With Somaliland’s elections scheduled for November fast approaching, Mohamed Haji Ingiriis discusses the state of affairs in the self-declared republic and examines the legacy the elected will inherit
There is little questioning that at present, Somaliland is swimming under dangerous waters, which are full of sharks. Ahmed Egal, the son of the great Somaliland leader Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, recently penned a brief paper about contemporary Somaliland, arguing that it is between a rock and a hard place (1, Endnotes, p.9). In this briefing paper, I will argue that the dot connecting the rock and the hard place is the interplay between clannism and cronyism. Aside from the scathing criticism that Ahmed Egal levelled at the outgoing president, the ageing and ailing, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud ‘Ahmed Siilaanyo’ rather than the state system over which he so painfully presides, Egal constructs a provoking critique, which measures the performance of the current administration against previous ones (2). Local civil society groups maintain that the most pressing political problem currently facing Somaliland is the absence of any real desire on the part of competing political players to serve the people (3). The direction Somaliland has taken under Siilaanyo’s leadership has caused disillusionment both among the public and those pundits who have for long advocated for Somaliland’s secession to the international community by commending its hybrid state system, which combines both modern and traditional political structures (4). In essence, as things stand, the experiment of the Somaliland state formation seems a strange application of the power detailed in Ioan Lewis’s classic A Pastoral Democracy (5).
The romanticisation of the hybrid state system long popularised in the literature lost its lustre as the modern component of the state, most notably the executive branch led by Siilaanyo from behind the shadow of his family, not only overwhelmed the judiciary and legislature, but also rather ironically the House of Elders, the Guurti too, by politicising and thereby delegitimising it (6). Some lobbyists in Somaliland argue that lack of tact on the part of the Guurti allows for it to be bought off with little difficulty (7). Equally, there are some others who believe that ‘the inclusion of traditional authority in Somaliland’s government is a reason for [the] lack of recognition’ (8).
For although the Guurti has played a critical role in negotiating inter-clan disputes and helping to keep the peace since the early-1990s—in fact, being an indispensable agent in helping the self-declared republic to avoid lapsing into the civil war which beset Somalia—its very nature as a body of traditional elders makes the polity seem at odds with modern democracy. The calls for the Guurti to become an elected legislative body are gaining ground. The constant contestation between the Guurti (upper house) and the Parliament (the lower house) also reinforces such calls for a change in the system (9).
In the past, far from being a nuisance, the Guurti under the authority of the former leader Sheikh Ibrahim Sheikh Yusuf Sheikh Madar made President Egal accountable for his political activities in the 1990s and even the early 2000s. In order to impress upon President Egal their ability to hold him accountable, the Guurti generated political tension, which forced Egal to submit his resignation papers to them, before they summarily refused to accept it, instead extending his term until such a time that Somaliland was ready for presidential elections. In so doing, the Guurti prevented Somaliland from plunging into state collapse as was then the case in southern Somalia but all the while, inadvertently, setting a precedent for the personalised presidential system rather than the institutionalised state system, a trend which has only been continued in subsequent years.
The success of the Siilaanyo family in dominating the Guurti can best be analysed both through a political economy and cultural lens, given the importance of both these dimensions in Somali politics. Firstly, the commercialisation of the state system has made it the main income-generating machine, which can be used to provide opportunities for lucrative contracts, at both the local and international levels without any real contest, to those who do a favour for the President and his inner circle. This patron-client network, whereby those at the very heart of power enrich themselves and then distribute wealth and power to their subordinates, seems to have enticed many, if not most, of those currently in the Guurti as well as in the Parliament.
Added to that, the close clan genealogy of Siilaanyo and the current Head of the Guurti Saleebaan Mohamoud Aden ‘Saleebaan Gaal’—who despite their history of clashes, both hail from the same sub-clan—contributes to how the Guurti has become an extension, perhaps, even a reflection, of the different political factions within the presidency, the so-called musdambeedka (the backseat drivers) (10). Even if Saleebaan Gaal had his eyes fixed on the presidential seat at the same time as when Siilaanyo was in the long torturous marathon, the better organised political players from the sub-clan in the inner circle of Siilaanyo, like the minister of the presidency Mohamoud Haashi, the most powerful of all Somaliland ministers, could definitely speak to Saleebaan Gaal in a vernacular localised language to which he would unhesitatingly conform— that’s to say, that the protection and preservation of the sub-clan’s interests are muqaddas (sacred) and lama-taabtaan (uncontested) (11).
