The Samatars’ alternative to the ICG Report on Somaliland: Examined, by Hibaq Abdikadir Kosar
First I would like to congratulate the International Crises Group (ICG) for a report well written, to the point and easy to follow. This report was indeed focused and free from any biases. It was very informative for those who didn’t know much about Somaliland, its history and inhabitants and for the informed who do not claim they “know it all” it shed light on the recent developments.
Its the objective of the ICG ‘to prevent and resolve deadly conflict’, so to accuse their reports containing ‘political history replete with errors, misinterpretation, omissions, and bedeviled by an untenable characterization of entire communities’ is like accusing the Amnesty International of human rights violations. Let us now examine who made these accusations and why.
Abdi Ismail Samatar and Ahmed I Samatar, made the accusations in an essay (in progress) entitled “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE”. Here I will demonstrate their motive and make brief examination using the
following categories: 1
• Swelling Numbers
• Personal Note
At first glance one can observe an improvement of the language used in criticizing the authors of the ICG Report. Fortunately they did not suffer the same fate as Prof. I.M. Lewis, who Prof Abdi I Samatar 2, blurted abusive words at, which won him the nickname “Street Fighter Professor”.
• “Samatar's response gives one the impression that he is street fighter intent to badmouth and give Lewis a bloody nose.” 3
Among the many abusive statements directed at Prof Lewis was that he was self-congratulating himself when he praised the EU and Prof A. I Samatar commented how the EU funded conference was a failure, and used the Somali proverb " Nin is amaaney waa ri is nuugtay" (a man who praises himself is like a goat that suckles itself), which is used to show disgust at a person who praises oneself. In this light let’s examine the names of the authors that the Samatars referred to as the authentic sources to argue their case. In no less then 7 times was the name Samatar referred to, 4 and describing themselves “as scholars, we have collectively dedicated 35 years to sympathetically understand the inner workings of Somali society” and “Our thinking, distilled from our extensive scholarly research and reading of Somali social history and political economy”
It’s typical of the Samatars to accuse others, who hold apposing views of not able to comprehend the Somalis.5 “Only an arrogant and unreconstructed old fashioned anthropologist would be blind enough to assume that he could speak for the native in 2001.” 6 also “the Ambassador’s (Kiplagat) lack of knowledge about Somali culture….”7, and presenting themselves as the only authoritarians on Somali politics, social, history, economics, judicial etc.
• ‘As the conference commenced, non-Somalis started to make the agenda. In one instance, when one of the authors (Abdi) was present, an American doctoral student presented the points….’8
Had Abdi been asked to present the points, would we have read such resentment towards the young American doctoral student? One would almost believe that they are so patriotic they would want only Somalis to conduct the peace processes for themselves and solve their own problems. However, when the people of Somaliland did just that, Abdi called their land “Balayo-land”9 (evil-land). One can only reach the conclusion that they would only be happy if they were in the lime light in any Somali conference and would not settle for otherwise. This is demonstrated in the brothers’ praise and glorifications of the Arta conference proceedings and outcome (Arta: Betrayal of a Gift), 10 since Prof. Abdi was one of the key craftsmen of the proceedings yet it was the one that lacked representations of most regions and used local Somalis from Djibouti to boost the number of attendants. .
The ICG report documented the betrayal felt by the Somaliland people after the unification noting that Hargeisa became ‘a mere provincial headquarters’ and Mogadishu became the national capital. The Samatars identified Hargeisa as ‘the headquarters of the northwest’. Provincial headquarters or northwest headquarters, what’s the difference and the point they’re making? Furthermore the Samatars want the Somaliland people to applaud PM Adbirashid and be consoled for this honourable role (consultants), ‘One of the North's most senior civil servants noted that, "Prime Minister Abdirashid and leading ministers consulted senior northern public servants on key matters, particularly on those that dealt with integration.”
As an engineer when I’m faced with a mathematical problem to solve (e.g. 1/2+1/3) I take the lowest common denominator (No. 6) and not the second (No. 12) or the third (No. 18) lowest common denominators (LCD). If I use the second or third LCDs, my calculations will only get longer and I would waste much of a good time that could have been utilized better, not to mention the possibility of making an error half way resulting the wrong answer. In my college days I would have been penalized for doing that.
