Somaliland at the cross-roads

Situation Report and Update on the Situation in SomalilandSomaliland at the cross-roads

"This paper has been prepared by Matt Bryden, who is a consultant presently working with the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia. The views expressed herein, however, are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNDP or the United Nations."


The self-declared "Republic of Somaliland" is trudging towards its fifth birthday bloody but unbowed. The civil war that has gripped the country since November 1994 is still unresolved, a potential alarming drought is emerging in the east, and the economy is still reeling from inflation and the cost of the conflict. Over a quarter of a million Somalilanders, according to official statistics, still languish in Ethiopian refugee camps, trapped between insecurity in their homeland and self-perpetuating refugee bureaucracies in their host country. Mines still litter much of the countryside. Furthermore, a whole generation of war-affected youth needs either demobilisation, education, vocational training, or some combination of the three.

Even this abbreviated list of afflictions is formidable enough to tax any government's skills. But today, these social ills must compete for the attention of Somaliland's leadership with another major concern: the National Charter, laboriously hammered out over five months' deliberations at the 1993 Booraame conference, will expire before the end of the year and with it the mandate of Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal's caretaker government. As clans and their candidates gear up for Somaliland's version of the US primaries, tasks like the establishment of a durable peace and drafting of a popular constitution are in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of power politics. Expediency in such matters probably poses a greater threat to Somaliland's survival than anything else.

The recent civil strife has raised the spectre of another potent menace to Somaliland's durability: slow and steady decay driven by disaffection and disinterest among Somaliland's communities. Many of Somaliland's citizens are tired of a state that offers independence only at the cost of recurrent civil wars (two since 1991) and interminable haggling over clan interests. For the non-Isaaq especially, the past few years of intra-Isaaq civil strife have done little to persuade them that a viable future lies with Somaliland. Unless Somaliland's next government can promise and deliver more than its predecessors, the enthusiasm of its citizens - particularly those on the periphery - is bound to dwindle even further.

Most external threats to Somaliland's survival have receded: UNOSOM, stubbornly intolerant of Somaliland's existence, departed the scene in 1995, leaving only its vestiges in the UN political office in Nairobi. Abdirahman Tuur and his federalist clique lost first their UN patron, then their constituency, and finally their base in Muqdisho. Today they exist only insofar as foreign missions and agencies continue to listen to them. Even General 'Aydiid, who abetted the federalist fiction and took credit for the Garxajis insurgency, is now fighting for his own survival against former ally and financier Osman Hassan 'Ali "Aato". The "government" he once invited Tuur and his associates to join have been displaced, dispersed and discredited by 'Aato's latest offensive.

Far more dangerous than Tuur's failed alliance with 'Aydiid and his ambitious plans for national leadership, is the possible emergence of a new order in the south. The centrifugal forces at work in Somaliland will be re-inforced by the breaking of the deadlock in Muqdisho, and the convocation of a national reconciliation conference. Somaliland's best defence against this type of erosion would be a solid national consensus, more appealing to its membership than a marriage of convenience in Muqdisho. Conversely, a system based on opportunistic juggling of clan interest within the cabinet and the parliament, without more permanent institutional guarantees, will convince none but the most ardent Somaliland nationalist that it really has a future. Indeed, Somaliland needs more than a new government and a new clan-based compromise: experience shows that such formulas provide little more than a year or two of peace. If Somaliland is to survive it needs a new regime - a new system - that is perceived to serve the national interest, whatever the composition of the government of the day. Whether or not any of the major political actors will manage to place this objective higher than the usual parochial, myopic calculations of factional advantage is the major variable in Somaliland's political algebra.

Security: Neither Peace nor War

The conflict in Somaliland hardly deserves the label "war" any more. Serious fighting has given way to a stalemate, where political and military considerations compete to define strategy. Only one serious battle has taken place since August 1995, in Bur'o this January; elsewhere, petty skirmishing is the norm. Violence has never infected ordinary civilians on either side, drawing entire clans into the kind of indiscriminate violence known in the south. Some of the Garxajis have even returned to Hargeysa from Aware and many more do a regular shuttle backwards and forwards to the Ethiopian refugee camps. Business continues almost as usual and it is possible to catch a ride from a Hargeysa truck park to Oodweyne, Kam Aboker and other equally "hostile" destinations. Nevertheless, with Bur'o empty of civilians, and so many Somalilanders still displaced by conflict within Somaliland and across its borders, the situation doesn't qualify as "peace" either.

