19 May 2007 04:26


  • Title: [SW Country] ( Somaliland Forum) GUELLEH  A  PEACEMAKER OR PAWNBROKER?
  • Posted by/on :[AAJ][27 July 2000]



July 24, 2000 (00.30 GMT) Ref. SF/EC-017-2000

When Mr. Ismail Omar Guelleh, the President of Djibouti, first called on the Arta Conference in last May, his style of conducting the 13th Somali conference since 1991 was seen as an asset by some in the international community. However, by the dawn of the closing of the conference---which is now a few days away---the same style is increasingly proving to be a liability. Mr. Guelleh's early political maneuverings to host the conference in his city-state of Djibouti were quite a few at the beginning. First, he took unto the United Nations' general assembly podium in September of last year to plead with his international counter-parts (Heads of States) to bring the Somali political nightmare to an end. This move instantly won him some international friends and money---a badly needed cash infusion for his crumbling economy. The regional organizations such as the Arab League, OAU and IGAD, of which the old Somalia once was a member, all came aboard and bank-rolled Mr. Guelleh's latest political gamble on the Somali issue. The Somali-speaking media, especially the BBC Somali section, also jumped on his bandwagon and gave him a glorious coverage in every turn of his manoeuvring. 

Secondly, he initially came across to some Somali-speaking media listeners as someone, who is articulate in the Somali language and hence was perceived to be saying of something relevant to the Somali political impasse. Somalis have always felt some reverence towards those who prove to have some ways with the Somali language such as General Siad Barre, who herded the Somali people into an abyss. Mr. Guelleh also initially unveiled his political plans with simple messianic language, as though he was the only "saviour" left on earth to deliver the poor Somali population in Somalia proper (the South) from their suffering; thus the initial public adulation in Mogadishu, Bossaso, and even Baidao. 

Thirdly, Mr. Guelleh finally thought to have cornered the southern Somali warlords by threatening them with prosecution for crimes against humanity, if they did not comply with his mission. This probably had won him the biggest jubilation, as the people of the South (Somalia proper) were already fed up with their visionless warlords, who could not politically shoot straight over the last ten years. But if such was initially the crust of Mr. Guelleh's initiative, what went wrong with his plan afterward? The later reversal of plan is evident and his political mishaps are countless. Accordingly, his public image has lost its gloss in the eyes of most Somalis both in Somaliland and Somalia. The reasons are many, but we will only consider the following:

 Instead of making peace among the southern Somali communities and attempting to soothe their hard feelings as well as the bad blood between them, caused by the ten-year old protracted civil war, he chose to pick a fight with the established Republic of Somaliland! For example, he closed the border between the two brotherly nations of Somaliland and Djibouti, banned Somaliland's leading daily newspaper - the independent and privately-owned Jamhuuriya - to enter his country and took to the airwaves to denounce Somaliland's social and political achievements. Worse still, Mr. Guelleh engineered to get a token few Somalilanders to his conference, whom he thought, and still thinks that the world would believe that they represent the people of Somaliland. As a result of his Machiavellian tactics, the public opinion of Somalilanders quickly saw the true objective of his plan, which is to erase their sovereignty and achievements. The political climate between the two nations is now one of looming war.

 As for the rest, the implications of Mr. Guelleh's actions can be summarized as follows: 