The Samatars used the argument that Isaaq were not the only community that suffered under the dictatorship of Said Bare and mentioned Baidoa and Puntland regions.11 The brothers seemed to have totally lost focus by bringing the argument under Somalia. The ICG report was tackling the suffering of clans living in Somaliland (LCD), its history and relationship with Somalia. If the brothers are using the denomination of Somalia (second LCD) in order to make their point, they only prolonged their argument and caused the reader to wonder off and ask, “what did that got to do with Somaliland”. Using the same analogy one can argue that the Somali people were not the only ones who suffered in the Horn of Africa (third LCD) and we can even take the fourth LCD, Africa etc.
I recall conversations I use to have with students of history & politics in my old college (QMW, University of London) where they would tell me that Professors would warn them time and again not to waffle their way out when asked to write an essay about specific topic, as that would cause them to loose marks. I am not familiar with US universities, but if Professors can waffle their way out of the topic of discussion when writing essays, then what’s the chance of a student getting away with it and what does that say about those particular universities? In a court of law when a lawyer attempts to divert attention from the point of focus in a line of questioning, the opposition lawyer would immediately jump and shout “objection”!
Throughout their essay the Samatars drifted off the point of discussion particularly in Part IV. I will address the claims made in this Part for the sake of examining them, though its far off the ICG report. A picture of justice, democracy and fair for all was painted, “There is no doubt today that the Somali Republic’s first President, Aden Abdulle Osman, and his second Prime Minister, Abdirazak H. Hussein, were genuine leaders by any democratic measure”. Yet this is what General Mohammed Farah Aidid recorded about the same period that was glorified by the Samatars’, “the unfortunate experience with the type of Parliamentary Democracy that Somalia had during 1960-69; which bred exploitation, tribal disunity, nepotism, lowering of morals and public integrity and ultimately paved path for a shameless military coup in 1969; warns us not to go in for that very model of democracy. We cannot afford again to be cheated by such so-called representatives of the people, who once the people have elected them to the Parliament are least bothered for the welfare of the masses but are solely guided by their self-seeking motives of making money, favouring their relatives and supporters and black-mailing and exploiting the masses in innumerable ways.”12 I know of someone personally who was thrown out of school in Mogadishu during that period. The then Minister of Education gave a speech in of the schools, where he stated that the schools are filled with street kids when the children of the government (ministers/employees) are not attending school because there are no seats.
Somali history seems to be ‘in the eye of the beholder’; it’s rather like the writer’s story (his-story). It depends on what class or clan they belonged to during the period that they are writing about. The elite would write about the good old days and the luxury they enjoyed since they turned blind eye to the suffering of the lower class or clan. The oppressed would have only experienced the suffering and humiliation and would write his-story through his experiences. Someone from the outside looking in would only be objective historian to record the experiences of both classes. Often when that happens the former elite clan or class who do not want anyone to know what they inflicted on the other clans shower abuses at these historians/anthropologists or accuse them of being on the payroll of “Hargeisa Administration”. That’s why you have many people denying till now the atrocities committed against Somaliland people. Only now more 15 years later you have some people who served the military regime apologizing to the people of Somaliland.13 So when the brothers write, “We argue that this history could be told differently.” you do not need to be a rocket scientist to know what version of his-story will be told.
4. Swelling Numbers
One of the most deceiving claims the Samatars made to undermine the accuracy of the ICG report was the claim that large number of “Northerners” held high positions in contrast to the ICG report. At first the reader would see positions identified (yet no names mentioned), 14 therefore one would think this claim must be authentic and that it cannot be fabricated, as this is a historical fact. Lets study how they introduced this grave deception.
The reader was introduced to Somaliland (former British colony) and Somalia (former Italian colony) and after the unification these two entities came to be known as North and South of Somalia. Somalis referred to each other as Southerners and Northerners respectively. In order to boost the figures of the Northerners (Somalilanders) in high positions the brothers conveniently included positions held by people from the region presently known as Puntland (northeast Somalia). These individuals represented the South, since this region was part of Somalia and not Somaliland before unification. Therefore the ICG document was accurate in its reporting.