On the Hargeysa front, military activity has been confined to occasional scuffles and raids. Disposition of forces on both sides has changed little, if at all, since the opposition's last foray into downtown Hargeysa in August 1995. Government forces still hold southern Hargeysa and the international airport, though opposition forces, primarily `Iidagale, still have the ability to test government lines and to interdict air traffic if they so choose. Politically, however, the will to conduct major offensive operations no longer appears to exist among the opposition forces in this theatre. Government forces, having previously demonstrated the ability to penetrate `Iidagale territory as far as Salaxley, also seem content to remain essentially in a defensive posture south of the airport perimeter.

The stable military situation has encouraged members of all Hargeysa clans to return home. The Garxajis, collectively, are reluctant to move back until hostilities have been formally concluded, but this has not prevented dozens of families from trickling back to town, or visiting on a regular basis. A number of prominent Garxajis figures have already resumed their affairs in Hargeysa, including some parliamentarians and members of the business community. There is clearly no danger to Garxajis living in government areas simply by virtue of their lineage.

Bur'o is the only major contested town, desolate and badly damaged by more than a year's fighting. A costly Habar Yonis offensive in January failed to dislodge government forces and was eventually forced back to its prior positions; they retain a foothold on the western side of Bur'o. Habar Yonis losses have been difficult to determine, but government forces claim to have captured or destroyed at least 5 tanks as well as numerous "technicals." By some estimates, opposition forces have lost most of their heavy weaponry, and may no longer possess functional tanks or artillery. Nevertheless, during the course of the battle, opposition troops laid mines extensively throughout the town; government sources report over 30 government military vehicles lost to mines, together with a number of civilian vehicles.

The government appears to enjoy local military superiority in the Bur'o theatre. Most of its heavy weaponry, including dozens of artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers have been kept out of battle, but are fully operational. Government restraint in refusing to commit them to combat stems primarily from weighing political considerations over those of the military. A decisive military strike into opposition areas west of Bur'o would represent a net escalation of the war and could put a negotiated settlement out of reach.

Bur'o town is empty of civilians. Habar Je'elo have been displaced eastwards between Yiroowe, Beer, and other villages to the east. Habar Yonis are scattered west and south to Kabahdheere, Oodweyne, Gashaamo and Daroor; displaced `Iise Muse abide in camps near Sheikh or have settled in the town itself. Like Hargeysa, the absence of open conflict since January offers hope that refugees may soon return, but most prefer to wait until a clear resolution of the situation one way or the other. Unlike Hargeysa, however, once the residents of Bur'o decide to go home, they will have to contend with grievous structural damage to their dwellings and businesses, and the deadly menace of mines.

Five Years of Somaliland Politics: Two Steps Forward...

President Egal's term of office has been the defining moment of Somaliland's incarnation as a force to be reckoned with in the Horn of Africa. Abdirahman Tuur, his predecessor, did little more than harness the secessionist energies of the Somali National Movement to a nominal government in Hargeysa, before setting rival factions against one another in 1992. Tuur's political programme, which consisted of juggling the clan interests in his cabinet, ultimately drew the country into a short sharp civil war whose ultimate settlement, at Booraame in 1993, brought the final curtain down on his tenure as Somaliland's President. When Egal was appointed to lead the country at the same gathering, he had to start virtually from scratch. In the three years since, his administration has proven far more adept than Tuur's at both domestic and foreign affairs, winning for Somaliland the de facto recognition it has officially been denied. History, however, will probably judge Egal not on the substance of his reforms alone, but on whether they survive as a legacy for future generations of Somalilanders, or whether they follow him into posterity when he leaves office.

Egal's most striking achievement has been the emergence of a functional administration throughout much of the country, from Booraame and Seyla' in the west to Berbera and Yiroowe in the east. Since 1993, these parts of Somaliland have acquired a central government, a force composed of mixed military units from across the country, a police force, and - in some districts - local civil administrative structures. On these counts, Egal's record is hard to fault: whatever its imperfections, the Somaliland government's progress in growth and efficiency represent a victory over the social and political dislocation that have frustrated similar efforts in the South. No other part of the country has come so far. Somalilanders also take pride that they have survived - and even prospered - on a spartan diet of foreign assistance, while international help for Somalia poured generously -if ruinously - into the south. Many Somalilanders lament what they might have been able to achieve with just a fraction of the South's aid bonanza, but their accomplishments may in fact be a consequence of their long deprivation of aid and the culture of self-reliance this has engendered.

