Somaliland-Djibouti Relationship Gelle: The Tireless Crusader Against Somaliland
Published On: Friday, August, 10 2012 - 11:57:05 This post has been viewed 3100 times
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Mr.Gelle did not fare any better in stopping Somaliland’s statehood than in achieving peace and stability in Somalia. He has good company in others of IC, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt, in licking the wounds of repeated failures. Let us touch on some possible causes of these debacles while we are still in the Djiboutian context.
section in a book titled “Somaliland: The Legacies of Non-Recognition”,
which is still in the works, deals with Somaliland’s relationships with
its neighbors, other relevant key countries and multilateral political
organizations, such as the AU, the UN, the AL and the EU . The following
is the chapter in that section that examines the Somaliland-Djibouti
it is more appropriate to characterize Djibouti’s policies and
attitudes towards Somaliland as a manifestation of its president Ismail
Omer Gelle’s personal mind-set rather than a reflection of the
Djiboutians’ popularly held wishes and sentiments. However, it is always
a dictatorship’s tendency to take positions that are in contradiction
with its citizenry’s real beliefs and opinions. At any rate, when president Gelle thought he could manipulate the affairs of Somaliland and Somalia, he failed to look at himself in the mirror and draw obvious conclusions.
us start with a few facts about Djibouti. With a population of about
three quarters of a million and an area of just 23,200 sq km, Djibouti
is the tiniest state in the Horn of Africa. Its climate is desert; hot, torrid and dry. It has no known natural resources; no arable land; no forests and grassland.
The economy, which is almost exclusively based on service activities, has been repeatedly beset by recession, civil war, a high
population growth rate and fiscal mismanagement. It has serious
employment, education, and health problems. Due to pervasive corruption,
cronyism and lack of transparency, foreign aid donors have on occasions
been reluctant to continue with their largesse.
adversity, if all men who are fit to bear arms are drafted into
military service, Djibouti will be hard pressed to muster more than
65,000 men. In case, God forbid, any of its neighboring countries so
much as sneezes in its direction, Djibouti will be swept off its feet
and the landing would likely be hard.
Above all, Djibouti is plagued by that most destructive of world
curses: the all encompassing, omnipresent and demonic tyrant who is at
the helm and in the thick of all affairs of state no matter big or
By any measure, Djibouti’s circumstances are unenviable. Admittedly, this condition is not exclusive to that country.
Many nations around the world share the same fate or worse. However,
its predicament is aggravated by a geographical ill fortune of being in a
rough neighborhood and by Gelle’s ill-advised tendency of foolishly
putting his middle finger in the said neighborhood’s problematic pies.
its physical and economic statuses, it would have been most logical and
prudent for Djibouti’s leaders to follow the paths of countries like
Switzerland, Singapore, and Costa Rica. These countries long found out
that because of their tiny sizes, neutrality in the political affairs of
the regions in which they are respectively located is a virtue. They
maintain cordial relations with all their neighbors and stay away from
policy should not be construed as lack of ambitions on their part.
Rather it is attributable to pragmatic and sober realization that any
meddling by them in disputes would not, at the end of the day, make much
difference in the outcomes thereof. One the other hand, interference
could potentially prove detrimental to their interests.
development and minding their own business became their preferred
preoccupations. Today they are beacons of prosperity and stability.
or rather Gelle, however, has chosen a different and ominous tack. He
has a finger in every regional contentious pie. In the
Ethiopian-Eritrean war of the nineties, he was very vocal in his
opinions. Nonetheless, neither country was pleased with his noises.
Immediately after that conflict cooled off, Djibouti itself went to war
with Eritrea that is yet to be resolved. Eretria allegedly still
occupies some Djiboutian territory.
too many times, Djibouti plunged to neck deep into the muddy political
water of the erstwhile Somali Republic. The danger also here is that
Djibouti’s head may go under water and risk suffering consequences that
are as awful as they have been preventable.
the most baffling and absurd of Gelle’s behavior is his irrational
almost paranoiac hostility towards Somaliland. Paradoxically, Djibouti
is one quarter from which Somalilanders least expected disfavor of any
kind and magnitude, let alone hostility.
and Somalilanders have common ancestral linage and overlapping
geographical habitation. For Djiboutians, Hargeisa and other Somaliland
cities were always and continue to be literally their second hometowns.