  1. He has now created more problems in the Somali territories than there was before he first started his political adventures in May. For example, he is now almost succeeding to announce a make-shift, unrepresentative government for Somalia at the end of this month, whose blueprint, in fact, was in his desk drawer from the day he first called on the conference at the UN. How else can he create a government with a president, a prime minister, and a cabinet for Somalia in less than 36 hours, unless the whole thing was pre-determined from the beginning? If it was that easy to form a government for Somalia, why was Somalia allowed to stay ungoverned for over ten years? Unluckily for him by now, this quick fix has, by all indications, clearly started to backfire on him, as so many of the people in Somalia proper (the South) have already expressed their skepticism about the whole project. As recently as three days ago, his top political adviser, Mr. Osman Ahmed Yussuf, was in Mogadishu for a last-ditch effort to bring the Somali warlords on board. To Guelleh's disappointment, Mr. Hussein Aideed, Osman Ato, and Mr. Yalahow have stated that they were not interested to rubber stamp his pre-cooked political blueprint for their country.
  1. The international media, that first showed some interest, is now backing away from the story. Some are even reporting the diplomatic showdown that is currently brewing between Egypt and Djibouti over the Somali issue. With less media coverage, Mr. Guelleh should know that, this means less money coming into his cash-starved economy and this should signal to him the beginning of the end of the era of milking the Somali story for his own benefits.
  1. His lack of knowledge of the African political history since independence is also causing more harm than good between the Somali people of the Horn. For example, he clearly views the Republic of Somaliland as a region seceding from Somalia in the manner of Biafra from Nigeria in the 1960s, or even that of the Katanga region from Zaire under Moise Tshombe. Here, Mr. Guelleh has failed to understand that Somaliland's end of merger with Somalia, after thirty-one years of voluntary union between the two, is sui generis like the case of Eritrea. Its uniqueness, like that of Eritrea and of Namibia, is embedded in the African colonial history. He also failed to read another page from African history on the many nations that flirted with the idea of merging in that momentous year of 1960 when independence came to most African countries.  For example, Senegal had joined with Sudan (Now the Republic of Mali) in a Mali Federation at independence in June of 1960, with the understanding that other French West African countries such as Dahomey (Now Benin), Upper Volta, Mauritania, and even anti-federalist Ivory Coast would later do the same. But President Senghor of Senegal pulled the plug on that Union after only two months of its existence; once he realised that others were not coming to join the two, despite the glorious past that these countries shared as part of that great African Kingdom of the Mandinga people that flourished between the 13th and the 17th centuries. So Mr. Guelleh should not look that far into African history in order to find some parallels for his country's betrayal of the "Greater" Somali cause in 1977 when the Djiboutians chose to stay away, and rightly so, from the experimental Union between the two other Somali-populated states (Somaliland and Somalia).
  1. Mr. Guelleh has also sown the future seeds of confrontation between Somalia and Somaliland by totally disregarding the people of Somaliland's political, economic and social rights in the region during this conference. For example, high in the agenda of his conference, besides seeking immediate recognition for his newly-invented government for Somalia, is the issue of passports. By implication, this is aimed at punishing the large Somaliland expatriate communities in the Arab Gulf States, which would lose the privilege to use their old Somali passports. These travel documents were issued to the communities by the former Somali regime and it is their inherent right to seek gainful employment with these passports until such time when both the Somali-populated states (Somaliland and Somalia) gain international recognition and issue their separate passports. But, Mr. Guelleh, because of the fact the issue came up in the discussion that soon, is clearly trying to exploit the situation and use the passport case as a stick against the people of Somaliland. It is a cheap tactic which is not going to change the minds of the people of Somaliland, as they are prepared to pay any price for their hard-won freedom and statehood. Mr. Guelleh and his Somali puppets at Arta are also contemplating to disrupt the flow of the international trade both to and from Somaliland. They are planning to put a ban on our lucrative livestock trade with the Arab world. Again, they would be enlightened to re-call that we had survived from that economic strangulation game, too. And it was not that long ago to forget it.

Finally, Mr. Guelleh's arrogance and autocratic style had their effects on the Somali proceedings at Arta. So many delegates had been harassed to get concessions from them, and others had been thrown into jail during the conference. Still others had been denied the right of speaking their mind to the public media or leaving the country. Delegates had, therefore, been internalising all these mistreatments at Arta, and they will for sure have a second look at their signatures, for whatever they are worth, which is not much in most cases, as soon as they leave Djibouti. Secondly, no tangible progress has been made in reconciling the communities of Somalia proper on vital issues such as occupied territories, properties, militia disengagement, and war crimes. So, it is very likely that those, in the international community, who first saw him as a savior, especially the UN officials who are so eager to wash Somalia off their hands, would soon regret that they ever endorsed Mr. Guelleh's futile mission. 

 The Somaliland Forum 


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