Egal has also made headway in foreign relations. Delegations from the Somaliland government have been received at the highest levels in both Eritrea and Ethiopia (in the latter twice), earning encouragement and offers of support from both governments. The first delegation finalised arrangements for the established of an official Somaliland Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, and the most recent delegation, in April 1996, was accorded the ordinary diplomatic courtesies given other foreign governments. Nevertheless, at five years old Somaliland remains unrecognised and the entire subject of its self-determination has been studiously avoided in international fora. Ironically, had Somaliland elected to remain part of Somalia rather than to retrieve its independence, it could table a more credible claim to national leadership, in terms of territory and effective government, than any of the southern factions scrambling for international approval.

Despite these successes, Egal and his government are exposed to criticism on several fronts, namely: conduct of the civil war, failure to produce a constitution, and mismanagement of the economy. Potentially most damaging is the government's engagement in the civil war, which may prove a damaging political liability to all those who participated, whatever their justifications. Intra-Isaaq strife is universally unpopular and tends to carry a stigma. A second, more focused accusation, is that Egal's government failed to discharge its responsibilities under the mandate received at the Booraame conference, despite an eighteen month extension of its term: the Constitution, one of the principal charges of his office, is still incomplete. Critics on both sides of the broader political divide accuse Egal of procrastination and of manipulation of the constitutional process to his advantage. (Egal has hired an expatriate adviser at considerable public expense, allegedly turning down several free offers of constitutional advice from friendly governments and organisations.) Disputes over constitutional issues have resulted in the resignation of two successive chairmen of the Constitutional Commission, and set the Presidency on a collision course with the Parliament.

Issue of a Somaliland currency has also proven highly divisive: on the one hand it has provided cement for the building blocks of the emergent administration; on the other hand, it's introduction has given rise to acute inflation (the Somali shilling has remained stable by comparison) and fuelled heated disputes between the government and major Somaliland commercial concerns. In most of the country east of Berbera the new Shilling is still not in common use and may not be accepted as terms of payment. The government and major money changers have traded sharp accusations about the source of inflation. While the government has accused certain merchants of profiteering and speculation (several prominent businessmen were briefly incarcerated late last year), much of the business community believe the government to be pumping paper money irresponsibly into circulation. Although the dynamics of the Somaliland economy are still poorly documented, it would seem reasonable to assume that the government's extraordinary wartime expenditure - including hand-outs of cash for the army, civil servants and political allies - is helping to drive inflation up.

Failure to bring inflation into check could block the government seriously: as soldiers, police and civil servants find the real value of their wages in steady decline, corruption, absenteeism and banditry are all likely to rise. If so, Somaliland's administration could once again - like the turbulent early months' of Tuur's rule - find itself a government in name only. Serious measures to curb inflation are clearly needed: a recent agreement between the government and some leading business figures to establish a Commercial bank as a joint venture (20:80 shares respectively) is intended, among other things, to stabilise the currency and to exert some independent control over money supply. Measures, like the government's fitful battles with aid agencies over banking and exchange control - although doctrinally sound - should be clearly situated in the context of broader economic reforms if they are not to give the impression that the government is more interested in hoarding hard currency than in managing the national economy.

The time remaining for Egal to put his house in order is fast running out: his mandate will expire in November this year, and if he has not finalised the Constitution by July, a national Constitutional Conference must be held, effectively suspending many of the government's functions for the remainder of its term. Like its precedent at Booraame in 1993, such a conference is also likely to determine the country's next leaders and the rules by which they must govern. The temptation is strong for both the government and its opponents to start jockeying for position going into the imminent leadership race - an environment where grandstanding and strategizing may supersede sober calculation of national interest. If so, then the peace process may be the first casualty of political expediency.

Peace Process vs. Presidential Primaries

In over a year and a half of fighting, high level contacts between the Somaliland government and opposition have yet to take place. For most of this period, talks have hinged on the critical question of who should talk to whom: while the government has insisted on talks between the political leadership of both groups, the opposition have held fast to the principle that negotiations should concern only clans - primarily the Habar Awal and the Garxajis. The two parties are nevertheless agreed on one thing: that the federalist group led by Abdirahman Ahmed Ali "Tuur" and Jaama' Mohamed Qaalib ("Jaama' Yare") have no place in a settlement while they persist in their pro-unity posture. Recently, there are signs that the formal barriers these formulations posed to mediation may be softening. All major groups seem to be positioning themselves for discussion as the conflict subsides. Contacts are multiplying, and preparations appear to be moving ahead for the first substantive meetings between the two sides.

