Somaliland-Djibouti Relationship Gelle: The Tireless Crusader Against Somaliland

Published On: Friday, August, 10 2012 - 11:57:05 This post has been viewed 2978 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.

A 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 Relationship[i].

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erhaps 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.

Lets 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.

In 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 small.


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.

Given 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 their disputes.

This 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.

Quiet development and minding their own business became their preferred preoccupations. Today they are beacons of prosperity and stability.

Djibouti 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.

For 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.

But 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.

Djiboutians 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.

In 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.

Many 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.

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et 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 border.

No one who had suffered that misfortune was ever seen again.

In 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.

After 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.

Still, Gelle’s guile against Somaliland did not end there. He proceeded with an intensive and persistent campaign to negate Somaliland’s restored independence.

He 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.

The 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.

Admittedly, 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.

Gelle’s 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)

I

t 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.

First, 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 anybody’s guess.

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.

Somaliland 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.

Somaliland 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.

Beyond 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 full-fledged nationhood.

Faced 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]

To 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.

Offers 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].

Playing 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.

As 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.

M

r. 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?

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he 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.

Learning 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.

It 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.”

However, 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.”

The 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.

Instead 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.

They 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.

Fully 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?”

The 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.

It 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.

Like 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

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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?

The 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 District.

There 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.

On 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, nay sanity, 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 altruism.

In 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.

What 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.

Thankless 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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