By Mohamed Saleh Bali

Introduction 1
People 2
Land 5
Economy 6
Brief History 10
From Ruins To Renewal 15
The Conflict 16
The Road to Hargeisa 21
Conclusion 23
Notes 25
References 35


In the 1990s, the democratic movements worldwide grew by leaps and bounds. The expansion was unruly and preciptuous and multilayered, with different developments appearing and disappearing in a matter of few years. These developments told us that the already weak contemporary state structures in Africa had become more liquid and unsettled. Aside from the break-ups within the old Yugoslavia, no other region than the Horn of Africa had imploding state power struggles turn whole swathes of countries into modern junkyards of human wreckage. The collapse of Somalia, in 1991, is now considered the most dramatic example of complete state failure and disorder.

Following a decade-long civil war in Somalia that led to the fall of government led by Somali president Siad Barre, the whole country has since been ravaged not only by more bitter factional warfare, but also by famine and the total disappearance of central state infrastructure. The finale chapter of a decaying dictatorship in Somalia, also, represented the blur of a writing of hetertofore unthinkable possibility amongst a very homogenous nation: the birth of a new nation.

This article, then, is an introduction profile of that new country: Somaliland. In May 18, 1991, Somaliland Republic became a de facto independent nation, and corresponded to the former colonial territory of the British Somaliland protectorate. No foreign government recognizes it; but independent it is.

This paper is divided into three main sections. The first section presents a sketch of the known ancient history of northern Somalis. That historical picture is depicted in broad sepia lines as reflecting the limited knowledge available. The second section is about the 'modern' Somali political movements and their contributions to the demise of an authoritarian rule. More than anything else, this was due to the suppression of the traditional political arena in authoritarian settings that very often shifts the center of political gravity to "movement-type activities". This gives particular prominence to clan political mobilization, which takes place outside the conventional arena of 'modern' party politics. What very often unites the disparate strands of the constituents of these movements in these contexts is their commitment to bringing about a change in government. But the heterogeneity of the clan movements, and the tendency of most groups to deliberately distance themselves from the incipient 'national authorities' because of fear of co-optation and exploitation, foreshadow future difficulties of these groups in forging effective political coalitions and aggregating interests to effect change in the policy domain, in more "normal" times.

The last section concludes the profile by assessing the futility of recent violent factionalism that substituted a brutal past with precarious present and uncertain future. The paper all along argues that the Somali crisis is rooted in the social fragmentation apparent in the Somali society, and that no resolution of the myraid political, economic and social traumas it manifests can be ever possible without a thorough understanding of the history of the people and the ecology that produced this precariousness and civil strife. To understand the birth of Somaliland, it is necessary, as the report begins with it, to briefly examine the modern history of Somali people.

Somali communities, which are scattered throughout the eastern Horn of Africa, consisted of nomads with a history characterized by the pastoral tradition. By the 11th century, six major clan families dominated the Somali landscape (Lewis, 1955). Prior to the arrival of the colonial powers, political identity was primarily based upon clan membership. Although all the clans acknowledged their self-identity as Somali, no common Somali political institutions existed before the European colonization.

Like all African states, Somaliland Republic came into being during the European colonial period. To the north, Somaliland faces the Arabian peninsula, to the west, lies Republic of Djibouti, while Ethiopia and Somalia are its southern and eastern neighbors. Lying in the southhern end of the Red Sea, and extending just east of the Bab el Mandab Strait to the just west of the Cape of Guardafui on the Horn of Africa, Somaliland has been subjected to a variety of influences from diverse sources.

Somaliland's ancient links were with the north, that is the Arabian peninsula, and its culture was fused with the Islamic faith that spread, with commercial ties, along the course of the Red Sea and far beyond. Somaliland's closest links were with the Cushitic south and west, and was a source for the spread of Islamic culture to Ethiopia, as well as to East Africa. Thus, some of the Somaliland's cultural traits - pre-Islamic religious practices and rituals, methods of food preparation, the nomadic pastoralism, and some forms of clothing - indicate a cultural development in some spheres that are more akin to the south than to the north and east.

But despite basic affinities with parts of East Africa, Somaliland has always been a definite cultural region in its own right, distinct from both the Arabian Peninsula and the Cushitic south. Since Somaliland is located in the north-central region of the Horn of Africa, it managed to escape, to some extent, the far-reaching influences which the earlier Abyssinian invaders had on the Cushitic homeland. Somaliland was always on the periphery of the Abyssinian empires; generally, some parts of it were the last area to come under, and the first to breakaway from, the Ethiopian highland control.


The origin of the Somali, like the origin of the language, is wrapped in mystery. Most authors consider them to be a distinct branch of the eastern Hamitic stock, with a mixture of Oromo and Bonni (Wabonni) bloods. Perhaps, a popular theory among many Somalis on their origin, which roughly conforms with the old theory of Sir Richard Burton, is the correct one - that they are of Negro-Hamitic descent, and "nothing but a slice of the great Galla nation islamised and semitised by repeated immigration from Arabia" (Burton, 1966:304).

Nevertheless, Somaliland has one of the most homogenous populations in Africa, with virtually the entire population belonging to Hamitic (Cushitic) ethnic group and speaking Somali as their first language. Somalis of Somaliland are united by language, culture, Islamic religion (with an added dash of prehistoric superstitiousness), common descent and tradition primarily based on pastoral nomadism. They share ethnicity with their neighbors in the Horn of Africa: Oromos, Afar, and Rendille. Somaliland's population is variously estimated between two and three million, where half of them resided in the northwest region, and the spatial distributions of the population was shaped strongly by historical patterns.

Somali people occupied their present territory through various and subsequent invasions of various groups following and pushing on each other, and all starting from the Omo-Tana region of today's southern Ethiopia. The series of the occupiers of Somaliland may be traced as Bantu Zenj, then Cushitic Oromos, then Somalis. The land was sparsely populated by Zenj (hence the land of Zeng in the explorers' chronicles), a Bantu native group, until the fourth century when Cushitic-speaking refugees fleeing from tribal wars in surrounding areas began to move in, an influx that continued through the tenth century. At about the same time, the indigenous Cushitic peoples had been joined by Arab immigrants. These refugees and immigrants eventually coalesced into a fairly homogenous cultural group, Somali.

From today's Sanaag region departed the ancestors of the Isaaq, Darood and Dir to conquer their seats by driving away the remaining un-Somalized Oromos, who had earlier displaced most of the earliest known inhabitants, the Zenj, in their wanderings in the Horn of Africa (Lewis, 1955).The history of the occupation of Somaliland is understood to be the result of two periods: the wars against the Oromos, and then due to clan social fragmentation and the exigencies of survival in a severe land, the wars among the Somali nomadic groups, fighting one another for many centuries to seize the best lands.

During the same period, important integrative social elements, notably, the Somali language, an admixture of Cushitic Oromo, Arabic and Zenj, began to develop as a language of trade throughout the region. In the seventh century, A.D., the region became one of the first areas outside Arabia to fall to the expansion of Islam, another important characteristic of Somalis. Though Islam spread to Somaliland, it did so in fits and starts, and the process was altered in basic ways by the tribal and folk cultures that already existed in the region, as well as by the patterns of coastal trading activities and blocs.

Along the coast, an ancient mercantile culture existed and brought contact with the Middle East, India and Asia. To ancient Egyptians who sailed along this coast, this was the Land of Punt, the Regio Aromatifera of the ancients - seeking incense and spices to grace pharaonic temples. Phoenician traders came by also in search of its aromatic plants, and Greeks and Romans visited the coastal entrepots (Zeila, Berbera, etc.) and called its inhabitants Berbers (hence the port city named Berbera) (Kaplan, 1969:18). These ports marked the northern terminus of caravan routes from Harar and Ogaden and exported live animals, hide and skins, ghee, gums, ivory, slaves and ostrich feathers, which were brought in by the Somali nomads to the trading centers; in return, the nomads would receive cloth, dates, iron, weapons, and pottery.

Despite these commercial contacts, a pastoral group, Somalis remained relatively isolated from the remainder of East Africa and were not incorporated into any of the region's pre-modern kingdoms and Sultanates. Until the 19th century, Somaliland was largely ignored by the world except for a small-scale coastal trade in animal products and the trans-shipped slaves. Although there was no real sense of Somali nationhood until the twentieth century, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries powerful sultanates on the Aden Gulf coast defended Somali lands against Portuguese and Ethiopian kings. An Arab sultanate, with its capital at Zeila, was founded by Sur immigrants from Yemen in, perhaps, the seventh century; in the thirteenth century, it had became a powerful state, known as the empire of Adal. In the sixteenth century, the capital of the state was transferred to Harar. The worst was yet to come: In the seventeenth century, Adal collapsed after the region was sacked by Abyssinian armies, and Somaliland lapsed into tribal disunion and political insignificance. Zeila, a shadow of its old self, became a dependency of the Sheriff of Mocha, and thus nominally a part of the Turkish empire (Drake-Brockman, 1912:20).

Sense of national identity was indelibly forged during the British colonial experience and during the decades of resistance to southern domination and oppression. But there is also cultural and social diversity. The hinterland areas of the country are regions of pastoral nomads with a strong warrior tradition, where loyalties tend to follow family and clan lines. Due to extreme conservatism, traditional mores still dominate, in spite of the westernizing influences of formal employment, of education, and of growing urbanization and international travel. Extended family and exogamous kin-groups form a predictable social nexus closely mirrored by the spatial exigencies of the Somali lineage system: hamlet (reer), village (tuulo), and extends intact to urban centers (xaafado). Accordingly, the traditional social pattern is based on occupation. Artisans share the lowest standing with the farmers, while the tribal camel herdsmen bask at the top, and the cattle herders hang just a notch below.

Lying at the bottom of this social scale, there is a small group of pariah people, known collectively as sab, literally, "sub-human", who live outside the sub-clan system. As occupational groups, their exclusion from the main society was justified mainly because their work was polluting or degrading. Resembling the bondsmen of the Roman Empire, in a cast-like system, they eke out their living in despised occupations as the barbers, tanners, leather-workers, sanitation workers, blacksmiths, jugglers, itinerant entertainers, and magicians of the country. The reasons why these occupations had acquired the stigma of impurity are shrouded in history. Just like elsewhere in societies with caste-like social structures, the most acceptable theory is that the concepts of pollution already existing in indigenous beliefs were reinforced and modified by the concepts of a monotheist religion, in Somali case, Islam, regarding killing of animals and eating meat. Gaboobe, the new encompassing term applied to all groups of outcastes, were traditionally forbidden to intermarry with members of the ordinary population. (Kirk, 1905) Due to the segmentary principle that organized the society, the rest of the Somali society lacked what can be called social stratification.

