelligence), the Koofiyad 'Asta [sic] (red berets - military police), the Barista Hisbiga [sic] (party investigators), and the Guulwadayaal (party militia). Imprisonment, torture, and execution without trial were de rigeur. (GOS - Background: 1994)

In 1981, the pent up frustration within the Isaaq community was explosively triggered by the government's arrest of a group of Hargeysa intellectuals,10 whose only crime was to have organized self-help programs (Ghalib: 1995). Accused of distributing anti-government propaganda and other subversive activities, they were handed down sentences ranging from death (later commuted to life imprisonment) to long-term prison sentences. Their detention and torture helped to mobilize national and international condemnation of the regime.

At roughly the same time, consultations within the Isaaq, both within Somalia and in the diaspora communities of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, led to the formation in London, of the rebel Somali National Movement (SNM). By 1982, the SNM had established bases in Ethiopia, from where it waged an armed struggle against the regime's forces in the north, initially in the form of clandestine cross-border incursions. In January 1983, the SNM campaign gathered momentum with a daring raid on Mandheera Central Prison, which released over 1,000 political detainees and other inmates who had been condemned to death (GOS - Background: 1994).

In return, the government redoubled its campaign of brutal repression. In the urban centres, arbitrary arrests, detentions and executions accelerated. In the rural areas, the regime sought to undermine the SNM's support among nomads by destroying their livelihoods. Water points were declared off limits, closed, destroyed, poisoned and mined. Commercial trucks were grounded, starving the rural community of food, medicines, and other consumer goods. Villages were razed to the ground and soldiers allowed to confiscate livestock without compensation.

In May 1988, following the signature of peace accord between Ethiopia and Somalia that threatened to terminate their campaign, the SNM launched an all-out offensive against government forces in Hargeysa and Burco. Caught off-guard, the government responded with a brutal ground and aerial bombardment. Over 50,000 people are estimated to have died, and more than 500,000 fled across the border to Ethiopia, harassed by government fighter-bombers piloted by foreign mercenaries. What remained of Northern towns and villages was systematically destroyed by government forces, looted and strewn with hundreds of thousands of landmines.

The fall of the regime was now only two years away. From its bases in Ethiopia, the SNM offered a springboard for newly established guerrilla groups in the south and continued its campaign in the north. Government retribution against suspected SNM sympathizers escalated to new levels leading to mass detentions and executions both in the North, and in Muqdisho. In January 1991, as USC militia entered the Somali capital, SNM forces launched a lightning offensive in the North, recapturing the major towns and putting the government troops to flight. The war was over.

 Reconciliation and peace

Cessation of hostilities in the immediate aftermath of the SNM victory was advanced by the relatively low level of animosity between the Isaaq and other communities. Although military resistance to government rule in the north was concentrated mainly within the Isaaq, some members of other groups had also opposed the government, and many had worked hard to contain the violence. Government attempts to provoke inter-communal violence between the clans in the north had been strongly resisted and ultimately proved unsuccessful - largely because they relied upon interest groups within clans, and not upon broad-based support. In 1988, for example, a meeting of the Dhulbahante leadership in Laas Caanood opted not to mobilize as a clan against either the SNM or the Isaaq, despite pressures from senior Dhulbahante figures within the government.

During the war, prisoners held by clan militias (not by government forces) had been generally well-treated, and prisoner exchanges were common. Trade and commerce had continued between the various clans through mutually agreed channels. Regular contacts between leaders of the various communities inside and outside Somalia had helped to defuse potential animosity between them. Once the government was removed from the scene, there remained few obstacles to real peace.

In February 1991, the responsibility for peace-making fell upon the traditional leaders (Guurti) of the various clans. A meeting convened by the SNM at the port town of Berbera established a formal cease-fire and fixed a date for a conference of the Guurti to be held in Burco two months later, to be followed by an SNM Central Committee meeting. In the meantime, the Guurti would have time to consult with their constituents. Their peace-making skills were about to be tested on a grand scale.

Burco has often played the role of cradle of change in Somaliland's history, but rarely as dramatically as during the 1991 Grand Conference. More than a dozen Garaaddo, Suldaanno and Ugaasyo (titled traditional leaders) representing the Isaaq, the Harti and the Dir clans, together with their delegations, converged upon Burco. They were joined at the conference by participants from other sectors of society, including artists, intellectuals, and business people (who provided most of the financing) as well as delegates from the diaspora. The conclusions of the conference were presented as recommendations to the subsequent SNM Central Committee meeting, which agreed upon the following:

Reconciliation of the warring parties to the conflict
Declaration of the Somaliland Republic on 18 May 1991
A transitional two-year rule by the SNM, and the accommodation of the non-Isaaq communities in the government structure during this period.
Initiation of a separate reconciliation process for Sanaag region

Although the agreement reached at Burco remains the cornerstone of the peace that prevails in Somaliland today, it by no means settled all grievances, nor resolved all differences: it simply terminated active hostilities and created a common political framework. It was then followed by diverse local reconciliation initiatives (Farah and Lewis: 1993) that have continued, almost without pause, ever since.