They could and still can stay in the country indefinitely; own property
and even obtain Somaliland citizenship—all without let or hindrance.
Djiboutian nomads cross into Somaliland for any purpose without second
thoughts. Somalilanders as a matter of fact never bothered to make any
distinction between themselves and Djiboutians.
their struggle for independence, Djiboutians could count on
Somalilanders’ unreserved support. At the time, Somaliland had been in
the midst of its dark union with Somalia. The erstwhile Somali Republic,
ostensibly true to the Pan-Somalism creed, had admittedly also
been helpful to the freedom cause. However, Somalilanders’ succor,
unlike other Somalis’, was much more than a mere expression of national
policy. It was more emotional, more personal, more dedicated, more
material, more practical and more effective.
Djiboutian freedom fighters used the Somaliland regions of the
erstwhile Republic as their base of operations, or took refuge there
after carrying them out, without the then governments’ express
involvement or even knowledge. This was partly because many of these
fighters had also been members of families in Somaliland.
when Djibouti became independent, and Somalilanders’ efforts to free
themselves from the Union’s yoke started in earnest, Djiboutian
governments conferred them neither sympathy nor assistance nor refuge.
Worse still, to the Somalilanders’ utter chagrin, Djibouti authorities
played willing and active roles in the oppressor’s brutal
countermeasures aimed at quelling Somalilanders’ just aspirations. In
Djibouti, any Somalilander, who had fell under suspicion of being the
Somali National Movement (SNM) member or sympathizer was unceremoniously
detained and promptly handed over to Siad Barre’s security services at
No one who had suffered that misfortune was ever seen again.
1988, when millions of Somalilanders, in order to evade the ongoing
genocide, had to flee their country under unrelenting bombardments, both
rear and aerial, nearly all went to Ethiopia. Djibouti simply had
closed its border at their face.
Somalilanders, despite daunting odds and Djibouti’s unexpectedly
hostile attitude, prevailed and regained their country and independence
nonetheless, they bore no hard feelings towards Djiboutians. They knew
Djiboutians, as people, had never shared their leaders’ untoward
polices. Somalilanders had learned the hard way that dictators never
give a damn about their subjects’ sentiments or viewpoints.
Gelle’s guile against Somaliland did not end there. He proceeded with
an intensive and persistent campaign to negate Somaliland’s restored
sponsored countless so-called Somali Reconciliation Conferences with
the primary objective of reestablishing the erstwhile Somali Republic of
which Somaliland would, of course, be part and parcel. Ignoring the
true wishes of most Somalilanders and their legitimate leaders, he used
all means at his disposal, foul or fair, to entice Somalilanders to
participate in these conferences so that he could claim that these
meetings and whatever ultimate outcomes thereof had the requisite
appearances of inclusiveness and broad representation and therefore all
the hallmarks of legitimacy and acceptance.
current superficial government in Somalia, under the ‘presidency’ of
Sheikh Sharef Sheikh Ahmed; before that, the one formed in Arta in 2002
under Abdiqasim Salad and at least one prior to both all laid comical
claims as being the legitimate government of what used to be the Somali
Republic, including(of course again), Somaliland. They all had been formed mainly through Gelle’s efforts.
the misguided, though some of them well meaning, policies of some
countries towards Somalia and Somaliland; the maliciously self-interest
driven intentions of others and the total indifference of the rest of
the world were all helpful to Gelle’s tragicomic theatrics. Yet if a
Gold Medal were in contention for hosting Somali Reconciliation
Conferences and other gatherings where one of their central agendas and
objectives had been snuffing the last breath out of Somaliland, Gelle
would have been won it hands down.
professed motivation in repeatedly and selflessly going into these
troubles was nothing more than his altruistic love for his fellow ethnic
Somalis. He, on every such occasion, was beside himself with grief at
the unfortunate suffering that had become the sorry lot of his Somali
brethren since the fall of their last great government. His
sense of brotherhood alone made it his divine duty to be the first and
foremost to spare no effort in reinstating their unity, the rule of law
and order and a strong central government that could exercise effective
control over all its territories and affairs. (Kudos, right again, if you assumed that Somaliland is included herein)
might not be proper to dismiss out of hand Gelle’s proclaimed and
apparently benevolent intentions. However, it is not out place to go
beyond the surface and examine two aspects of his modus opparandi and the outcomes thereof.