Beyond the apparent social differentiation on the basis of sex and age, social ranking was expressed within the idiom of kinship. From economic point of view, in a society that produced little surplus, the Somali males were all equal, though those who exhibited special skills in war-making (waranle), in poetry recitation (abwaan), in somehow amassing some wealth (taajir), and the elderly who had knowledge of the religious matters (wadaad) or resulting from experience (waayeel) all held a higher social position in their groups. They were given more respect and honor; in effect, their words and decisions carried more weight than those of the less-endowed. However, what little inequality existed was limited, in the characteristic (ad hoc) fashion, to single individuals and not to whole categories of people based on similarity in warrior skills, religious life-style, education and income, and who set themselves apart from the rest of society.

Thus, the traditional political structures of the Somali were simple as befitting a purely nomadic people. Each clan traversed about with its folds within definite boundaries, as dictated by the endless search for pasture and water-holes. For the purposes of ensuring mutual survival on a harsh land, unwritten contracts, or xeerar, within and between lineages and clans, which later evolved into customary laws, and validated with selective parsings from the Koran, regulated their social and commercial relations. Each clan, and sections of, remained independent of the other; several of the clans had Sultans, many of the sub-clans and lineages (reero) each had a headmen, or caqil. Generally, these positions (madax-dhaqameed) were honorific and implied little authority beyond the personal influence of the individual leader. The Somali society is characterized as a whole by its lack of chiefs and hierarchical systems of political office. Following the common practice, the affairs of each clan were decided through assemblies of its male adults concerned, each speaking as equals. As I.M. Lewis put it in his ground-breaking A Pastoral Democracy, there were few cultures whose political culture encumbrances were so few:

Somali society has traditionally been a kin-based society with patrilineal descent as the main organizing principle and political ideology. The population comprises three principal groups of patrilineal clans or clan families: Isaaq, Dir and Darood, the latter two being traditional and bitter enemies of their arch-rival, the Isaaq, who, as the majority, constitutes the dominant economic and political group. These clan families (the widest level of segmentation among the Somalis) are all further divided into innumerable clans (the most important political unit), sub-clans, lineages (the most important and stable socio-economic unit), and dia-paying groups, which only united to face a common enemy. Before colonization, due to bitter rivalries and constant clashes along clan lines, these clan groups, although culturally and religiously united, never formed a single political entity. Hostilities and open warfare within and between clans and sub-clans seem to have been endemic throughout history (Lewis, 1959:274).

Being a predominantly pastoral society, the search for pasture and water in a harsh environment drove clans and lineages physically apart or pitted them against each other; occasionally, there were armed conflicts even between segments of the same clan or lineage. As a result, they have always - and remain so to this day - as a loose and opposed cultural and political associations. Each of these clan groupings - often bitterly opposed to others by feud - has its own loosely defined but fiercely defended territory and distinct history. Currently, the surging clan consciousness and through its inherent and useless factionalism has become - more so than in the past - a barrier to organizing a stable polity due to the endless struggle between and within the clans and sub-clans for a fairer share of economic resources and political power.

A major political difference between the populations of Somaliland and Somalia can be seen in the political systems of the two. Unlike the hierarchical social organization system of the clans in Somalia, which is more susceptible, as recent history shows, to elite political manipulation and centralized rule, the contrast can be observed in Somaliland. The fierce independence inbred by the pastoral nature of its ecology, and largely undiminished by the British colonization and centuries of contact with outsiders through trading, Somaliland's political groups strongly oppose at centralized political and economic controls (Lewis, 1969:562). However, this distinction is far from being clear-cut given the presence of linchpin clan groups whose territory and culture straddle the contagious border areas between Somaliland and neighboring countries.


The territory of Somaliland (with an area of 68,000 square miles or 109,000 square km) lies between parallels 8.0 and 11.5 degrees north and meridian 42.7 and 49.0 degrees east. Occupying the northern part of the Horn of Africa, its territory extending along the Gulf of Aden for about 400 miles from the Lahadu Wells, near Djibouti in the west to Bandar Ziyada 180 miles west of Cape Guardafui, and stretching from the coast inland for a breadth varying from 80 miles in the west, to 130 in the center and to 220 miles in the east (Great Britian, 1886:936).

Geologically speaking, the physical basis of the country is one of extensive erosional plains, cut across ancient crystalline rocks of Eocene age (Macfayden, 1933). These are overlain in many parts with sedimentary rocks, and the northern third of the country has a superficial cover of consolidated sand. In most places, these are roughly warped - giving a perceptible rise from sea level towards the escarpments of the interior which have their base at 700m above the sea-level. Eastward the plains incline beneath the high escarpments, and southward they have been down-warped beneath a sediment-filled basin, which is attracting exploration for petroleum. The relief is generally monotonous, consisting of undulating to flat landscapes over wide areas, punctuated occasionally by low ridges, ravines and valleys.

Westward the land descends through an extensive foothill zone of rolling country, at an altitude of 1400m, to Somaliland's main lowland area. This strip of land along Ethiopian border, part of the Harar plateau, averages 50 miles in width and lies at around 600m. Annual rainfall averages in this region 350-800mm, and climatic conditions are generally more pleasant. There, the earliest settlements which later became larger cities (Hargeisa, Gabiley and Borame), were established around the turn of the century by religious communities (tariqa), which, then as now, took a leading role in agricultural innovation. Cultivation was usually combined with cattle husbandry, and most farmers had some small ruminants as well.

In contrast, along the Gulf of Aden coastline the lies an extremely hot and dry coastal plain, or Guban, that stretches from depth from 2 miles in the west near Djibouti, to 40 in the center, then descends rapidly to the Golis range of mountains, with the highest peak at of 7894 ft at Surad. Except for the brief showers following the southwest Monsoons, or Kharif, between November to January, this narrow Maritime plain, with rainfall of less than 4 inches annually, remains dry and lifeless most of the year. In parts vegetation is inadequate to graze even the camel, which is the main support of nomadic peoples and a principal medium of exchange. Traditionally this harsh area has produced some salt in a number of salt-licks, and dates and Myrrh are cultivated at oases, such as Xiis.

Above this plain, the Golis mountains rise stretching from the Cape of Guardafui in the east to Ethiopian Highlands, with highest points at near Cerigaabo city in Sanaag and near the ancient city of Harar in Ethiopia. The northern plateau that stretches away from this mountain structure is known as Ogo. Forming the main watershed between the hot coastal plain and vast interior plateaus, here water is plentiful and most permanent wells in the country that provide dry season watering points for the nomads are found in this region.

To the south of the Ogo plateau opens a wide and water-less land known as the Haud, where only a narrow strip of it lies in Somaliland, and much of which is in Ethiopia's Region 5. This vast region serves as the traditional and finest grazing lands for most of the Somali pastoralists following the rains during the wet seasons. Reeling from the drought years, waves of south-bound migrations of pastoralists and their skinny herds can be seen filling the Haud in search of scarce water and pasturage to save their livestock. This trans-humance migrations and subsistence forms the economic basis of the country.


In terms of average income, Somaliland is, economically, one of the world's least developed countries and its economic performance is heavily dependent on the regional prices of livestock. Its natural resources have been listed aptly as: "Sun, Sand and Somalis" (Rayne, 1921). Poverty is the dominant theme in this largely subsistence economy, which hinged on the vagaries of the rainfall, trapped by extreme social conservatism and threatened by uncertainty of peaceful existence as a result of centuries-old clan-based discord and rivalry.

Somaliland exhibits the typical features of a low-income African economy with a high ratio of foreign trade to gross domestic product, a low level of monetization and urbanization, and a dominant informal sector. Much economic activity is clandestine, and few statistics gets published (Gray, 1989). The few statistics available underestimate the country's condition since they overlook the effects of non-monetary trading, the flourishing monetary but informal commercial sector, and the remittances of Somalilanders working abroad (1). There are hardly all-weather roads and no railways. Construction is the sole industrial activity. Its structural problems of economic development, which were immense in any circumstance, have been rendered still more acute by the civil war and droughts.

The cash economy of the country is dominated by the exports of livestock (from Somaliland and Ethiopia through Berbera), by the trade from Ethiopia in the stimulant leafy shrub, Khat, fruits, vegetables, and coffee, and the import of manufactured goods through Berbera and Djibouti. The economy became export-oriented early in the colonial period, when emphasis was placed on the production of livestock for Arabian peninsula markets, which were also the principal suppliers of the country's import requirements. Due to the arid conditions prevalent throughout the country, nomadic pastoralism forms the mainstay of Somaliland's economy.

Since the turn of the century, the traditional herd has become an important cash crop through the growth of urbanization and, more importantly, livestock exports to markets in the oil-rich Gulf countries, with Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as the leading receiving port. Berbera, the country's main port, is said to be the world's number two livestock shipping point, handling millions of heads of camels, cattle, and small ruminants a year (Reusse, 1982). Currently, Berbera customs receipts from export dues on livestock form the main revenue base for the Somaliland government.

Over a considerable period of time, the Somali herders have developed their grazing systems and an overall rational strategy for their individual livestock management units. Astute herders take advantage of the thorn-bush and thin grasses that cover the otherwise barren land, providing pasturage for their camels, cattle, sheep and goats. The conditions of life in Somaliland are dominated by scant and variable grazing, and by sparse supplies of water. Agriculture is limited to a few well-watered areas in the Northwest region, elsewhere - in the north and east, the soils are sandy, with little agricultural potential, except in the dry valleys, which generally contain some soil moisture - livestock husbandry is the sole basis of existence. The seasonal rains, unpredictable from year to year, regulate the nomadic camping and migratory circuit of the herding families, creating also familiar feast and famine pattern.


The climate, according to John Drysdale, a long-time student of Somaliland, generally corrresponds with the altitude and with the seasons:

The northeasterly and southwesterly blowing monsoon winds dominate the Somaliland's climate. When they reverse their annual motions, they bring the heaviest rains in the Gu season, typically between March and June. A short, dry summer season, the Hagaa, falls between the lighter rains, the Deyr, and the Gu . The main dry season, the Jilaal, follows the Deyr rains, which usually fall between September and November. The Deyr wet season, the least well defined of the four, fails to occur in some years. Average rainfall is approximately 300-600 millimeters (10-18 inches) a year but is unpredictable and widely scattered throughout the country (Box, 1971:221). Droughts are common in this arid and semi-arid climate, occurring moderately every 3-4 years and severely 7-9 years, with the result that in approximately 25% of the growing season in the Northwest no crops can be produced at all.

