In his passionate and well-argued post, Somaliland advocate Dalmar Kaahin closes with the following statement:
“Also, if Eritrea and South Sudan could secede, what would be the legal, moral, and logical reasons for withholding Somaliland´s sovereignty? From 1960 to 2011—fifty-one years of struggle for self-determination, Somaliland will not settle for anything less than full independence. No ifs, ands, or buts! And independent or not, Somaliland is here to stay. What is good for Eritrea and South Sudan is also good for Somaliland.
Clearly, if there was ever the slightest fear of a break-away region in Africa setting a precedent, Eritrea and South Sudan would not have been let go. And in the case of Somaliland, it is neither breaking-away from Somalia nor violating the A.U.´s charter. Simply, Somaliland wants to revert to its original borders. Therefore, it is time for the A.U. to practice what it preaches: “Respect of [Somaliland] borders existing on achievement of independence .” ”
As I had already made a similar statement in an earlier blog , I happen to agree with its sentiments. What I wish to do today is examine the problem of Somaliland in light of the problem of misguided unions in general, with Somaliland as a case study in what is a very large and widespread cultural problem. If we can understand Somaliland and its case for independence, we can understand similar problems elsewhere in the world and in other institutions where similar problems exist and where a similar solution is required. Let us call this solution the Amos 3:3 rule: “Can two walk together unless they be agreed?”
So, let us examine what the larger problem is: misguided unions that can no longer function because there is no common ground between camps. These misguided unions can be nations–like Somalia or Sudan, or they can be institutions where a cultural and worldview clash is so severe that there is no common ground between two camps, such as what happened in the United Church of God in 2010 until the departure of the malcontents to form Cogwa. What one can study about the one allows the other to make a lot more sense.
Somaliland gained its independence on June 26, 1960 from the British Empire, and five days later rushed into a hasty and ill-advised union with Somalia, which had been the Italian Somaliland. The resulting union has proven to be frustrating on a variety of levels, partly because it seems that Somaliland maintained a British sense of constitutionality, law, support for democracy, while the rest of Somalia was content to veer between tyranny and anarchy and show a complete disregard for the rule of law or for the voice of the common people. Given my own openly admitted bias for lex rex rather than l’etat c’est moi , I can certainly understand the position of Somaliland pretty easily.
Since the victory of the Somaliland forces over the armies of dictator Siad Barre in the early 1990’s, a victory that left many of the cities and infrastructure of Somaliland destroyed, Somaliland has been a de facto state that is unrecognized by the international community. This is despite the fact that in the time since Somaliland’s independence numerous nations in identical position to Somaliland, being the victims of misguided unions who have sought to make their own way as nations, have been freely allowed independence after monitored elections determined that the will of the people was to be free, or treaties recognized the fait accompli–nations as widely separated as East Timor, Eritrea, Montenegro. Now a nation that was never an independent colony, South Sudan, appears to have voted for independence to breakup Sudan into two nations along its cultural and religious fault line.
What is the holdup? Why is it that while some new nations get the fast-track to plebiscites or recognized nationhood (Kossovo springs to mind) after genocidal warfare, other nations (like Western Sahara, Northern Cyprus, or Somaliland) get the shaft? It would appear as if there is some kind of block in the collective intelligence that prevents old business from being resolved according to new rules and changed circumstances. Somalia was a nation propped up because of its use in Cold War geopolitics, where Siad Barre and his corrupt regime switched sides from supporting the Soviet Union (and receiving lots of subsidies) to supporting the United States (and then receiving lots of subsidies).
To admit that such a union was a failure when such large “sunk costs” have been put into it for the purpose of creating a bulwark against another regional power (in this case, Ethiopia), is unacceptable for many people and many nations, unless someone takes the first step of viewing the case by its own merits instead of through the obsolete perspective of the Cold War. Instead of finishing decades-old unfinished business, which may become urgent in light of the current geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China, the world has so far been content to deal with more recent problems and leave the old problems unresolved. Such a status quo cannot endure forever.
What would have been a better way to deal with the problem? Well, it might have been best for such a union to have never taken place, but in the euphoria of independence it is easy to make such blunders. The real problem occurred after Somaliland had won its de facto independence from the Barre regime but when its independence was denied because the international community deliberately preferred to maintain the sham that Somalia was a nation rather than admit that Somalia had fallen into total anarchy and that any part of it that had the ability to ensure rule of law, democratic rule, and a decent promise of stability for its people deserved the chance to do so (namely Somaliland). The fact that the world preferred to love and maintain a lie rather than admit the bitter truth makes it culpable in refusing to make the best of what is clearly a bad situation in the Horn of Africa.
Of course, as more and more areas are gaining their independence in the precise situation as Somaliland, it becomes more and more unjustifiable to apply the standard fairly and consistently with them as well. The world has changed in 1991, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The end of the Cold War meant that issues that had been under rug swept because of the polarization of the world into two camps (popularly known in the United States as “good” and “evil” though considerable evil existed on both sides), so that a more consistent moral view of international relations unsullied by the perceived need to subsidize tyrants so they would not defect to the other side may be developed.
It is clear to me, though, that such a problem has implications far beyond international relations, as great as my interest in diplomatic and military matters is. I cannot help but think of the problems of my family and religious experience when I think of the problem of misguided unions and their lamentable and tragic results. As it is this deeper and more extensive personal experience that gives me an interest in its presence in other parts of the world, it is only natural that my studies of that broader world should also inform my own understanding of the personal situations that led me into the fields of study in the first place.
With regards to unions, I have a certain very consistent chain of preferences. My first preference is for union to be maintained with the rule of law and hostility towards oppression, if it can be maintained, and if those who wish to tyrannize or bully others wish to form their own confederacies, I am for waging fierce warfare against those corrupt and evil men, to prevent their example from harming me and those I care about. Then, after they are defeated and have surrendered and repented, I am for reconciliation, but only then. Likewise, if I am in a situation of anarchy or tyranny where my voice is ignored and that cannot be changed from within, I am for leaving it and striking out for an independent destiny. Either way, I am against misguided unions, for giving in to tyrants and bullies who wish to oppress me or others.
What made Somaliland a misguided union? The same sort of circumstances that make lots of unions misguided–there were false promises, and one side was only interested in using the union as a sign of its greater glory and power without any interest to submit to the rule of law and with a goal to maintain the union only so long as it gave them greater power. Once the people of Somaliland wished to be free, and were able to successfully fight for it, those power-hungry bullies had no compunction in the least about destroying their cities and in considering them to be enemies instead of brethren.
We ought to let these things be a lesson to us, because the same dynamics in Somaliland are present in many other parts of life, and they share a common thread. Likewise, our response to them should be consistent and not clouded by personal bias–if those who are power hungry and desire to oppress others are allowed to run rampant and are not called into question, there will be no end of misery on this earth, and we will all be responsible to the extent that we stood by and let it happen without raising a voice against it.