By Liban Ahmad
The seventeenth episode of the Fagaaraha (forum) debate brought together in Minnesota four distinguished discussants. It was the first debate the forum has organised for ” unionists and separatists”.
The case for union was made by Professor Hussein Warsame ( Chair of the Accounting Area at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary ) and Mohamud Gaildon ( Medical physicist based in USA). The case for secession was defended by Dr Ahmed Samatar (James Wallace Professor and Chair of International Studies and Global political economy at Macalester College) and Mohamad Ismail Beergeel ( a financial management professional based in Canada).
Twenty years ago a debate like Fagaaraha was impossible to conduct. Warlords dominated the Somali political debate. There was no a forum like Fagaaraha, which Professor Ahmed Samatar has described as a commendable public discourse forum. In 1995 warlords tried to prevent Professor Samatar from making a key-note presentation at “Creating a culture of peace in Somalia” conference organised by UNESCO and held in Sana’a. How times have changed.
Professor Warsame made the first case for the union. He spotlighted Somaliland achievements and discussed legal barriers separatists have got to surmount over: the African Union Charter, which emphasises the inviolability of colonial borders; and the need to negotiate with the Somali Federal Government based in Mogadishu. Professor Warsame subtly posed the following question: Was it the right course of action for people who met in Bura’o in 1991 to rename parts of an internationally recognised Somali Republic as Somaliland? Another corollary question is: Why should the African Union allow Somaliland to claim territories in Somalia although Somalia’s irrendentist moves to reclaim territories in Ethiopia and Kenya which Somalis inhabit had been rejected? Having three attributes of a state (territory, population and authority) does not override the political unity and territorial integrity of Somalia to which the UN Security Council refers in resolutions on Somalia.
Mr Gaildon questions the rationale of secessionists to expect him to change his political identity from Somali into Somalilander. He faulted them for political insensitivity to understand how it felt to have lived on one side of a colonial border separating two parts of Somalia divided up by Italy and Great Britain
It is noteworthy that all the four discussants are from the what was known as British Somaliland whose former Protectorate Legislative Council met “on 6th April 1960, and with the unanimous support of all the elected members passed the… resolution that ‘practical steps should be taken forthwith for immediate unification of the Protectorate and Somalia” (Source: Report of the Somaliland Protectorate Constitutional Conference held inLondon in May, 1960 ).
What was remarkable about the debate is the strategic choice made my Mr Beergeel and Professor Samatar, who based their case partly on colonial history— what Dr Markus Hoehne calls in his book, Between Somaliland and Puntland: Marginalization, militarization and conflictingpolitical visions, Somaliland’s “territorial logic” . Mr Beergeel does not discount the possibility of Somaliland abandoning its goal to secede from Somalia “if other Somali territories under Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are united under a Greater Somalia platform ( Shanta Soomaali)”.
Professor Samatar built on Mr Beergeel’s pro-secession argument by supplying examples about agreements that could be used to justify secession: the agreement between Somali clans and Great Britain; Anglo- Italian Protocol of 1894 and Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897. Professor Samatar wrote and edited books on Somalia in addition to editorship of Bildhaan, an international journal of Somali Studies. For two decades ( 1992-2012) Professor Samatar academically argued against Somaliland’s quest for secession. For him “the death of peoplehood” is another justification for secession. Professor Samatar made a stronger point about the low turn-out for the debate . “If you want us to remain in union show us you love us by coming to serious debates like this in large numbers” Professor Samatar said. In my view the debate ended in a draw. I wish Sadik Warfa, the moderator of Fagaaraha, had taken executive decision to give Professor Samatar extra time possibly to qualify his support for secession as he did in many interviews and presentations by mentioning domestic and external challenges Hargeisa political elite have got to meet to achieve the goal of seceding from Somalia.