Somaliland has no perennial river. The shortage of water, resulting from low annual rainfall (average 500 mm) aggravated by considerable fluctuation in the monthly distribution and total seasonal rainfall, for humans, livestock and crops is the most biggest hindrance to the development of Somaliland's natural resources. Because of the water supply being the important limiting factor within the country, it is not surprising that towns and villages are located around water sources. These resources are usually artificial ponds,Waro, in which water is stored from rainy season to the next. There are also hand-dug shallow wells in many parts of the country, in addition to Barkado, or water reservoirs, and numerous Togag, or dry bed sandy rivers that become filled with water after heavy rains (Abdi, 1995). Water in these Togag is replenished by rain water in mountainous areas in the center of the country, where rainfall is over 10 inches (Al-Najim, 1992). This is relatively higher rainfall than the rest of the country receives. The valleys of these Togag are considered to be good sources of fresh rainwater at subsurface level, which can be exploited for both agriculture and grazing.

In the better-watered areas mostly in the Northwest, sufficient rainfall supports subsistence farming of mainly sorghum, fruits, vegetables and Khat leaves, the Somali drug choice. These dry-land farmers maintain a permanent homesteads where most of their family members and livestock can be found, and they produce a major share of their milk and meat, which supplement their diets. These farmers, who are almost exclusively small-holders, typically adopt a risk-minimization strategy of farming. Since land is plentiful, but rainfall erratic and sparse, several plots are cultivated in low plant densities in different areas. This improves the probability that crops in some of the plots can be harvested.

Since the early 1970s, however, the agricultural sector has suffered from relative neglect, hasty nationalizations and excessive government controls and compounded by societal changes, which led to abandonment of farm-work in favor of salaried employment in the towns and in the oil-rich Gulf countries. All attempts to introduce large-scale mechanized farms in these areas have so far been unsuccessful.

Somaliland is extremely vulnerable to drought conditions, particularly in the low-lying pastoral areas, and along the eastern escarpment where there is a widespread dependence upon the spring rains. In all lowlands, which are dependent on rainfall conditions, there is a range of dry-zone vegetation, from some areas of desert through thorn scrub to acacia savannah. The most memorable of these droughts, the drought conditions, which began in 1972/1973, in association with abnormal conditions affecting the whole African Sahel, have completely disrupted the pastoral economy in many areas. There had been a high mortality rate both of human and livestock, while vegetation cover had suffered a long-term set-back. Also, these droughts disrupted the delicate population distributions by forcing many pastorlists to leave their traditional areas in search of emergency aid, and made worse by the military regime's policy of resettling drought victims from Togdheer and Sanaag regions in newly-established Soviet-style farming villages in Somalia (Clark, 1985). Since 1990, recurrent droughts has reduced crop yields and seasonal pastures throughout the country, and have decimated animal herds in some areas.

Thus, livestock is a constant feature of the economy and, in the rural areas especially, the dominant feature. Pastoralism supports the majority of the population, providing it with its major source of subsistence to both the herders and the burgeoning urban population in the form of fresh milk and meat. In fact, 70 percent of the population is devoted to nomadic pastoralism for their livelihood, and contributing nearly the entire value of the national exports (Samatar, 1987).

It is widely believed that range-lands are unable to support further livestock herding; thus, limiting expansion of livestock production. With increasing numbers of livestock, the competition to use the same grazing areas has intensified, and it has thus been impossible to prevent overgrazing since the pastures are communal. It also widely believed that the traditional communal tenure, which is practiced by Somali nomads, is usually incompatible with long-term sustainable management, as often been the main contributory cause of range-land degradation. Somaliland's overall arable lands, however, are thought to be under-utilized and thus to have great potential for expansion of production through the extension of known technologies (Al-Najim, 1992).The same could be said in the development of the much neglected mineral resources sector.

Oil Exploration Prospects

The Somali sub-soil is rich in a variety of minerals, such as phosphates, lignite, iron, tin and zinc. There are indications of considerable mineral resources, but few have been exploited. Exploration of petroleum was carried out since the early 1940s, where over 60 exploratory wells have been sunk but by early 1986 only about half of the concessions on offer were under contract to Western sources. Emphasis was put on the Gulf of Aden coastal areas in the latitude of Berbera where some oil seepages were recorded and strikes of natural gas in Meydh area were obtained. In the Sanaag region, it has been reported that promising strikes of oil have been obtained (Kielmas, 1991)(2).

These, however, await official confirmation and suggestions on how effective exploitation can be achieved. Plans to start oil exploration on the Sahel region (Berbera) was announced by Conoco, in early 1988, but was postponed as the civil war intensified later that year (Fineman, 1993). Somaliland Government has kept contacts with a number of international oil firms starting in 1991, and an exploration agreement for a block between Hargeisa and Burao was reported to have been signed with U.S.-based Alliance Resource, while expressing interest, appeared reluctant to commit themselves until the republic had achieved international recognition.

Economic Future

The problems of generating economic development in Somaliland are immense. Since the onset of the civil strife in 1988, Somaliland has experienced considerable economic dislocation, accompanied by a widespread social dislocation and drastic regrouping of population brought about by insecurity and military massacres. The civil war had also created problems of "internal" refugees (estimated to number up to 500,000 people), while it was estimated that more than 700,000 people had fled to neighboring countries.

Economic growth has been traditionally modest because of the neglect of the British and post-colonial governments, the small size of the domestic market, the lack of indigenous raw materials (save the live animals), and because of shortage of finance and management skills, with investment deterred by political uncertainty. In the absence of significant mineral development, satisfactory economic growth will depend upon the promotion of agriculture, and the injection of capital and technical assistance and creation of pricing policies, which will favor increased small-holder production, and greater access to international markets. And without an agricultural surplus, the economy can never hope to support a modern state. Massive investment in development of primary education and health and the rehabilitation and improvement of transport and telecommunication infrastructures are also essential.

Finally, external economic relations were affected by the country's uncertain international status. Although Somaliland was externally recognized as still formally part of Somalia (which does not exist), the Somaliland government refused to acknowledge this status; it was thus denied membership in international institutions, including postal and telecommunication agencies, and had difficulty in negotiating formal agreements with foreign governments (Press, 1993).

Somaliland requires foreign assistance for the necessary programme after 10 years of war, and is further hampered by food shortages following poor harvest because of the drought. The government appealed for international assistance, but the relief aid has been slow to materialize, partly because of the confusion caused by Somaliland's indeterminate international status.


During the "scramble" for Africa among the European powers, Great Britain, France, Italy and Imperial Ethiopia divided the Somali-inhabited Horn of Africa into areas of influence. Great Britain subsequently entered into a series of treaties with Somali clans in northern Somalia which obligated Great Britain to protect the Somali lands under its rule and not to cede Somali territory unless to the British government. The British declared a protectorate over northern Somalia in 1886. The British were primarily interested in protecting and stimulating the already active livestock trade to assure their colony in Aden a permanent meat supply (Fearon, 1956).

About a dozen years later, Mohamed Abdalla Hassan (dubbed "The Mad Mullah" by the British), inspired by the Sudan's Mahdist movement, a romanticized ideal of the Islamic past, and religious and tribal fanaticism, formed a nationalist movement of dervishes to fight against all colonial domination (Jardine, 1920). Although his struggle was suppressed by the British, with the help of his local rivals, his struggle spawned the seeds of Somali unity; thus, the spirit of Somaliland nationalism remained alive and he is considered by some to be the father of Somali nationalism (Abdi-Shiek, 1982).

An important point that needs to be made from the start, is that the "hundred years of British colonialism", of which we have heard so much, are largely mythological. Present-day Somaliland, as a state and a nation, has its origins in the period of European colonialism in Africa, roughly from 1930s to 1960. During the decades of British presence on Somaliland soil before that period the British managed to seize control of only a few settlements and trading-posts scattered along the coast. It was only after the complete defeat of the dervish movement, that the British launched their quaintly-named "pacification campaigns" against Somali clans, and came by the late 1920s, to establish themselves over the whole of what we now know as Somaliland.

British Somaliland remained under British rule from 1886 to June 26th 1960, interrupted only by the Second World War when Italian troops based on Italian-ruled Somalia, following their war on Great Britain, overran British garrisons in British Somaliland protectorate. The British recaptured the protectorate and seized all of Somalia in 1941.The British occupation of Italian-held colonies, although brief, left behind the legacy of Greater Somalia "irredentism" (Drysdale, 1964).

In 1943, there was formed in the Ogaden region, at that point under British military occupation, a movement dedicated to unifying all Somalis under a single government. Such a goal meant, in practice, the foundation of a state incorporating British, French, and Italian-ruled Somali lands; the Ogaden claimed by Ethiopia; and portions of northern Kenya. The United Nations General Assembly ruled in 1949 that Italian Somaliland should be placed under an international trusteeship for ten years, with Italy as the administering authority.

In British Somaliland, meanwhile, the British authorities took series of steps to prepare the protectorate for independence. By late 1950s, a series of constitutional meetings took place in Hargeisa, Burao and Erigavo, attempting to achieve a balance of power between regions and their clans, and during the same period, political parties coalesced along both regional and clan lines. The eastern region (Daarood), along with the Dir clans of the far west, were soon dominated by the United Somali Party (USP). The leading political entity in the central areas, was the Somali National League (SNL), and was the basic political organization for the Isaaqs. The Somaliland National League was organized in the early 1950s, and became the principal vehicle for the expression of Somaliland's political aspirations.

A third party, National United Front, was established with the support of Togdheer clans, and headed by a talented Somali nationalist, Michael Mariano. Despite their leader's brilliant organizational and diplomatic skills, the NUF was destined to play a minor role in Somali politics. Probably, two factors may have led to its marginalization: Mariano's Christian faith and the party's seeking to allying itself with the ascendant Daarood-dominated SYL.

Like elsewhere, the colonial authorities tended to repress or ignore nationalist sentiments but gradually made some concessions in deference to popular opinion. In the wake of popular demonstrations in the late 1950s, local elections were instituted to choose Somali members of the Somaliland legislative councils. Separate electorates were created for different clan groups, formalizing a divisive force in Somaliland politics and thus weakening opposition to British rule and in subsequent negotiations with Italian-ruled Somalia on the merger to from one country.

In 1958, the British instituted universal suffrage and gave Somaliland Protectorate a significant share in executive power. The Waqooyi Galbeed-based SNL formed from progressive elements of Somaliland National Society, and led by a young schoolteacher, with a proclivity for politics, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, emerged as the strongest party (Hall, 1962).

