Bewitched by Colonial History: The Existential Threat to Somali State

Published on 24th December 2019

The expression “Former Somalia” has come to emerge as a political discourse for dissatisfied Somalis. Where does it come? What does this phrase mean to the world in general and the Somalis, in particular? It was first coined by Edna Aden, the spouse of late Prime Minister of Somalia Ibrahim Egal, the co-founder of modern secessionist Somaliland. She is an educator, activist and politically skewed to the moderate wing of Somaliland independent movements. She is a fearless women’s rights advocate and contributed much toward the primary health care of Somaliland. Her legion now includes, among other people, Abdul Ahmed III, who wrote articles in WardheerNews, a variation on a theme of Former Somalia. Both offer the colonial context of an argument that advances nationhood. More specifically, they allude to the historical union of 1960 and the birth to the Somali nation as a mistake. Finally, both proclaim that Somaliland and Puntland are detached from former Somalia, a country that they believe is engulfed with the scourge of melancholy. Former Somalia, they say, is stuck with Stone Age misery. In short, they demand recognition of Somaliland and Puntland from the world. But is there a “former Somalia “?

To put a caveat, the map of Somalia in the 1930s reveals demarcated Somali inhabited territories under the rule of three powerful European colonial masters, the English, the French and the Italians. Hence in the context of former Somalia, Djibouti, NFD, and Ogaden region are excluded from this conversation solely based on history and the fact that they are now either independent country or are under the Ethiopian or Kenyan rule. But to explain this peculiarity of former Somalia, objective historians would cite the evolution of the Somali race as indigenous tribes defeated by the European imperial powers. Additionally, when European powers took control of a vast territory of Somalia, they not only exploited the land but created false entities under their sphere and subjugated Somali tribes through violent coercion. Independence was fought for the continent of Africa followed by the birth of African nations including the Somali nation. Somalia had a brief civilian government and then followed by authoritarian rule. The dream of Pan-Somalia lived short and died; a subsequent disaster triggered by Ethio-Somalia war and the Somali state collapsed

I presume this cataclysm is being referred to as “former Somalia.” If not, then what does “former Somalia.” mean? I do not think there is a history of former Somalia. There is no former Somalia and this lexis is manipulative and illusive. There is the former Soviet Union. There is also a former Chezelovakia. Hong Kong is currently struggling to retain its original colonial adulation against all odds. The “former Somalia” definition is deceptive because the people that coined this phrase have one objective in mind: to break-up Somalia using a protectorate view at least in so far as Edna’s argument is concerned.

Adna’s arguments have many defects:

1) her debate misses the crucial history of the decolonization of Africa. The fact that there was an immense struggle of people of Africa, a struggle that marked liberation movements towards the yoke of European colonizers is missing in Edna’s separatist playbook. Of course, it is hardly surprising that her debates make no mention that those who fought against British imperialist had no desire for statehood.

2) Unlike other African countries, Edna doesn’t admit that the British Empire used Somaliland as a garrison for her selfish interest and the British never had in mind to define Somaliland as a British colonial state.

3) She undermines the significance of British colonialists to enter multiple treaties with multiple Somali clans on the warpath. Yet as the decolonization of Africa reached its climax, the British white settlers were forced to leave from African continent. Therefore, Northern Somalia was no exception and the demands of the conscious and Northern Somali clans were answered, a freedom from oppressive rule. Unfortunately, these significant historical events are being downplayed for the sole purpose of mutilating Somalia state.

Another momentous history that she doesn’t take into account is the ferocity of African decolonization and the sensitivity of further dividing people who suffered under European rule. Fact is terms of that faithful union with the Italian Somaliland (South) were left with UN undertaken, and the ensuing negotiating emphasized a tentative deadline set for unified Somali independence including Somaliland. By this time, fearing things may change, Somali Youth League that was dominant in the South covertly infiltrated in the North and formed coalitions with their brethren in the Northern region. Existing parties in the North such as SLN, NUF and USP gleefully joined with the SYL coalition and pushed the unification of Somalia that even surprised the British Legislative Council that existed at the time. Meanwhile, the Trust Territory under UN auspices and SYL set another deadline for July 1, 1960, as the final date for Somali unification and hence the birth of a Somali nation.  

