Somalia:Conflict over over ssc region and its resources

By Fadumo Osman

Khatumo Forum For Peace, Unity and Development


Clan warlordism may be dead or dying in its birth place in southern Somalia but it is riding high in northern Somalia where two better armed and funded one clan-based regional entities, Somaliland and Puntland, are preying on the weak in the region- claiming and occupying their territory, stealing their resources and pilfering any humanitarian and development aid from the international community meant for them.


The unionist regions of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) in northern Somalia, nationally and internationally recognized as part and parcel of Somalia, should have had all the rights that all other regions and clans in Somalia take for granted. Instead, they find themselves the exception and the prey of two predatory regional enclaves who claim it for their different reasons.


On one side, is the one-clan secessionist enclave calling itself Somaliland which bases its claim on the ludicrous justification that they and the SSC regions were once part of a bygone British colonial rule and that this historical fact trumps all other subsequent national acts. On this basis, the secessionists consider the union with former Italian Somaliland after independence, and all its embodiments, reversible and hence judge their unilateral declaration of secession in 1991 as making the union null and void. Their reborn Somaliland, they argue ad nauseam, would automatically reclaim its former colonial borders in line with the Charter of the African Union, when everyone else knows that the only borders recognized by the African Union and the wider international community are those of its members, and in this case those of Somalia of which the secessionist enclave is part.


In pursuit of their separate independent Somaliland, and in order to prevail over the recalcitrant unionist SSC regions and exploit their resources, the secessionists felt obliged to invade and occupy them. And as occupiers, they cast themselves as the sole authority and arbiter of all matters relating to all the regions in the north (former British Somaliland), regardless of the opposition of the unionist regions to be part of their secession. It is as if the British colonial rule of the SSC regions – the only people who resisted that rule – is to be replaced by a one-clan colonial rule in the 21 Century!!


The other predator is Puntand whose claim to the SSC regions is no less absurd than that of Somaliland: for them, the SSC regions and those neighbouring regions/clans across the old colonial border were co-founders of Puntland and hence consider the ad hoc transitional common defence arrangement adopted in the wake of the collapse of the Somali State as an open-ended binding obligation on the SSC people unless Puntland decides otherwise. From their perspective, the SSC regions are still part of Puntland even when they withdrew from it after it failed to defend Lascanod and the wider Sool region against the invading Somaliland militia, or liberate it since then – a betrayal prompting the establishment of the Khatumo State of Somalia.


Like Hargeisa, Garowe shares the same arrogant imperious stand that it is their way and not the will or wish of the SSC people that counts. Both see the SSC people as their subjects to be ruled from their respective capitals. Needless to say, the only legally binding relation between regions is their common membership of Somalia and not one arising from a defunct colonial rule as the secessionists would claim, or one between regions/clans even if they are lineally related as Puntland would demand. That unshakeable relation with the State, is the one to which the SSC people and their Khatumo State are deeply committed, unlike others who either pay lip service to it, or else trying vainly to break out of it.


There is good reason why Puntland, always single-mindedly self-centred and self-serving, should persist in its claim to the SSC regions against their will: Without incurring any costs, for example by having boots on the ground in the SSC regions, or providing social and administrative services to its people, Puntland continues to derive economic, political and diplomatic benefits from its claim despite the SSC’s withdrawal. This has allowed it to punch above its weight in Somalia and not surprisingly has no wish to forego them. Its ability in the past to tower over other regions and above all to appropriate the SSC regions have been largely due to its influential relationships with successive UN SRSGs, above all Nicholas Kay.


Until now, the SRSG’s position and practice have been that there is more to be gained for his mission to go along with Puntland’s demands than antagonising it by defending the rights of the wronged SSC regions- a realpolitik if there was one. No less pragmatic is President Hassan Mohamoud, who too would rather sacrifice the SSC regions – and for that matter the union- than antagonise Puntland and Somaliland and run their gauntlet.


But there is cost to Puntland to the extent that its short-sighted blinkered pursuit of self-interest at the cost of the SSC people has, to the detriment of Puntland , poisoned its relations with a people who had otherwise been its stalwart backers through thick and thin. Its success in the past has given it a false sense of superiority and invulnerability. But all that is vanishing into thin air, having alienated the SSC people and much of Somalia and finds itself all alone in the cold except for the lonesome company of Jubaland’s leader, Ahmed Madoobe.