The British legacy in Somaliland included a small national elite, well-educated and with some committment to the principles of parliamentary democracy. The colonial English language served as a vehicle to link the elites of Somaliland's diverse clan regions, somewhat easing fears of domination by an Italian-educated majority in the south following the 1960 merger. Somaliland's economy had seen some commercial development under the British, but its infrastructure was geared to integration in a colonial empire rather to independence as a developing country. Port cities and thriving urban trade coexisted with widespread rural poverty in subsistence-level villages and hamlets; the early years following independence saw an increasing migration of the rural nomads into the cities.

Meanwhile, legislative district elections were held in February 1960, and the newly installed legislature voted unanimously in April 6,1960 for independence from Great Britain and declared its intention to unite with the independent Italian Somaliland. On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland attained independence and Italian Somaliland on July 1, 1960. On that date, following a temporary alliance among the principal Somali clans under the stimulation of European interference, independent British Somaliland and Somalia under Italian rule merged to form Somali Republic (Cassanelli, 1982). However, Somaliland is remembered as the African country with the briefest period of independence - five days - before this fateful union took place.

Initially, the union of these territories was welcomed by the people as a major triumph in attaining the cardinal aim of Somali nationalism. However, the process of integrating these former colonies into a unitary republic had not been an easy task. The contrasting effects of British and Italian rule were still evident in education, commerce, law and in many other ways, although unification of the civil services since 1965, official bilingualism and integration of transport networks and economies have helped somewhat to reduce the disparities between the two zones.

Independent Somalia was almost immediately confronted by a series of foreseeable problems. Under a unitary political system built under the overarching clan structure, one political party - and thus one region and one principal clan group - would always be excluded from office and from the associated benefits. The Somali National League, the principal northern party, thus was effectively excluded from office at the national level, and in addition, predictably was affected by a renewal of Isaaq dissatisfactions and thus growing regionalist sentiments (Kapil, 1966).

The early years of the 1960s witnessed a growing unrest among northern population - resentful about their relatively low representation in government, and fears of growing Italization of education and civil service. Intense opposition from the north led to a series of political crises which resulted in an attempted coup - reportedly the first in Africa - led by a northerner, Hassan Kayd, in early 1962. After independence and the southern ascendancy in the national politics, the SNL's uneasiness in diminished stature was reflected in the northerners' lamentable realization of their subordinate status in their new country.

After the independence, a formal parliamentary structures were set up and free elections were held. Somalia adopted its first national constitution in June 1961 (the majority of the voters in the northern regions voted against it in the referendum), providing for a European-style, unitary parliamentary democracy. Ominously, it also included the aim of unifying the Somali people who live in neighboring states. Hence the five-pointed star on the country's flag denoting the five Somali territories under separate foreign administrations. On the national political side, numerous political parties appeared on the schematic political fray and were based on different clan groups, organized with the sole scope of getting one person elected.

This emergent and divisive type of politics was a main legacy of colonialism, which was to graft a centralized rule onto the highly decentralized and democratic - to the point of anarchy - political system of a pastoral people. Not accustomed to the politics of centralized state, political competition simply turned on the ability to dispose of government revenue and intensified the struggle to monopolize political offices, culminating in the entrenchment of an ineffective and corrupt regimes (Touval, 1963:109-21). Developments in the late 1960s brought to an end this long period of political peace and government stability, albeit in a chaotic parliamentary system. From the elites' perspective, modestly prosperous economy was weakened by a combination of external factors, inter-clan strife in the country's interior, and the inexorable increase in population.

Some measures taken by Egal-Abdirashid administration to stem the ruinous economic decline, such as the cultivation of closer economic and political ties with Ethiopia and Kenya and seeking of increased investments from western companies, aroused strong opposition within the crusty Parliament and more ominously, within the military. This colonial state, which by late 1960s became a one-party state, with a facade of 'democratic' unity inevitably aiding in the rise of the military dictatorship - the epitome of centralization (Lewis, 1972). In many-sided violent upheavals that was to mark its end, it was to deliver - through the rise and fall of Siyaad Barre's regime - much traumatized and dazed Somalis back to their pastoral roots, but without the benefit of their now decomposed pastoral tradition and decimated material base.

Frustrations with the impasse to which the civilian rule had brought Somalia led, in 1969, after nine years of democratically elected governments, amid accusations of rampant corruption and electoral malpractice, the military, led by General Mohamed Siyad Barre, to overthrew the government in a coup. Power was assumed by a Supreme Revolutionary Council, headed by Gen. Siyaad, which immediately upon seizing power, under a program of "scientific socialism", introduced sweeping policies and enacted laws and regulations that seriously undermined the pastoral nature of the Somali nation.

The SRC, originally entirely military, was to supervise a government composed largely of civilians. The regime quickly abolished the 1961 constitution, banned all political organizations, prohibited professional and social organizations and sought to bring all civic associations under the control of the state (Lewis, 1972). On coming to power, the regime quickly nationalized all printing presses. Siyad Barre outlawed all political activity ouside his control, arrested activists, including religious workers, and shut down media outlets. After that, all media were owned, operated and controlled by the government. Incidentally, many people still welcomed the coup as the top leaders of the previous government were hauled to prison and series of reforms were promised to overcome both domestic underdevelopment and international isolation.

Although the initial period of Siyad's rule, which lasted roughly until 1975, was one of intense change, the most notable achievement of the regime is the implementation in 1972 of Latin script as the orthography for the Somali language. Beginning in the early 1970's, the government embarked on a nationwide literacy campaign. The literacy campaign using this new script was implemented first among government workers, then among people in towns, and finally among the mostly rural population (3). Also, the military government attempted to abolish tribal sentiments and organization by passing the Law for Social Protection in 1970, and to build socialist institutions, including expanded state farms, cooperatives, and government monopoly in certain industries. To carry out its program of radical reforms, it heavily depended on Soviet aid and Russian advisers.

Meanwhile, military defeat in the Ogaden war with Ethiopia and a failed coup attempt changed the political calculus. To entrench his personal rule and to regain the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, Siyad Barre launched the Ogaden War in 1977. The war was a disaster for Somalia resulting in the loss of 10,000 men, an influx of about 800,000 ethnic Somalis and Ethiopian Oromo refugees, and a severe economic drain on the economy (Mayall, 1978). Also, the war led to the rise of several internal opposition movements. To counter them, Siyad Barre and his cohorts undertook increasingly repressive measures. Abandoning initial characteristic appeals to foster national pride, the regime leaders instituted harsh rule and attempted to control the only true pastoral nation in Africa by exploiting historical clan schisms and by limiting political patronage to close family members and clan associates (Dunn, 1986:31).

Human Rights Crisis

Basic human rights had been sharply curtailed, the habeas corpus was abolished in 1970; most trials for "state security" offenses were rarely held public and were routinely conducted by vindictive security force personnel. Siyad Barre made the following basic activities capital crimes: criticizing him or the government, demonstrating against the government, organizing a strike and belonging to an unofficial political group. The regime had tortured, imprisoned, and killed thousands of people in an attempt to quell dissent (Africa Watch, 1990). As Makinda notes, his reign had been disastrous for the Somali nation: "Barre had maintained a centralized and authoritarian regime that had literally ruined the country. The economy was in shambles, political institutions had collapsed, corruption was rampant, morale in the civil and armed services was low and clanism was at its height" (Makinda, 1991a).

Since 1981, with the formation of the SNM, northern Somalia became a battleground for virtual civil war. Open opposition to the regime mounted in northern Somalia from beginning of 1982, when student demonstrations in Hargeisa escalated into pitched battles between the military forces and protestors. The failure of Siyaad's forces to stem growing unrest was illustrated by reports that number of children had been murdered by the military. Some northerners now talk of these incidents as marking the outbreaks of hostilities between the north and south. The regime appears to have believed that all that was required for solution of the northern unrest was firm handling of the north. That this policy failed so dismally proved once and for all that the problem was deeply political in nature and not simply one of security (Makinda, 1991b).

According to Lewis, the establishment of the SNM was a direct response to the growing disenchantment and alienation among the Isaaqs:

Following the setting up of the SNM, serious human rights abuses, including unfair summary trials, torture, extra-judicial summary executions of unarmed civilians, long detentions without trials, and looting had been a fact of life in the eighties. Government legislation, time and again was used to crush any opposition. Emergency powers, especially in the north, were used continuously since the outbreaks of anti-government demonstrations in 1982; any suspected sympathizers were arrested without stated reason, detained without trial, and restricted to remote villages and prisons for years on end. Their supporters were given long terms of imprisonment for alleged anti-government activities; their organizations were banned and on each occasion their supporters' assets in bank balances, office and real estate, transport vehicles, and so on were confiscated. Worse still, informers in their ranks had repeatedly devastated the plans of opposition groups. Add to this the censorship of outside press, the complete ownership of domestic media, and the well-trained and equipped security forces and it is easier to appreciate the difficulties. In retrospect, all these measures had conspired with the social fragmentation to ensure that no opposition group, or a coalition of, could successfully make a peaceful succession once the regime collapsed in 1991.

Sheik Yussuf Sh. Madar, the third SNM Chairman, once summarized his movement's policies towards the ruling clique as follows: "As I have stated from time to time, we do not regard Siyaad's group as a separate entity, but as part and parcel of the entire community who are fully entitled to all human and property rights as is any member of the Somali community. But we do not accept the principle of special privileges at the expense of the majority of the people. We do not seek to avenge, dispossess, oppress, dominate or subjugate anybody or any group. But rather, we seek to establish a just society with opportunities for all, irrespective of clan membership or region - based on the freedom of the individual. But there cannot be a just society where over 90% of the country's population are denied the basic human rights".

Since the SNM bases were located across the border in Ethiopia, the military carried out series of scorched-earth policies to deprive the SNM of its civilian support base. Confiscation of livestock, burning of nomadic settlements and farms, destruction of water reservoirs and deliberate poisoning of wells by the military became commonplace occurrences. The existence of the SNM had provided a pretext for the government to wage a war against any citizens who were not suspected of not being wholeheartedly pro-government (Africa watch, 1990). As Schraeder and Jerel note, the regime left no stones unturned in its struggle against the north:

Equally noteworthy, almost since its inception the SNM was plagued by internal dissension. This had arisen from difference based on personalities, ideologies and clan rivalries, as Lewis explains:

Meanwhile, much of the action in the mid-1980s took place in the northwest region, as the guerrillas could operate from their bases inside Ethiopia to which they withdraw if the need arose. Mostly the guerrilla's tactics have been to ambush small security units or attack government installations. Their most spectacular attacks had been made on the Mandheera prison, in 1983, which contained many political prisoners. On the political arena, despite chronic shortage of funds and other resources, it was clear from eyewitnesses (including a number of Western journalists who traveled through the region) that they maintained a number of bush schools and dispensaries, extended local control to zones under their control, and even administered a hedge system of justice over considerable areas (Prunier, 1994).