none of his stated lofty objectives materialized despite his amazing
doggedness in striving to achieve them. Neither reconciliation nor
unity; neither rule of law nor effective government was realized in
Somalia at any time since Gelle had embarked on his seemingly charitable
odyssey. This would have normally convinced such enterprise’s primary
sponsor that either the ends or the means used to achieve them had been
faulty and that changes in either one or the other were in order.
However, how such an obvious conclusion could have escaped Mr. Gelle or,
if indeed it has not, what motivation he could have had ignoring it, is
The second pertains to Mr. Gelle’s consistently uncontrollable rejection of—nay,
his gritty resolve in reversing—Somaliland’s right of
self-determination. Again, his oft-professed purpose in suffering this
obsession have been nothing but preserving Somali unity and saving the
flame of Pan-Somalism candle from total extinguishment.
had long determined that it was in its best interest not to be a party
in whatever role, form or degree in Somalia’s intricate problems. Its
legitimate leaders are duty bound to tow their electorate’s popular
sentiments and cannot be seen engaging in policies and actions that do
not enjoy grassroots support; much less in policies and actions that
could remotely be looked upon as constitutionally circumvent and
therefore be liable to charges of treason.
and its leaders’ position on Somalia and its never-ending
reconciliation and state-building conferences is straightforward:
Somaliland need not reconcile with Somalia or, for that matter, any country with which it has no dispute. Somaliland has no intractable issues of
contention with Somalia. It has no objection and every desire to engage
in and establish mutually beneficial relationships with Somalia or, for
that matter, with any country—especially with a neighboring one—that is
at peace with itself and with others as long as both parties follow
universal conventions of mutual respect and noninterference.
that, Somalia can count on Somaliland’s best wishes and prayers that
the former’s efforts to overcome its problems as well as endeavors of
the International Community (IC) in rendering honest and disinterested
assistance towards this noble objective would bear the desired fruit.
Moreover, Somaliland would be willing even to lend a helping hand
towards this enterprise if so requested; or if Somaliland offered such
assistance without solicitation, it would not construed as Somaliland’s
readiness to entertain second thoughts about its core commitment to its
with this insurmountable fortitude on Somaliland’s part, which
obviously has been exasperatingly at odds with his scheme of things, Mr.
Gelle has resorted to a course of action that has been as simple as it
has been counterproductive. Until recently, he basically has been
ignoring Somaliland, its right to self-determination, its legitimate
leaders, its everything. He has been simply pretending that there has been no such thing as Somaliland, period![ii]
this end, he apparently suffered from no shortage of imagination in
bestowing the required appearances of inclusiveness and broad
representations to the charades which he recurrently presents as genuine
Somali Reconciliation Conferences.
of high office and/or instant financial reward have routinely been made
to Somalilanders on the condition that they would be willing to play
ball Mr. Gelle’s way. Even when such enticements could not succeed,
Gelle have been known coming up with other more under-hand ideas. Only a
fool would underestimate Gelle’s creatively deceitful intellect[iii].
ball Gelle’s way would entail that the Somalilanders who succumb to
greed or are principles-deficient or are honestly misguided would
pronounce themselves as the true representatives of the Somalis of northern Somalia (note that, in these conferences, any mention of the name “Somaliland” is forbutten;
please spare The Honorable Gelle a heart attack!). They would
categorically reiterate that northern Somalis, like their southern
brethren, truly wanted to preserve unity; it was only a few armed
secessionists controlling Hargeisa who have been espousing this
self-independence nonsense etc.
in any other nation-people, a few greedy or unprincipled or honestly
misguided Somalilanders could always be located—only a score or so of
them need serve Mr. Gelle’s purpose if the price was right; sometimes
for a pittance or at other times for nothing.
Gelle did not fare any better in stopping Somaliland’s statehood than
in achieving peace and stability in Somalia. He has good company in
others of IC, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt, in licking the wounds
of repeated failures. Let us touch on some possible causes of these
debacles while we are still in the Djiboutian context.