Back then in April 1960, the British Legislative Council in the North had no choice but hastily drafted resolutions to meet this deadline and grant Somali people the independence that they so desired and marked June 1960 as independence date for the North. But Edna choreographs this history to her separatist advantage and conflates the non-political unification of Somalia with her theory of two separate and equal entities that merged to form Somali state, disregarding the processes and decolonization of Somalia.

For Abdul, his latest article, “Puntland Bewitched: Questions about Restoration of Puntland’s Sovereignty and The Formal Partitioning of the Former Somalia” (WardhreerNews, September 7, 2019) is another new frontier in a relentless assault on Somali state. What is more startling is his secessionist case for Puntland. He expounds Sultanate history that is antic, fictitious, a pseudo-history that borders on delusion. His dominion history of Puntland is nothing but imaginary. Since Abdul is fond of such history, the world of dominion is also replete with the curse of nation-building, full of a bitter lament since ancient Egypt down to the disintegration of the Hapsburg Empire.

Abdul who cites European history should know that some nations missed opportunities to form statehood while others snatched victory from collapse without putting a fight. Nation-building created wars and changed landscapes. Even during and after Habsburg collapse, the very Europeans who ventured for conquest and crossed from their territories to oppress far away natives in other continents suffered in their backyard and lived with two horrific world wars. Thus former Yugoslavia. Former West Germany. Former East Germany! Fake entities were violently created and resolved violently into relics of history.

Is Somalia fake? The assertion that there is a legal argument to justify the break–up of Somalia because there is such a former Somalia is categorically false. Ironically, Somalis accused Ethiopia as an imperial nation and tried to resolve territorial disputes by invading Ethiopia. The rest was history, a history that brought us to debate on these pages. A history that we deny and twist to a secessionism project.

There is a long and bumbled history of Somalia being denied statehood. To understand that history, one has to look past injuries meted against Somali people by the European colonialism. To defy that history, or condone for that matter, their implicit claim of nationhood for Somaliland and Puntland is to question the very legal basis for the existence of the Somali state. To put it in their context, the breakup of Somalia is legally and morally justified based on colonial history. The perception that imperialists demarcated Somali tribes and gave legal definitions as sovereign realms, and hence the unification of Somalia was based on that legal colonial instrument is the sole argument that impels Edna’s thesis. She aspires to win nationhood by affirming the Bantustan colonial approach thereby deconstructing the old British treaties with Northern Somali clans. Her notion is the antithesis of the decolonization of Africa.

A good example is the old Belgium treaties with Tutsi and Hutus that are in the dustbin of history. Her argument is therefore very misleading, incorrect and contrary to the historical African archives, in short, a hoax. I argue this because I fail to find relevant and academic research that states such colonial history exists that flouted the decolonization of Africa. Not even the Tutsi and Hutus who slaughtered each other on the brink of annihilation judged old Belgium treaties to advance the break-up of Rwanda.

The fact that the British backed and left Somaliland without conditional withdrawal is too difficult for Edna to swallow. A conditional withdrawal would have been for the colonial British to sit with the drafters of the constitution of 1960 and ask the drafters to add a special secessionist clause if things do not work better. But that didn’t happen because the English never cared about the constitutional making of Somalia at the time. Why would they? Only Edna thinks that the British cared, her prolonged joke on the scramble for Africa.