The Somali civil war began in May 1988 as fierce fighting broke out in northern Somalia when the SNM guerrillas finally attacked several main cities there and assassinated a number of government officials. The government used these attacks as an opportunity to intensify a long-standing clan campaign against the Isaaq, the main backers of the SNM, in an attempt to deprive the SNM of its support base and to humiliate that clan to utter defeat, a time-honored consistency within the wisdom of the traditional clan idiom (Mohamed, 1991).

The reprisal attacks had created a degree of violence unprecedented in intensity and duration in Somali collective history. For example, Government troops, consisting mainly of Daarood clans, had engaged in selective campaigns to destroy entire Isaaq cities and annihilate their inhabitants. Human rights groups had estimated over sixty thousand victims were killed; tens of thousands were wounded, and half a million people were forced to flee this state-sponsored mayhem and violence, under fire, all the way to the Ethiopian deserts (Africa watch, 1990). Even more disturbing, over two million unmarked land mines continue to maim and kill people nearly a decade after being laid over by the government forces (De Waal 1992; Fine 1994).

State Collapse

It is widely believed that Siyaad's wanton preoccupation with the civil war in northern Somalia allowed the anti-Siyaad movements based in the south, whose struggles were to precipitate the downfall of his regime, to develop relatively unchecked in 1989-1990. Finally, the regime was seriously threatened from within the south in 1989, when disillusionment and exasperation with its policies, whether internal or external, economic or otherwise, was rapidly crystallizing into urban unrest in Mogadishu, which escalated into violent anti-government riots. Shortly afterwards the international donors decided to suspend all non-humanitarian aid to Somalia, pending an improvement in the government's human rights record.

The regime's end came with astonishing swiftness. In January 1990, a rebellion led by Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed broke out and made steady military gains over the year. In July 1990 demonstrators in Mogadishu were fired upon by security forces, leaving hundreds dead. By the end of the year, Siyaad Barre was besieged in his palace in Mogadishu, and the civil war degenerated into a clan conflict with thousands of civilian casualties. Siyaad fled the ruined capital to his clan homeland of Gedo and the Somali state collapsed in January 1991. Within Somalia no political figure was allowed to emerge as an obvious successor to the decaying military regime (Makinda, 1991). As a result, southern Somalia descended into the abyss of chaos and fratricide (Drysdale, 1994). Ali Mahdi Mohamed, a rich hotelier, was named interim president, but soon faced almost unanimous popular opposition on the grounds that his USC-Mogadishu group did not represent a clear break with the past.


Two decades after the creation of Somalia a growing dissatisfaction with the union crystallized into a national liberation movement. For all who could see, the temporary alliance that was crafted in 1960 has all but disintegrated. A decade-long brutal war of independence, led by the SNM culminated in de facto independence for Somaliland in May 1991. Following the liberation of northern Somalia by the SNM, a conference was convened in Burao in May 1991, where having taken advantage of the complete collapse of the Somali State, Somalia's loss of any residual strategic value for foreign powers and the break-up of shaky federations around the world, the decision was made to repeal the July 1, 1960 Act of Union. Representatives of all the clans attended and accepted unanimously the SNM as the legitimate provisional administration of the newly-established Somaliland Republic, and the SNM agreed to hold a referendum on independence in the future. The provisional government, headed by Abdurahman Ahmed Ali, a veteran diplomat of the failed state of Somalia and then the SNM chairman, that was to administer Somaliland during the two years, drew most of its support from within the SNM.

In 1991, there were four rival guerrilla groups: the SNM and three opposing groups. Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), which was established during the civil war among the Gadabuursi clan; United Somali Front (USF), an ofshoot of the larger Ciise and Gurgure Liberation Front, established itself in the remote northwest corner, and has enjoyed the support of the Djibouti government; and United Somali Party, a Daarood grouping found in Sanaag and Sool regions. This fragmentation was attributable to bitter clan divisions, rivalries among leading figures, and genuine ideological differences. All the three groups while they had militias on the ground had engaged in armed activity against the SNM, partly, made possible by an increase in military and economic support from Siyaad Barre's government from 1988 onwards. The minority trio, under their loose alliance spurred by their common antagonisms towards the Isaaq, having badly mauled and defeated, desperately vied for external support from foreign governments, from political factions in the stateless Somalia and from international NGO's. The SNM had ceased to exist starting in 1992, following the inter-clan civil wars in Burao and Berbera. None of other groups have military presence in Somaliland.

The capture of northern Somalia's main cities by the SNM in early 1991 meant that the country in over two decades, was at peace and under an indigenous rule. Despite its military successes, the SNM government, lacking experience and political consensus, was confronted by considerable difficulties: the country's modern infrastructure had been damaged by war, most of the population had fled to neighboring countries, and there were large number of refugees requiring support. Also, the government inherited a war-shattered economy, heavily dependent on external aid. The main port of Berbera was badly damaged and looted, but was soon open to shipping. The SNM army of about 60,000 continued to work without pay, and many of its members were reassigned to tasks of reconstruction.

Because the reinstatement of sovereignty to Somaliland marked the end of three years of brutal war in northern Somalia, the transition from war to peace has not been easy. With great deal of finger-wringing, anguished people of Somaliland have been witnessing series of civil wars as many of the inhabitants have been embroiled in senseless clan-based warfare and violence. Given the devastation Somaliland suffered during the war and the bifurcated nature of Somali political culture, it was not surprising that conflict returned to Somaliland.

The early years of independence were rocky. Anti-dictatorship politics under the fragmented SNM umbrella created a regime that was weak and venal, inspiring little popular support. Under President Abdirahman Ali, the situation had remained unsettled. He became increasingly estranged from his people and began losing control of the political situation owing to a continuing series of squabbles within the SNM military structure, leading to a loss of war with a disgruntled Berbera-based faction over the control of the port's revenue. Ali proceeded to centralize power in the bankrupt presidency, diminishing the fledgling Council of Guurti's rights dramatically.

One year after assuming power the new government was reported to have became a phantom structure as parallel factions and militias fought for their share of the country's limited resources and for political supremacy. These centrifugal politics only served to hinder the government leadership's realization of the many challenges the fledgling country confronted. The first problems were those of re-establishing normal trade and commerce and of restoring law and order, which entailed the recovery of large stores of weapons and ammunition still in private ownership or discarded during the war. Also, these challenges included demobilizing and integrating the country's many militias into civilian life and repatriating hundreds of thousands of refugees still languishing in refugee camps in Ethiopia (Omaar, 1993).

The major problem for the government was a shortage of resources. Without international recognition it proved extremely difficult to attract aid, and this, in turn, meant the government had no means to settle the claims of ex-guerrilla fighters, nor could it afford to demobilize them. Meanwhile, armed conflict originally instigated by the two military factions erupted. The political violence, however, soon took on a momentum of its own, expanding in scope and claiming the lives of more than 2000 people in Berbera.

The tendency for a guerrilla military however to collapse as it becomes institutionally and tribally divided through its involvement in political governance combined with several groups' increasing demands to be included in the political process led to a peaceful transition toward new leadership. In May 1993, the Council of Elders, or Guurti, in a conference that lasted from February to May in Borama, elected Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, as the second president of Somaliland, and since has so far kept the disparate political factions at bay. (Bryden, 1993).

The Borama charter, series of unprecedented resolutions reached in the conference, recommended among others, for the separation of powers of executive, legislative and judiciary bodies. Given the traumatic experience of the prolonged civil war in northern Somalia, that blueprint for organizing a stable polity had suffered setbacks when the new government announced the assumption of emergency decree powers supplanting the Borama provisions, following a new outbreaks of clan and factional-related fighting in 1995.

The recent civil strife that has gripped the country since then is still unresolved, and the economy is still shaken from prolonged inflation and the cost of the civil war. Also, the cost of food and other essential goods more than tripled with the introduction of new Somaliland currency into the economy in 1994 and the implementation of policies aimed at controlling the resulting, spiraling inflation. Moreover, these policies have increased urban tensions, crime, prostitution, social frustrations, and violence throughout the country, especially in the areas where government's control was strongest.


Somaliland's civil war began in 1994, but its roots are deep in the nation's collective past. Since 1991, Somaliland remained a hapless captive in the perennial dispute between the Gerxajis and Habar Awal clans. "Habar Gerhajis", wrote Sir Richard Burton, the British explorer, who visited the Somali coast in 1855, "have a perpetual blood feud with the Habr Awal, and, even at Aden, they have fought out their quarrels with clubs and stones. Yet as cousins they willingly unite against a common enemy such as the Esa and become best of friends" ( Burton, 1966:304). Being pastoral clans, the traditional conflict between Habar Awal, traditionally based on the hot coastal plain of Berbera and the Gerxajis, most of whom grazed their livestock on the central plateau was over land.

Following ancient migration pathways, all leading southward to the relatively greener pastures of the interior, Habar Awal's relentless push stimulated an ongoing Habar Gerxajis struggle with their nemesis, the Ogaadeen clan, whose seat then extended southward just below the Ogo highlands. Thus, flanked on both sides by warring clans, who were coveting the cool highlands, which served as excellent winter grazing areas, perhaps the Habar Gerxajis, instinctively, developed a strong internal solidarity that is still seen by other Isaaqs to be unusual. It is only fair though to point out this could be a natural response based on the exigencies of life on a harsh land. Nonetheless, the scoop over the crossing of the highlands had far-reaching consequences for the whole region.

In 1840s, Charles Cruttenden, a pioneer British explorer, described a settlement patterns that roughly resembled the current clan distributions; for instance, the Ogaadeen herdsmen were found grazing their stocks just south of Salaxley (Cruttenden, 1846). It is not far-fetched to assume that, perhaps, following a temporary modus vivendi, that only a concerted Isaaq push drove their traditional enemy, the Ogaadeen, out of the main central lowlands of the territory that later became British Somaliland.

There is not enough space in this profile to discuss the older and bitter conflict between the Isaaq clans as a whole and the Ogaadeen, which was treated elsewhere, (for example, see John Markakis, 1989), which has been, and continues to this day, over the control over grazing lands and access to the coastal markets. Notwithstanding the irreconcilable dispute between Habar Awal and Habar Garxajis, it suffices to say that the Isaaq-Ogaadeen dispute have had a stabilizing effect on Isaaq unity over a long period of time. Today, with their fairly pale complexions and wide beards, not unlike that of their eponymous ancestor, Sheikh Isxaaq, feisty Habar Yoonis pastoralists, having overcame an old enemy, can be seen grazing wide and far into the Ogaden, while the proud but land-locked Ogaadeen continue to subsist on their shrinking folds over ever-diminishing lands.