Many internal opposition groups of the President’s sub-clan were gradually convinced by him to support or even join his government, thereby allowing them to obtain more clout. The charismatic female politician Faduma Said described the current situation rather bluntly, saying:
Today we are not talking to a government, because there is no genuine government [in Somaliland]. For this is a government whose destruction and illegitimacy is clear to see. Applause]. Those who are in power today are a small group. They are a bandit group. No one knows who they are and they themselves do not know how to feel sympathy with the people. They do not have any sense of propriety. They do not feel empathy and they do not sympathise with the people, the women, the children, the flag, the state, and the SNM [Somali National Movement]. In short, they do not sympathise with anyone! (12).
Certainly, political power and material resources are prized assets and there is fierce competition for them all over Somalia, a contest no less evident in Somaliland. But what is unique in Somaliland is how it has managed to institutionalise the commercialisation of the state without violence. Whilst Somaliland has achieved relative stability out of the ruins of the collapsed Somali state, as the rest of the polity slid into disintegration, this does not necessarily mean that it possesses better governance structures than the latter. Rather, it is all about how politics is skilfully managed and ultimately, which state system is adopted. The Somaliland authorities managed to forestall the eruption of violent competition for power, which befell most of Somalia, and impose a monopoly on violence.
But peace in Somaliland as is the case with its neighbour Puntland means the absence of war. Here, as in the foregoing analysis, in order to appreciate the situation on the ground, an awareness of cultural factors is important. The relative peace in Puntland is, in no small part, facilitated by the region’s demography, with the entity largely serving as a political platform for the political players drawn from the main clan resident there. The absence of diversity in the region’s population limits the jostling for power and resources more common in other parts of the country. This however is not equitable arrangement; besides the increasing incidence of intra-clan friction, power and resources are not satisfactorily shared with other clans (13, 34a).
Similarly, in Somaliland the local politics is heavily dominated by the Habar Awal political players, particularly the Sa’ad Muuse subclan, most of whom are economically invested in the continued stability of Somaliland. Indeed, the predominance of this sub-clan is easily apprehended when one notes that without the backing of the Sa’ad Musse economic actors in Hargeysa, no president can easily hold onto the Presidential Palace. This has led to a serious suspicion that the recognition of Somaliland would most likely enrich certain (sub)clans, creating anxiety among other rival clans. This impression is granted credence by the fact most staunch unionists in Mogadishu, who hail from the clans and communities that constitute Somaliland, hail from the Garhajis (Habar Yoonis and Idagalle), who have traditionally felt ‘deprived not only of political power but also of economic opportunities’ in the breakaway republic (35a). In contrast, it is almost impossible for one single clan to dominate the others in Mogadishu. It is this crucial factor, which can in large part, be understood to be at the heart of the recurring conflicts in southern Somalia, as different groups either vie for dominance, resist (real or perceived) domination or a combination of the two.
The Belly Politics
The transformation of the Somaliland state system—morphing from the hybrid system to a shallow system of patron-client relationship—is indeed worrisome. Even the sheikhs at mosques—largely out of the political equation in Somaliland in contrast with southern Somalia—began to publicly preach a rejection of the practices of the inner circle at the heart of Siilaanyo’s administration.
Sheikh Aden Siiro’s condemnation of the culture of chronic corruption as well as his constant calls for finding pious leadership genuinely serving the society should not be taken lightly (14). There are growing grievances from the public vociferously complaining about how power positions have become unaccounted for, morphing almost into an illicit, income-generating apparatus where every ambitious politician is intent on acquiring his slice of the state resources (15).
It goes without saying that no one understands this better than the former Macalester College professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar who seems to have persuaded himself to join the race for resource accumulation by associating himself with those in power. Samatar himself seems to confirm this accusation by publicly attaching himself to those who have the means and the manpower to win and hold onto power (16), known locally by an Arabic term for the ruling party: the xisbul xaakinka. Samatar reasons—and he may well be correct in coming to this conclusion—that, even if they lose the upcoming November elections, which at present does not look like it will happen, power and money lie on the side of the Habar Awal/Sa’ad Muuse, the behind-the-scene beneficiaries of the Somaliland state.
To enhance his chances for lion’s share of the cake, Samatar, in a televised video clip, claimed that he belongs both to the Gadabiirsi and the Habar Awal sub-clans, using his mother’s clan genealogy (the latter) as a tool to ease his way into the advantageous Habar Awal side. One can surely ask how the Professor is going to counterbalance his newfound enthusiasm for the Somaliland cause against his past, famed anti-Somaliland stances? (17)
When the state becomes a tool for economic enrichment, it loses legitimacy and leads to defection among the political players.
