How TFG, BBC, VOA and Mahiga sustain Somaliland’s Claims, By Osman Hassan.
If the collapse of the State was an almighty calamity for the people ofSomalia, if not for Somalis everywhere other than the secessionists for whom it was a blessing, another existential one might be looming. This time it is the break-up ofSomalia, as talks are to be held between two parties that care little or nothing for the union or for that matterSomaliaitself, depending which side of the table they sit. One party is the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), an unelected, foreign-made, lame- duck government. The other party is the entity calling itselfSomalilandwhich claims to represent the people andterritoryofnorth westSomaliaand now demanding formal separation and recognition at the talks.
It is a mark of the separatist’s success that a secession declared by one clan that is only one among the five clans who inhabit north west Somalia (former British Somaliland) has come to be erroneously seen by theTFGand in various quarters outside Somalia as representing the people in that part of Somalia. The only challenge they face to their false claim is not from the indifferent if not acquiescingTFG, or from the dehumanised and disinterested people in southernSomalia, shell-shocked by the endless problems and suffering they had gone through since the fall of theSomaliState.
Rather, the opposition to the secessionists and the challenge to their claim is from within, and from the four unionist clans who refuse to go along with the secession, typified by the on-going clashes since 2010 between the people of Sool,Sanaag and Cayn (now the Khaatumo State of Somalia) and the occupying Somaliland militia; or the formation of the other regional States- Makhir and Awdal. These are the defenders and saviours of the union and not its supposed custodian, theTFG.
This article examines how the secessionist clan, using the region’s former colonial name of “Somaliland” as a put-on veil to hide its true one-clan nature continues to peddle its false pretensions and claims as a country with one nation, one people and one government and still find willing believers.
1. Somaliland’s own efforts
No doubt the secessionist have been helped by circumstances or by others. The absence of a Somali government for many years and the indifference of the currentTFGplay a large part as do the support they receive from the Somali Services of theBBCand lately the VOA and Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, the UN Secretary- General’s Special Representative forSomalia. Otherwise, much of the secessionist clan’s achievement to project themselves as the sole representative of the people ofnorth westSomaliais through their own efforts and relentless public relations and propaganda campaign.
Unhindered by the absence of government, and as the only active and organised clan in the whole of Somalia, facing no organised opposition within north west Somalia until three years ago, and with much of southern Somalia fragmented into mutually antagonistic clan homelands, the secessions had the whole field to themselves for a long time and it was to be expected that their baseless claims to receive under the circumstances receptive ears and minds in the outside world.
2.The role of the TFG
Apart from the support of others, it is the lack of challenge by theTFGin whatever form since its formation inEmbagati,Kenya, that has played a large part in propping upSomalilandand its claims. The continued silence of the currentTFGheaded by Sheikh Shariif, with no finger raised or word of condemnation uttered, in the face of the secessionists’ repeated brutal attacks on Buuhoodle, presumably part and parcel of Somalia, and killing hundreds of its citizens, sends an unmistakable message to the secessionists and to the international community that the Somali government tacitly accepts the break-up of Somalia and has no intention to challenge the secessionists in words or deeds.
One has only to look at the disheartening leading figures of theTFGto see what is going right for Somaliland that make one lose all hope: in terms of treason to the union comes the current minister of the interior, Mr. Abdesamad Maalin Mohamoud, a self-declared supporter of Somaliland’s recognition and who, to add insult to injury, is included in theTFGteam participating in the talks; then there is the Prime Minister whose preoccupations are confined to serving the interests of Faroole’s Puntland within theTFG, keeping his post and endearing himself to his foreign mentors as the only pair of safe hands who can safeguard their interests.
And then there is Sheikh Shariif, the President, whose concern is keeping his office and making the most of it while the going is good. His vision otherwise does not go beyond the walls of VillaSomaliaas far as the country is concerned. Maintaining the unity of the country does counts little with him. One day he endorses theKhaatumoStateofSomalia, only to get cold feet the next day in deference to the secessionist lobby. His secret talks with their emissary in Abu Dabay, purportedly about a possible quid pro quo deal in which he will help with their secession in exchange for support for his presidential candidacy tell is all. These cases and others going back to the time he was head of the Union of Islamic Courts epitomise how the Sheikh changes his colours like a chameleon in response to his impulses or inclinations of the moment. We have every reason to worry that he might do a lasting damage before he leaves office and all the more to be on the guard.
These trio and others in theTFGare directly and indirectly supportingSomaliland’s claims and pretensions. As such, they are the last people to be trusted with the fate ofSomalia’s unity. It behoves all those who care aboutSomalia’s unity to ensure this does not happen. These talks, if ever they have to take place, should be left to a future legitimate government accountable to its people and faithful to the constitution.
3. BBC Somali Service
No outside body had lent so much legitimacy to the secessionists’ claim thatSomalilandis a separate country fromSomalia, embracing all the clans and regions ofnorth westSomalia(formerBritish Somaliland) and represented by its government more than theBBCSomali Service from the moment its current Editor took office. Almost all the information coming from the area is from the secessionist enclave and their principal towns- Hargeisa, Burca and Berbera. The Corporation’s two local correspondents are both in the secessionist heartland (Hargeisa and Burca), often reporting government propaganda masquerading as news.