The ICG report made mention of the tribes in Somaliland that collaborated with the military regime against the Isaaq. The Samatars’ wrote:
• “A discernment of who collaborated with the military dictatorship and to what degree…The ICG document enters that fray by identifying two northern communities as willing allies of the regime: the Samaroon and the Harti (pp. 11, 28). Simultaneously, the Isaaq kin-group is presented as innocent sufferers. This is problematic.”15
Here it’s important to note that the brothers are of Samaroon clan, hence the anger expressed in the above quote. Naming Isaaq men16 that served in the military dictatorship and attempting to level them with characters like Morgan and Ghani, who were responsible for the genocide of Somaliland, is totally irresponsible and one that would invite questioning as to their motive and integrity as academics. One can only sense the sentiments of clanism expressed here. I wonder how many historical claims stated by the Samatars were created on their keyboards? Gentlemen, you claim to be learned men, present your evidence for the statements you made, or did you conveniently fabricate this piece of history to tarnish the men’s names and discredit the ICG report for your gains?
Let it be known that I consider all those Isaaq individuals mentioned who remained in Barre’s regime till its dying days “TRAITORS”, since they held those positions at the expense of the suffering of their own people. However the brothers’ choice of excluding General Jama Mohamed Qalib, when he held high positions in Barre’s regime sometime in those dark days and presented him as a victim 17 only exposed their prejudice (a friend perhaps?). He was another craftsman of the Arta conference and benefited from it by being rewarded handsomely, also known to hold the same views as the Samatars’. Why did they fail to mention how he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of young men in the Somaliland civil war (1994-1996)? Now this would have been relevant to the topic of discussion (Somaliland-LCD?), since he was a warlord for that short period of time. At least the warlords in Somalia stay with their soldiers while General Qalib ran away two days before the fighting started, after beating the drums of war for the young men. What’s the word that describes a General abandoning his army, just before full scale fighting starts?
With regards to the office of Presidency the Samatars made the claim that ‘When Egal, the leading northern politician, was asked to seek the office he declined.’ This is a laughable claim. Both opponents and friends of Egal would agree on one thing, that he desired and sought the position of the President of Somalia all his life, until the 2001 Somaliland referendum when all hopes of that ever happening was dashed away from him. In fact someone commented once that if the position of the “President of Africa” existed he would run for it.
In Somaliland, people of all tribes are living side by side in harmony and do not need the so called scholars living thousands of miles away to create hate and animosity between them. These people have shaken off the great might of the military regime and will not hesitate to shake off inflammatory essays that’s only intended to derail them from the path to peace they’ve embarked on. Most of these writers are living in the United States enjoying the freedom and liberty that its forefathers created by fist declaring that, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”18 Therefore if the Samatars are serious as to their claim of feeling obliged to promote the well being of their community, then instead of calling their land ‘evil-land’ they ought to take part in promoting the freedom and liberty that their people have taken its first steps to establish. They ought to make their guiding principal to be what is in the interest of their people, and listen to what they want.
History has its place and the people of Somaliland chose to forgive each other for past crimes in order to move on and build a brighter future for themselves and their children. Digging old wounds will not achieve what its intended, which is to destabilise the peace they worked so hard for.
I for one am proud of the achievements of my people and wish that we all applaud them for their strength and determination to take the first steps of entering into the democratic world.
a) Before embarking on responding to a report make sure you read the content of the report to establish the topic of discussion and read the report carefully (if necessary read it few times).
b) When writing an essay, stay focused and don’t waffle just to boost the number words.
c) To prove the authenticity of your claim, use reliable historians and not your own essays “in progress”.
8. Personal Note
Somali people need to express their views through the ballot box and not be swayed by the selfish politicians who wear ‘Somaliweyn hat’ one minute, ‘Islam hat’ the next, ‘tribal hat’, the next and so on. The people of Somaliland have spoken as to what they want. They want to choose who leads their country and not be chosen for them in some conference held in far away land that’s organized by foreigners. The days that they were forced to accept anyone to rule them by force are gone. No clan has the right of leadership over others; hence no formula should be acceptable by any clan, whether they are in the majority or minority. No clan is superior to others:
• “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”19
Many of the Somaliweyn politicians and writers who claim they don’t want the dismemberment of Somalia, put fear in the Somali people’s mind painting the picture that recognition of Somaliland will result closure of its borders to other Somalis. The people who feel this fear the most are the people of Harti, and this is understandable because they feel torn between their tribal kinsmen who live on the other side of the border (Puntland, Somalia), and their cousins (Isaaq) through intermarriages who live in Somaliland. Let’s take the current status of the relationship between the people of Somaliland and other Somalis. They will always be welcomed to come and live peacefully in Somaliland if/when they chose to, and I’m confident that they would be welcomed in their respective homelands. People from Somaliland are also related to Somalis in Djibouti, so do they stop them from crossing the border? The two countries share trade ties, common culture, and blood ties, yet no political ties and that’s acceptable to both communities, as it doesn’t affect their personal or business relationships.