While the opposition's past reluctance to come to the bargaining table may be explained primarily in terms of the Garxajis' fragmented leadership and total isolation in their opposition to the government, the government's position reflects a consortium of clan interests and is by definition more complex. Hawks within the administration have injected a degree of inflexibility into the administration posture, but there are also more balanced arguments in favour of firmness. First and foremost, the government wants to avoid being seen hurrying to make peace, which could easily be interpreted as caving in to Garxajis demands. Most government supporters endorse the argument that an offer of peace to the Garxajis must not set a precedent that a minority, armed or otherwise, be allowed to dictate its wishes to the majority; nor must it give the impression that force is an acceptable method of challenging the state. The widely held notion that the Garxajis are "wrong" for having defied the wishes of Somaliland's majority, and for associating themselves, however passively, with the federal lobby, further infuses deliberations of the subject with intolerance on both sides. Finding middle ground will require compromise and finesse: the Garxajis leadership will have to acknowledge their errors, but the government will also have to come to terms with the validity of some of their grievances which, at the core, differ little from the reproaches of many other communities across the country. So far their resort to violence has overshadowed the substance of their complaints; upon conclusion of a peace accord, their arguments may find a more sympathetic audience throughout Somaliland.

The first step towards peace is simply getting both sides to come together and talk - a possibility that looks better now than at any time previously. The peace process has taken two more or less independent tracks, one "eastern" and one "western." While the conflict cannot realistically be resolved in one place without a settlement in the other - particularly in view of the Garxajis' simultaneous engagement on both fronts - initial talks are generally seen as a prelude to more comprehensive discussions that must take place at a national level.


The Hargeysa process has been over a year in the making, brokered in part through the efforts of the Peace Committee for Somaliland, and a broad network of support world-wide. Following lengthy discussions with various groups and lobbying on the part of the Committee, the `Iidagale leadership have chosen to host a peace conference of the Hargeysa clans, to be held at Kam Aboker in Ethiopia. The meeting has the endorsement of `Iidagale Suuldaan Mohamed, and is being organised by an `Iidagale preparatory committee. Although all major Hargeysa clans will be invited to attend, Habar Yonis from other areas will also be invited in recognition of the shared interest of the Garxajis communities. The composition of pro-government delegations to the conference has yet to be confirmed, but the Hargeysa administration has consented to the meeting.

Scheduled tentatively towards the end of April, the Kam Aboker conference would signal an important first step in opening a dialogue. The agenda, to be fixed by the preparatory committee, has yet to be finalised, but the meeting is expected to open the way for Garxajis to recover their homes and property in Hargeysa, and also to propose future steps towards global settlement of the conflict. Much of the groundwork has already been done informally, and displaced Garxajis residents of Hargeysa have already begun to trickle home, voting with their feet for an end to hostilities. If the meeting is successful, it would remove one of the few remaining barriers to a large-scale repatriation to Somaliland from Ethiopia.


The Garxajis emphasis on dialogue with Habar Awal has to some extent obscured the war's "eastern" front, where rivalry between the Habar Je'elo and Habar Yonis has deeper roots and is more intense than in the west. Fighting has been far more bitter in Bur'o than Hargeysa and the destruction more extensive. Prospects for a settlement, though positive, are perhaps more complicated on the Bur'o front. The pace of events has been set by an internal Habar Je'elo conference held in March / April in `Aynabo. The agenda of the conference, the first full-scale Habar Je'elo meeting since 1960, emphasised three main points:

1. Internal Habar Je'elo affairs;

2. Habar Je'elo relations with their neighbours;

3. The general situation in Somaliland.

Delegations from all Somaliland clans were invited to attend the closing session of the conference at which the resolutions were made public, fuelling speculation that a broader meeting of Somaliland clans would follow immediately upon conclusion of the initial Habar Je'elo conference. Some uncertainty still surrounds the participation of the Habar Yonis: while elders from some sections apparently accepted the invitation, it is unclear whether these are representative of their clans or can deliver a cease-fire.

The Habar Je'elo position vis-à-vis a truce has also been somewhat ambiguous. The invitation to the Habar Yonis has been generally understood as an olive branch, and an open door to peace talks. On the other hand, a spokesman for the Habar Je'elo recently reiterated the old government line that the clan had participated in the conflict only as a member of the government coalition, and is therefore not in a position to negotiate a separate peace. The Habar Yonis have previously indicated that they would reject a dialogue on these terms.

The issue of Habar Yonis participation in the `Aynabo conference has also been overshadowed by widely circulated rumours that a meeting of the opposition leadership in Oodweyne during the first half of April resolved to continue the war for 6 more months - persuading some government supporters that negotiations are a waste of time. In fact, there has been no independent confirmation of either the alleged meeting, nor its conclusions. Following the return of Hassan Aden Wadadiid (`Aydiid's Minister of Water and Natural Resources) to Oodweyne late last month, the Garxajis leadership seems to have split even further. While Wadadiid is reported to still be in Oodweyne, other key members of the War Committee, including Col. Ahmed Mire and Mohamed Salah are said to be in Xalxalis and Go'yar respectively, unable to agree on a common position. A collective opposition decision to prolong hostilities would therefore seem unlikely. It does, however, underline government assertions that even were peace talks to begin, it is unclear who actually speaks for the Habar Yonis.

