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War in SSC: What is the history behind this war?
by Amina Hussein
Saturday June 10, 2023

Background

There have been fierce and heated debates about the factors that led to Somaliland to invade Sool in December 2022, its imperative to distinguish between the deep, longstanding, and immediate causes that has let to this invasion and the war escalating in such short period of time. Though, each factor can matter in their own ways this war has since not only killed thousands of civilians, and displaced over 200,000 people, destructions of Las Anod’s key infostructure such as hospitals, schools and other key public services. But It has undermined the relative stability and the slow recovery of civil war that these regions were emerging from the last 30 years.

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In 1892, Somalia was colonised by several European countries; Italy (Somalia, Southern part including Puntland), Britain (British Somaliland, Ogadeen region in Ethiopia and Northern Kenya) and by the French (Djibouti).  The influence of these various colonisers and artificial borders are not only the root causes for present day Somalia’s conflicts but they have also laid the ground for the current war in Las Anod, (capital of Sool). 

On the 26th of June 1960 British Somaliland gained its independence and on the 27th June the clan elders and legislative assembly agreed on the act of union with Somalia who gained their independence on the 1 July 1960. Soon after this unification (by 1961) the early signs of the challenges the unification brought was emerging due to Southern Somalia taking control of state institutions. Theses tensions escalated over the decades and the population of Northern Somalia felt politically marginalised due to the lack of Political power-sharing and access to fair share of the distribution of the country’s resources. Although this was a widely held sentiment in across Northern Somalia but in particular the Isaaq clan felt singled out by the Barre regime.

By the early 1980’s this sentiment had drastically worsened and led to the birth of the armed militia the Somali National Movement (SNM). The SNM was a predominately Isaaq based guerrilla movement, consequently this initiated the Somalia’s first civil War. After a devasting a civil war, the Said Barre regime collapsed in 1991. While the war continued during these periods in Southern Somalia, the clan elders of Northern Somalia and some of the prominent figures of the SNM came together in Burco. The Dhulbahante clan elders that engaged in this meeting, their main objective was the creation of a peaceful coexistence with other clans (mainly the Isaaq’s) to prevent the clan war that was devastating and ravaging Southern Somalia. Thus, there was strong need to restore security and initiate reconciliation considering the division the war had caused between these neighbouring clans who were interlinked socially, economically, and historically.

Initially the SNM had a unionist ideology and in fact this was written into their manifesto, it eventually began to pursue secession from Somalia. However, the SNM leaders had already pre agreed this narrative amongst their fellow clansman and this was not on the agenda nor agreed amongst the Dhulbahante and Warsangali (both are subtribes of Harti, Darood).  The SNM leaders were aware that Dhulbahante people had a long history of anti-Colonialism sentiment and in the 1920’s they led an Anti-colonial resistance (the Darwish, led by Sayed Abdulle Hassan)).  Considering the challenging time and wide instability caused due to the collapse of the central government, the Dhulbahante, their focus of engagement would be one of peaceful co existstance and building of some form of authority in the region.

Without regard for the deeply held unionist belief by the Dhulbahante and no meaningful effort being made by the SNM leaders to settle these opposing ideologies. The SNM unilaterally declared on the 18th of May 1991 their formal independence from Somalia and led to the birth of Somaliland. The declaration of independence by the SNM faced little resistance from the Dhulbahante and they argued that during this turbulent and fragile period they had no alternative in light of collapse of the government and the civil war that was ensuing in the South.

In 1993 the Dhulbahante held clan conference in Boocame and the result of this was establishment of an advisory council. The advisory council consisted of 33 men, mostly they were intellectuals, traditional leaders and former politicians and influential individuals. Their concerns about Somaliland and their desire for Somali unity was widely discussed but most importantly it revealed the Dhulbahante’s determination to autonomously control their region and decide their own faith. From 1993 to 1996, the advisory council mainly focused on peace building in Sool region, however this objective was limited by lack of sufficient funds in comparison to the administration in Hargeisa (Somaliland) and Garowe (Puntland).

By 1996 a second conference was held in Boocame and the Dhulbahante leaders unanimously agreed that the Somaliland is one that ideologically and socially (in terms of clan ideology) it would not serve the interest of their people. This was further affirmed by many of the SNM leaders holding high position that had taking part in targeted revenge   killing of the Dhulbahante due to them sharing linage with former dictator Said Barre. The Dhulbahante clan elders took part after months of consultation the establishment of Puntland (inhabited mainly by the Harti subclans) and declared the territory an autonomous state in 1998.