As the pastoralists, locked in these constant struggles for survival on a severe land, have continued in their calling, a quite different social innovations were well under way that will have greater impact in the future. There sprung in many locations religious settlements, or tariqas, whose social and economic relations were at variance with the prevailing nomadic existence. Owing, probably, to their desire to blunt the tenacity of the hold of the blood-money social contract, or xeer, and the pervasive clanship ethos over the nomad in the interior, for which the mullahs entertained contempt, a novel and more stable settlements began to emerge. In general, the enduring successes of these communities depended on substituting a Muslim brotherhood creed in the place of the fissiveness and continous strife of the clanistic culture, and the taking up cultivation of crops, such as jowari, along with settled animal husbandry. Robert Hess's description of the tariqa fits well the general reality:

Probably, owing to its location on well-worn Oromo caravan routes, and its temperate climate, moistened by frequent rains, the most important settlement was Hargeisa. With one house, which was built by Lord Delamere, the settlement was founded by Sheikh Madar, whose famous tomb still perches upon a precipitous pinnacle of a rock on an elevated and hilly district (Drake-Brockman, 1912:67). Captain Swayne, who gave one of the earliest accounts, described Hargeisa like this:

Under the shade of the tomb, north Hargeisa's prodigious urban sprawl extended to fill the valley below. Traversing through the valley, a sand-bed ravine, the Maroodi jeex, issuing from the interiors of the neighboring Xaraf escarpments, provided the only permanent water, albeit some possessing strong aperient qualities, to the town. Equally significant, the ravine reveals its geographical attribute as a boundary between bitterly schismic neighbors. Crossing the bridge towards south of the ravine, Dunbuluq, which is the home of the Habar Gerxajis clans, also revealed Hargeisa's chasm - the other Hargeisa, a town that has always appeared desolate in comparison. Treated as poor relations, south Hargeisa, seemed to be revolving in the same orbit as the parched nomadic plains found behind the shoulders of its hills, than belonging to the urban valley. As the seat of government and the center of business for the whole region, the Habar Awal's north Hargeisa, with its larger population and its bigger share of wealth, came to view itself as the real Hargeisa. Experiencing life in Hargeisa and unwrapping its social fabric, exposes a deep social divide, not atypical in many Somali cities and towns, but one which has a regional and even national consequences, and whose roots lie partly in the colonial experience.

The imposition of the colonial rule did not resolve the basic conflict. Since the British rule was based on "indirect rule" - ruling through existing political and social structures - it had preserved and even accentuated the traditional clan antagonisms. The system of indirect rule meant using clan and lineage leaders (suldaan, cuqaal) and religious figures (qaadis) as salaried agents of the colonial power. Such a system as opposed to the more "direct" methods of rule adopted by other colonial powers (notably France), is advantageous for the colonial power in that it is cheap. Also, in that it preserves or even accentuates traditional tribal and social divisions, it is a system, which is conducive to rapid pacification. But, because the political and social structures are left intact, such as the case in Somaliland, the period of colonial is not so culturally cataclysmic.

A key feature, some argued, was the form of group relations, that the colonial society was actively organized on the basis of separate races and clan communities. As a result, clan tensions and communal rivalries - and their were plenty to be exploited - were stimulated, although it is only fair to point out that the Somalis too showed a strong tendency toward exclusiveness. Nevertheless, the British tribe's settling in separate and exclusive neighborhoods, or shacabka, with stone buildings and tree-lined thoroughfares, was given as an early precursor of residential exclusiveness apparent today among urbanized Somalis. Thus, the colonial categorization of people along clan and lineage lines was condemned, especially among the mulahs, as to have strengthened ingrained prejudice, and that it also resulted not only in blatant segregation and exclusiveness, but also encouraged a belief in stereotypes. The stereotypes, some deliberately cultivated, served, as a basis of the behavior of a few members, either to condemn or elevate the status of the whole group.

Hence, the Habar Awal was thought of as dukaanwale, or shop-keeper, who cheated and insulted his customers. Coming from the interior, many sojourners, such as Ogaadeenis and Garxajises, expressed their puritanical indignation, in polemical poems and proverbs, in being propositioned by a dukaanwale, or bisad magaaleed (lit. sly urban cat). These sojourners remarked on their observations, correctly so, that a wily dukaanwale's first object in all cases being to throw a veil of mystery over all transactions, and to jealously exclude other clans by every means available from contemplating any threats to his gains. Bitterly resented and polemically censored, as they were by other envious clans, Habar Awal, have nonetheless, through their near-monopolistic practices, been able, in most instances, to achieve remarkable successes; not only in the northwest, but also in Djibouti and Ogaden, where they still monopolize the trade.

The urbanized people, claiming a release from the crippling camel complex, in turn, derided the haughtiness and nomadic "traits" of the Gerxajis and Ogaadeeni sojourners, who were clad in their reddish maraykan robes.

Likewise, Asians (Baniyan) and Arabs, who also confined themselves exclusively to commercial pursuits, were sneered at by the semi-nomads as sinister foreigners, who lacked Islamic morals. Similarly, the settlers from out west were called disparagingly lo'jir, or cattle-breeders, an epithet common among pastoralists suffering from the cases of camel-complex.

The advent of the livestock trade with Aden and later with the Gulf countries and the government service inexorably overlaid the economic rivalry over the land issue, which is now moot. Habar Awal's domination in Berbera and Bulhar ensured its concomitant ascendancy in the export/import sector, which forms the basis of the Somaliland's subsistence economy. Burton's remark, though a bit exaggerated, had a kernel of truth in it, that Berbera was destined to be the "key to the Red Sea"; a Somali proverb gives some credence to the effect that, "He who commands at Berbera holds the beards of Harar in his hands." (Burton, 1966:33).

Probably, due to the fact that a number of Habar Gerxajis families, who had established themselves earlier in British-ruled Aden and had worked under the British, the Habar Gerxajis for their part had virtual monopoly on government service in Somaliland, at least, until 1947. The British administrators, having sensed the lack of clan balance, pursued different hiring policies by opening up that sector to other clans as well. Beyond ascendency in access to coastal markets and government employment, much more significantly for the future, another area of intense rivalry was over the access to the successful educational work of the British. Earlier projects had been mainly confined to the Ogo highlands and the western farming areas largely populated by the Habar Awal and Gudabursi clan, and to much consternation on all sides, it tended to widen the gulf between the coastal, plateau and plains peoples (Fatoke, 1982).

Put together, these are problems from the combination of increased mobility and economic pressure; here lies the heart of a modern difficulty, which arises from a greater awareness of other people's lives, from greater expectations. Under the glare of the "nation-building" schemes stimulated by the colonial rule, came an increased awareness of the larger national life and with it rising ambitions and wants. Only much later did Somalis have discovered that they can win material success only at the expense of their special separate identities, and thus with their refusal to pay the necessary price, following a war of each against all and all against each, they retreated to their pre-colonial patterns.

But the endless struggle for material wants and hunger for tribal recognition continues, and they are international; they do not speak in a particular dialect or belong to a separate group. Everybody wants hospitals, roads, and jobs - and separateness and isolation will not provide these things. Clearly, the main obstacle to national agglomerations remained man's deep-rooted tribal roots. People need a society small enough to feel at home in. It is only in the last 50 or so years that Somalis have learnt that they were Somalis in the modern, national sense; before that they were conscious only of much smaller clan units covering a few hill-tops and valleys. Yet now they are expected to regard themselves as part of a country - from where else than the country will the schools and hospitals, not to mention the lucrative presidential and ministerial portfolios - come.

Although continuous interactions, improved means of communication, increased access to western education, and a marked clan unity during the years of southern oppression have, to some extent, broken down geographical and clan barriers, traditional tribal antoganisms remained close to the surface (Ghalib, 1995). The persistence of deep clan rivalries within Somaliland was exemplified by the year-and half-long civil war that broke out in October 1994.

The deaths of several Gerhajis militia members at the Hargeisa Airport following a disagreement over public rights on the airport, provoked a crisis that was exacerbated by long-standing clan and economic rivalries (Bryden, 1995a). In the aftermath of the eviction of the splinter militia from the airport, which the militia controlled for 18 months and financed themselves by extracting payments from all people using the airport, Habar Awal population residing in North Hargeisa were attacked, and some of their businesses ransacked (the retail trade had hitherto been dominated by the Habar Awal). Habar Awal business owners had long been unpopular with the Gerxajis who resented their control over the commerce and its attendant prosperity, especially during the periods of widespread poverty.

As a result, by January 1995, some 150,000 people had taken refuge in rural areas in Somaliland or in Ethiopia. Despite local and international mediation attempts, and both sides' expressed commitment to the principle of a negotiated settlement to the dispute, the government's insistence on the inviolability of its authority, as authorized by the Borama Charter of May 1993, and the opposition's demand on holding negotiations on clan basis remained the greatest impediments to a solution (Bryden, 1995b). Also, the hopes of a rapproachement was further undermined in 1995, when the Hargeisa authorities accused the opposition of being puppets for the so-called federalist group, based in Mogadishu, who received death sentences in absentia of complicity in an alleged attempt to depose the government and incorporate Somaliland to the warlord Aydeed's control (4).

As the state of chaos reigned in the Waqooyi Galbeed following the war in and around Hargeisa, Burao-based militia members, who were chafing from military and political setbacks during the 1992 and 1993, mounted an all-out offensive, in February 1995, in Burao. This offensive was compounded in the months that followed by serious clashes between different clans in Togdheer region, and even in neighboring Sanaag, which serves as a convenient buffer zone between the hostile Somalia and Somaliland. Shortly afterwards the government formally recognized, for the first time, that there was a rebellion in Togdheer (incidents had hitherto been dismissed as isolated acts of banditry ), and acknowledged the existence of an organized movement. The renewed tensions in Burao, hitherto the second largest city in the country, put to flight, in 1995, of an estimated 200,000 refugees, into the open Togdheer plains and refugee camps in Ethiopia. With assistance from the international community, the shaken Somaliland government was able to cater for their needs (Bryden, 1996).

There were immediate, and quite unprovable, allegations that the government had acquiesced in a conspiracy with certain military commanders to instigate the war by permitting them to fire the first salvos, ostensibly to humiliate the natural constituencies of the Hargeisa Airport militia and the Mogadishu-based anti-secessionists.

