Somalila:18 May: A Symbol of Division, Disunity and a Failed State May painfully reminds most Somalis of the events that plunged Somalia into a failed State after groups of rag-tag militia stepped out of the bush in the Ethiopian desert, actually Somali territories occupied by Ethiopia in the 1950s with the blessing of the British colonialists, and replaced the demoralized Somali army that lost its government which collapsed after the rebel movement in Mogadishu, the United Somali Congress, managed to recruit thousands of civilians to storm Villa Somalia where the late Siad Barre was holed up for a few days.

When Siad finally decided to call it quits, all hell broke loose and the dismantling of the Somali State began in earnest. The first blow to the intact State after Siad vacated Mogadishu was struck by Omar Arte Galib who used to be a foreign Minster under the Siad Regime and later became a Prime Minister under Ali Mahdi who declared himself after the collapse as president of Somalia without consulting the other rebel movements. Like Bremer in Iraq, the misguided Arte ordered the professional Somali army to surrender to the rebel movements that destroyed the country in the first place. Just imagine high ranked officers trained in the US and the former USSR surrendering to angry and undisciplined militia. Some of them ended up being massacred in cold blood.

What came next was the mass exodus of Somali intellectuals and professionals en-masse who sought refuge in foreign lands. As a result, the country was taken over by secessionists, religious extremists and pirates. No wonder that Somalia cannot recover fully after 23 years of numerous attempts by the International Community to mend it.

Misguided Celebrations

Despite its black history, 18 May is celebrated by thousands of young Somalis around the globe who were born after 1990 or who were too young to remember what they lost in the collapse of the Somali State despite its many shortcomings. Most of them are second class citizens in inhospitable countries and have lost their culture, pride and sense of direction. For them, 18 May has replaced 26 June as a day of joy and celebrations, the day when Somaliland gained its independence from the British Raj and united with its missing sibling that also managed to free itself form the shackles of fascist domination.

On 18 may 1991, in a dilapidated building located in a dusty town known as Burao, a group of rag-tag militia high on the a mild narcotic known as Kat forced at gun point the attendees of a reconciliation conference held for the northern clans to declare 18 May as the day that the former British Somaliland Protectorate seceded from the Somali Republic. Just like that. No referendum; no International Observers; no consensus. When the attendees left the conference, many voiced their objections through the BBC.

Overnight, the architects of 18 May replaced 26 June with a day that symbolizes secessions, disunity and a flag that suspiciously reminds one of the Ethiopian flag.

The top and bottom bands of both flags have the same color and both flags have a star in the middle band where their colors differ. I have been told that the black star in the middle of the Somaliland flag represents the demise of Somali Unity that is symbolized by the white star in the blue Somali flag which represents the five areas in the horn of Africa where ethnic Somalis are dominant. There is no doubt in my mind that an Ethiopian artist was behind the design.

Wrong assumptions and calculations

The leaders of Somaliland have made the wrong assumptions over the last 23 years. They believe that minting counterfeit paper money, printing a worthless passport, adopting a flag that resembles that of Ethiopia, establishing 3 clan-based political parties, holding periodic elections marred by vote rigging and clan-bickering, and employing foreign lobbyists will gain them world recognition in the absence of a unanimous agreement for secession by all the clans in the North. Awdal State in the North West, Makhir and Khatumo States in North Central have sizable populations that will never entertain seceding from the Somali Republic despite the presence of a few self-serving individuals from these states in the current Somaliland cabinet.

Somaliland is far from being a democracy in the real sense. Journalists languish in jail for reporting the truth. A recent case involves the owner of Haatuf, a daily newspaper published in Hargeisa, who celebrated 18 may in a prison cell. His only crime was to expose the flagrant corruption that is prevalent in the Somaliland administration. Such corruption has been graphically depicted in a recent song by Awdalband, a group of young artists in Borama. I just hope that they do not end up in a dark cell like Yusuf Gabobe, the owner of haatuf, who although a die-hard secessionist deserves better treatment as a journalist.

Somaliland is far from being peaceful and an oasis of tranquility as its secessionist leaders try to project to the world community. Its army is at war with Somali clans that are opposed to its secessionist agenda. On 17 May 2014, a mechanized column of armed vehicles stormed a village along the Ethiopian border in an attempt to kill or apprehend a prominent US citizen who was in the area for helping organize a conference for clans that desire to remain within the fold of the Somali Republic. The village is the seat of the 19th traditional leader for a sultanate that traces its legitimacy back to the 15th century during the reign of Ahmed Gurey, a Somali national hero. A few weeks ago, the same army stormed the historic city of Taleh, the headquarters of another Somali hero and the venue of a conference that symbolizes Somali Unity and Integrity. Although they were forced to withdraw under pressure from the International Community which is fully aware now of the turbulent situation in the North, they still linger in the vicinity as Silanyo, the geriatric president of Somaliland, declared in his recent address to the two houses of Somaliland parliament. In that speech he boasted of his determination to use force to secure the imaginary Somaliland borders.

The Somaliland people have been misled for 23 years and filled with false hopes of world recognition. Symbolic gestures such as the recognition of a small town in the UK are painted as full recognition by the world community. A controversial Somaliland leader recently admitted that 18 May would make sense if all the Northern clans were on board.

The behavior of the current Somaliland leadership can only earn it world scorn and derision. Some of their actions are in direct violation of International Law. For example they keep signing illegal concessions with small oil companies such as Genel and DNO. The Nugaal Valley Block concession legally belongs to Conocophillips which declared force majeure after the collapse of the legitimate Somali government. The Conocophillips concession will run for 25 years and the clock will start ticking only after a legitimate government that is fully recognized by the world community can secure the area. The few millions being collected by the Somaliland administration from signing these illegal concessions will come back to haunt them after they face criminal charges in international courts of law.

Concluding remarks

The current Somaliland administration needs to stop misleading its people. The past 23 years has achieved nothing but clan-hatred, lingering poverty, and the exodus of thousands of young Somalis who risk their lives by crossing the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean sea in their attempts to escape from the hellish situation in their country.

There is a need for a constructive dialogue between all the Northern clans. Such dialogue and reconciliation can even make a difference in Somalia as a whole. However, such dialogue cannot be initiated in the current atmosphere of intimidation, forced occupations of unionist cities, and mediocre attempts to buy the traditional leaders of unionist clans with money received from illegal oil and mineral concessions. Such dialogue cannot be achieved by trying to secure non-existent borders by force.

The millions of aid money received by the Somaliland administration would be better spent on education, job creation, road building, clean water and proper healthcare instead spending these millions on buying the loyalty of some traditional leaders with land cruisers and bankrolling clan militias that have the habit of changing sides easily. – See more at:

Ali H. Abdulla