Bottoms Up Or Top Down?
number of times Somali Reconciliation Conferences was held is in the
scores (if no one knows the exact number, one is excusable). The venues,
too, defy precise memories. At any rate, all failed because they were
held in the wrong places; attended by the wrong participants; sponsored
by the wrong patrons; followed the wrong agendas; sought the wrong
objectives and reached the wrong resolutions.
lessons from experiences in conducting all these conferences, in their
trials and errors, as humans are wont to exercise, seems to have been
strangely inapplicable or have been as strangely overlooked as matter of
course. The most glaring harbingers of their persistently preordained
disappointments stem from the habitual use of foreign venues; their
customary sponsorships by foreigners with vested interests; the
consistent lack of base support and representation credentials of their
participating so-called Somali leaders; and above all, the stubbornly
unrealistic, unattainable and utopian purpose that these conferences
have been routinely said to be serving i.e. the resurrection of a united
and unitary Somali republic.
is understandable that the IC in general and certain key nations in
particular, prefer to deal with a single controlling authority in
Somalia. As Bernard Helander of Uppsala University, Sweden, (See: Will There Be Peace In Somalia Now? By Bernard Helander-American Diplomacy)pointed
out in a critique following one of Djibouti’s earlier expeditions into
the Somali quagmires, “If it comes to a point where the UN, the EU, and
other organizations have to make a choice between working for something
that purportedly could lead to a reunification of Somalia, or to go on
working with increasingly minuscule local administrations, the choice
will be rather easy.”
as the Professor went on to emphasize, immediately after Gelle and the
UN had formed the so-called Transitional National Government (TNG) in
Djibouti in 2002—just like the similarly instituted Transitional Federal
Government (TFG) in Nairobi in 2006 and Somali National Reconciliation
Government (SNRG), again in Djibouti in 2008—such arrangements were
doomed to failure and even made matters worse. He argued that Somalia
had no longer been a “uniform structure merely lacking some key persons
whose appointment would end the conflicts and mend the Somali state.”
horrific events as well as the facts on the ground that respectively
had led to and followed the collapse of the Somali Republic; the
complicating foreign meddling in Somali affairs all along; and the
undesirable characters and appalling incompetence of those who routinely
ended up as the ‘presidents’ and cohorts imposed on Somalia all
together have conspired to activate, rather instantly and invariably,
ordinary Somalis’ outright and unflinching rejection of these projects.
of imposing on Somalis foreign-formed and -serving governments like the
TNG (and subsequently the TFG and the SNRG), Professor Helander and
many other scholars of Somalia believe that the “The Building Bloc”
approach is the only way that stability and effective governance can be
returned to Somalia. The building of blocs themselves, they feel, should
best be left to Somalis themselves without foreign interference.
think that the IC should assist with institutions building and
developmental programs to those regions that managed to establish peace
and effective administrations on their own. There is no better incentive
than this to other slacking regions to follow suit.
Later, these blocs could come together willingly to form a genuinely representative, acceptable and shared government in
a process all dimensions of which is entirely owned by Somalis alone.
and insightfully aware that the IC in general and Djibouti’s Gelle in
particular had been beating about the bush, Professor Helander answered
his own question. “The short answer to the peace question,” he rather
emphatically said, “is no.” Amazingly, he also raised fears that only a
sage could foresee about the future problems that such misguided or
shortsighted endeavors could create. “Unfortunately, the more serious
issue that observers all over the world now confront” he lamented, “is
how to limit the damage done in Djibouti. Will the effects of this
latest disastrous move simply go away as the name of the new ‘president’
is forgotten in the coming months?”
name of the ‘president’ appointed with Gelle’s and IC’s help in Arta in
2002 certainly challenges one’s recollection. He was the ‘president’
who had been the object of the Professor’s concern. As if to provide
further vindication to the scholar, the name of the IC-imposed
‘president’ in Embagathi in 2006 could also easily fail one’s faculty of
reminiscence. At Arta’s time, this Embagathi ‘president’ had been in no
one’s long view except perhaps the sage. How long the current
‘president’ Sharif’s name will be remembered remains to be seen though
most observers would advise you not to bet your boots on its endurance.