Like elsewhere in Africa, failed, dysfunctional states (18), the privatisation of the state has become something of a reality in Somaliland. Cashing in on their proximity to the centre of power, Siilaanyo’s shrewd son-in-law, Baashe Awil Omar, known in Somaliland pejoratively as ‘Morgan Yare’, along with his associates has been able to firstly, personalise political power and then slowly privatise the state system under the authority of Siilaanyo. This has also been done with the acquiescence of Somaliland’s First Lady Mama Amina Mohamed Jirdeh. This exercise in self-enrichment has become almost uncontrollable, with participants trying to gain wealth, wherever, however and at whatever the cost both to internal and external politics (19). In addition to being the son-in-law of the President, Baashe Haji benefits from an official title as Somaliland’s representative to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (20).
As the Abu Dhabi representative, he was involved in lucrative deals such as the recent one in which the administration of the strategic port at Berbera was handed over to the Dubai-based DP World as well as the unnecessary space authorisation for the construction of a military base at the coastal city by the United Arab Emirates.
The public contemptuously branding him with the infamous ‘Morgan’ trademark gives the impression that he is no less notorious, at least when it comes to milking the state, than General Mohamed Said Hersi ‘Morgan’, the former Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre’s son-in-law, whom Africa Watch branded the Butcher of Hargeysa (21), as a result of the 1980s near-annihilation campaign on the Isaaq civilians (22). The ‘Morgan’ label itself is a revelation, if not realisation, of the Siadisation of the Somaliland state system under Siilaanyo.
It is worthy of note, for instance, that Siilaanyo had been a minister in the Siad Barre regime for 13 consecutive years (from 1969 until 1982), at which point he defected to the Somali National Movement (SNM), fighting against the very regime which he not only helped set up but defended at the international forums. (A few months before his defection, he had been travelling with Siad Barre to Abu Dhabi). In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on 19 April 1988, Siad Barre accused Siilaanyo and his schoolmate Cali Khaliif Galayr of defecting from the regime when they had been relieved of their ministerial positions (23). As ministers, in 1982, Siilaanyo and Galayr were demoted to advisory roles in the Ministry of National Planning, while still continuing to receive a minister’s salary (24). In the interview, Siad Barre affronted Galayr more than Siilaanyo, describing the former as a ‘scoundrel’ and ‘rascal’ (25). The fact that Siilaanyo and Galayr are now negotiating over ways of sharing the state in Somaliland explains not only how patron-client relationships have become normalised but how it has become a vital part of Somaliland politics.
The Siadisation of the state?
Siilaanyo alone cannot be used as a scapegoat for tracing the Siadising—the practice of imitating the Siad Barre regime—in the Somaliland state system. All the current leading politicians in Somaliland were once, in some cases until the very end, part and parcel of the Barre regime, which lasted from 1969 to early-1991. For instance, the Guurti leader Saleebaan Gaal had been a vice minister under the Siad Barre regime for more than a decade, at one critical time serving as a vice minister for Abdikassim Salaad Hassan, one of the longest ministers in the military regime and who later became an interim president in southern Somalia (2000-2004) (26); Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Abdirahman Irro’, the leader and presidential candidate for Wadani party, was a diplomat at the Somali embassy in Moscow in the then Soviet Union representing the Siad Barre regime; Eng. Faysal Ali Waraabe, the leader and presidential candidate for Ucid party and the most outspoken of all Somaliland opposition political players, was a salaried government employee very close to his business partner and friend Eng. Maslah Mohamed Siad, Siad Barre’s principal and favourite son; and, last but not least, Major Muuse Biihi Abdi, the leader and presidential candidate for Kulmiye party, who out of all the aforementioned had the most tenuous link to the centre of Siad Barre regime, having contented himself as an air force officer in the Baydhabo and Ballidoogle airfield compounds.
By a strange quirk of fate, Muuse Biihi’s commander was none other than a colonel named Nuur Elmi Addaawe, the half-brother of Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, the former president of Somalia. Needless to mention the prominent role former intelligence officers in the Barre regime, such as Daher Riyaale Kaahin, the former president of Somaliland; Abdullahi Ismail Ali ‘Abdullahi Irro’, a former interior minister; and Ali Mohamed Waran- Adde, a former interior minister, have played in the Siadisation of the Somaliland state system, surely the complete antithesis to what the SNM had envisaged for Somaliland. When Egaal died suddenly in South Africa in May of 2002, his deputy Daher Riyaale became president and acted as a mediator among the rival Isaaq ‘Habar’ sub-clans. People in Somaliland still fondly remember ‘waqtigii Riyaale’ (the Riyaale period) where they say security was much better than currently (27). As a former intelligence officer, Daher Riyaale rather expectedly invested much more economic resources in the security sector than any other. His security officers went so far as to claim they had known the activities of their hostile forces in Somalia (28).
