President Rayaale’s visit to Djibouti was a strategic milestone at the right time at the right place. Politics is the art of the possible and President Rayaale and President Gelle acted pragmatically seizing the right opportunity with shrewdness. This rapprochement between them after a stalmate of relations since 2005 is a great step in the right direction strategically, economically and politically. Somaliland people’s total support to Djibouti is a noble and legitimate duty to give all possible assistance to their brothers and sisters at this juncture against the naked aggression of Eritrea.
The two populations are kith and kin. Many Somalilanders have family members and other close relatives in Djibouti and vice versa. Loss of Djiboutian lives is a loss of lives of Somaliland people too and that is the bottom line. Therefore, Somaliland people and their government are bound to provide unreserved support morally and materially to their brothers and sisters. Over the decades the two people have helped each other when one needed the other’s assistance and support. Amongst others following are some examples to reflect on:
- When Djibouti people were fighting for their freedom against France Somaliland people gave them all possible support morally, politically, and economically. One cannot forget the continuous patriotic plays, songs, poems, demonstrations and campaigns that Somaliland people young and old were engaged to support the struggle of Djibouti people to gain their freedom from the French colonial power. Additionally Somaliland people warmly welcomed their displaced and exiled brothers and sisters as well as the freedom fighters that were trained in Somaliland. Somalilanders warmly welcomed and opened their homes for them and schools were free for the younger generation. It is a fact that many, who are now key players and holding high offices in Djibouti, were educated and trained in Somaliland. The widow of late leader, Mohamoud Harbi (God Bless His Soul) said it all in an interview with the BBC in 2004.
- In turn Djibouti people and their government helped Somaliland people during their struggle against the tyrant and despotic military dictatorship headed by Siad Barre. I for one was in exile and received a safe haven in Djibouti from 1981-1986. Many Somalilanders including myself established thriving and successful businesses in Djibouti. It is a fact that Djibouti was the safety net for Somaliland people during these horrible years that they were subjected to all kinds of humiliation, repression and atrocities that were tantamount to genocide and sever economic sanctions and embargo by Siad Barre. When Berbera Port was virtually closed and shipments valued over $300 million dollars were looted in 1980-81 Djibouti became the gateway and lifeblood for the livelihood and survival of Somaliland people. Djibouti was the safe heaven that a mother could come to Djibouti to see her beloved son or a wife could meet with her husband. There are hundreds of cases that are on record that I and other SNM Djibouti Group personally experienced, facilitated and witnessed. Imagine an SNM mujahid from the field who meets his wife and/or his mother in Djibouti.
- On the other hand Djibouti people and their government benefited from the transit trade to Somaliland. The Djibouti economy flourished and the entrepreneurial skills of Somalilanders positively impacted on Djibouti economy, transforming the Djibouti private sector paradigm which was primarily dominated by Arabs and relatively few longstanding Somali and Afar businessmen. This was a win-win situation and a best practice for regional co-operation and strategic alliance in economic and business development in the context of global economy and trade.
- During these dark days and years Djibouti was not only the gateway for those in Somaliland but also for the SNM based in Ethiopia. Huge funds were raised for SNM by Somaliland exiles in Djibouti and persuaded Djibouti supports to do the same. Even women collected funds and set up their own networks doing their bit, helping families from Somaliland whose husbands were detained by Said Bare or were SNM members. The dedication of these women and their leadership was second to none and will never ever be forgotten and will be written for the young generation and posterity one day Insha Allah. SNM was a movement operating in many countries, inside Somaliland/Somalia and in the field and it did not and will not belong to one group or the other but was a movement by the people and for the people and every group had a role to play to liberate the Somaliland people against the yoke of Siad Bare tyranny. I wonder when I hear one group claiming SNM exclusively at the expense of the other groups.
- SNM launched a major attack in 1984 known as the ‘war of the mountains’. It is a fact that many SNM fighters lost their lives but the despotic dictatorship lost thousands and the rest lost the morale and nerve to face SNM fighters any longer. This war boosted the moral of SNM and gave the opportunity to gain experience in massive assault and compact and to make effective links with the Somaliland people on a large scale winning their minds and hearts. However in this period SNM was in its early formative years and lacked resources particularly vehicles. In this war SNM fighters used their bare feet to penetrate inside the country – this was a great ordeal for them to endure.
When the SNM military leadership carried out an assessment on the war the major deficiency was lack of trucks. In early 1985 the SNM Defence Minister Adan Shinne (God Bless His Soul) wrote to us (Djibouti SNM Group) a letter demanding that trucks to be sent immediately as without them no longer would it be feasible to carry out major attacks or even to continue the struggle. This was a major challenge to us – some how we could get the trucks but how it would be possible to send them to Diredhawa? Thanks to God we managed to persuade 17 daring truck owners whom few of them are alive at present and May Allah Bless The Soul of those who passed away.