certainly is a heart breaking turn of events, but witness how “the
damage[s] done in Djibouti” that the Professor had been bemoaning
actually came true. In 2002, when he had raised these fears, no Al
Shabab and other like-minded extremists existed. Suicide bombings and
gross terrorist acts against soft targets were still alien to the Somali
conflict culture. The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2008 was
unthinkable. The Somalis now categorized as Internally Displaced Persons
(IDPs) or languishing in the neighboring countries’ refugee camps are
over three million, not the still unfortunate but fraction of that
number classified as such in 2002. At that time, the piracy pestilence
that gave all Somalis such a bad name, the world’s maritime trade such a
bedeviling headache and desolate places like Eyl on the Puntland coast
such notoriously a global name recognition had been nonexistent.
history, Professor Helander’s prophecy in 2002 and its conversions to
realties could repeat itself at enormous costs to both Somalis and other
nations alike as long as the IC and leaders like Gelle continue simply
not getting it.
Paying Lip Service To Pan-Somalism When Convenient
r. Gelle’s fondness to shed tears for Pan-Somalism and for the restoration of the unity (nay, as he refuses to accept its already undeniable demise, for him the preservation of the unity) between Somaliland and Somalia would shame a crocodile to hold on its own. This self-styled passion is Gelle’s both first and last line of defense in the conduct of his fanatical anti-Somaliland
policies. But is not one supposed to practice what one preaches?
five-pointed star of the flag of the erstwhile Somali Republic denoted
the five regions in East Africa in which ethnic Somalis made the sole or
vast majority of the population. They were the British Somaliland; the
Italian Somaliland; the French Somaliland; Ethiopia-ruled The Haud and
Reserved Area and Ogaden; and the Kenya-administered Northern Frontier
undoubtedly was a time when Somalis everywhere aspired to form a
country encompassing all the above mentioned regions under the white
starred blue flag.
Historians will long debate who, what, how and when this idealistic Pan-Somalism dream turned into a nightmare. At any rate, the amazing irony is that
Somalilanders, who had been more any other ethnic Somalis the most
ardent advocates and promoters of Pan-Somalism; who sacrificed
so selflessly for its realization; and who paid most in ultimate prices
when its partial realization had been attempted are nowadays being
demonized as anti-nationalists or as secessionists or as rejectionists.
the other hand and as equally amazing those, Gelle prominent amongst
them, who could not claim making any tangible contribution towards the
cause or those whose actions and behavior caused its ignoble demise, are
posing as its tireless champions.
It was in June 1960 when the newly independent Somaliland threw common sense and prudence, naysanity,
to the wind and, without conditions, reservations and assurances, took
its freedom, assets and soul to Mogadishu in pursuit of Pan-Somalism. So shocking a folly was it that one London newspaper ran a crying headline, “The Colony That Rejected Freedom[iv]”
The Somalians[v] would not condescend to display the least magnanimity in waiting for a
least minimum of a grace period before they abundantly demonstrated
their brazen contempt and disrespect for Somalilanders’ amazing
forming the first government of the Union Republic, the Somalians had
the insolence of taking all the top positions of government: the
presidency; the prime ministership; the ministries of defense, interior,
and foreign affairs; the commands of the army and police and every
other important post of the levers of power. It was as if the
Northerners were a vanquished people and the Somalian victors were
sharing the spoils of victory amongst themselves.
followed this blatant greed and arrogance in those first days of the
Union until Somaliland managed to regain its independence in 1991 need
not be described here anew. It would suffice to say that for
Somalilanders, the price paid for this cardinal blunder in “Reject[ing]
Freedom” in 1960 for the sake of Pan-Somalism is nothing short of catastrophic.
though it turned out to be, it had been partly on account of
Somalilanders’ timely and selfless counsel, citing their grave
experiences, that Djibouti avoided plunging into the same pitfall. In
early 60’s, a remorseful Somalilander crooned:
Adoo guri barwaaqo ah; Geel dhalay ku haysta; Geedi lama lalaba oo;Abaar looma guureey;
Anigay isku geystoo; Galabsaday xumaantee; Wixii ila garaadow;Gobonimo ha tuurina. While in a plentiful land;You possess newly nursing camels
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