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Somaliland Unseating Itself—Because Nobody Likes the Back Seat

By Jaafar M Sh Jama

Mon 02 March 2015.

Suldan Abubakar Cilmi Wabar, Chief of the Reer Dudub, sub-lineage of Jibriil Yoonis, declared on December 5, 2014, that his region of Awdal was no longer part of Somaliland. He was joined by the former Mayor of Borama, Abdiraxman Shide Bile, and a sizable number of foot soldiers. They organized a militia within and around the village of Qul Ujeed, and have subsequently had sporadic clashes with Somaliland militia in and around Borama.

Wabar’s objection to Somaliland arose from the unfair distribution and allocation of civil servant positions in Somaliland. The unfair distribution of foreign development projects, an unfair judicial system, lack of employment opportunities for college graduates, and wide-spread nepotism were additional reasons for his revolt.

The aforementioned inequities are exacerbated by the president’s appointment of clan men to all economic arteries of the region, followed by the exercising of their authority with impunity. They levy unbearable taxes on individuals and the commodities they are shuttling between Djibouti and Borama. Merchants and travelers who are unable to pay the exorbitant taxes or extortion money find their fuel, cigarettes, rice and flour confiscated and sold by rogue soldiers. The heavy-handed taxes were designed to discourage and drive out any local individual businesses and replace them with businesses owned and/or operated by non-indigenous individuals with family ties to the President of Somaliland. Residents of Saylac and Lughaya reported that such individuals have been given monopolies to buy and sell fuel and other commodities. The police and military back up and protect these coteries.

Some of the elders have voiced their concerns about this issue--and other, even bigger political settlements among the tribes of Somaliland. The elders have taken an inventory of power distribution at all levels of government and found that Somaliland is not a fair and balanced state. The elders submitted a factual report citing the gross imbalance of the power structure in Somaliland. They informed Axmed Maxamuud Siilaanyo, the president of Somaliland, and asked him to take immediate corrective actions. He reluctantly said that the government would appoint a committee to evaluate the tribal power distribution. The President’s lack of tangible response caused a rift within the Awdal region, which began to question whether or not it should continue to be part of Somaliland. Whether by design or default, the conversation that was supposed to take place between Somaliland and Awdal left Awdal standing alone.

Wabar was one of the elders from Awdal who submitted the report to the president. When Wabar saw no sign of hope or action from the president to improve government allocation of civil servant positions, he took the bold action of seceding from Somaliland and joined the diaspora in its effort to find an alternative to Somaliland. Both Wabar and the diaspora want to model Awdal region after the new Somali Federal system in Muqdisho. The federal system would give Awdal the autonomy it is seeking. This model is opposed by the Somaliland government, which deployed forces to Awdal to capture or kill Wabar.

Somaliland leaders arrested several young men from Borama who openly opposed Somaliland, and some of them are in the infamous prison of Madera between Hargeisa and Berbera. The diaspora of the region has thrown its weight behind Wabar’s movement. Wabar has the manpower and the diaspora has the funds and political expertise to collectively weaken the Somaliland government. Young, disgruntled, people are flocking to his movement and people are wary of what is to come. In a recent peace conference in Borama, Sheekh Cabdillahi Sheekh Cali Jowhar, a prominent preacher, said, “The region’s diaspora is ready to go to war with Somaliland and we must talk to them.” Many elders, chiefs, intellectuals and former guerrilla fighters have shrugged off the movement and distanced themselves from Wabar. Many of these individuals have vested interests in, and close relationships with the government of Somaliland. They are the extended arm of Somaliland, and have power and influence to block the aspirations of an independent regional administration. The majority of the elders would financially suffer if they supported Wabar’s call for regional sovereignty. The elders are on the payroll of the Ministry of the Interior—an obvious inducement for the tribe to back the government whether it is beneficial to the tribe or not. This nefarious method of governing was introduced by the British colonial power during its reign, which purposely and selectively pitted some tribes against others in order to keep selected groups on their side. Successive Somali and Somaliland administrations have followed suit.

What is good for an individual chief is not necessarily in the best interests of the tribe. Chiefs are governing largely educated and well-informed, urbanized population, and their mantle no longer has the weight it once did. The elders cannot demonstrate what they have accomplished for the tribe through the Somaliland government, and can only fall back on citing development projects funded by the diaspora, including schools, hospitals and water wells. Local stability and the availability of education attracted Somalis from all walks of life to Awdal, who came to pursue their education in a peaceful place where they would not experience discrimination.

Some of elders take credit for fostering the peace and security that led to these accomplishments and they don’t want to lose it easily. They would rather keep Somaliland together. These elders are not having success in persuading the current Somaliland administration to keep the tribes together. Twenty-three years of Somaliland’s governance has resulted in the consolidation of tribal hegemony, not in the development of a place shared equally by the five tribes and others that reside in Somaliland. The premise of the diaspora is to correct mistakes made by elders and intellectuals in the early inception of Somaliland’s power distribution along tribal lines. Both the diaspora and the elders agree that tribal power distribution has to be revised to prevent tribal hegemony. The approach of the respective camps is widely divergent. Wabar and the diaspora see the Somaliland government as unfair, unequal, and imbalanced in both leadership and the sharing of resources. They want to correct that mistake through war, especially after all calls for Somaliland to establish an inclusive government structure was ignored or failed. Abdiraxman Aw Cali Farah, former guerrilla fighter and vice-president of Somaliland, said to members of the diaspora, “[During our time] we made peace and we expect wiser moves from our diaspora rather than a call to arms. If you are going to correct our mistakes don’t correct us with destruction.”

A long term political settlement that includes fair and equitable redistribution of power and resources is not likely to be undertaken by Somaliland any time soon. That decision was reached by the tribe, even from the time it began the process of state building, and relegated only non-essential positions of authority and power to non-Isaks. The attitude is that all non-Isak tribes should take the “backseat”--but no one wants to sit in the back seat. It is very difficult for those in the back seat to see over the big heads of those seated in the front. Somaliland can expect a rough and turbulent ride until it is willing to share the front seat equally among all tribes and peoples living within its boundaries. Action should be taken immediately to correct the glaring imbalances, and to bring about fair and equitable power sharing among all Somaliland citizens.


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