These politicians have one thing to gain from Somaliland not being recognised that is to rule a bigger portion of the land and as for the writers they want to cash on the misery of the Somali people through their writings and attending the reconciliation conferences to be paid for drafting charters that will be impractical and unworkable, so they’ll be called back for the next conference, and the next and the next and the next…. If there’s no conflict what’s there to write about? The Somali people need to reach peaceful settlement to stop their bloodshed being cashed on.
Somalis are nomadic by nature and this will never change, Somaliland people continue to intermarry Ogaden, though their land is within Ethiopian border. Hargeisa is now multi-ethnic city were Somalis of all clans are living peacefully along side each other and I hope the same can be achieved for the cities in Somalia. All Somalis own businesses in Somaliland, Somalis from Djibouti, Ogden, and Somalia. In fact the Telecommunication sector is dominated with companies owned by people from Somalia, and everyone welcomes them from government to the public.
Family members can have different political views as demonstrated in the Somaliland elections were members of the same family voted for different parties. If Somaliland people chose a different political path, then the rest of Somalia, to achieve peace and harmony; their brethren Somalia should agree to disagree for the sake of keeping the love between them and work towards a brighter future together for their respective countries. Somalis living everywhere should be happy for what their brethren in Somaliland have achieved and pray for their brethren in Somalia to achieve peace and stability, this will be truly Somali brotherhood.
1. Detailed examination still “in progress”, if such a term “in progress” exists to justify posting half-cooked essays on the web.
2. Prof Abdi I Samatar, “I.M. Lewis's Retired Ideas and Somalia” http://www.somaliawatch.org/archivefeb01/010203202.htm
3. “In Response to Prof Abdi I. Samatar's, I.M. Lewis's Retired Ideas and Somalia” by Ali A. Jama – Director of Somalia Watch – Feb 3, 2001. http://www.somaliawatch.org/archivefeb01/010203201.htm
4. Ahmed I Samatar and Abdi I. Samatar, Notes, “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE” http://www.hiiraan.com/htdocs/2003/aug03/op/icg_respond.htm
5. It seems that it’s not just the Samatars’ who make these accusations, but others who hold the same view do it too. Ahmed Dowlo wrote this about Jean-Jacques Cornish, “Mr. Cornish has got him self into a political disarray in which he has very limited knowledge.” The article is entitled ‘Recognise "Somaliland" and a can of worm opens’. http://www.hiiraan.ca/2003/aug03/op/dowlo.htm. Ahmed Dowlo is a member of Somali Association of South Africa, an organisation I’m sure that just come into being after the positive reports on Somaliland from SA, the most amusing thing they’ve come up with so far is the petition online where they’re trying to black mail the SA government. The article was written by Abbas Yusuf email@example.com (interesting email id).
6. “I.M. Lewis's Retired Ideas and Somalia”, by Prof Abdi I Samatar.
7. Ahmed I Samatar and Abdi I. Samatar, Part II C (1),“Somali Reconciliation: Editorial Note” posted on http://www.goobjoog.com/books/editorial/note/
8. Ahmed I Samatar and Abdi I. Samatar, Part II B, “Somali Reconciliation: Editorial Note”.
9. Prof Abdi I Samatar, “I.M. Lewis's Retired Ideas and Somalia”.
10. Ahmed I Samatar and Abdi I. Samatar, Part II A “Somali Reconciliation: Editorial Note”.
11. Part VI-A&B, “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE”
12. General Mohammed Farah Aidid, The Preferred Future Development in Somalia, www.civicwebs.com
13. Abdi Warsame Isaq, the leader of SSNM, who was a members of Supreme Council of the Somali Revelation 21st of October 1969.
14. Part VI-A, “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE”.
15. Part VI-A, “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE”.
16. Part V-B, “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE”.
17. Part VI-B “INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP REPORT ON SOMALILAND: AN ALTERNATIVE SOMALI RESPONSE”.
18. The first paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence (In Congress July 4, 1774)
19. The Quran, Chapter: 49, Verse: 13