National Reconciliation and the Constitution

Preliminary meetings concerning Hargeysa and Bur'o may produce a cease-fire and the return of displaced to their homes, but the root causes of the conflict can probably only be addressed in a national forum. Many Garxajis concerns are shared by members of other clans. Broadly acceptable formulae for, inter alia, power-sharing, decentralisation, revenue collection (and distribution), and trade, are in the interest of all Somalilanders', and can probably only be achieved through comprehensive, inclusive consultations. The Constitutional Conference planned by the government for later this year might provide an ideal opportunity. Some observers, however, are already expressing doubts that the Conference will allow a fair and impartial exchange of views.

If the government manages to table a draft constitution before July, it is likely to take responsibility for managing the ratification process - a tactic that critics have argued could be used to win a rubber stamp for the government draft, thereby rendering the whole process illegitimate. Egal's detractors therefore argue that the constitutional process should be delegated to a neutral, impartial body more representative of Somaliland's diverse communities. Furthermore, a settlement of the war with Garxajis would seem to be precondition to constitutional dialogue. A Constitution that is ratified while the Garxajis remain in opposition - even if some individuals can be found to "represent" the clan in various fora - is unlikely to be taken very seriously over the long term, either by other Isaaq or by Somaliland's other communities.

Risks also exist that the process may be deliberately derailed. A peaceful settlement is anathema to extremist groups opposed to Somaliland's independent existence. On the government side, however, such groups (or individuals) have been effectively muzzled. Renewed military operations - which could scuttle any peace process - are virtually impossible without government sanction. On the opposition side, past experience suggests that a military threat may still exist, even if broadly-based consultations get underway. Small groups of independently financed and motivated militia have the potential to effect disturbances, sabotage or assassination, hoping to trigger a heavy-handed government response and derail discussions (in much the same way that the airport militia rejected attempts by their clan elders to relinquish the airport to government control in 1994). Both sides will have to keep their hard-liners on a short leash throughout the peace process.

Candidates and Campaigning: Somaliland's Leadership Choices

A national conference of some kind later this year is a foregone conclusion, unless the war were suddenly to escalate. The nature of such a conference remains undetermined: national reconciliation, the constitution, selection of the next government or some combination of the three are all possibilities. As campaigning begins, however, the emphasis seems to be shifting from reconciliation and the constitution to the third option. If so, then the arcane calculations of proportional representation and clan interest that define any leadership contest may also be allowed to determine Somaliland's future. A convenient reshuffle of "seats" within the cabinet and parliament might then supersede a more considered resolution of the problems facing the country. The inherent instability of clan-based coalitions and the experience of the past five years would suggest that this kind of politicking augurs poorly for Somaliland's future equilibrium.

Despite having previously signalled his intention to step down after a single term, it is widely believed that Egal is preparing to stand for another term of office, and that, as the incumbent, he has the potential to be a front-runner. Other aspirants have already tested the waters, campaigning within their clans. Speculation has also begun concerning the cast of characters who might return from abroad to contest the next election. The language of electioneering ("who will clan X `bring' as their candidate?") already implies that the leadership contest will be fought mainly over candidates and clans, rather than over "issues" - a strategy more or less imposed upon candidates by their kinsmen. Voting blocs within the government and parliament are defined primarily in terms of clan identity, often with adversarial reference to another clan. Swing votes that are not assured or rigidly defined by clan loyalties may have to be won over by persuasion or, quite often, simply bought.

Within the Habar Awal, Egal dominates the political horizon. Other candidates may well appear, including a number who have stood previously for high office: Omar Arteh Qaalib and Ibrahim Meygag Samatar are anticipated to come forward as the race gears up to speed. Other local figures, particularly from the Hargeysa community, are expected to also step forward. A Habar Awal challenger to Egal begins from a position of disadvantage, however; as the risk of dividing the Habar Awal vote means that aspirants to the leadership will be discouraged.

Among the Habar Je'elo, many feel that the time is ripe for one of their number to assume national leadership. Having warmed benches during first a Habar Yonis and then a Habar Awal presidency, Habar Je'elo politicians seem to feel that it is their turn in the driver's seat. The involvement of the two previous governments in civil wars not only reinforces this belief, but suggests to many Habar Je'elo that both the Habar Awal and the Garxajis have "disqualified" themselves, each clan being mutually unacceptable to the other (such thinking conveniently overlooks the Habar Je'elo role in the last two wars, and the possibility that a high profile Habar Je'elo presidential candidate might prove unacceptable to the Habar Yonis). Habar Je'elo are also traditionally well-situated to treat with the Dhulbahante who, despite a fair number of representatives in the central government, still choose to remain beyond Hargeysa's sphere of influence. Bringing the eastern Harti clans into the fold is critical if Somaliland's claims to territorial integrity are to be taken seriously.

