On Jan 18, 2022, Gavin Williamson of the British parliament initiated an adjournment debate at the lower house lobbying for Somaliland recognition. Nearly 27 out of 646 parliament members participated in the recognition debate, where only 3 of the 27 agreed with his arguments.
After 30 years of self-isolation and a dream of recognition, Somaliland only convinced three people to support her cause. What a failure? It is time to understand the complex case of Somaliland.
Somaliland is the northern region of Somalia where different Somali clans agreed to live together. Non-Isaq tribes, Gadabursi, Dhulbahante, and Warsangali, are the majority in Somaliland by land and population. Those tribes roughly reside 109,765 out of 149,765 area squares in Somaliland, with a population of over two and half million in estimation. Furthermore, Somaliland has five regions where three of them are home to Non-Isaaq tribes. Unfortunately, those clans reside in different geographic locations and have distinct political interests that limit the ability to combine their will and demands. Non-Isaq tribes were/ are unhappy with Somaliland’s approach to recognition from the international community. They believe Somaliland should first fix major political issues, including the following: power-sharing absence, regional economic inequality, unfair government and development programs, and claim of ownership.
Power Sharing absence
Since its inception, power-sharing was/is the hottest issue in Somaliland. The current pie sharing formula, which gives the Isaq clan 57 out of 82 members of the Somaliland parliament, is unfairly constituted and has no base. The power-sharing system is neither considered by population nor by land. For non-Isaq tribes, a fair pie division determines their decision to be part of Somaliland. Besides the parliament, there is also an issue in government institutions, which most of them occupied by this Isaq clan. Since the last 30 years, there have been many efforts to correct the imbalances of the parliament and government institutions, but nothing has been fruitful. The failure made the political leaders of non-Isaq tribes disappointed and engaged them to lobby for Somali unionism. Since then, they have been a key player in rebuilding greater Somalia. The absence of power-sharing has increased conflict among social groups and will lead to political instability.
Regional economic inequality
Somaliland is a small country that depends on support from the international community. Yet, there is income inequality based on regions. A tax collected is unfairly redistributed based on contradicting laws. Law no 12, which harmonizes tax, has recently created a public outcry on social media. It initiated an interesting discussion among the public, which figured out that law no 12 was intentionally designed for the interest of specific regions or districts. This law redistributes income to some places more than what they generate. For example, Barbara has a small population, and it can only generate tax income based on the size of its taxpayers, but law no 12 offers 10% of port income. The question to answer is, who are the primary taxpayers of commodities imported or exported in the Berbera port? I think you understand the point. All people in Somaliland equally pay import and export commodity tax, and the government payment transfer should go back to all regions equally. Therefore, if the international community recognizes Somaliland, non-Isaq tribes believe that the economic inequality will be significant.
Unfair government and development programs
Most government offices are in the capital, Hargeisa. Few of them have offices in regions of non-Isaaq tribes, and those are under-budgeted to deliver services to the public. Within the last six years, Somaliland drafted a national development plan to identify development needs from all sectors and regions but, it failed to produce a comprehensive development plan and left out most lands of non-Isaq tribes. It is now clear the program intended to serve only specific locations. Moreover, International organizations used to manage donations and implement programs based on the needs of each region, but now the support is channeled to this development program.
Claim of Ownership
In 1991, northern elders declared the independence of Somaliland at the Burao conference and later officially constituted it at the Borama conference. These elders were from all clans of Somaliland, including Isaq, Dhulbahante, Warsangali, and Gadabursi. The elder’s endeavors are claimed by the Isaaq clan, arguing that they were at the forefront of Somaliland’s breakaway in the form of the SNM rebels. This notion makes non-Isaaq tribes infuriated and uninterested in Somaliland’s cause.
Most intellectuals and politicians of non-Isaaq tribes are against Somaliland recognition because they believe if the international community recognizes Somaliland it will lead to civil war and chaos. There has been tension between clans in the north based on power-sharing, economy, and politics. Some political leaders of non-Isaaq tribes consider Somaliland a one-clan secessionist enclave and don’t want to be part of them.
By Abdi Adawe
Abdi Adawe is a policy analyst based in Washington, USA. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.