Think about Somalia and all that jumps to mind is the image of a lawless country where extremist forces have turned it into killing fields, where people are butchered, maimed and their dignities and human rights are trampled on in the name of a mangled Islam, where piracy is a lucrative business that brings brides and undreamed of wealth and luxuries to hapless maritime scarecrows.
It is a place where the President of the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) hides in a foxhole called Villa Somalia with the protection of African Forces but gets red-carpet treatment in western countries. A place where corruption is so rife that government officials as well as clan militias and unscrupulous local contractors get hefty bribes in order to allow world donated food supplies to reach the displaced and the needy sheltered in make-shift camps. A place where the TFG’s western trained military sells its weapons to their sworn enemies due to an intricate mix of clan loyalty and endemic indifference to military values and patriotic feelings.
Somalia is a place where each of the fighting groups is so fragmented that any hope of one group coming on top as dominant force to bring stability remains a distant dream. A place where internationally-concocted peace conferences have become a profitable industry that no sooner one is held to satiate the greed of some groups, another one is demanded by groups who feel left out of the spoils of the first by starting another horrendous conflict.
Topping the list of these surrealistic images is the picture of the suicidal group Al Shabab that allures disillusioned youth of Somali origin from North America and Europe to be part of what they claim to be a legendary Islamic revolution of equal status to Prophet Mohammed’s conquest of Mecca from the pagan Quraishites or to die for the fantasy of wedding virgin girls in the life after death.
Compare this to another people of Somali stock who managed to avoid all the above vices and vagaries; people who are like your next door neighbours and have worked to restore peace and stability in their territory; people who opted to consult the fine products of their culture and human mind in running their own affairs and kept Islam in God’s turf and in its dignified place of being in the hearts of people to meet the individual’s spiritual needs. It is a place where its people distanced themselves from the lawlessness and butchering taking place in former Somalia. A place where pirates are captured as criminals and put on trial, where suicidal ideologies are shunned and not adorned with grand titles and noms de guerre that are alien to the Somali psyche and culture.
This latter place is Somaliland, a country that gained its independence from Britain in 1960 and has become a full member of the United Nations before it joined the Italian colonised South in a union that brought them only destruction and misery. Almost 30 years after the union, the former British Protectorate of Somaliland walked away from the union with their towns destroyed, their infrastructure in tatters and their whole population in refugee camps. But within two decades and after several inter-clan conferences under their acacia trees, they consolidated peace and established government institutions through a unique blend of customary laws and a multi-party democratic system. Today, while world-favoured Italian Somalia is still in mayhem, Somaliland has an elected president, an elected parliament, a free judicial body and a vigorous free media.
It also has its national flag, national currency as well as a military and a police force. A score of universities and colleges and hundreds of public and private schools have sprung up in various parts of the country. Now as I write this piece, Somaliland National Election Commission is issuing voting registration cards for the upcoming second presidential elections due to take place sometime this year. This makes Somaliland one of the first countries in Africa to apply an electronic voter registration. The three political parties in the country have lined up their candidates and are on the campaign trail to sell their agenda to the people.
The people of Somaliland have achieved this without UN-sponsored conferences and with limited international assistance. But while Somaliland finds it hard to sell its success story of peace, progress and democratisation to the international community, the world pours money to the bottomless vortex of lawless Somalia; money that doesn’t feed the needy and shelter the poor but lines the pockets of irredeemably corrupt diaspora carpetbaggers and terrorist groups.
It is amazing, however, how Somaliland’s people sustain such a strong belief that their resilience and determination would pay in the end, if not by gaining political recognition at least by getting the financial assistance they need for building their capacity in contributing to the safety of the maritime routes against piracy and for bolstering the security of the strategic Horn of African region against the threat of terrorism.
Given the significant role Somaliland plays in safeguarding its coastal waters and checking the spread of Islamism with its meagre resources, it is clear that Somaliland can be a vital geopolitical partner for the United States and the EU. The fact that a high profile Somaliland delegation is currently in Washington DC at the invitation of the State Department, is a good indication that the Obama administration is quickly learning that Somalis might not be the same people after all and that spending American tax payers’ money on the good people in Somaliland might put the horse before the cart in dealing with the intricate situation of that Horn of African country and might win America grateful friends who see it as beacon of hope and freedom and not as infidels worth killing.
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