London(The Rep) Last week, the Imperial College organised a Conflict Study week where academics and regional experts debated on some of the world conflicts including the Middle East, Kashmir and the Horn of Africa. Dr Mohamed A Omar of IOE, University of London, spoke at the conference and delivered an analysis of the Horn of African conflict. A week earlier, Dr. Omar also addressed an audience of academics and students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on the question of Somaliland. Here is a summary of some of his views.
Tracing some of the historical factors responsible for the collapse of the Somali state, Dr. Omar pointed out that the Somali state, right after the union of the two independent states (Somalia and Somaliland), pursued an expansionist policy that was heavily driven by a deep devotion to liberate the other three Somali-inhabited areas in the regions and to unite them in a single state.
Dr. Omar stated that this greater Somalia vision was not well thought out and was too risky. He said that the Somali state quickly sought military and economic assistance, which enabled it to build one of the most powerful military forces in Sub-Sahara Africa in order to succeed its expansionist policy. Dr. Omar mentioned that this goal was, later, proven to be unachievable, after it had led the region into bloody conflicts with huge social disintegration, and leaving the greater Somalia dream in disarray.
In the absence of any other meaningful inspirations, the Somali state, then, turned on its own people, said Dr. Omar, adding that the former British Somaliland (union partner) was specifically targeted and thousands of its population were massacred, which, in turn, sparked a widespread conflict that resulted in the state and the union being collapsed.
On the union between Somalia and Somaliland, Dr. Omar offers a rational view. He reiterated that the union of the two newly independent Somali states essentially served as a means to an end, not an end in itself. He said that the charter of the African Union (AU), the geopolitical realities in the region and the international community have taken the end away. He added that the means (meaning the union) is now removed too, as there is no end (goal) to aim for. It is pointless to maintain means in the absence of an achievable end, he told the audience.
Dr. Omar also commented on the Somali people’s experience of the central state during the union. He mentioned that they witnessed how all the power fell into the hands of a clan family, creating a clan hegemony, and how this group, with a legitimate use of violence to protect this advantage, went on to abuse the national resources. He said that this is what a lot of Somali people fear may happen again, if the state is reconstructed without a careful thought.
He viewed the state reconstruction as being particularly too risky when the foreign powers involved are perceived as favouring some groups in the conflict, and especially when these foreign powers apply models of state reconstruction that don’t address the local concerns.
He pointed out that the Somali state formation is now being rethought in international, regional and local forums. He told the audience that the stable and democratic state of Somaliland provides a useful model for establishing a long-term stability and security in the region. Dr. Omar reminds the public that it is now time to abandon expectations that African countries can be recreated in their original forms, after they have gone through grave political upheavals.
On how the clan system has been used and abused in the search for viable statehood, Dr. Omar has identified a useful contrast. He said it is a paradox that many of the factors that have driven the conflict in Somalia since the state collapse have actually played a key role in managing and preventing conflicts in Somaliland. For instance, he said, the clan-based politics are used in Somalia to divide people, fuel endemic clashes over power and resources and to mobilize militias. But in Somaliland, he said the traditional clan elders were a primary source of conflict mediation. They applied clan-based customary law as basis for negotiated settlements and broad-based reconciliations. He explained this contrasting use of clan systems in Somalia and Somaliland as a result of the legacies of the different colonial administrations and the experiences gained from them.
Looking into the future, Dr. Omar has made the following analysis. “The attempts to resolve the Somali conflict after the state collapse have been externally led for too long. African Union, Arab League, European Union, and IGAD – all have taken the lead in this process. This internationally driven process has often been preferred to the local efforts. One of the downsides of this approach was that the Somali warlords were recognised as legitimate leaders, which widened their political platform. This resulted in the Somali people becoming sceptical of the state building process. The solution would be to initiate a broad-based, inclusive, internally led state building with greater involvement of the grassroots communities. Somaliland’s approach for peace and homegrown democracy can be borrowed as a model for state building and conflict resolution in Somalia. In this way, the union between Somalia and Somaliland that caused so many deaths and destructions in the past can be finally replaced by two peace-oriented, democratic and friendly neighbouring states. This will also have a positive knock-on- effect on the regional security.
The Republican staff writer
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