Habar Awal and Habar Je'elo campaign scenarios assign the Garxajis an essentially passive role, reflecting the perception that they have disbarred themselves by going to war with everybody else. Many senior Habar Yonis politicians have been heavily involved in the war, or have associated themselves with the federalist cause: Abdirahman Tuur, Jaama' Yare, Mohamed Salah, Isma'il Buubaa, and Hassan Aden Wadadiid have all more or less "burned their cards" on the national scene. A few moderate figures from the `Iidagale might theoretically be acceptable to non-Garxajis, but it seems unlikely that any of them would win the endorsement of major clans this time around.

Non-Isaaq clans figure on margins of these calculations - an oversight that ignores their potential to spoil Somaliland's territorial integrity. No non-Isaaq clan realistically expects to field a candidate for the Presidency this time around, but competition could be fierce for other senior posts in the administration. The Gadabursi have shared the national leadership since 1993 by the appointment of Abdirahman aw Ali Farah as Vice President at the Booraame conference (Egal also named him as Minister of Defence, then revoked the title as part of a reshuffle late last year). Omission of the Gadabursi at such high levels in the next government would probably be taken as blow to their clan influence and prestige, and would have to be compensated for elsewhere. The Harti, and to a lesser extent the `Isse, may seek a greater role in the formation of the next government as quid pro quo for closer integration within the Somaliland state. Failure to win their support will preclude extension of the national administration and currency to Harti areas, undermining Somaliland's legitimacy and portraying it increasingly as an Isaaq creation to the exclusion of other groups.

Reconciling such diverse interests with the need for effective government has vexed Somali leadership since independence. No simple power-sharing formula offers more than a momentary solution - one that can come unravelled by the defection or division of single lineage group. When clan interests collide with weak national institutions, there can be little doubt where loyalties will fall. Through deft manipulation of clan allegiance, even an unpopular or incompetent leader can rally his clan's support to challenge an adversary, the government, or even the state itself. A relatively strong lineage may hold the system hostage to its demands - as the Garxajis have done in Somaliland for the past year and a half. Most major clans within the Isaaq, as well as the larger non-Isaaq confederacies, can probably mobilise resources superior to those of the embryonic Somaliland state. Since their dependence on the state is minimal, they can afford to be indifferent to its survival.

The conundrum of how to build institutions robust enough to withstand the turmoil of clan politics has yet to be solved.[1] Unless Somalilanders can forge, through their constitutional process, functional institutions that are neither destroyed or paralysed by the political expression of kinship, then stability - and with it statehood - could elude them indefinitely. So far, they have made greater progress in institution-building than any other part of the ex-Somali Republic. The 1993 Booraame Conference produced a blueprint for government that secured the approval and consent of most Somaliland clans; confidence in the accord was so high that militia from the Gadabursi and all the Isaaq - except the Garxajis - had surrendered their heavy armaments to the central government prior to the outbreak of fighting in November 1994. Had the process gone one step further, perhaps the current civil conflict would have been a war of words, not weapons.

If the next national conference can succeed, where Booraame failed, in building a national consensus and a state monopoly of force, then Somaliland will have put the worst behind. But if the leadership race and its attendant calculations of clan interest comes to dominate the agenda of the meeting, the outcome will probably be an ephemeral political compromise no more durable than its predecessors.

Peace Dividends

Five more years?

The Somalilanders' intimate knowledge of war and its painful consequences has done little to mitigate the internal conflicts that have seized the country since 1992. Somalilanders of all clans still seem to accept the role of violence as a familiar substitute for political discourse. As recognised masters at negotiation and compromise, the failure of the Isaaq to resolve their differences peacefully appears inexplicable: all the more since the first casualty of violence is the one ideal that all Isaaq can agree on: the survival of Somaliland as a state. In the present conflict, both sides have professed a commitment to Somaliland's independence from the south. Paradoxically, it is the federalist that benefits the most from the continuing fighting. Whatever the strategic horizons of the government and opposition forces, their ongoing confrontation does little but demonstrate the instability and inviability of Somaliland as an independent polity in the Horn. Violence reduces the scope for foreign aid from more constructive developmental assistance to short term relief and rehabilitation inputs. It also complicates, in both legal and humanitarian terms, the prospects for repatriation of over a quarter of a million registered refugees from Ethiopia to their country of origin - an event that may unblock certain categories of foreign assistance for Somaliland. But even more vital than international assistance, instability and insecurity discourages both domestic and international investment, and with them the private sector employment opportunities that Somaliland so urgently needs.

