19 May 2007 04:14


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  • Title: [SW News] (The Republican) Somalia National Peace Conference to
    be held in Djibouti from April 20-May 5, 2000
    - Opinion and analysis                               
  • From:[]
  • Date :[Saturday, March 11, 2000]

Opinion and analysis of leaked documet about [2 documents]

Somalia National Peace Conference to
be held in Djibouti from April 20-May 5, 2000

                              The Republican  [Somaliland] Issue No. 109   Vol. 2    Saturday, March 11, 2000


 I can't understand why the United Nations bends over backwards to  re-invent ideas which were proven failures forty years  ago.   I refer to a  bewildering document out of Djibouti and currently  circulating in  Hargeisa.  It is genuine enough, purporting to emanate  from Djibouti  Conference 3, otherwise known as the Somalia National  Peace Conference to  be held in Djibouti from April 20-May 5, 2000.

That would be straight forward if the document bore the  hallmarks of  Somali endeavour.  Rather, it bears the characteristics  of a native  English-speaker employed by the United Nations and from  all accounts meets
with the approval of the UN Secretary-General.  A  non-Somali official,  moreover, who knows very little about contemporary Somali  history and  almost nothing about Somali culture.  Nor, one should  add, does it show
any respect or regard for the only part of the former  Somali Democratic  Republic which enjoys a functioning central authority  (the raison d'etre  for the proposed Djibouti conference) and is the prime  base for UN and  INGO activities - the Republic of Somaliland.  Indeed the  document goes  further with inexplicable abuse, referring to Somaliland
 as a clan  'foxhole' with a 'fancy name'.  If that is the quality of  UN diplomacy in  the Horn of Africa the UN Secretary-General might wish to  reconsider the  appointment of his envoy.  David Steven, now resident in  Djibouti at the well-publicised personal request of Mr. Kofi Anan  himself.

Mr. Steven is certainly no longer welcome in Somaliland  as President  Mohamed Ibrahim Egal eloquently indicated on March 8 by  declining his  request for a meeting and instructing the Minister of  Internal Affairs to  escort the diplomat to the airport.

To turn now to the faulty reasoning behind the  bewildering document on  which President Ismail Omar Guelle had placed such high  hopes.


A major thrust of the document contrives to resolve an  inherent  contradiction, which has persisted since 1960, between clan loyalties and  allegiance to the State (or the ruling political party).    The author of  the document 'discovered' a simple solution : forget  clans (the author  describes them as tribes) and political parties, and  substitute the 'civil  society' as the constituents of a democratic process for  forming a  government.  The selection of 'civil society' candidates  for election is  not addressed. 

There are similarities with this 'discovery' and the  political situation  which existed before and after the independence of the  former Italian and  British Somalilands in 1960.  Then political parties were  established with  the aim of ensuring there would be no backsliding by the  respective  administering powers over the date for independence.   Parties were also  necessary to select candidates for election at the polls  to form a  government.   More importantly, the parties were a  pressure group to  convince the international community to support the  formation of a Greater  Somalia with a central government in Mogadishu.   Ethiopia, Britain and  France opposed the move.  It failed to materialize.    Somalis were disappointed.  The euphoria of independence.   The  emotional resonance of  the cry "Somali Unity", and the prospect of a Greater  Somalia began to  fade.  It had been a cultural form of nationalism rather  than the concept  of loyalty to a national government.  Following this  disappointment,  political parties became more openly aligned with clan  interests.  So did  government policy and practice.   Why was this ? The  reason lies in an  endemic fact of Somali life which is non-negotiable :  every Somali has a  birthright to collective protection and jurisprudence by  an embedded umbrella of sub-groups of their respective clans known as  TOL.  Rich and poor alike know from their earliest days that it is  mandatory to accept  the obligations and responsibilities of their egalitarian  tol,  democratically arrived at by consensus, for their entire  lifetime.  The  tol is their substitute 'insurance company' whether they  are pastoralists,  farmers, poets or ministers - wherever they are in the  world.  No Somali  government, which did not accommodate this reality, could
 be formed with  any hope of durability.  Furthermore, Somali society,  unlike most  societies in the world is vertically oriented with no  hierarchical  tendencies.  It is like packs of shuffled cards dealt out  linearly, suit  by suit, or in this case clan by clan.

Somali society cannot be turned 90 degrees to the  horizontal like  multilayered population structures elsewhere in the world.  The latter can  readily throw up democratically-elected leaders because  wealth, education  and talent lie at the top of the pile.   Not so with the  Somali social  structure.  The vertical Somali society has to be  accommodated in any  constitutional tinkering. Horizontal strands do exist  when marriages take  place between clans.  That helps with conflict  resolution.  

