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Will the Arabs dare to listen to Somaliland?

By Bashir Goth - posted Wednesday, 19 April 2006

The Arab League has the habit of leaving issues to fester until such time as “surgical” intervention becomes necessary from foreign powers whose interests do not necessarily match those of the Arab world.

Examples are plenty but a few recent ones include Somalia, Southern Sudan and Darfur, Iraq and the Lebanese-Syrian issue. All these issues were fermenting and escalating for years before they reached bursting point. All that time the Arabs were using an ostrich mentality, burying their heads in the sand; hoping they could one day raise their heads to find things fixed by some divine power.

It is quite perplexing how Arabs love the status quo and use all their energy and resources to ensure that things stay as they are. They do this because they prefer stability and peace to the turbulence and commotion that often result from change and because they fear that any change may rock the murky waters of Arab politics and expose the Arabs’ inability to deal with it.


Realpolitik also seems to elude the Arab focus, while sentimentalism and empty nationalistic slogans blur the clarity of their vision. A real example of the Arabs propensity for idealism and contempt for pragmatism is their famous Khartoum Resolution of 1967, which carried the three "nos" of Arab-Israel relations at that time: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.

It took another decade for Egypt’s Anwar El-Sadat to cause a political tsunami in Arab politics and inject the first dose of realipolitik into the Arab political lexicography by opening a dialogue with Israel with the object of securing a permanent peace setlement. Other than the masterly strike of El-Sadat, all other Arab attempts at realpolitik came too late, when the political landscape had already changed beyond recognition and they had to face the bitter reality of opting for face-saving tactics.

When the Arabs held their 18th summit in Khartoum last March, one issue that called and still calls for a masterful realpolitik decision is that of the little known country of Somaliland. By just evoking the name, one can anticipate frowns on the faces of Arab politicians.

So what is the issue of Somaliland and what does it need from the Arabs? To correct a hackneyed notion that will jump to the reader’s mind, I have to state at the outset that Somaliland is not Somalia, similarly as Lebanon is not Syria, or Jordan Palestine. I take these countries as examples because both Lebanon and Syria on the one hand and Jordan and Palestine on the other each,have been a sovereign country at one time in their history. I may also cite failed unions such as that of Egypt and Syria and Senegal and Gambia. Somaliland and Somalia are, therefore, not an exception.

The story started on June 26, 1960 when Somaliland gained its independence from the British. It was the first one of five Somali territories that emerged from foreign domination. The other four were French Somali Coast, the present Djibouti, Italian Somalia, present Somalia, and the two Somali regions each in Ethiopia and Kenya, historically known as the Reserved Area and Northern Frontier Districts respectively.

Somaliland was recognised by the United Nations, with its flag, its currency, its executive and judicial system, its police and military forces, its distinctive British governance and education and its internationally recognised borders.


Five days after its independence, however, Somaliland gave up its sovereignty and made a voluntary union with Italian Somalia on its south, which had become independent on July 1, 1960. The name Somaliland ceased to exist and the two merged parties called the new entity the Republic of Somalia. The quick and unbridled union was seen as a prelude to the liberation of all other parts of the Somali territory, bringing them all under one flag. The five-cornered white star in the middle of the Somali blue flag denoted the Somali people’s unforgiving resolve to undo the colonial legacy and unite the Somali-speaking pastoral nomads of the Horn of Africa under one roof of "Greater Somalia".

For the next 30 years, successive Somali governments thrived by inflaming the people’s desire to achieve a sacred Somali unity. The masses sang, danced, slept, woke up and dreamt of such a union.

This irredentist policy of the Somali government depleted the country’s meagre resources as every penny was channelled into liberation movements that wreaked havoc on neighbouring countries and prevented the development of good neighbourly and prosperous relations with them.

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Article edited by Hudson Birden.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

First published in the Sudan Tribune on March 31, 2006.

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About the Author

Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer and the first Somali blogger. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of women’s rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE. You can find his blog here.

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