Ironically, while Somaliland claims to be outside of the union tent, Abdul’s argument puts Puntland in a pickle, the genie of the current provisional federal constitution out of the bottle. The reason is not far to seek: First, Puntland was part of the Italian Trusteeship and even the so-called Sultanate rulers were the subject of the Italian administrations and no sovereign Sultanate entity recognized by the world existed. Secondly, in pre-colonial Somalia, Somali tribes were fiercely independent and nomadic autonomy aptly characterized the makeup of the Somali population. Thirdly, during the Italian imperial colony, the populations that mostly migrated from the hinterlands of Western Somali region settled in the North East, and the boundaries that encompass from the Nugall region to the margins of Hobyo were under the Italian rule. Moreover, unlike Abyssinian Kings, the Sultanate of Nugaal and Hobyo had no recognition from the rest of the world because they never sought to create a Kingdom based on the feudal system as the culture of Somali nomads was an abomination to an oppressive feudal system. Hence, as far as Puntland is concerned, no history exists on a sovereign domain that had contact with the rest of the world before or after European colonialism. Also, after the collapse of the Somali state, and in Post- Arte government, Puntland was instrumental in the Embaghati process. Not only that Puntland was a key player during that faithful gathering, but the region was anti-Unitarian, and by doing so, propelled the idea of constitutional federalism for Somalia. Accordingly, and as I stated above, Abdul’s supposition is patently bizarre.

So clearly here we have grievances that are outside of the collapse of the Somali state. By attempting to revisit history, Abdul fails to convince us that dividing the country is historically vindicated. Rather he imagines dominion narrative in North East Somalia and dismisses the aberrant history of Italian colony, and willfully ignores the struggle and partition of Somali people and thereby repudiates the aftermath of that great collapse. Yet he wants to predict, rather fancying his knowledge of analytical event prediction modalities, as to why the re-emergence of Somali state is wrong, cannot be achieved, and according to his assumptions, would waste Puntland’s time and resources. I do admire numerical analysis to predict events, but Abdul knows that Somalia is full of events and short of reconciliations.

For Somaliland, the most noteworthy feature for secession argument is to define the region as a pre-union protectorate that hastily joined with Southern Somalia. Granted that that argument was falling on deaf ears, but another spat for self-determination, however peculiar it may sound, had resurfaced. That is Somaliland and Puntland are peaceful and prosperous regions, enclaves that pulled themselves from the bootstraps, and in the process, had incubated democracy and freedom. This theory is also untrue and both regions are far from democracy, but I concede and commend the relative peace in the regions. Edna and Abdul assert that it is about time that unruly South-central Somalia is kept at bay and hence demand that their regions be granted full status in the UN as sovereign nations. Note here the simplistic comparison is based on puffery and condescending banalities, not about realistic and historical self-determination such as differences in linguistics, ethnicity and/or in faith. Their inferences that the evolution of the Somali civil war left Mogadishu in the cold and the city fell from grace are the driving force for their separatist penchant. It is true that Mogadishu is an embarrassment, but not enough to break-up a country. If Mogadishu lost the moral compass to govern, it is better to fix it so that this long and arduous project of Somali state-building comes to end. This is another marketing tool for Somaliland and Puntland to sell for nationhood. For sure, United Nations agencies are falling into this ploy and these agencies that affirmed the protection against “former Somalia” is, in fact, part of this international Somali gerrymandering.  

The idea of self-determination advanced by Edna and Abdul is an idea whose time and relevance is no longer valid. In the post-world order, it was even difficult to reshape Iraq, a country with many ethnics and religious sects. Besides, if the world was sensible enough, and if Briton had cared aesthetics of Hong Kong with its prosperity to boot, they would not have handed Hong Kong to communist China. But the treaty to hand over Hong Kong to China, apart from its legal context, was embedded by the concept of shared history and common affinity with people of common ancestry. On July 1, 1997, British colonial contract with China ceased to exist once and for all, as it did in Somalia in June 1960 when numerous treaties forged by the British with Northern Somali clans came to halt. So why Edna is revisiting dead colonial contracts?