When one considers all the above factors on the prism of contemporary political context, it is not illogical that “Mujaahid” Ali Gurey, a leading member of the SNM, should publicly declare what many in Hargeysa could not now dare to say—that is, he would prefer the reunion of Somalia and Somaliland than watching the slide of Somaliland into state collapse (29). With his usual embattled tone and in order to reinforce his judgement, “Mujaahid” Ali Gurey stated that most of the the SNM “mujaahidiin” are now roaming penniless in the dusty streets of Hargeysa since the fruits of the SNM have become reserved food for the few.
Those few political power holders are busy with making themselves millionaires. Once appointed into a powerful position somewhere near the presidential palace in Hargeysa, itself once the house of the notorious General Morgan during the 1980s, the first thing for most officeholders is to get instant cash and accumulate as much material wealth as possible. As a result, those in power live a very luxurious life in one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Hargeysa, the Shacabka area, with newly-built spacious houses, complemented by brand new Land Cruisers and two or more young beautiful mistresses. One young female intellectual told me in Hargeysa that it was now regular practice for a minister, when travellling outside the capital, to the rural areas to have one or two young pretty girls accompany him for the sole purpose of their comforts (30). Most of these young girls, she said, come from very poor families who cannot afford to pay their daily bread. This painful reality of contemporary Somaliland resonates with a similar case in Kenya, where opposition leader JM Kariuki had long lamented during the presidency of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta shortly after the postcolonial period that Kenya had become a country of ten millionaires with ten million poor beggars (31). This means the powerful in much of impoverished African states tend to become wealthy to steal from the powerless and the poor. In his most recent work, In the Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power, Alex de Waal uses all the countries of the Horn of Africa as a case study as to how parts of the state are commercialised, commodified and traded haphazardly by those seeking the thrills and frills of power and influence to benefit from the linkages of state power (32). Yet, his lack of empirical data on Somaliland makes his analysis incomplete because de Waal does not seem to know of how Morgan Yare and Mama Amina rule from behind the scenes in the current administration (33).
Mohamed Haji Ingiriis is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford. He is also a Research Associate at African Leadership Centre, King’s College London. Last year, he taught media, peace and conflict modules to graduate students at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Hargeisa. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
(1) Ahmed Egal, ‘Between a Rock and Hard [sic] place: The existential crisis facing Somaliland’, Somaliland Press, 31 July 2017;
(3) SONSAF and SSE, ‘War Saxaafadeed Wada jir ah oo ku Saabsan Doorashada Madaxtooyada’, Hargeysa, 23 October 2016;
(4) YouTube, ‘Daawo Siyaad Bare Ayeynu ka Cabanaynay Boqol Siyaad Ku Inagu Noqday oo Kuwo Gaa gaaban Haysta’; YouTube, Daawo Ugaaska Gabooye Siyaad Barre Dhulka ma Iibsanin Balse Siilaanyo wuu iibsaday’ and YouTube, Siilaanyo RRU halka Siyaad Barre dubcas’;
(5) I. M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1961);
(6) For how the Guurti was politicised, see Rebecca Richards, Understanding Statebuilding: Traditional Governance and the Modern State in Somaliland (London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 145-150 and 174. For another detailed similar study, see Marleen Renders, Consider Somaliland: State-Building with Traditional Elders and Institutions (Leiden: Brill, 2012);
(7) Richards, Understanding Statebuilding, p. 168;
(8) Ibid.: 15;
(9) Field interviews, Hargeysa, 10 July-15 August 2016;
(10) Anon., ‘Akhri:- Madaxweyne Siilaanyo oo sheegay in uu samayn doono Guddi-Musdambeed ah iyo Waxa ay Shaqadoodu Noqon Doonto’, Hangool News, 27 March 2017;