Another damaging consequence of the war, however, has been its impact on Somaliland's less enthusiastic passengers: the Harti clans of the east, and some of the western Dir. The Dhulbahante, long the most reluctant Somalilanders, seem torn between a real interest in the potential advantages (especially commercial) of full integration, and wariness about subscribing to an Isaaq-dominated state. The inability of the Isaaq to manage their own internal problems provides little incentive for the Harti to bind themselves closer to the centre. Like the Garxajis today, the Dhulbahante will seek solid guarantees of their rights and privileges before making a commitment. Like other Somaliland sceptics, they will probably be watching the peace process and Constitutional Conference carefully to assess its validity. They are not likely to be impressed by a superficial seat-sharing exercise or empty avowals of fraternity. They will want to see results.

Recent developments in Muqdisho will simultaneously compete for the attention of Somaliland's discontents. Although a comprehensive solution in the south is still far off, Osman' Aato's latest confrontation with `Aydiid' has raised hopes that a decisive moment is at hand. `Aato's plans for a national reconciliation conference leading to an interim government will attract anti-Somaliland groups among the Harti, Dir, and perhaps from Isaaq clans as well. Somaliland's best defense against slow decay is the rapid conclusion of a just peace and the framing of a national consensus. The next few months will need to see real progress; if not, a window of opportunity for Somaliland to make its case will begin to close.


Peace dividends will also be found away from the realm of politics: an end to the war will remove a major obstacle remaining to mass repatriation of Somalilanders from Ethiopia. Many of the refugees from Somaliland residing in Ethiopia refugee camps already have little or no basis on which to claim a well-founded fear of persecution upon returning home, or a generic risk to life and limb.

A series of studies on the camp populations of Teferi Ber and Derwanaje has indicated that a major proportion of the camp dwellers are actually local Ethiopian Somalis who have acquired ration cards. With respect to those who plan to return to Somaliland, Gadabursi territories have witnessed virtually no fighting over the past five years. Apart from a twenty-four hour occupation of Booraame by the SNM in early 1991, there has been no major Isaaq-Gadabursi confrontation. Gadabursi areas are under control of Gadabursi militia, and the clan participates fully in the Somaliland government, armed forces and police. In certain areas, Gadabursi are involved in ongoing territorial disputes with the Isaaq / Habar Awal / Jibril Aboker and the `Isse, but neither of these conflicts is political or aligns the Gadabursi against the Somaliland government. Similar disputes elsewhere are treated essentially as internal affairs - not as justification for refugee status.

Much the same may be said of the Hartasheikh camps, most of whose residents are mainly either Habar Awal or Arab. There is no real danger in Somaliland to members of either of these clans, except where they may contest territory with the Garxajis opposition. Both clans participate in the government coalition, but outside Hargeysa, they coexist relatively peacefully with the `Iidagale (occasional livestock raiding persists). Large numbers of refugees from both of these clans have already returned home.

As long as fighting continues, residents of the predominantly Garxajis Aware camps evidently possess valid concerns about repatriation. Even though members of these clans remain in Hargeysa and elsewhere at no apparent risk, their reluctance to return may be understood in terms of the present conflict. This may be considered further justified by the potential, however remote, for an intensification of the conflict.


A peace accord would also permit the government to devote more time and energy to more fundamental problems like the emerging drought in the eastern regions. The main rainy season ("Gu") rains are late throughout much of Somaliland, following the long Jilaal dry season. Much of eastern Togdheer, Sanaag and Sool regions have received no rains since last year's Deyr season (September/October). Water reservoirs and earth dams are empty and the price of water is reported to have risen to nearly ten times the price in Hargeysa.

The Somaliland government and UNHCR have agreed to collaborate on a water tankering programme to try to relieve the situation in drought-affected areas. UNHCR is contributing fuel while the government has released US$ 100,000 towards the hire of water tankers. The tankers distribute water to major villages and towns. Although this has provided some respite, the situation will be seriously aggravated if the Gu rains fail altogether. A much broader tankering programme would become necessary.

The situation is reported to be much the same in adjacent parts of Ethiopia's Somali region, from Gaashamo east towards the Somali border. Although the situation is probably not as dramatic as certain elders and local NGOs from the Gaashamo area suggest, some relief measures similar to those taken across the border may be called for. SERP has a field officer in the Gaashamo area and is continually monitoring the situation. So far they have not declared the situation an emergency.