If I may add, what is the benefit of Abdul to invoke the Weimer Republic? Strangely, he considers Puntland as an ancient nation that was morphed into a tiny and humiliated race. He further warns its people to be conscious about the pitfalls of Somali unity because the recreation of Somali state is, in his own words, similar to the Weimer Republic. These analogies are not only a farce but a dishonest proposal designed to oppose the revival of the Somali state. In other words, why is Abdul equating Somali people with German experience? It seems to me that the “former Somalia” debate lacks utilitarian dialogue for what went wrong with the collapse of the Somali state, continues to undermine our honest conversation to resolve the Somali question, and serves only for minority elites in their hegemonic effort in the status quo. Their argument is full of pretensions, the Orwellian warning in his classical essay, Politics and the English Language.

Let’s look at the fixing attitudes to the experts. Buzen and Weaver (1990), two experts on peace and security issues, argue with the opposite: regional conflicts are best addressed by the regions themselves to contain the influx of refugees, manage illegal arms trafficking and counter-terrorism. Although Buzen and Weaver had in mind the entire Horn of Africa region, they nevertheless argue that instability of one region may inadvertently impact on the neighboring region. As to these duos, hitherto we have a rhetorical failed state argument, a feeble and flawed assumption that some regions are better than others and therefore the world community must accept secession as the solution for Somalia. No collective effort to reach out to the South and fix the nation as a whole and avoid conflict spillover and the engulfing scenarios. This mortal and existential threat to marginalize the center to attain self-determination for the periphery is, among other factors, as to why Somalia will not have a legitimate state.

Sadly, this isolationist fervor was caught by other regions. For example, the Kismayo conference held in Kismayo in October 2017 was not about legitimate grievances to fix federalism and counter centralist tendencies towards Villa Somalia, but a wedge to encourage the peripheries to stand alone. The ramifications of that Kismayo conference were too much to bear for the current administration, a terrible decision that punishes Somali people. On the other hand, President Farmajo, rather than appeal to his common sense and show statesmanship, expended so much energy for removing leaders that participated in that Kismayo conference. Hence Villa Somalia succumbed to this trap and paid a dear price. Yet the crisis of state-building continues unabated, and dismally, whatever gains made under the Embaghati process are now on the brink of collapse.   

Consequently, if Edna and Abdul care much about their regions, the footprints of former Somalia wouldn’t have been on display. They should know that Somaliland and Puntland also suffer from terrible public infrastructure development. When it comes to dollars and sense, Somalia is a case study for public economic disaster. Because of this stand of, and using on the back of my envelope calculations, Somalia lost billions of dollars due to her lack of legitimate state. Legitimacy is essential to do business with the world. Conversely, and if one compares to neighboring countries using statistical tallies, the disparity between GDP is shocking, a perverse arc of progress. No one understood that regional devolution, with its framework of fiscal policies (transfer payments), would require collective effort in the collective benefits. The world is acutely aware of the genesis of Somali conflict and countries that sympathize with Somali tragedy blatantly oppose dismemberment of Somalia. Yet in the race against time, the Somali dilemma continues, effectively putting the destiny and aspiration of the people of Somalia in a straight jacket.   

In my opinion, all regions of Somalia that dared to secede including Somaliland had lost crucial resources for development. To rebuild the current dilapidated infrastructure the footprints of “former Somalia” regions would require massive funds. That depends on how regions look into the political unification of the country and undo their attempt to have a bilateral relationship between the worlds.

Needless to say, the present-day UNDP development scheme is futile and has unintended consequences. We all know that the little UNDP funds earmarked for things like the capacity building doesn’t build a strong nation. These funds are Band-Aid solutions to the civil war problems. So why only blame Villa Somalia for the political map of Somalia?

Somali Elites: Tobias Hogman, academic, and analyst on Somalia, in his commentary on the politics of Somali state-building, shifted and rightly so, from the conventional wisdom (Stabilization, Extraversion, and Political Settlements in Somalia. Rift Valley Institute, 2016). His methodical investigation into Somali phenomena is its first kind, and more specifically, he blames Somali political stasis on Somali elites. He articulates that Somali elites are the culprits behind the status quo. Without mincing words, he puts this stagnation squarely on the shoulders of Somali elites and their corporatist counterpart, the war profiteers. Borrowing the idea of extroversion from Jacques Bayert, the French Africanist, as well as from the pioneering work of Professor Salim Nadir, a development theorist of the 1970s, Tobias debunked the common sociological factors in post-conflict state-building and unmasked Somali elites. He revealed them as benefactors of misery and was short of accusing them of criminals that perpetuate the suffering of their people.