This mistrust often comes from factors beyond the control of the government to control. Months prior to the outbreaks of hostilities, Garxajis areas in west Burao were run by self-appointed vigilante groups who had maintained order and refused all access to government forces. Both Hargeisa administration - represented by then Interior Minister, Suleiman Mohamed Adan, as Burao administrator - and the army came under intense pressure to reassert their rule but the political significance of such action was apparently more than they could contemplate and they held back. Subsequently, quantities of arms and ammunition were seized in the Habar Yoonis neighborhood and there was an immediate outcry that no such search was being made of neither Habar Jeclo and Habar Awal homes. Habar Yoonis contended that this had proved the partisan outlook of the authorities and, thus, justifies their setting up of free zones. The effect on Habar Jeclo and Habar Awal of seeing the government's acquiescing in this territorial victory of their opponents was profound and lasting. They now felt they had no one they could trust to defend them and their was the inevitable increase in their own militancy and readiness to use weapons (5).

Meanwhile, government troops made notable successes in their cat-and-mouse tactics with the rebels, despite the fact that the army was so ill-equipped and malnourished that it was often unable to hold even well-defined positions, which only served to encourage the rebels to continually test the government positions. By the summer of 1996, government troops became successful at repulsing the opposition attacks; a number of rebel camps were captured, together with large quantities of arms and ammunition, although the rebels continued to cause widespread disruption.

Although the government may have over-reacted in its anxiety over what it called "anti-Somaliland" opposition, the movement nonetheless represented genuine undercurrents of discontent. Its followers comprised an amorphous affiliation of opposition elements, including urban intellectuals, military personalities and elements of the established political and commercial networks. Some loyalist observers considered it an oath-bound society, reminiscent of Siyaad-era military fronts; others viewed it as a formal political movement, with a long military arm. But Somali politics, however, revolves less around party labels than clan, lineage and sub-lineage cleavages, where the implications should be obvious, since, increasingly every public issue in Somali lands came to be defined in terms of lineage and clan interests.

Nevertheless, the position of the Somaliland government towards the armed rebels is something portrayed as simple intransigence. The government's analysis is perhaps not widely understood as it might be, involving as it does both a clear perspective and some subtleties. First, and this is basic to the Somaliland question, there was no real civil war in Somaliland. The war which was being waged was being fought by proxies, principally against civilians and against economic targets, the objective being to terrorize selected population groups and to destroy the country's economic and social infrastructure. Two armies were not facing each other in Somaliland; there was no serious attempt by the "rebels" to win over positive support, or to develop a political programme, or even to administer areas occupied by them. The latest civil strife was only a continuation of feuds and struggles that denied the land any semblance of peace.

Inter-clan and intra-clan raidings of herds and caravan goods have been a feature of Somaliland or Bur al Somaal since ancient times and neither the British nor the Italians ever successfully controlled the problem. The extreme harshness of life, which provides a strong incentive to lawlessness, and the dramatically open nature of much of the terrain, have conspired to make the land a difficult place to bring complete security. Captain Swayne, the British explorer, who passed through the caravan tracks along the Maroodi jeex ravine, commented of Hargeisa's society like this: " There is no social system; no cohesion, and no paramount authority; and the whole country has been from time immemorial in a chronic state of petty warfare and blood feuds". (Swayne, 1895: 7)

Some of the conditions that ignited the recent communal strife were captured in Jennifer Parmelee's article (Washington Post, November 14, 1992):


The civil conflict was of political importance to the Egal's administration just as it had been to its predecessor. The government had stalked a lot on finding a solution, as the political establishment justified its assumption of power in part by the previous government's failure to settle the problem. The government with strong pro-market contingent naturally placed considerable emphasis on the economic development as a means of solving the political question. One of the difficulties involved in this approach, however, is the fact that Somaliland is caught in a political/economic vicious circle. The argument runs that the solution of the political problem more than anything else depended on economic development which would provide employment; if economic activity were sharply increased then political discontent would wither away. In order to carry out a programme of economic improvement, however, a high degree of political stability is needed. And Somaliland terrain, climate and lack of modern infrastructure make it a country far from easy to develop even if there were no political complications.

The civil war, together with disillusionment with the government's response to the country's worsening economic situation, gave impetus to a new emphasis on tackling the economic crisis resulting from it. The origins of the country's economic difficulties were both internal and external. Internally, the combined effects of the civil strife, high levels of inflation, and a series of droughts resulted in falling harvests, low producer prices for stock-breeders and dropping living standards. The resulting social tensions have been associated with declining living standards for urban people, blatant inequalities in incomes, and intense competition to the limited resources available (Africa Confidential, 1996). Externally, the lack of international recognition continued to hamper economic growth and tax political stability by limiting the country's external relationships with other nations and with international financial institutions through trade, aid and investment (Press, 1994).

In May 1995, at his investiture as a re-elected president for an additional 18 month term, Egal announced a series of extensive reforms, whose aims would be to achieve liberalism of the economy: state intervention was to be reduced, while private enterprise to be fostered. Faced with spiraling inflation and heavy internal debt burden, the government took short-term measures, which were aimed at tackling some of the underlying distortion in the economy (Horn of Africa, 1995). By means of a reform of the import and export pricing structure, increases in producer prices, reductions in state subsidies and allowing market increases in prices for food and imported fuel, the government hoped to increase revenue and to accommodate the substantial rise in recurrent expenditure. The overall thrust of the programme was to restore incentives to exports and local production, to rectify price distortions and to channel resources and activity away from the "parallel" market into the cash-starved formal economy, which was primarily dependent on printed paper not backed by any factors of production. The government expenditure, as a result, has been realigned, with the aim of increasing both civil service wages and capital expenditure on infrastructure, agriculture, education and health. As a result, the informal banking sector has expanded; in 1996 there were three remittances firms.

Meanwhile, during the summer of 1996, the Council of Guurti resolved to permit registration of new political parties, and the assumption of power in the fall by a transitional government, in preparation of a national conference on the country's constitutional future. In September, the Council of Guurti announced elections would be held; therefore, legislation was introduced to repeal the emergency decree of November 1994, which suspended the Borama Charter, following the start of the civil war in October 1994.

Finally, the national conference was convened on October 10; subsequently, the conference voted to make itself a sovereign body, whose decisions were to be binding, and not to be subject to government approval. In mid-January, the conference announced that legislation to be drafted for the adoption of a new constitution and the dissolution of the national assembly, several national institutions and regional bodies. A legislative council of the republic was to supervise the implementation of the conference's decisions, pending the adoption of the constitution and the holding of legislative and presidential elections. As in the Borama Charter of 1993, the principle of separation of powers is prescribed and provided for the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of the government to be divided among three separate branches. That is, one branch functions to formulate and enact laws, another to see that the laws are carried out, and a third to determine whether the laws are in agreement with the constitution.

Tensions between the delegates from the eastern and western areas had emerged earlier in the conference, when 28 parties had withdrawn from a "round-table" conference that had been convened to discuss the making of the constitution and the organization of the forthcoming elections. The boycotting delegates protested that the conference was merely consultative, rather than sovereign, and demanded that a national conference be held to discuss the political reform process. The conference leaders' refusal to accede to opposition demands that another sovereign conference be convened in advance of the presidential and legislative elections caused considerable disquiet among the opposition groups in late 1996.

The western delegates favored the election of a constitutional commission on "national democratization". Among their recommendations, which were to provide the basis of a draft constitution, were the establishment of a parliamentary system to operate in conjunction with a presidential system of government, a renewable five-year presidential mandate, the introduction of proportional representation, the freedom of the press, compilation of a declaration of human rights and a system of "controlled multipartism", whereby political groupings seeking legal recognition would be forced to fulfill specific requirements, including acceptance of the charter of national unity.

In early January 1997, the opposition parties, having regrouped, established an "umbrella " organization, to which about 60 political personalities had affiliated by the middle of the month. Prior to the presidential election this committee organized rallies and demonstrations in support of its demands for a national conference, and violent incidents at one such gathering prompted the presiding Guurti to impose a temporary ban on public demonstrations. In an apparent attempt to restore a national consensus, the Guurti announced that the under-way national reconciliation conference would remain in session, embracing diverse political and social groups, and to discussing the democratic process, human rights and development issues.

A total of ten candidates, including Egal (who had initially announced that he would not be seeking a third presidential mandate but changed his stance later), contested the presidential election in February 1997 (6). Since most of them were lacking distinctive histories and policies or were seeking only a chance to vie for power, the assembly settled, it appears, on a safe bet by re-electing the incumbent, Egal, in a land-slide.

An atmosphere of national consensus prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the national conference. Accordingly, in late February, Egal appointed a new cabinet, whose membership was drawn from each of the country's regions, in order to avoid accusations of domination by any one clan group. Also, the reorganization of the cabinet, announced early March gave some indications that Egal was preparing to cede some his political power.

Somaliland Cabinet

Name Ministry
Ahmed Mohamed (Silaanyo) Finance
Eng. Mohamed Aynab Defence
Eng. Ahmed Mohamed Bihi Mines
Abdillaahi Mohamed Du'aale
(Ina Dola-Yare)
Omer Maygaag Samatar Information
Ahmed Hashi Oday Livestock & Forestry
Mohamed Qaasim Haashi Commerce & Trade
Yahye Haji Ibrahim Agriculture
Mahamed Hasan Cawaale Dev. of Rural Areas.
Jama Salah (Salaah Gaab) Presidency
Mohamed Abdi Yusuf (Gaboose) Interior Affairs
Ali Mohamed Haji Waran-Cade Public Works
Dr. Abdi Aw Daahir Health
Sh. Hasan Haji Fara-Taag Religious Affairs
Rashiid Haji Abdillaahi Posts and Telecom.
Abdillaahi Hussein Iiman (Darawal) Rehabilitation
Daahir Amiye Education
Ahmed Hussein Oomane Fisheries
Muse Bashir Sh. Barkhad State For Foreign Affairs.
Mahmood Mohamed Saleh (Fagadhe) Foreign Affairs
Rashiid Mohamed Gees Planning
Ibrahim Araye Tourism
Abdillahi Omer Qowdhan XXX.

Parliament Leadership
Name Post
Mohamed Ahmed Qaybe The Chairperson
Abdiqadir Ismail Jirde The 1st Vice- Chairperson
Omer Hersi Elmi The 2nd Vice-Chairperson

Council of Guurti
Name Post
Sh. Ibrahim Sh. Yusuf The chairperson
Sh. Ahmed Sh. Nuh The 1st vice chairperson
Empty seat The 2nd vice chairperson

Besides electing a president, the convention also provided a rudimentary system of representation by establishing a national assembly. Due to the pastoral nature of the society, they followed the hybrid-parliamentary system, in which the population was divided according to their political leanings and interests, and each legislator (wakiil) represented a group of constituents sharing the same political orientation (i.e. clan membership) and living in, or claiming descent of, in the same district, or beel. According to press accounts, following the recent election, this year's electoral college will be the last of its kind and that future presidents will be the chosen by a plurality of voters in direct elections.