The delay in the rains has already placed livestock under considerable pressure. A water tankering programme to refill water reservoirs and earth dams would provide temporary relief. Since most reservoirs are private, however, special care would have to be taken in making distribution arrangements.

If the Gu rains fall, even this late, a major crisis will have been averted. However, if the rains fail completely, a more dramatic response will become necessary. Lack of water will be compounded fairly rapidly by a dramatic reduction in available pasture. Pastoralists will almost certainly migrate in search of better grazing. An influx to Ethiopia from Togdheer and Sool regions cannot be ruled out.

Mines / Demobilisation

Another inevitable consequence of the war has been the activation of soldiers and militia who had been "demobilised" prior to August 1994. On the government side, an estimated 15,000 men are presently under arms, including police. On the opposition side, several thousand more militiamen have probably taken part in the fighting at different times. Persuading them to put down their arms and become productive citizens in the aftermath of conflict will not be easy, nor cheap.

Although reliable statistics do not exist, these figures probably represent a net increase over previous years in the number of fighters facing demobilisation and integration into normal life. Most rank and file veterans of the SNM have turned their backs on fratricidal conflict, necessitating the recruitment of thousands of new fighters in 1992 and again in 1994/5.

In general, each conflict adds to the pool of disabled, dysfunctional and disillusioned youth who need help in re-adapting to civilian life. Re-integration programmes like those of the National Demobilisation Commission and the Soyaal War Veterans' Vocational Training Centre can handle several hundred such cases a year, a worthy effort, but clearly insufficient to meet the need. Creating opportunities for these young men, war widows and orphans in the aftermath of conflict will be one of the heaviest responsibilities of the next Somaliland government.

The SNM's war with Siyaad Barre also left Northwest Somalia infested with an enormous variety of anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines and unexploded ordnance from all over the world. In 1991, in Hargeysa alone, hospitals were treating 5-6 victims of mines every day as Isaaq refugees returned to reclaim their homes and property after years in exile. Tens of thousands of mines were scattered around the towns of Hargeysa and Bur'o, as well as in the border areas with Ethiopia, where Barre's soldiers had tried to interdict infiltration by groups of armed SNM guerrillas. In some areas, even the watering points and tracks used by Isaaq nomads were mined in an attempt to punish the civilian population.

Many of these explosives were removed by demining teams under the supervision of the SNM and Rimfire, a British security firm; other areas were simply made safe by trial and error, as the returnees explored safe tracks and avoided those proven deadly. Large tracts of land are still sown with mines, unsafe for either grazing or agriculture. A few new mines were placed by opposition forces during the 1992 conflict, but for the most part their locations were known and those unexploded were recovered. During the latest round of fighting, however, the city of Bur'o was densely mined for the first time. Over thirty vehicles - mainly, but not exclusively, military - are reported to have been destroyed, and dozens of people killed and wounded.

Following a peace accord, returning residents will face a greater threat from mines than in either 1992 or even 1991, following Siyaad Barre's ouster. Although the locations of most of the mines are probably known to those who planted them, demining will be long and arduous, and probably incomplete. As in most countries affected by "the coward's war," victims will probably be claimed long after hostilities are ended.

Southern Refugees

A novel, albeit relatively minor, burden on Somalilanders has been the recent arrival of several hundred families of southern Rahanweyn and Ma'alimweyn. Fleeing `Aydiid's offensive in Bay and Bakool regions earlier this year, some members of these predominantly agro-pastoral communities fled to Somaliland. One reason for having chosen such a distant destination was probably the poor reception the group received at destinations en route. Despite having passed through various towns, including Qalafo, Qabri Dahaare, Las `Aanood and - in some cases - Jigjiga, the refugees claim they were given no place to settle nor any assistance from the local residents. Ironically, their first real succour came from the displaced Habar Je'elo of Bur'o, now settled in Yiroowe. The southerners have thus found shelter as refugees among refugees.

The municipality of Yiroowe has already registered over 300 families (probably between 1,000 and 1,500 people) and more are reported to be on the road. The local authorities have collected money and food from the community as first assistance for the refugees. Yiroowe's leadership have now turned to the central government in Hargeysa, UN agencies and NGOs for further help. No one favours the establishment of camps for the new arrivals, and provision of any aid must be carefully weighed against considerations of the local Habar Je'elo; since they are themselves displaced, special attention to the southerners might generate resentment and quickly sour their hosts' hospitality. A solution that encourages the new arrivals to become self-sufficient as rapidly as possible is much to be desired.

Editor: Ali B. Dinar, (