One of many other problems with the document, as with  most  foreign-inspired, constitutional proposals, as far as Somalis are  concerned, is that a little learning is dangerous.   A  simplistic view of  the Somali social structure promotes overconfident  conclusions, such as  the notion that 'the tribe' is an unnecessary hindrance  to the  establishment of westernized forms of democratic  government.  Has it  hindered Somaliland over the last several years ?


Self-serving Somali politicians, with an exceptionally  authoritarian bent,  as with the late Siyad Barre, would certainly subscribe  to the view that  clans should be eliminated and promote the idea to achieve their political  ends.  Foreigners would be taken in by it because it fits  their own  cultural experience.

A problem which the leadership of the embryonic,  democratic governments of  he 1960's encountered was the erroneous belief that the  public would be  well-served by the government (and the party would be  popular), if government access to the instruments of power, especially  economic  development and radio communications, could be harnessed  for public welfare.  This, it was genuinely held by the leadership,  would be a  preferred option by the public to traditional services  such as security,  human rights, succession, democracy, and peace with  justice.  In theory  this should have been the case but it did not take into  account the importance to the individual of the widely-based  protective elements in  his or her relations with clan elders.

Moreover, the governments on the whole failed to live up  to the public's  expectations.  Democracy and financial  transparency, as  practiced by the  then political party members of government, became  heavily centralized and clouded.  This was in contrast to the wholly transparent  democratic way  that elders handled problems, based on consensus, which  was practiced by  those who were, and still are, the guardians of  time-honoured traditional values.  Values which to this day include the ancient  warning that no  person should exclusively be vested with power.  Little  wonder adherence  to clan support, rather than to the uncertainties of  westernized political  institutions on which the UN places such great store, is  stronger today in  the Somali peninsula than at any time in recent history.

Moreover, the traditional sector of the Somali society,  which was  completely ignored by previous Somali governments, has  now come into its  own with the only stable, functioning central authority  in  Somalia/Somaliland - that of peaceful, cosmopolitan  Hargeisa which  incorporates in its impressive Somaliland constitution a  council of elders  in the bicameral parliament.

The major cause of the demise of the Somali Republic's  experiments with  westernized democracy, and of course of the 20-year rule  of Siyad Barre's  totalitarian regime, is acknowledged by almost all Somali  academics in  western universities with African studies as being the  absence of the  participation in government of the countervailing wisdom  and knowledge of  the traditional sector. 


The blinkered view of centralized government, as  presented in the United  Nations document, is typical of Eurocentric beliefs in  the efficacy of  modern governance applied to all and sundry irrespective  of their own well-tried and tested cultural imperatives.   Eurocentrics  in the UN tend  to be rigid, obdurate and arrogant in their self-delusion  that they know what is best for Somalis and their civilized values as  evidenced by the  document.   Certainly, the UN will have to think again.

In the light of this, it would be instructive to  highlight some of the  diagnostic distortions and shibboleths of this UN document, such : Somalis would, without the achievement of this objective  (a functioning  central government), disintegrate into a chaotic  hodgepodge of warring  clans, as well as a hotbed of terrorism (sic) against  neighbouring states in the Horn of Africa and beyond.

Somalia is a polity in crisis (where) the crucial missing  link is tust,  since it is divided on clan lines, with each clan fearful of the  incursions of the others.  This is the cause-root (sic)  of the Somali  problem.  It is the absence of trust in the political process of a  national polity where one's political rights and  character rather than  one's human rights and national citizenship's rights as  stipulated in the  charter of constitution of the modern Somali State.  The  collapse of the Somali state can be traced to the absence of trust.

Clan identity became the hallmark of affiliation with or  opposition to  the Somali State  Somalia was transformed into a country  where one's  political, economic and human rights could only be  guaranteed by one's  clan affiliation.  Everyone ran for cover in the foxhole  of the clan, so  to speak to get protection.   The State disintegrated, and  the foxholes finally took such fancy names as Somaliland, Puntland .

Today clan politics eclipsed national politics in  Somalia, and without reversing this equation, there is little chance that efforts to  re-establish central authority in Somalia would succeed  to materialize.  In other words, the road along which the UN has set its  sights (the UN  mandatory parameters of the Djibouti conference) follows  the pattern of  the past, ignoring the traditional sector and encouraging  authoritarianism.  A process which, the document states,  "shall be led and driven by the Somali civil society".   What's that? 

Once again, foreigners are trying to give Somali society  a 90-degree push  to the horizontal, multilayered social structure of the  western world. It  did not work in the past.  It will not work today.   There  are other more  sensible ways of going about.

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