Time for Somaliland to re-envision itself in a changing Somalia 30 Aug 30, 2009 - 8:23:14 PM
SUNDAY EDITORIAL | There is no question that Somaliland people have been held hostage by a leadership with deep ties to the collapsed Barre regime.
The people of Somaliland – a separatist republic in northwest Somalia – have been here before. The dictatorial tendencies of President Dahir Riyale, Somaliland’s leader since 2003, are undoubtedly practices he learned from his former master, Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, whose 21-year military rule in Somalia ignited the Horn of Africa country’s enduring civil war. Somaliland’s separatist leaders, who unilaterally declared independence following the Barre regime’s collapse in 1991, have entertained the Somaliland people with fallacies of international recognition and democratic governance. And so the Somaliland public supported separatism, hopeful that international recognition will pour in financial assistance and help recover the troubled economy. They even supported a war of aggression against Somalis in Sool region – in 2007, when Somaliland troops violently took control of the key town of Las Anod in a military development that saw 50,000 civilians flee to safety.
There is no question that Somaliland people have been held hostage by a leadership with deep ties to the collapsed Barre regime – starting with Mr. Riyale, himself a senior officer in the regime’s notorious NSS secret police, which specialized in suppressing domestic dissent. The lie told to the Somaliland public, time and again, has been that Somaliland declared independence following the Barre regime’s unjust bombardment of Hargeisa and Burao. There is even a MiG-21 jet sitting as a war-time monument in Hargeisa, forever reminding locals of a war from 20 years ago, as corruption and the undemocratic practices of the Riyale regime are overlooked. Indeed, Somaliland’s president, who was elected in a close contest in 2003, has remained in power far longer – in part due to a constitutional complexity. But an easier argument could be made that Somaliland natives have allowed Mr. Riyale and his henchmen to abuse public trust for years because they fear shattering the “Somaliland independence dream” that has been founded on and solely depends on the existence of a stable government in Hargeisa.
That Mr. Riyale sent soldiers to seize parliament to prevent meaningful political discourse on Aug. 29 marks a turning point in Somaliland’s contemporary history. Here is a region that long considered itself to be a model state for African democracy; today, its leader is directly engaged in the abusive and corrupt practices of the average African dictator.
The people of Somaliland must re-envision their region in a changing Somalia. The cheap idea that Somaliland is “peaceful” while Somalia is “chaotic” has reached an eventual dead-end. The Somaliland people must make difficult choices in the coming days and weeks. Mr. Riyale’s very presence in office is an offense to democracy. Yet, without him, simmering clan hostilities that showed its ugly face in the mid-1990s in Burao could re-emerge, potentially threatening peace and stability in the region.
Re-envisioning Somaliland will require brave Somalis willing to face reality. But can Hargeisa allow freedom of thought in today's state of fear-mongering?