President Egal drafted a constitutional referendum, and this was held in Somaliland on 31 May 2001.The referendum was only held in Isaaq inhabited regions and the overwhelming majority voted in favour Somaliland’s independence from Somalia. Despite the stark differences in political positions neither side confronted each other military or in open discussions about these differences. It’s argued that Egal a veteran politician had little appetite to address these deeply entrenched political differences that placed these clans at opposite sides but to which he on paper claimed rule over.

How did Somaliland come to govern SSC?

Albeit Puntland administration did not offer much economic or social developments in Sool, Sanaag and Cay districts (that are inhabited by the Dhulbahante people, but other clans reside in their own parts of these districts), or the funds needed to run the existing public sectors. Primary motivation for the SSC was the fact that they faced no margination and discrimination due to their clan linage. Whereas in Somaliland clan killing with no judicial consequence was rampant and senior leaders and later trickling down to the general population it was publicly accepted in Somaliland to refer to the Dhulbahante people as ’fagash’ meaning dirt.

By mid-2004 the president of Puntland, Abdullahi Yusuf, was elected the new president of Somalia. His successor fought with political challenges in Puntland his focused was economic developments and exploitation of natural resources in Puntland. The unresolved political dispute and conflict between SSC and Somaliland were not on his agenda. The election of President Abdullahi Yusuf had also weakened Puntland army as they were in embroiled in the south in war against Islamic Courts and Islamist militants in Mogadishu. This left the SSC region claimed on paper by Puntland to be territories under its administering but essentially these districts were governing themselves using traditional customary with no input military or financially from Puntland.  The absence of governance of SSC created several internal clan wars and instability, Ethiopia who shares large border with these territories grew increasingly concerned by this. Ethiopia had been involved decades long war against ONLF ( Ogadeen National Liberation Front) and the shared clan linage  caused a fear that they would infiltrate and orchestrate   their attacks from the SSC districts. Ethiopia government encouraged Somaliland administration to take a lead in attempted to govern the SSC districts.  Egal’s successor Dahir Riyale, the first non – Isaaq president was a less divisive figure and less abrasive in using clan rhetoric’s and paved the way for a politically, to a lesser extent hostile environment for the Dhulbahante people. March 20007 due to clan clashes between Dhulbahante and sub clans from ruling clan of Puntland (Majeerteen). The complaint among the SSC people that Puntland was just their militarily and did nothing for them grew. Somaliland took advantage of the growing tension and divisions amongst the SSC people. 

October 2007, Somaliland positioned their army close to Las Anod and a Dhulbahante militias entered Las Anod in Somaliland name and claimed that they would be governing the city. Somaliland seized the surrounding area and after weeks of internal fighting among the Dhulbahante led militias. This led to mass departure of Dhulbahante clan leaders (Garaads), local leaders, and any influential figure that was focal about their anti-secession ideology. Initially, Somaliland army kept its non-Dhulbahante troops outside the town but over the months as the town remained volatile this changed, and the region became militarised. This was the start of mass arrests of those who remained and were known to be pro Somalia.

Amnesty international has written several reports of the killings, mass raiding’s and rape by Somaliland soldiers. The situation stabilised over the years, but it had severe impact on Sool’s political and economic development as many did not return to the town. For those who remained they became demoralised due to lack of traditional leaders, politicians that they could have confidence in to advocate on their behalf as the ones appointed by Somaliland were Dhulbahante individuals that were widely regarded as a government stooge due to their inability to highlight the issues at hand. locally they were branded as ‘horgal’, as a result leading to the locals having no voice in the new the administration.

Sool was under militarily occupation, and this triggered the third Bocaame meeting led by those that had fled in their mass. A declaration was released on November 2007 which highlighted 7 points highlighting that they do not recognise or accept Somaliland as a legitimate administration of the SSC territories. Somaliland disregarded these concerns continued to expand their militarisation of Sool.

Mid 2009 the Dhulbahante people attempted to establish their own region administration called Khatumo which was the foundation of SSC ( Sool, Sanaag and Cayn) and they elected Xaglo Toosiye. Puntland and Somaliland both strongly opposed this new administration, in the absence of support from the federal government and internal division. Khatumo administration remained governance in exile with meagre financial assistance. Due to the relative stability and the indigenous residents wanting development and peace and in turn lessening the people’s opposition to Somaliland’s governance. Somaliland army committed genocide in Kalshaal, Buuhoodle and other small towns against the Dhulbahante people. This aroused the need for Dhulbahante people to have their own administration as it became clear that they were a minority clan in Somaliland who faced constant killing and undernimming their economic and political development.