The Burco conference had effectively neutralized the potential for violent conflict between the Isaaq and their neighbours, but it did little to resolve the latent tensions within the SNM itself. During the war against the regime, the SNM's internal struggles had been sublimated by the twin imperatives of survival and solidarity, but with the common enemy defeated, schisms rapidly emerged.

Less than a year after the Burco meeting, the government of Cabdirahman Axmad Cali "Tuur" found itself at war with a coalition of militias loosely based on clan, and linked by political affiliation with the Calan Cas (Red Flag) faction of the SNM. Clashes took place first in Burco, then Berbera, and Hargeysa was reduced to a state of near-anarchy.

In October 1992, the Guurti once again stepped in, with representatives from the Gadabuursi clan playing a lead role in peace-making. A cease-fire was agreed at the town of Sheekh, and a date fixed for a broader reconciliation conference to be held at Boorame, in western Somaliland. The Grand Boorame Conference held between January and May 1993 represents another watershed in Somaliland's recovery and development. In the absence of meaningful support, the burden for hosting the meeting was shouldered by the Boorame community. During five-months of deliberations, the 150-member Guurti, together with hundreds of delegates and observers from across Somaliland, agreed upon the following:

The peaceful transfer of power from the SNM interim government to a beel (community) based system
Election of a civilian president (Maxamed Xaaji Ibrahim Cigal) and a vice president (Cabdirahman aw Cali)
Adoption of a National Charter and a Peace Charter, intended to serve as the basis for efforts towards peace-building and state-building, during a further transitional period of two years.

The Guurti also used the occasion to review and revamp the ongoing reconciliation processes in different parts of the country.

A combination of factors including deeply rooted mistrust between clans, continuing factional discord within the SNM, the clash of powerful egos, and international interests, all came into play when the Boorame process moved from conference hall to the proving grounds of Somaliland in mid-1993.11 By November 1994, these tensions had erupted into full-scale conflict that engulfed the central regions of Woqooyi Galbeed and Togdheer (Bryden: 1994) for almost two years. Fighting broke out in Hargeysa in November 1994, and by March 1995 Burco was also in flames. The war continued until early 1996, displacing a considerable portion of Hargeysa's inhabitants and the entire population of Burco.

Despite numerous attempts to quell the conflict within Somaliland society, as well as from the diaspora, peace talks made little progress until 1996 (Bryden and Farah: 1996). Finally, in February 1997, after nearly five months of consultations, peace was concluded in Hargeysa (Bradbury: 1997) at a Conference that achieved the following:


· Cessation of hostilities (the "Ceel Xume" opposition group from Burco did not attend this conference but later joined the general peace settlement).
· A new constitutional document, to be valid during a further 3-year transition period.
· Re-elected President Cigal, with a new vice president, Dahir Riyaale Kahin, for a term of 5 years.
· Addressed some of the grievances of opposition groups, by increasing their share in the two Houses of Parliament.
· Accommodated Somaliland's minority communities in terms of political representation

The Hargeysa Conference was followed by the longest period of uninterrupted peace since Somaliland's reclamation of independence - a sign that things are moving along the right track. But the challenges to reconstruction and development remain formidable: indeed, the complexity of the issues and the stakes involved appear to have grown. Somaliland has made tremendous progress, but there is no room for complacency if past gains are to be consolidated and progress to be sustained. The remainder of this paper is dedicated to illuminating the way forward.

2 Subsequent agreements between Britain and Ethiopia in 1942, 1944, 1948 and 1954 concerned the implementation of the 1897 treaty, but did not alter the substance of the original accord.

3 The official figure from the Ministry of National Planning and Co-ordination is 3 million.

4 The original treaties gave the British no rights to cede territory on behalf of the Somaliland clans - a prerogative that the British nevertheless exercised illegally and unilaterally in their negotiations with other imperial powers.

5 Laurence was the husband of renowned Canadian author Margaret Laurence, whose early works include two volumes based on her experiences in Somaliland: A Tree for Poverty and The Prophet's Camel Bell.

6 Many Somalilanders resent the use of the term "Somalia" to describe Somaliland's union with the south. They argue that Somaliland and Somalia united to form the "Somali Republic," and that substitution of "Somali Republic" with Somalia in casual use has helped to obscure Somaliland's independent origins and the voluntary nature of the union.

7 For a detailed account of events during this period, see: Somalia: A Government at War with its Own People (London: Africa Watch, 1990).

8 An entire section of Mogadishu distinguished by extravagant Villas came to be known as Booli Qaran, meaning the "National Loot".

9 Between 1987-89, an estimated 6.4% of total overseas investment was allocated to the north (GOS - Background: 1994).

10 The group was variously known as the Hargeysa Group, Ufo (a type of whirlwind signalling a change in the weather), and Ragga u Dhashay Magaalada (Men Born of the City - a pseudonym employed by anti-government pamphleteers).

11 The United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) declined to recognize the legitimacy of the Boorame process and sponsored alternative leadership instead, contributing directly to a destructive round of civil strife in 1994-96.

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