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Where peace & democracy make no headlines
*Somaliland's peace & democracy unreported
- Bashir Goth
( Thursday, June 1, 2006 )
Mention Somalia and images of famine, warlords, fratricide and Black Hawk Down will jump to one's mind. The country barely exists on the world map let alone the world agenda. Since the last central government was forced out of power more than 15 years ago, the people have been hijacked by hordes of warlords who prospered by robbing and looting international food aid meant for the millions of internally displaced and famished civilians, mostly women, children and elderly.
These thugs-turned warlords have foiled every attempt by the international community to restore peace and normalcy to the country. It is no wonder that the people of Mogadishu have come to view the equally cruel and more barbaric Islamic courts, pushing the establishment of a Taliban-like Islamic state in Somalia, as the lesser of the two evils. Tired and exhausted of 15 years of war, coercion, and being forced to flee from war zone to war zone in search of a safe place to rest, people saw the draconian rules imposed by the Islamic courts as an exceptional remedy to an exceptional situation where the bare existence of human beings let alone human dignity has come under constant threat. Just like Taliban had restored a semblance of peace and stability in Afghanistan, the Mogadishu Islamic courts have by the implementation of their strict brand of Islam brought an end to banditry and coercion and restored a peace of sorts in the areas under their control. Who cares if women are kept under the wrap, if limbs of poor burglars are chopped in public, if murderers are tied to trees and teenage children of slain victims are given the sword to hack their bodies in public squares! Well, dire circumstances call for dire and absurd methods of treatment, one may say. Only one who lived 15 years in a state of anarchy will understand why absurd and inhumane institutions like the Islamic courts look like the guardians of Eden in Mogadishu.
Almost 14 internationally supported peace conferences and a direct full-scale international intervention to s top the carnage and restore normalcy had been foiled by the un-holy alliance of warlords and Islamic courts. It is estimated that the international community had spent between $4m and $5m on the last attempt in which a government and a parliament consisting of warlords and vagabonds was formed in Nairobi in 2004 after a two-year marathon conference.
The Transitional Federal Government, TFG, refused to return to the capital; a city divided into fiefdoms among major warlords, Islamic courts and hundreds of freelance gun trotting youth. Even those warlords who were bribed with ministerial posts failed to secure a safe return for the government. Hence, the president and his parliament had to negotiate a deal with local warlords in Baidoa, the city of death that spurred the American-led Operation Restore Hope in 1992, where the house is temporarily seated. Meanwhile, a heavy fighting is raging on in the capital between a group of warlords, calling themselves as an "anti-terror" alliance, and the militia's of the Islamic courts. If the unfolding situation continues as it seems now, the Islamic militias may be having the upper hand, suggesting that the world may have to brace for the emergence of another Taliban Emirate in Mogadishu and Bush's war against terror may gain a new lease on life in facing Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the strongman of the Mogadishu Islamic militia, as the African Bin Laden.
Compare this macabre situation with the story of Somaliland, the former British Somaliland Protectorate, which had, after gaining its independence on 26 June 1960, united with Italian Somalia in the South and formed with it the Somali Republic. Somaliland, which had reclaimed its sovereignty and abandoned the union on 18 May 1991 after the collapse of the central Somali government, had not only spared itself the apocalyptic status in Italian Somalia but has over the last 15 years restored peace and stability and embarked on a marvelous journey of building the country's executive, legislative and judicial institutions on a unique home-grown amalgam of time-tested traditional systems and western democracy.
So where is Somaliland and why should the world heed its story? Somaliland is that region in the Horn of Africa, separated from the Arab world by the Gulf of Aden and sits astride Djibouti to the west, Ethiopia to the south and Italian Somalia to the East. Its historical links with the Middle East goes back to the age of the Pharaohs' where recorded legend says that Queen Hatsepshut sent an emissary to Puntland, today Somaliland, to bring frankincense, myrrh and other ingredients of which the Pharaohs used to embalm and anoint their dead. Legend also says that the myrrh that Balthasar, the Ethiopian King, one of The Magi, brought to baby Jesus was probably imported from the Golis Range Mountains of Somaliland where myrrh still grows and is exported to neighboring Ethiopia and abroad.
Somaliland was the first part of five Somali territories that emerged from foreign domination. The other four were French Somali Coast, present Djibouti, Italian Somalia, and the two Somali regions each in Ethiopia and Kenya, historically known as the Reserved Area and Northern Frontier Districts respectively. As it became independent in 1960, 34 members of the United Nations recognized Somaliland. It, however, ceased to exist as a sovereign state after the union and had to wait for another 30 years to reclaim its independence following a decade of a civil war during which Somaliland towns were razed to the ground and almost the whole population fled to neighboring countries.
Since then, the Somaliland people devised a bottom-up reconciliation process, restored peace and stability, and successfully held internationally observed municipal, presidential and parliamentary elections. As the country celebrates its 15th independence anniversary, it boasts of having its own national flag, currency, national army and police force, a bicameral parliament, executive bodies of government, an unbridled free press, a developing educational system including a number of universities and an improving health system. It also has a burgeoning private sector which has booming business with Dubai despite the economic hardships Somaliland faces due to what the people believe is a politically motivated Saudi Arabian ban on their livestock exports, the country's prime source of hard currency. Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa, and other major towns have no shortage of world-class hotels with all the amenities of luxury and recreation.
The question, nevertheless, that foreign visitors to Somaliland often raise is why no one hears about the positive story of Somaliland while the world is inundated with internecine bloodshed and anarchy in Mogadishu and why Somaliland is not recognized? The answer comes from Somaliland's astute foreign minister Edna Ismail, the only woman foreign minister in East Africa, who said in an interview: " We are paying a heavy price for being peaceful; there are no bodies of dead marines being dragged through the streets of Somaliland like there were in Mogadishu. There are no international troops to keep peace in Somaliland. We maintain our demobilization and our peace ourselves. There are no foreigners kidnapped or no hijacks. Nothing sensational happens. It is just a very dull country that is getting on with its daily life, rebuilding." In a nutshell, a country has to have bloodshed in its streets in order to be "mediagenic" and Somaliland, an oasis of peace, definitely refuses to fight for international headlines at the expense of its dull but hard won tranquility.
Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer, the first Somali blogger and a news website editor. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious
and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of
women's rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE.
The late Abdirahman Mohamed Ali was the first president of Somaliland, and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal was his successor in 1993. Egal was re-appointed in 1998 and remained in power until his death on May 3, 2002. The vice president Dahir Riyale Kahin was sworn in as president shortly afterwards, and in 2003 Kahin became the first Somaliland president to be elected in a free and fair election.
Photo Above:- People of the self-declared republic of Somaliland vote in a referendum on independence in 2001. The region broke away from Somalia in 1991, but its secession is not internationally recognised.
Photo Above:- Somaliland Flag
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