Hogman’s assertion is self-evident: Somali crisis of state-building, he says, is the product of two camps, the elite natives who manufacture, recycle, and ultimately benefit from crisis of state-building; and the malfeasance of the international partners who became bureaucratically frustrated and endorsed the model of ” contain and manage,“ the incorporated development mission that account to no one except to their big donors. The latter is complex and run by a complex industry and I do not want to go into details. But who owns this nation? I think this fundamental question must be answered by Abdul and Edna. Refusing to own and pissing outside of the union tent have failed miserably. It seems to me that Edna and Abdul, wittingly or unwittingly, are defending these failed elites at the expense of the poor and marginalized. These failed elites include “selected “leaders of Somali regional states that have gripped on Somalia notwithstanding the missing social contract with Somali people (i. e, final constitutional federalism including jurisdictional issues and Bill of Rights). 

An issue that is relevant is how Edna and Abdul overlook the plutocratic class that amassed so much wealth at the expense of the poor– the Somali tycoons who thrive in the war economy and make money in a pariah state. That is where Edna and Abdul should direct their wrath. While these tycoons run entire Somalia including Somaliland and Puntland, it is no secret that the dominant ones and biggest offenders call home in Mogadishu. Shabaab on the other hand openly collects taxations, or what they refer to “saka.” Those who refuse to pay face deadly consequences including suicide bombings and assassinations. Of course, this has undermined the legitimacy of the government.

We need a paradigm shift to critically comprehend that the world is so cruel to micromanage Somali sovereignty. The Somali people find themselves in a tough neighborhood with foreign forces meddling in their internal affairs, business classes manipulating the Somali economy, and government corruption and ineptitude. Given these fundamental problems, let us not expect Somalia to be resuscitated from its inert transitions. We continue to witness the painful tragedies of young people venturing into alien and treacherous lands, not to mention the horrific images of their capsized boats in the high seas. To reverse this, we must fight economic injustices and hold accountable the rising plutocracy as well as regional demagogues. This will require bold leadership, visionary people who rise above the fray of the petty projects engineered by big donors in the Halane green zone while questioning the deeply rooted culture of winner takes all. Those who are hiding behind Halane compound are not there to distribute Somali resources, but to hand out the little aid collected from friends of Somalia, and to borrow from Graham Wilcox’s characterizations, lord over poverty. The post Somalia collapse order has already pitted Villa Somalia against regional leaders and the nation is now in limbo. Somalia needs to reconcile itself, own its security problems, and finalize its constitutional federalism. Somali elites must address a myriad of social, constitutional and economic issues including the reunification of the political map of Somalia, adhering to the principles of good governance, establishing regulatory public agencies, addressing social and economic inequities, as well as revitalizing the public finance and legitimizing the Somali Shilling.  

A Continuation of the status quo is anathema to a viable state-building, violates the principles of social justice including the basic civil rights of the Somali people wherever they may be. These masses fend for themselves. Others are fleeing from poverty and injustices, while a huge number remain IDPs in their own country. The defeatists who seek solutions to the break-up of the country must not mitigate the challenges to the failed state narrative. To be fair, they are not alone, and since the great collapse, the struggle to face these problems has shaken the collective confidence of Somali people. As one friend of mine has shared with me about this quandary, he told me submissively, that when Shabaab obliterates Somali blood and Somali properties, Somalis only mourn until they clean up the debris and bury the victims. What is missing, he says, is never again answer! That answer is not and was not the responsibility of Nickolas Kay or current UN rep for Somalia, James Swan. That answer cannot and will not be found from the cursives of the colonial masters. It is the responsibility of Somali people including Edna and Abdul.

By Bashi Hosh

Email: bjibril11@gmail.com


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