What is remarkable about the two predators is their relation. On the one hand, they are allies, bound by common interest as they see it, to do everything possible to ensure that Khatumo is politically, economically and geographically isolated, marginalised and, even better, strangled and done with. But conflict and confrontations are also inevitable among predators. Here in the SSC, such conflicts arise each time Somaliland, as the party having boots on the ground in Sool, engages in criminal activities – exploiting the area’s natural resources in cahoots with some disreputable foreign enterprises. That was the case few years ago when, in exchange for generous cash handout to the leadership, it illegally granted oil prospecting rights in Sool to a dubious Norwegian oil company by the name of DNO. Such was the gravity of the matter in the eyes of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, and the fear that this shady oil deal might spark wider conflict in Somalia, that it had to report the matter to the Security Council.


Once again, tensions rose in Khatumo’s SSC regions on the 121-12 December when, with Somaliland’s blessing, the same company, DNO, using helicopters, was sighted hovering over the Hudun areas of Sool region, now and then landing to dig the ground and collect stones. The ensuing Puntland and Somaliland’s ding-dong over the matter was predictable. Puntland’s Minister of Information was quick to condemn Somaliland’s actions in a territory belonging to Puntland as he put it and warned Somaliland of the dire consequences its actions could lead to. The people of Khatumo State know that the Puntland that had allowed Somaliland in the first place to invade and occupy Sool has no desire to fight over it now and lose a single soldier, least of all after the recent bloody nose it got over the fighting in Galcayo. All the same, what Puntland lacks for action it makes up for noises for the consumption of the international community, to remind it that they are the rightful authority of the SSC regions and to brand Somaliland as the renegade aggressor.


As was also to be expected, Somaliland’s Minister for Minerals, reputed to be one of the most corrupt in the enclave, responded in kind to Puntland’s reaction. Repeating the usual mantra that they are a sovereign country (when they are not), he claimed they have every right to do what they want within their country (when no such country exists) and within their borders as recognized by the AU (when it does not).


He added that they had secured the blessing of the traditional and community leaders in the area for DNO’s operations. But as it turn out, this was a shameless misrepresentation. All the traditional leaders, at a joint meeting they held, condemned this brazen trespassing on their territory and warned that they would defend their territory come what may. The local community rose up in arms and mobilized their warriors and vowed to chase away the intruders. The second time when DNO returned with their helicopters, they had to make a quick dash to escape the area after they were fired on. The leadership of Khatumo in a statement warned that Somaliland’s illegal actions will be resisted with the force it merits. All this widespread reaction lays pare the realities in the area – the occupation, illegal exploitation of resources and the lies of Somaliland claim that they are in the SSC regions not by force but the wish of its people.


And while all this was happening in the north of Somalia, there was not a word of censure from the head of the State, President Hassan Mohamoud, or members of the central government in Mogadishu. Preoccupied with their personal political and pecuniary pursuits, their vision does not go beyond what they call the 2016 vision which in essence is all about fixing their personal aspirations by whatever mean. As has been clear for a long while, Somalia in their scheme of things is simply no more than the South. The north (former British Somaliland) is out of sight, out of mind and out of all deliberations, plans and actions. For Hassan Sheikh and company, the unity of the country counts for little apart from the occasional lip service to be politically correct.


The fear is that the dangers that these predators are sowing in the SSC regions, and above all Somaliland’s illegal occupation, exploitation and appropriation of other peoples’ territory, could have grave consequences within the SSC regions and beyond. Al Shabaab for one would find it tempting to fish in troubled waters. To forestall such dangers, and given the impotence of President Hassan Sheikh’s Federal Government, it behoves the international community, having staked so much in Somalia to take all measures necessary to restore stability in the SSC regions. The unconditional withdrawal of Somaliland’s occupation militia from Khatumo regions is sine qua non for restoring this stability. Otherwise, the problems in the South are likely be replicated in the North which is only in the interest of Al Shabaab and the secessionists.


Khatumo Forum For Peace, Unity and Development


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Fadumo Osman


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