(11) YouTube, ‘Shirka Dhalinyarada Habar-jeclo oo la iclaamiyey,magaca loo bixiyey+Goorta & Goobta lagu qaban’ and YouTube, ‘Warka Gudida Gara Adag Ee Beelaha Habar Jeclo Oo Si Adag Uga Hadlay Shirka Midnimo Iyo Shirka Balidh’;
(12) Ilays News, ‘Marwo Faadumo Siciid Oo Weerar Culus Ku Qaadey Qoyska Madaxweyne Siilanyo’, My translation;
(13) Discussions with senior Puntland civil servants, Djibouti, 14-18 September 2015;
(14) YouTube, ‘Haddii Talada Dalka Wax laga waydiiyo Faaliye Maxaad sugeysaa ? Sh. Aadan-Siiro’ and YouTube, ‘Sheekh aadan siiro Shacabka somaliland Digniin Udiray’;
(15) Anon. ‘Shacabka Somaliland oo Baafinaya Madaxweyne Siilaanyo’, Xaysimo, 11/09/2015;
(16) Interviews with opposition leaders, 7 August 2016;
(17) Salaxley TV, ‘Daawo Prof. Ahmed Ismaciil Samatar BEFORE AND AFTER’. For his change of political position from his point of view, see BBC Somali, ‘Axmed Ismaaciil Samatar: Waan ka tegay Soomaali weyn’, 14 Jannaayo 2014;
(18) Beatrice Hibou (ed), Privatising the State (London: C. Hurst, 2004);
(19) Egal, ‘Between a Rock and Hard place’;
(20) Anon., ‘Somaliland oo [I]maaraadka u fasaxday inay saldhigga Berbera ka sameyso arrin dhibaato weyn ku noqon doonto Somalia’, Caasimada.net, May 27, 2017; and BBC Somali, ‘Somaliland agrees to UAE military base in Berbera’, 13 February 2017. Jean-Francois Bayart identifies as a strategy of extraversion, the idea of actively seeking financial sources and patron from external powers, to advance political ambitions. Jean-Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013);
(21) Africa Watch, A Government at War with Its Own People: Testimonies about the Killings and the Conflict in the North (New York: Africa Watch, 1990);
(22) Mohamed Haji Ingiriis, ‘We Swallowed the State as the State Swallowed us: The Genesis and Genealogies of Genocide in Somalia’, African Security 9 (3), pp. 237-58;
(23) Mohamed Haji Ingiriis, The Suicidal State in Somalia: The Rise and Fall of the Siad Barre Regime, 1969-1991 (Lanham: University Press of America, 2016), p. 197;
(24) Bollettino Ufficiale della Repubblica Democratica Somala, no. 26, dated 7 March 1982, gazetted on 1 Aril 1982, l. 4, 250, cited in Ingiriis, The Suicidal State in Somalia, p. 329;
(25) The latter word was historically used by British and Italian colonial authorities to label those who dissent their rules. C. V. A. Peel, Somaliland: Being an Account of Two Expeditions into the Far Interior, 2nd edition. London: Darf, 1900; and Langton Prendergast Walsh, Under the Flag and Somali Coast Stories. London: Andrew Melrose, 1910;
(26) Mohamed Haji Ingiriis, ‘How Somalia Works: Mimicry and the Making of Mohamed Siad Barre’s Regime in Mogadishu’, Africa Today 63 (1), pp. 57-83;
(27) Field interviews, Hargeysa, 10 July-15 August 2016;
(28) Interview with former senior security officer, 19 July 2016;
(29) YouTube, ‘Cali Gurey Somaliland Iyo Soomaaliya Oo mid Ah baan tageer Sanahay,Muqdisho baan tagaya’;
(30) Conversations with B. H. H., Hargeysa, 30 July 2016;
(31) Dann Okoth, ‘High profile assassinations a stain on our political history’, Fri, December 13th, 2013;
(32) Alex de Waal, 2015. In the Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015);
(33) Yet, you are told in Hargeisa that there is a government that takes care of its population, when the bulk of the economic resources go to the small number of competing political players. Many in Hargeysa rhetorically ask where were Siilaanyo’s decisive leadership skills when needed most by the poor Isaaq civilians. In April 1988, Siilaanyo fled to London when the SNM would have to conduct the most massive and major assault to intercept the near-annihilation of the Isaaq people. When the French scholar Gerard Prunier was travelling with the SNM, eating and observing with them, despite mines were exploding on the way, Siilaanyo fled from Ethiopia to his comfort house in London. Since his replacement as the SNM chairman, he was either hunting for power or enjoying the fruits of power with those who were ruling like Egaal. Today, there is a disappointing feature of institutional instability in ministerial appointments. Siilaanyo’s intermittent cabinet reshuffles resonate with the Siad Barre era;
(34a) The International Crisis Group, ‘Somalia: The Trouble with Puntland’;
(35a) Guido Ambroso, ‘Pastoral society and transnational refugees: population movements in Somaliland and eastern Ethiopia 1988-2000’.