 In 2011 second attempt was made to building Khatumo state of Somalia, and its inauguration took place in January 2011 in the historical town of Taleex. Once again this was rejected by Somaliland and Puntland, and although sympathy was shown by Federal government, President Sheikh Sharif. But with tensions being high and federal government undergoing change in government, Khatumo administration did not materialise.

What triggered the current war in SSC?

From 2007 until December 2023 that Las Anod had been under Somaliland government, situation in Las Anod deteriorated. Albeit some law and order were established but this did not provide any confidence in the administration as there was widespread killing of influential Dhulbahante people. Over the years the killings became regular occurrence and with Somaliland largest army being stationed in Sool, Sool residents felt failed and often targeted by Somaliland administration. To this date no one has faced any prosecution for the assassination, despite the efforts made by Las Anod residents in cooperation with the administration and requesting for justice for their loved ones that were killed. Prominent Somaliland Politicians would often public state that Dhulbahante people should internally deal with their own killings. Other statements from Somaliland senior leaders have also included ‘they are the ones killing each other’. This raised serious questions for the people of Las Anod about their citizenship and the role of the government; given that this regime is collecting tax from them, its largest army is based in Sool, and they report to oversee the security and stability of the town.The questions locals struggled to find answers to were ‘How would regular people investigate, prosecute, and bring to justice the unknown assassins’? Moreover, Sool was the only district in whole of Somaliland that regularly prominent figures would be assassinated but no efforts would be taken by the local and central government to apprehend or thoroughly investigate the series of killings.

On 22nd December 2022 a prominent and well-liked politician who was part of Somaliland’s opposition party, ‘Wadaani’ was assassinated shortly after leaving evening prayer. Few days prior to him being killed he had led a campaign highlighting the series of killings and the failures of Somaliland’s administration to investigate and hold any officials accountable for these failings.

This triggered a peacefully demonstration by Las Anod residents and Somaliland killed over 20 people using heavy weaponry and excessive force in order to disperse and supress the demonstrations. However, the demonstrations grew to an uprising, and traditional leaders return to the town to have meeting to deal with the developing crisis. However, Somaliland continued to shell the city and responded with a miliary response when the traditional leaders requested for the army to leave the town to prevent escalation and killings of civilians. By January 2023 full scale war was raged by Somaliland against Las Anod in effort to suppress them. The traditional leaders declared on 5th February 2023 that they would fall under Somalia’s writ.

Why is SSC so important to Somaliland?

As aforementioned, Somaliland since 1991 has exhaustively worked on becoming country that is internationally recognised. However, the SSC people push for Somali unity, puts Somaliland’s three decades long effort at risk of not materialising. This mainly due to Somaliland state claiming colonial borders. These colonial borders dissolved upon the unification of north and South of Somalia on 1st July 1960. Somaliland has legally never operated as a sovereign country; their first flag and formal government was the one created after the merger.

Somaliland emerged from dissatisfaction with Somalia and facing years of marginalization, series of killing lack of political power sharing in Mogadishu. It raised serious questions despite portraying itself a democratic, viable and peaceful state. How the war waged against SSC for the last 5 months which has led to over 200000 fleeing, destruction of hospitals and critical infrastructure of the city justifies their need to reinstate old colonial border that is no longer in existence nor has there been any agreement reached with Somalia how this would be resolved.  Somaliland has long argued that it has right to self-determination and that Somaliland is driven by the will of its people.

However, it appears that Somaliland politician and its supporters are yet to address objectively and critically with ‘what about the will of the SSC people to be part of Somalia and their own regional state’, ‘what about the series of killings, marginalization and lack of power sharing experienced by the SSC while under Somaliland’s administration. It’s fair to suggest that Somaliland and SSC ‘s grievances of each other and from Somalia are similar in many ways. But the question remains how these grievances will be resolved and more importantly it shows that Africa’s problems and in particular case of Somalis who the most homogeneous ethnic group in Africa are, the legacy of colonial borders continues to be the forefront of their conflicts. It’s also worth noting that SSC and Somaliland are essentially emphasises how Africa’s solutions may not lay in secessionism ambition.


Amina Hussein
[email protected]


 





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