The Djibouti government under the leadership of Haji Hassan Guleid (God Bless His Soul) and current President Ismail Omer Gelle, who was at that time head of Djibouti intelligence, gave us their unswerving pledge and go ahead. We were told that every couple days two trucks would be sent with the train to Diredhawa as it was too risky to send many trucks in one go for several reasons that convinced us the decision made.
When the first two trucks left for Diredhawa Siad Bare sent a high level delegation to persuade Djibouti government to stop sending the rest of trucks. To make the story short the Djibouti government rejected Siad Bare appeal and the delegation returned to Somalia empty handed and within three weeks all the trucks reached Diredhawa. This boosted SNM morale, and above all convinced the Ethiopian authority that SNM was a major player with the backing of Djibouti government and Djibouti and Somaliland people. God Bless The Soul of many members of SNM Djibouti colleagues who are not with us today.
There were many other episodes that the Djibouti people and their government helped Somaliland people during their struggle against Siad Bare. I fully understand that many Somalilanders particularly young generations are not aware of the unprecedented and unforgettable assistance by Djibouti people and their government to Somaliland people at time of dire need when SNM was at embryonic stage. I believe it is about time to set the record straight that the Djibouti people helped Somalilanders during their struggle under the tacit approval and leadership by the Djibouti government.
I strongly believe in miracles and one of the spiritual leaders of Somaliland who was one of the initiators of the resistance and struggle against Siad Bare once said ‘The situation will become difficult and unbearable one time and Djibouti will be where you will get sanctuary and support for the struggle’. When Djibouti rejected the Pan Somalism and opted to become a unilateral country many Somali people were upset and angry but they were wrong as the Almighty God knows better.
Somaliland has been a de facto independent sovereign state for the last 17 years and is a remarkably stable country with a democratically elected president, parliament and local government councils. The right to self-determination, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and International Covenants of Human Rights, states that “all people have the right of self-determination” and that by virtue of that right they are free to determine their political status to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
It is unfair that the international community has thus far refused to recognise Somaliland ignoring the achievements of Somaliland people and the shining home grown democracy which is rare in Africa and many developing countries. This is a gross violation to the basic human rights of the people of Somaliland, who have struggled to build a stable and peaceful democracy with limited external assistance.
The United Nations and World Bank Joint Needs Assessment (2006) on Somaliland underline that:
“Since the beginning of the 1990s, Somaliland has seen remarkable progress on many fronts, not least in a unique reconciliation process, the creation and implementation of functioning governance and judiciary systems, and a democratisation process that has led to free and fair elections and multiparty legislative system. This has been made possible primarily through active involvement of a vibrant private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society, the participation of traditional leaders, and large inflows of remittances”.
To say the least it is double standard and discriminatory that Somaliland people to be a kept hostage by the International Community for Somalia – whether ungovernable as the situation has been for the last 17 years or if at all governable in the future! Under the international law Somaliland people decided for their future and regained their freedom they rejected 48 years ago and they have all the right to do so. Somaliland people have successfully and peacefully fulfilled the democratic process and decided their own destiny democratically. The Somaliland people hope the Djibouti government to spearhead the long over due recognition.
A lot of distinguished politicians, academicians, researchers and commentators across the world are calling the international community to be realistic about the permanent and drastic shift and change of the paradigm that the so called “Great Somalia with 5 Stars“ was based. On 28th July 2003 the highly credible lobby group, International Crisis Group, based in Brussels issued a comprehensive report on Somaliland: Democratisation and its Discontents. This report is highly recommended to all interested parties to understand the history and present situation of Somaliland. The report highlights:
“Somaliland’s democratisation renders the prospects for reunification with the rest of Somalia increasingly improbable, not only because the aspiring state’s political institutions have little in common with the kinds of interim, factional arrangements likely to emerge in the south, but also because its leadership is becoming more accountable to its electorate – the majority of whom no longer desire any form of association with Somalia”.
It is unfair and injustice that the international community pursues this redundant and bankrupt strategy against the wishes of Somaliland people who find this disconcerting, upsetting, unfair and downright disgrace that the world has stood by for this long keeping Somaliland in the cold and not respecting their legitimate wish and rights. What will it take Djibouti government to take the right stand on the sovereignty of Somaliland and put this international injustice to an end?
Politics is the art of the possible and the Somaliland people expect that president Ismail Omer Gelle will seize the moment and bravely make the right decision, using his proven intellectual, political and leadership skills. “Where there is a will there is a way” and the key is the Djibouti government as all the roads lead to Djibouti City at present!
By Eid Alisalan Ahmed
Eid is Chartered Fellow of the UK Institute of Personnel & Development and is an active campaigner and lobbyist for Somaliland. He is one of the initiators and founders of SNM & UFFO Group.