At Bush House inLondon,Somaliland’s affairs would often feature in relevant regular weekly or daily programmes. VisitingSomalilandleaders, politicians, academicians, artists, etc are interviewed. All this mutually reinforcing coverage of the secessionist heartland while news from other regions and clans have no outlet puts out the desired but false picture of aSomalilandthat is a separate country at peace with itself and united behind the secession and its government. The height of theBBCSomali Service’s pro -Somalilandsupport was during theLondonconference onSomaliain February2012 when the period from 22 to 24 February was devoted to a blatant bonanza forSomaliland’s propaganda and promotion of its cause.
On the rare occasion when they are forced to report on the SSC regions (Khaatumo State), as for example when fighting has taken place between the occupying Somaliland militia and the defenders of Khaatumo State, theBBClocal correspondent in Burcao, hundreds of miles away from the front, will first seek the authority’s version of the fighting from their defence minister in Hargeisa. And then, for the sake of appearances of impartiality, will then seek back-up information form knownSomalilandlackeys in the SSC who are expected to corroborateSomaliland’s version of events.
Leaders of the now defunct SSC Hogaan, established to campaign peacefully for the end ofSomaliland’s occupation, were smeared as terrorists bySomaliland, a charge often echoed by theBBC, disingenuously claiming to be repeating what theSomaliland”government” has said. The current leaders of theKhaatumoState, like their predecessors, are described among other things as terrorists and warmongers – crude slander imbibed and regurgitated by theBBC. Having been over the years blacked out, little that happens in theKhaatumoState(or in the rest of the unionist regions) that could negateSomaliland’s image or its claims is allowed to reach the listeners of theBBCSomali Service.
Bowing at last to complaints, it is only in the last month or so, and rare occasions, that the leaders ofKhaatumoStatehad been allowed by the Service to give their versions of events. But this is nothing more than tokenism, a flash in the pan that does not dent the wider pro-Somaliland picture To be fair to the overallBBCmanagement, they could not be accused to be behind this abuse of the Service for partisan purposes. What they can be blamed for is to allow it to persist for so long when it is happening right under their noses.
4. VOA Somali Service
Not to be upstaged or outdone by theBBCSomali Service, VOA has also lately been joining the popularity race for the secessionists hearts and adopted the same approach towards the enclave as theBBC. A good example is their Friday discussion programme (27 April) on the talks between theTFGand “Somaliland”.
An impartial broadcaster staging a serious discussion programme on a nationally important issue, such as the unity or break-up of the country, is one that would be mindful of the divide and the on-going conflict between the secessionist clan and the four unionist clans in north west Somalia and ensure that the discussion reflects these critical factors objectively. In specific terms, the manner the participants are selected, who they represent, or where they hail from, and, more importantly the competence of the moderator, are factors that decide whether that discussion is balanced and objective or otherwise partisan. VOA has failed to meet these requirements.
What VOA has done was to be publicly partisan. It wilfully turned a blind eye to the realities innorth westSomaliathat needed to be raised and debated. Instead, it adopted the secessionists’ claim thatSomalilandand its government represent all the clans and regions in the territory. Following this false premise, they chose two separatists from the secessionist clan to join the four-member discussion panel. It is as if the other four unionist clans and regions did not exist. The other two were a writer based in theUSAand a professor resident inQatar.
The discussion boiled down to how the secessionist enclave (Somaliland) should go about pursuing its case. Much was expected from the two non-Somaliland participants to speak up for the absent and excluded unionists but that did not happen. It was left to the moderator to raise the opposition to the secession in the unionist regions but she did not do that either. The buck ultimately stops at the door of the Editor. It is difficult to believe that the planning and organisation of this discussion would have proceeded without his knowledge and endorsement. The was a programme meant, and not for the first time, to sustainSomaliland’s claims.
Somalilandhas won influential supporters in the British Parliament, European Parliament and in theUSA. But winning Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia (SRSG), to their cause beats them all. The fun-loving, easy-going Tanzanian diplomat has soft spot for the charms of the place and the attraction of its people and now openly advocates their recognition. His latest call for the removal of the arms embargo against them is aimed at finishing off the resistance they face in the unionist regions since the enclave is not facing any threat fromEthiopia,Djiboutior theTFGor for that matter al Shabaab. Once they achieve this objective, they could, as he reckons, strengthen their hands at home and abroad and enhance their recognition prospects.
Mahiga never had it so good as he is having it inSomalia. When he leaves his post, which he must at some point, he will have every reason to be pleased with himself. But what damage will he also leave behind? The Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who appointed him after replacing his predecessor, Ahamoud Ould Abdalla, shares much of the blame of Mahiga’s excesses. He should by now know that his SRSG is doing more harm than good and immediately replace him.
6. Concluding remarks
The odds that are stacked against the union are formidable- a determined “Somaliland” aided among others by foreign lobbyists, theBBC, VOA, an indifferentTFG, an apathetic public in southern Somalia and above all by Mahiga. If it can overcome the opposition from the unionist clans in the territory, it might be plain sailing from thereon. But that is what it will never achieve. For one thing, the Khaatumo State of Somalia, and no less the other unionists, will never surrender to the secession and ultimately it will be them who will save Somalia’s unity just as in 1960 it was them, and the present-day secessionists, who brought about the union. It takes two to Tango and If the south do not play their part for the union, what is the alternative for the unionists in thenorth west? For one thing, the Khaatumo people, descendents of the Darwiish, who lost half a million people for the Somali cause, will never join their occupiers, the ones responsible for the demise of theSomaliStateand nation. Other options will have to be explored if it comes to that.
Email: osman.hassan2 @gmail.com
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