Today I would like to talk about a way that life in Somaliland has not changed in decades, from the first-person account of a very long-lived Somalilander, as well as some ways that there has been a very recent and potentially significant change. Fortunately, I think both what has not changed and what is changing are both significant, and that we can thank the recent determination of Somaliland to be more proactive in dealing with issues of Somalia as a whole in accounting for these changes, which I believe will make it easier for Somaliland to win its recognition not merely through the demonstration of its lengthy and thus far successful independence but also by negotiation with Somalia’s transitional government (which has legitimacy in the eyes of the international community) to have that independence recognized de jure as well as de facto.
Some Things Never Change
First things first, though. Somaliland247, my favorite source on all things Somalilander, had a story a couple of weeks ago about Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee that I thought had some greater significance in Somalilander society, picked up from the BBC . What I found particularly striking was that this very long-lived nomad, at least 115 years old by his own reckoning, praised the British for bring peace to a very chaotic clan environment in what was then a part of the generalized Somali tribal areas. It would appear that the distinct ethnic identity of Somaliland as opposed to Somalia, with the difference in asabiya, springs largely from the role of the British in teaching good government to a group of people who did not want it and were willing to learn in Somaliland while Italy did not do anything to teach good government to the Somalis there because one cannot teach what one does not know.
It is also intriguing that the British government, the Somali government, and the Somaliland government have wanted the same thing from this long-serving chief of Somaliland’s nomads: advice. Most particularly, I imagine, it would be the advice of how to keep Somaliland’s nomads in some kind of order that does not threaten others, or what kind of measures would best preserve water supplies and peace with that community. After all, civilization tends to come from towns and cities, not only linguistically but also culturally and historically, and therefore any nation or empire that aspires to be cultured and civilized is going to be largely ruled and based out of some kind of urban environment. The British Empire, Somalila, and Somaliland all have had such aspirations, however much or little they were fulfilled.
Some Things Do Change
One recent and potentially significant change is in the fact that Somaliland’s government is talking to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, which has overstayed its mandate but remains the only Somali government with any kind of international legitimacy, whatever the facts are on the ground. However, Somaliland’s government can be praised for seeking bilateral discussions on an equal level, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague as an honest broker, over developing a framework by which a peaceful devolution can be achieved in a way that does not threaten either Somaliland’s de facto independence or the dignity of the somewhat fragile Somali de jure provisional government.
After all, Somaliland’s desire for independence to be widely recognized would be best achieved if a peaceful devolution can be managed with Somalia’s only recognized government. Since Somalia lacks the asabiya at present to hold together regions that do not want to be a part of it, and is rather insecure as a result of its limited strength, there appears to be room on both sides for a peace that would grant Somaliland its independence while Somaliland then takes on some responsibilities for regional stability, being a force that can help keep the rest of Somalia more closely united and avoid any kind of power grab by other regional powers, even if it must be on the bilateral level of a separate nation. This would free Somalia of a burden its government cannot carry–keeping Somaliland within Somalia by force, while at the same time allowing Somalia to save face by not having the solution forced on it by other nations, and also while ensuring Somaliland goodwill through trade and defense and other agreements.
The fact that such room for negotiation exists, and that Somaliland’s commitment to international recognition means that they are no longer so scarred over the abuses of Barre’s regime in the 1980’s, where tens of thousands of Somalilanders were killed and where their nation’s infrastructure was largely gutted that they are unable to have peaceful relations with their neighbor. The best long-term prognosis for any kind of stability and improvement is for an independent Somaliland that has positive relations with Somalia, including the ability to greater develop its own military and economic base so as to provide a force against piracy and terrorism and other threats. This can only be done with a free but friendly Somaliland regime that can provide an example to the rest of Somalia of how Somalia’s tribal identity can be harmoniously blended with the best of Western civilized ways in a state that can fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens. Let us hope such discussions bear fruit.