However, it is becoming apparent that no group could operate effectively without some sort of standing organization to give it unity. In another words, the third base of democracy - the political parties- is still missing. The other two being a system of representation and the right to participate in the government by voting. Political parties are essential, in that they offer leadership and to speak both for those who supported the government in power and those who opposed it.

Under the national charter declared in February 1997, political power was to apportioned in the Parliament among the country's various districts. This provided, for now, a workable formula for power sharing, but it also ensures that the national government would always be hostage to the considerable political, economic and even military power of separate clans.

To ensure political stability, the alien winner-take-all system should be discarded; in its place, there should be a pact, between the major political groups and their respective elites. Just like Venezuela, the pact should assure that no one group will lose its political standing completely as a result of an electoral loss. This can help ensure adherence of all major players in the political arena to the peaceful forms of democratic competition.

Hopefully, as in the Borama conference of 1993, the Hargeisa conference of Somaliland communities promises to be a positive step towards restoring Somaliland to the ideals for which its martyrs - fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters - sacrificed their lives for. All of them died so that its citizens could see this day in independence and freedom. Their legacy must be a written constitution which sets out the ideals they fought for. A popularly-approved constitution should embody these ideals which are universal to mankind everywhere.

The constitution must guarantee the right to life and personal liberty, protection of conscience, the right to assembly and association, the right to worship, protection of due process of law, freedom of press and expression, protection from deprivation of property, and protection from arbitrary search and entry, and protection from forced labor and inhuman treatment.

In more familiar terms, the constitution must guarantee every citizen, regardless of clan, creed or religious sect, to be able to walk the streets, and to live in his home without the fear of unwarranted arrest; to participate fully in the affairs of his country and to discuss freely and in a significant manner all matters concerning the destiny of his country and his place in it; to participate in an open, free and fair elections, where he can vote for the candidate of his choice, and to belong to the political group, clan-based or not, of his choice.

These are not privileges to be granted by any government. They are fundamental human rights which adhere to every person merely by the virtue of being a human being. Each and every citizen has an obligation to ensure that these rights and ideals, regardless of arcane electoral results, are not swept aside again for the convenience of a few clansmen or for the sake of perpetuating temporary political situations.


Visiting Somaliland today it is hard to imagine the country was ever administered by the British. In fact, the British did not change things very much; most of the traditional laws and customs were left unaltered as was the basic economic structure (7). Clearly, some impetus was given to formal education and - of even greater significance for the future - a measure of political freedom was accorded to the population.

Thirty years of political and economic exploitation by the governments of Somalia failed to completely suppress that history of political freedom. Yet, political stability remains only a dream throughout the Somali peninsula.

State disintegration in Somalia and the resulting secession of northern Somalia can be traced to a series of acute conflicts, in part at least, rooted in colonial partition and the social fragmentation that is apparent in Somali society. Despite a myth of historical homogeneity, Somali social organization has been dominated by the clan structure with divisive history and identity for numerous years (the enduring importance of clan organization in Somali society and its fissive tendency is amply illustrated by the continuous civil war in Somalia).

Independence in 1960 and the coup led by Siyad Barre in 1969 resulted in the development of a state structure that was little more than a facade of unity. External imposition of a western-style state structure, continued suppression of divergent views, cut-throat clan competition and discrimination, and general economic disintegration were the key precipitating factors in Somalia's state collapse. Likewise, Somaliland's frustrating attempts at "nation-building" can be traced to the same suspects.

The current insurgency raging in Somaliland is just a mere struggle for another structural vehicle of resource management and political control in the wider clan-based competition for economic survival in a shattered country. Typically, flames of political violence ignite when particular groups fear that their own security and access to local resources are being threatened by changes in national politics. Politics continues to turn on the capture and uses of state power, which does not provide a sufficient foundation for emergent democracy.

If the tensions and conflict in the Somali peninsula are clan and family based, then no government will endure without genuine national reconciliation. This cannot take place through coercion, but must rest instead on compromise and give-and-take. Nor will eliminating any individual faction leader or shuffling of ministerial posts bridge clan divisions. Moreover, the massive destruction that the Somali peninsula has endured during last decade's civil wars should serve as a lesson that a clan cannot become a government. Therefore, the challenge of Somaliland is how to establish a new spirit of solidarity, how to place country before clan and to seek replacing the traditional sectional loyalties by national allegiance. This, in practice, means revitalizing indigenous institutions, restoring independent traditional authorities and giving clans and lineages a legitimate outlet for political expression.

Overall, Somaliland has enjoyed significant achievements in the last six years since independence. The nation's territory has been delimited and consolidated, and separatist rebellions have been successfully resisted. The rudimentary parliamentary system has proved workable, and the national government has established its constitutional right to intervene in local affairs under some conditions. Despite the lack of international recognition, Somaliland has maintained firm and watchful, but generally peaceful, relations with its three unfriendly neighbors, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and it continues to play a role in the Horn of Africa. Realizing Somaliland is here to stay, for example, United States has established a full-time desk officer for Somaliland at its embassy in Djibouti.

Despite a near-constant condition of war, or threat of, since 1991, Somaliland's economy is growing in comparison with the other countries in the Horn of Africa. Increased use of irrigation and planting techniques, and opening of more lands for cultivation, have led to increased production of vegetables, grains and Khat.

Nevertheless, the government of Mohamed Egal faces ongoing problems. Communal conflicts, regional grievances and separatist movements are a constant threat to national unity. Much of the population consist of illiterate people living in rural and urban areas, which are steeped in poverty; the benefits of modernization have been unevenly distributed. The national economy continues to be hampered by lack of modern infrastructure, transforming industry, indeterminate international status and lack of investment. Measures to seek international recognition and aid have been generally unsuccessful. Somaliland's historical legacy of social fragmentation and disunity continues to make difficult the country's transformation into a modern state.

In conclusion, social disintegration will continue until a state structure based on egalitarian access to resources and Somali clan organization is developed. As it happens, a growing ambivalence between the nascent Somaliland nationalism on one hand, and the persistence of clan loyalties on the other, recalls a rather worn metaphor that is critical to understanding Somaliland's travail: Somalis: a nation in search of a state .

W. Arthur Lewis's words sum up the complexity of the Somaliland question:


  1. A substantial number of Somali workers (the figure is unrecorded but estimated to be at least 100,000) are employed in the oil-rich Gulf countries. The absence of these workers traditionally had a significant stabilizing effect on Somaliland in helping easing pressure on resources and in contributing to the country's income through deferred pay and remittances sent home to their families. In 1993, an organization was established to assess emigrants' financial and technical potential. However, the rate of emigration is expected to decline, as other countries introduced harsher restrictions on immigration.

    These restrictions in the midst of economic stagnation bodes ill for domestic economy and demographics. As a result of the rapid population growth, and since a large proportion of the population is less than 15 years of age, together with the influx of large numbers of displaced refugees from the rural areas, coupled with a virtually stagnant economy and the lack of adequate employment openings, has created serious social and political problems. Disguised unemployment in the rural areas is increasingly shifting to overt unemployment in the cities. The problem of providing food and basic necessities for the people struggling in the midst of mass improvishment and misery, in the face of escalating inflation and lack of employment remains insoluble.

  2. For example, Gretchen Lang (Boston Globe, September 26, 1993) reported from Hargeisa: "Egal's government ... wants greater control over Sanaag region, which is believed to be rich in oil. The Minister of Mineral and Water Resources, Mohamed Ali Ateeye, a former employee of the Houston-based Conoco, says an exploratory well drilled in the Laascaanood region several years ago was thought to be extremely promising and Conoco representatives are due to visit late this month to restart exploration."
  3. In terms of Somali geopolitics, although the promotion of Somali as the national language and the "Somalization" of education and civil service pleased the academics and nationalist opinion, it had led to increased resentments in the north, because it revived fears of continued southern domination and as a threat to the northerners' status mobility. A well-circulated tract by Abdi Haybe (1986), "Our Commerce Compromised", contained descriptions of six possible ways how the introduction of the Somali script in governmental and commercial uses could undermine the North's economic and political independence!
  4. It was inevitable that, as a result of the flight of some of their leaders to temporary havens, such as Mogadishu, persecution of their officials and proscription of their organizations, the rebels should come to regard themselves as being in a state of war with the existing order. It was a concomitant of this that a break by any ancillary group was regarded as a serious threat to group solidarity, a desertion to the enemy. In this atmosphere, the peace proposals, and many were proffered by various groups, were readily rejected and openly spoken of even their consideration as sell-out, fraud, a disgrace.

    Meanwhile, some of these rebel leaders featured well in the Amnesty International's 1997 reports:

    "In Somaliland, in February, the High Court in Hargeisa convicted five political opponents of the administration of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal on charges of treason and armed rebellion. Their trial in absentia began in mid-1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Three were sentenced to death and two to life imprisonment; the latter included Jama Mohamed Ghalib, a former member of the Somaliland parliament who had joined General Aideed's faction in south Mogadishu. Scores of rebel Garhajis fighters detained in Somaliland since 1995 without charge or trial were released in the mid-1996 and more than 600 others captured during the year were released in November, as a result of clan reconciliation talks, but some were still reportedly held in Hargeisa prison at the end of the year. "Amnesty International Report 1997: Somalia.(London 1997)

  5. This section has benefited from private communications with Dayib M. Warsame, Yarrowe District, conversations with Sheikh Harir Hasan and a number of Burao eyewitness refugees.
  6. The candidates were required to meet ten conditions, which were: Somaliland citizenship, Muslim faith (both the candidate and his/her spouse), clean criminal record, minimum of two years' recent residency, good physical and mental health, public disclosure of financial position, possessing necessary qualifications and "experience" and accepting the conference as a sovereign. Translated from Xoriya Newspaper,Hargeisa, Jan. 14, 1997.
  7. However, the absence of a concrete colonial experience, though a matter of pride for modern Somalilanders, has meant that in some ways the struggle to modernize the country has been more difficult than in other African countries. Like in all colonized countries in Africa, the colonial period was a cataclysmic event in that it was accompanied by the forceful entry of western ideas and technology. In Somaliland, ancient social and political structures still remain in place; and to some extent they have acted as a brake on development. This can be seen in diverse aspects of Somaliland life today as the difficulty in modernizing administrative and political methods and changing or at least modifying the nomadic systems of land tenure. Moreover, the persistence of such disparate traditions as female genital mutilations ritual, social insurance and welfare system through the payment of dia (or mag) to a small number of agnates, dislike of the consumption of sea-food, and the near-sacred principle of might is right in political relations - all of whom a legacy of the Cushitic past - indicates a continuing weakness of the penetration of modern ideas into the interior of the country.